Some European cities reveal their charms in a gradual way — but Prague wears its medieval-style loveliness right on the surface. It’s hard for even the youngest visitors not to fall under the spell of its cobblestone streets, red tile rooftops and majestic architecture. Better still, its beauty is more than skin-deep: Well preserved and culturally unique, Prague offers a diverse variety of things to see and do with kids. Here’s how to make the most of a 72-hour stay.
Start with the blockbuster attraction: Prague Castle. This complex, founded in the 9th century and rebuilt several times after natural and wartime damage, is the traditional seat of the Czech Republic head of state. Although visitors can tour the gardens, grounds and (on select days) the State Rooms, the real draw is the soaring St. Vitus’ Cathedral, a marvel of Gothic architecture and artistry. It’s worth paying the small fee to climb the cathedral tower — the reward is a stunning view over the historic heart of the city.
Kids will enjoy the Golden Lane, a row of tiny, colorful buildings that once housed artisans. Some have been turned into mini museums that depict the way their occupants lived; others are shops. The Castle also includes a treasury with the Bohemian crown jewels and a little toy museum, which may appeal to younger kids. And don’t miss the pomp and pageantry of the Changing of the Guard.
Prague Castle sits above the Mala Strana, or Lesser Town, so named for its position in relation to the larger castle district and the neighborhoods across the river. Quite atmospheric and well-preserved, the steep, twisting streets of this area are a wonderful place to stroll and have a bite to eat. The simple but interesting Museum of Miniatures deserves a quick stop as well — what child wouldn’t be intrigued by a reproduction Matisse painting no bigger than a pinky nail?
By late afternoon, everyone’s feet will be screaming for a rest. This is a perfect time to indulge in a vintage convertible tour of Prague. Although you can book in advance through a company such as Prague History Trip, we spotted the cars parked along the streets and went for it on the spur of the moment. In-depth history is not necessarily the idea here — our guide glossed over the fine points — but in nice weather, it’s a wonderful way to relax, enjoy the fresh air and get oriented to the different neighborhoods and sights.
Rouse the whole family at dawn to head to one of Prague’s most beloved landmarks: the medieval Charles Bridge, built to link the Old Town and the Mala Strana. Kids may grumble at the early wake-up call, but the payoff is having the bridge almost to yourselves — crowds reach critical mass as the morning goes on. Lined with statues and bookended by centuries-old towers, the bridge and its view over the tranquil Vltava River are magical this time of day. Touching the relief at the base of the statue of St. John of Nepomuk (he’s the one with the halo of stars around his head) is said to bring good luck … but only to those who touch it with their left hands!
After breakfast nearby, meander to the Old Town Square, site of the famous Astronomical Clock. Every hour on the hour, the clock whirs into motion, its figurines strike up their performance and statuettes of the 12 apostles slide by. This is a quick stop; the whole process doesn’t take more than a few minutes. If you have some time to kill beforehand, there’s a pleasant outdoor cafe right across from the clock, where you can wait with a cup of coffee and a plate of pastries.
Cruising along the Vltava is an essential part of a family trip to Prague; the water is an excellent vantage point from which to admire the city. There are any number of boating companies that offer sightseeing cruises, all fairly similar in nature. With kids, it’s especially fun to sail to the Prague Zoo on the outskirts of town, and spend the afternoon visiting the giant tortoises, lemurs, gorillas and more.
More active families might choose to explore the Vltava by pedal boat. These are available for rent on the spot at a dock near the Charles Bridge. For about 70 CZK (less than $3), you get an hour to pedal along the river at leisure — a fantastic deal.
By now, the kids have probably noticed the Eiffel Tower-style structure peeking above the treetops. This is Petrin Tower, the heart of Petrin Hill — a former royal vineyard that’s now one of Prague’s prime spots for family fun. It’s accessible either by paved walking trails or by funicular. While I wouldn’t attempt to hike it with young kids, it was a manageable (but steep) walk with our 10-year-old. The climb to the top of the hill takes roughly half an hour, and to access the viewing platform at the top of the tower requires a brief climb as well. It’s worth all the exertion, however; the views are simply breathtaking.
Petrin Hill also offers a small mirror maze and an observatory, as well as pony rides. On the Saturday of our visit, we happened upon a small festival at the base of the tower, with music, kids’ activities, a jugglers, traditional Czech food and more — a lovely surprise and a terrific way to mingle with locals. Events like this are fairly regular at Petrin Hill in the warm months, so check to see what’s on during your stay in Prague.
In the afternoon, treat the kids to a marionette performance, in honor of Prague’s great tradition of puppet-making. Several theaters around town put on marionette shows, so ask your hotel concierge which one is ideal for your schedule and needs. Just be prepared to invest some cash afterward; it’s virtually certain that the kids will want to choose a wooden puppet of their own from one of the many shops around town (tip: ask around to make sure you visit a shop of good quality).
If you have more than 72 hours, you can add in at least one day trip. We took an hour-plus train journey to the pretty little town of Kutna Hora, home to Sedlec Ossuary (better known as the “bone church”). Our 10-year-old was fascinated by this sacred site, and it wasn’t as macabre as it sounds. Still, it’s better for older kids; I wouldn’t take a preschooler. Kutna Hora also has the spectacular St. Barbara’s Church and, oddly enough, a small but appealing Lego museum.
Another option is to visit the 14th-century Karlstejn Castle, about an hour out of Prague. Built to house royal Bohemian treasures, it’s worth exploring not only for its rich history, but also for its beautiful natural setting. The picturesque town of Cesky Krumlov, a popular side trip from Prague, is well worth a visit, but it’s too far to make sense for a day trip with kids (3 hours each way). If it’s on your wish list, consider overnighting instead.
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Editor’s Note: The Czech Tourism Authority provided a media rate for certain activities in order for us to review them for Ciao Bambino. As always, our opinions are our own. Photos by Lisa Frederick.
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