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Prague, the Czech Capital

Prague, Czech Republic

One of Europe's best-preserved great cities, Prague — the golden city of a hundred spires — entertains with medieval, Baroque, and modern sights.

Complete Video Script

Hi, I'm Rick Steves, back with more of the best of Europe. As always, we're sampling the local culture. And around here that means great beer. We're in Prague — in the Czech Republic. Thanks for joining us.

Prague, which escaped the bombs of last century's wars, is one of Europe's best-preserved cities. Its nickname: the golden city of a hundred spires. And, beyond its striking facades, it's an accessible city with a story to tell and plenty to experience.

We'll explore Prague — filled with exuberant architecture and slinky, sumptuous Art Nouveau. With music spilling into the streets and colorful pubs serving up some of the best beer in Europe, it's a city thriving with visitors. We'll take in sights ranging from Europe's most interesting Jewish Quarter to Prague's in-love-with-life Charles Bridge.

Buried in the center of Europe is the Czech Republic and its capital and dominant city, Prague. Prague, straddling the Vltava River, is easy on foot, with highlights like Wenceslas Square, the Old Town Square, Charles Bridge, and the cathedral up in the castle all within about an hour's walk.

The 14th century was Prague's Golden Age — the Holy Roman Emperor ruled from here. Back then, this was one of Europe's largest and most highly cultured cities.

Until about 1800, Prague was four separate and fortified towns: The Castle Town — for a thousand years the home of the Czech ruler. The Little Town — where nobles would live to be close to the king. The Old Town — with its magnificent market square. And the New Town — with the grand Wenceslas Square providing a stage for this country's tumultuous 20th-century history.

Prague's four gloomy decades of communist control feels like a distant memory as the city is bursting with entrepreneurial energy. Everything, from the buildings — like the Dancing House — nicknamed "Fred and Ginger" — to the vibrant crowds in the streets seem to celebrate Czech freedom.

Charles Bridge was commissioned in the 14th century by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV. It offers one of the most pleasant strolls in Europe. This bridge is part of the historic coronation route called the Royal Way. Coronation processions started above, at the cathedral, where the king was crowned. From there they crossed this bridge and headed for the Old Town Square.

Today, the final stretch of the Royal Way is a commercial gauntlet lined with Prague's most playful diversions. Like main drags throughout Europe, this walk mesmerizes visitors. Use it as a spine, but make a point to venture beyond.

Prague is flourishing with inviting lanes and vibrant markets. Today, as they have since medieval times, Prague's farmers' markets keep both hungry locals and visitors well fed.

Prague's Old Town Square, once just another farmers' market, is now the heart of the city. But today the commerce is clearly tourism.

The fanciful Gothic Týn Church soars over everything as if to remind tourists that lots of religious history took place right here. Back in the 15th century, when some Christians were beginning to struggle against Roman Catholic dominance, this was Prague's leading Hussite church.

Hussites were followers of Jan Hus, whose statue graces the square. He was a local preacher who got in trouble with the Vatican a hundred years before Martin Luther and the Reformation. The chalice is a symbol of Hus and his followers who believed everyone — not just priests — should be able to partake in the Eucharist, or Holy Communion.

These days, huge crowds gather at the 15th-century Astronomical Clock back here on the Old Town Square. The dials seem to tell you everything you could possibly want to know. It tells the phases of the moon, sunset, current sign of the zodiac, each day's special saint…and, somehow, it even tells the time. And, of course, 500 years ago, everything revolved around the earth.

At the top of the hour, Death tips his hourglass and pulls the cord; the windows open as the Twelve Apostles parade by, acknowledging the gang of onlookers; the rooster crows, and finally…the bell rings. But my favorite part of the show is watching the crowd gawk.