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PRAGUE – Prague is a vibrant city, with a lively nightlife that attracts lots of young tourists. But while cafes, busy streets and good beer draw plenty of visitors, among the most beautiful and appealing attractions in this trendy capital are its historic and cultural sites, in the Old Town, in churches and castles dating back centuries. And many of them can be enjoyed for free. Here are five suggestions.
OLD TOWN SQUARE
Dating to the Middle Ages, the Old Town Square is located in the heart of Prague. Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque buildings — including a tower and churches — date to the 12th century. Notable sites include the Orloj or Astronomical Clock, dating to 1410, which includes solar and lunar positions, a monthly calendar and a tableau of figures that move on the hour, as well as a statue of church reformer Jan Hus, erected in 1915, 500 years after his death. Tour guides offer their services in the square for free — though they hope for a tip at the end.
Walking across the Charles Bridge is one of the most popular tourist activities in Prague. The bridge's construction began in 1357 under Charles IV, the Holy Roman Emperor known as the father of the Czech nation. Over the centuries, 30 mostly Baroque statues of saints were erected on the bridge's Gothic balustrade. The statue of the legendary Czech knight Bruncvik, standing alone on one of the bridge's pillars, is among the notable sculptures. Legend has it that his magical sword was buried in the bridge and would be swung at times of great national tribulation by St. Wenceslas, Bohemia's patron saint.
The area around the Prague Castle — the current presidency seat — is open almost in its entirety for free. Ceremonial changing of the guard is daily at noon in the first courtyard and on the hour into the evening by the castle gates. There's a fee for exhibition halls and historical monuments but the lovely gardens around the castle are free to visit. The grounds stay open until midnight every day through Oct. 31, so you can enjoy a nice night walk in a beautiful and safe place with hardly anyone there — as opposed to the crowds you'll encounter during the day. The castle also provides a vantage point for breathtaking views of the city.
Prague's beautiful medieval churches are also popular with visitors and many can be seen free of charge. Among them is the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn, where famed Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe is buried. The church's distinctive twin spires, 20 stories high, can be seen from a long distance away. You can also visit a small part of the monumental structure near the entrance to St. Vitus Cathedral for free, though a fee is charged for full access to the country's biggest and most famous church. The church was the site of the funeral of the late President Vaclav Havel. Since May, all seven of the cathedral's bells have been heard tolling together again, for the first time since World War I, when three of the bells were confiscated. They were recently recast and returned to the bell tower.
Urban parks throughout Prague offer people-watching, playgrounds, green space, paths for biking and skating, and postcard-perfect views of the city's intricate skyline, a panorama of centuries-old spires, towers and decorative rooftops. Favorite parks include Petrin Hill and Stromovka Park.