The special Bohemian magic of Prague exists in its incredibly well-preserved historical marvels, especially the Gothic Prague sights of Prague Old Town and the St. Vitus Cathedral.
Rich in both Gothic architecture and pockets of that vaguer gothic sense of spookiness that makes this season so delectable, Prague will captivate history-lovers, travel-lovers, and Halloween-lovers alike. Prague has managed to preserve so many of its historical buildings so well, accruing almost no damage during World War II, making it unique in its transportive ability to take visitors on a ride into the past.
These photographs were all taken on our Canon Rebel, but we have since upgraded to the Canon 80D and are in love with it. Make sure to check out our essential cameras for every traveler guide for more info.
Prague was my introduction to Europe. When Lauren was studying abroad in Prague, I ventured to the medieval city to visit her. Right off the metro and into Prague Old Town, I was mesmerized by the striking architecture—the buildings too beautiful to be real, the towers that could only exist in fairy tales and history books, the castles of dreams. But they were real. Prague is real, despite its possession of a specific kind of magic that might trick you into thinking it’s not. During my time in Prague I had to continuously give little pinches to remind myself that this wasn’t a dream.
Here I’ll go over the top Gothic Prague sights of the magnificent city. We’ll start with the Powder Gate (as I did), then the Charles Bridge, the St. Vitus Cathedral, the Prague Castle, the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn, the Old Town Hall and Astronomical Clock Tower, and finally, the Old Jewish Cemetery.
The Powder Gate
The first example of Gothic Prague architecture to leave a strong impression on me, the Powder Gate (or Powder Tower) makes it high on the list of top Prague sights. What struck me about the Powder Gate was its prominence against the surrounding nondescript buildings. My introduction to the wonder of Gothic Prague, the Powder Gate came into view shortly after exiting a subway station, and suddenly I felt like I was in Disneyland. The Powder Gate looked like something out of a fantasy or fairy tale, yet here it was in the midst of a random street on the way to Prague Old Town. A far cry from our Los Angeles hometown.
Constructed in the good ol’ 15th century by Vladislav II, the Powder Gate (or as the Czech’s say, Prašná brána) marks one of the original 13 city gates in Prague Old Town. Though initially intended as an attractive city entrance instead of a functional defensive structure, the Powder Gate was later used to store gunpowder in the 17th century (hence the name). And to whom do we owe the design of this Gothic Prague wonder? Architect Peter Parler, designer of some of the most famous Gothic Prague sights (such as the Charles Bridge and St. Vitus Cathedral) likewise had his hand on the noteable Powder Gate.
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By far the most famous bridge in Prague, the Charles Bridge (Karlův most) crosses the Vltava River and connects Prague Old Town with the Prague sights of the Mala Strana (Lesser Quarter), namely the Gothic Prague Castle complex and St. Vitus Cathedral. And when did the seed of this illustrious gothic Prague bridge get planted? In 1357, when the original Charles Bridge began construction. Legend has it that the foundation stone was laid by Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV himself.
One of the most famous of the top Gothic Prague sights, the Charles Bridge boasts 30 statues that line the length of the bridge. While these statues aren’t Gothic themselves, they are incredibly iconic Prague sights and supremely photogenic.
Three Gothic Prague towers protect the Charles Bridge: two on the Mala Strana side and one on the Prague Old Town side. The Old Town tower leading into the Charles Bridge is especially noted as an outstanding example of Gothic Prague architecture.
A trip to the Prague sights isn’t complete without a stroll over the Charles Bridge. In fact, make sure to pack a good pair of walking shoes, as Prague, with its narrow cobblestone alleys, is best-explored by foot.
- For men’s shoes, we’re obsessed with these Nike AF1 Ultra Flyknit Shoes or, for something more stylish, I love these amber leather ECCO Gary Sneakers (which are $70 cheaper through our link than what we found in department stores, by the way!).
- For women’s shoes, Lauren likes these adidas Originals Tubular Shadow Sneakers or these lightweight blush pink leather Ugg Quartz Tye Sneakers for something very polished.
During my visit to Prague, Lauren and I walked across the illustrious bridge on several different days as we ventured from Prague Old Town to the St. Vitus Cathedral and the other Gothic Prague wonders beyond the river. I enjoyed strolling over the bridge in different times of the day, reveling in the splendor of the stunning vantage point created by the bridge. The Charles Bridge, and particularly a Vltava row boat experience we took under the magnificent bridge, stands out as one of the highlights from my visit.
As one of the landmarks of Gothic Prague, the Charles Bridge can get crowded at times with tourists and vendors, which can take away from its ambiance. To beat the crowds, go early in the morning or later at night. Or visit in the off-season like I did.
St. Vitus Cathedral
Situated within the Gothic Prague Castle complex, the St. Vitus Cathedral marks not only a prime example of Gothic Prague architecture, but is considered the largest and most significant church in the Czech Republic. Though construction of this icon began in 1344, the St. Vitus Cathedral was only finished in 1929 after nearly 600 years of being in a half-completed state.
Just like our two previous magnificent examples of Gothic Prague sites, the St. Vitus Cathedral was also designed by master architect Peter Parler.
Trained as a sculptor and woodcarver, Peter Parler treated architecture like sculpture, and was fond of playing with structural forms in the stone. Parler imprinted the St. Vitus Cathedral with ingenious flourishes, notably the diagonal net-like pattern of vaults that run the length of the cathedral. Most Gothic vaults have only one rib spanning their width, but Parler’s vaults are doubly ribbed, creating a visually striking zigzag pattern.
