Prague has a problem on weekends — tourists. Friday afternoon they pour into the city, their luggage rollers bouncing over the cobblestones, eager for an exciting weekend of cheap beer and lots of night life. Even if they aren’t into the party scene, they’re clogging Charles Bridge and overflowing Old Town Square.
Thus the best thing to do is listen to Lonely Planet‘s suggestion and take the neighborhood Hradčany walk, a stroll through areas near Prague castle while almost entirely missing the tour groups and selifie sticks.
The suggested length — one hour — was far less than what it took my son, stepson and me to wander and photograph our way though about 2 miles of ups and downs, a castle, monastery, library, brewery and lookout tower.
After a quick two stops on Metro A, we were in a residential neighborhood and then past Pisek Gate, Cubist houses, across the tram tracks and to King Ferdinand I’s Royal Summer Palace for his queen. Built in the mid-1500s by Italian architect Paolo della Stella, it’s surrounded by gardens, a “singing fountain” — and very few tourists.
Below is the moat, still outlined with bricks but now holding about 25 large fig plants.
Beyond the gardens, Ball-Game Hall, once used for games similar to badminton and later as a riding school and stable, has only been open to the public since 1989. That and the Powder Bridge are on the route to the north entrance to Hradčany Square, and it’s easy to go quickly out the front, past the Church of St. John Nepomuk, built in 1729, and away from the crowds again.
Winding streets lead from there up to the Strahov Monastery, in operation since 1143, even during the time the Soviet era. One of its most notable attractions is the library, with its Philosophical and Theological halls and overwhelming ceiling frescoes. I should have paid the extra 50 Kč to be able to take photos, though no one can enter the rooms and must look — or shoot — from the doorway.
The monastery was also known for its brewery, dating back to the 13th century, and Klášterní Pivovar Strahov operates again on the grounds, opened in 2000 and serving St. Norbert Beer.
From the monastery to the lookout tower on Petřín Hill was the most rigorous part of the trip. Although normally accessible by funicular, that’s now out of commission for six months for repairs, but our route was fairly gradual. Still, climbing the stairs to the observation deck of the 378-meter cast iron tower (taller than the Eiffel Tower, and looking much like it), seemed a bit more than we wanted at the end of our day away from the crowds.