Every St. Vitus Cathedral window that Parler designed has a different design in its tracery; no two windows are the same.
Enamored by this St. Vitus Cathedral as I was upon first impression, I couldn’t wait to explore the rest of the Gothic Prague Castle complex.
The Prague Castle complex is the largest ancient castle in the world, at almost 70,000 square meters. As the castle is so large and old (dating to 870), exhibits almost every architectural style from the last millennium, placing it high on the list of top Prague sights.
The notable Gothic architectural features of Prague Castle include the St. Vitus Cathedral and the massive Vladislav Hall.
When exploring Gothic Prague sites, don’t forget to look up! Take the Vladislav Hall of the Gothic Prague Castle Complex, for example. The ceiling vaults of Vladislav Hall run in intricate crisscrossing patterns for 16m down the length of the hall. These vaults represent an impressive architectural feat for the time.
The spacious Vladislav Hall accommodated tournaments between mounted knights. The “Knight’s Stairway” was built large enough so that horses could enter and exit into the hall. The hall was once for public events during the reign of the Bohemian monarchy, while the current Czech government uses this Gothic Prague gem for official events.
Due to its large size and the intricacies of the ceiling’s vaulted design, the Vladislav Hall signifies one of the most complex structural and architectural spaces of the late Middle Ages and occupies a top spot on the list of notable Gothic Prague sights.
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Church of Our Lady Before Tyn
There are a few anchoring landmarks that make Prague Old Town square the iconic place that it is. There’s the imposing medieval Astronomical Clock tower, the massive Jan Hus memorial, and perhaps most notably, the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn.
A striking landmark of Prague’s Old Town Square, the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn exemplifies Gothic Prague perfectly in its staggering spire-topped towers. Built in the 14th-15th centuries, the church’s architectural stylings were also influenced by—you guessed it—Peter Parler. Somebody get this Parler a Gothic Prague crown already.
Old Town Hall and Astronomical Clock
Take a gander ‘round Old Town Square and you’ll find the Prague Old Town Hall, another prominent landmark on the list of top Prague sights.
What makes this Old Town Hall unusual as a historical building? Well, for one, it’s partly built out of several different houses at its base. Later added onto these houses was the magnificent Gothic tower that earns the hall a spot on this list of Gothic Prague sights. Additionally, a rather cool Gothic door on the side of the Old Town Hall serves as the main entrance to the hall. There once was an entire Neo-Gothic eastern wing of the Town Hall, but it was destroyed in the 1945 Prague Uprising.
Now for your Gothic Prague discerning eye you can look for the Gothic tower complete with the most interesting feature of the Old Town Hall: the Astronomical Clock.
Built in the early 1400s, this Astronomical Clock in Prague Old Town is the third-oldest clock of its kind in the world and the oldest one still in operation. The clock has dials representing the position of the Sun and Moon and other astronomical details. The clock also has moving figures of the twelve apostles and four sculptures representing things that were reviled at the time: vanity, greed, death, and lust. Additionally, a depiction of a calendar was placed beneath the Astronomical Clock in 1490, accented by Gothic sculptures.
Old Jewish Cemetery
Prague’s Old Jewish Cemetery, the largest Jewish cemetery in Europe, has a 300+ year history between the early 1400s until 1786. While the Old Jewish Cemetery of Prague Old Town may not be Gothic in terms of architecture style, it certainly possesses that certain gothic spooky imagery we all know and love, earning it a spot on this list of Prague sights.
Crowded with thousands of hundreds-of-year-old tombstones, the cemetery possesses an eerie stillness on a quiet day. There are so many graves packed into the cemetery that over the years, older graves had to be covered over by newer ones, as Jewish custom prohibits the removal of any gravesite. This was carried out on such a scale that the cemetery is several meters higher than the surrounding streets, and the earth has to be held in place with walls.
The Old Jewish Cemetery was one of my favorite places that I visited in Prague. Visiting in late November, the cemetery was not as busy as it can get in other more popular times of the year. There were only a few other people visiting the cemetery that day, allowing Lauren and I to walk through the cemetery slowly and quietly. On such a day, you can really appreciate the age and solemnity of the cemetery—a very specific sense of gothic Prague spookiness distinct from other Prague sights.
Travel Tip: If you appreciate the Old Jewish Cemetery, you may also enjoy a visit to Vyšehrad Castle and cemetery outside of Prague Old Town!
With it’s wealth of phenomenal architectural sights, one can wander around the quaint cobblestone streets of Prague for days and still thirst for more. Its Gothic sights are certainly not to be missed, and this guide provides a solid foundation for any intended Gothic Prague tour. However, we recommend you make sure to set plenty of time aside to explore beyond this framework as well! Beyond its wonderful historical sights, Prague’s charismatic alternative culture leftover from the youth culture of the Velvet Revolution is a breath of fresh air, and you’ll find talented street artists, musicians, and poets across the Bohemian city. So take a bit of time, enjoy the trdelník stalls, sip on a dark Czech beer (speaking of which, check out this essential Good Beer Guide to Prague and the Czech Republic!), and breathe in this beautiful intersection of past and present that make Prague the European gem that it is.
Want more info about this magical city? Check out this Prague guide from The Nomad’s Scrapbook!
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Have you visited some of these Gothic Prague sites?
Tell us about your experience in a comment below!