Vltava River in Prague, Czech Republic

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Vltava River in Prague, Czech Republic from Charles Bridge

Charles Bridge is surely one of the world’s most famous bridges. Built in 1357 and the only means of crossing the thundering Vltava River until 1841, both Charles Bridge and the Vltava River have played a strategic and economic role throughout the city’s history. Prague’s location on the Vltava River has long been important for trade and shipping between eastern and western Europe, and that economical power, along with Prague’s famous bridge that connects its timeless old town with the majestic Prague Castle, have all helped to bounce Prague to international acclaim. Though always beautiful, there are two moments where Prague becomes nearly divine in beauty. The first is Prague covered in soft, brilliant snow, the pure white of the fallen snowflakes contrasting beautifully on the dark, ancient stones that make up the Gothic architecture of Charles Bridge, the Castle and most of the Old Town. Alone under the evening blizzard with snow underfoot, the smells of chimney smoke, hot wine and roasted chestnuts intermingle in the air, as the air itself rings with the jubilant sounds of the famed Christmas market – the perfect picture of Christmas bliss. The second time when Prague becomes almost unbearable with beauty is when bathed in the brilliance of the Golden Hour, both at sunrise and sunset, when the incandescent light glitters off the richly-coloured stones and the ancient architecture to make you feel as if you are part of a fairytale, or a painting. Sunrise is preferable – this way, you will avoid the crowds. Sunset, as seen above, will not disappoint either.


See More Reasons Why Eastern European Cities are so Magical
  1. Early morning sunlight bathing the colourful Wroclaw, Poland
  2. Old world, fin de siecle art of Budapest, Hungary
  3. Medieval cobblestones in Kazimierez Dolny, Poland
  4. Baltic beauty in Gdansk, Poland
  5. Romantic charm in Tallinn, Estonia

 

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Christmas market in Prague, Czech Republic

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Market Square, Prague, Czech Republic

Christmas markets have been under attack lately, unfortunately quite literally. Besides the obvious sadness surrounding this, the changing dynamics of Christmas markets (i.e., the need to secure them as if they are war zones), is a sad notion. These markets are an old – in fact, very old – tradition through much of Europe. Beginning their tale in medieval times in the Germanic regions of central Europe, the first markets were held in the 14th and 15th centuries in order to officially ‘initiate’ the Christmas season (or the ‘Advent’). They are meant to be places of merriment – food, drink, music and dancing are common elements – as well as places of economy – merchants and artisans peddle their goods to Christmas shoppers – and, in a historical sense, a place of religion with Nativity scenes and theatrical productions from the Bible, though this element has fallen from popularity in modern Europe. The most famous Christmas markets are still often found in the Germanic part of Europe, such as Dresden, Vienna, Strasbourg, Nuremberg, Dortmund, Cologne and of course Prague, though this tradition has spread to nearly every major and many minor cities in Europe. From Lincoln, England to Sibhiu, Romania, from Lyon, France to Tallinn, Estonia, Europe’s main squares have been dotted, lined and filled with stalls of all shapes and sizes, peddling artisanal goods such as jewellery, clothing, soaps, food, chocolate, wood carvings, paintings, perfumes, knives, dolls, toys, puzzles, figurines, sausages, blankets, tea leaves, scarves, Christmas ornaments, and pretty much anything else one can think of to Christmas shoppers of all kinds. They are a place associated with joy, the gift of giving, and the Christmas spirit, and are a long-lasting tradition throughout Europe. Let’s hope they stay that way…

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Prague, Czech Republic

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Prague, Czech Republic

Chances are, at some point in your life, you’ve probably heard, read, or watched a fairy tale. Along with similar features involving a royal family, an evil villain, and some kind of magical element, they are all usually set in the same place: Europe. Okay, perhaps they have lofty names such as “Narnia,” “Arendelle,” “the Enchanted Land,” “Riven-dell” or “Wonderland” but after seeing photos of Europe and comparing them with the drawings and paintings found in storybooks,  one can’t help but see the similarities. Prague is arguably one of the most fairytale-esque places Europe has the offer. In the wintertime, the streets are decked in ivy, the markets are set up in every available plaza, hot chocolate and hot wine stands are on every corner, and snowflakes are in the air. The distant husky smell of smoke from wood-burning fires combined with the sweet smell of Czech buns mingle in the air to create a mouth-watering aroma. It doesn’t take long for you to realise that Prague was pulled straight from the pages of a fairytale.

Prague, Czech Republic

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Prague, Czech Republic

Bathed in early-morning light is the only way to visit Prague’s Staré Město, or Old Town. If you only see one Eastern European city, it will probably be Prague. Why? Prague is without doubt one of the most beautiful cities you will ever behold–possibly the most beautiful European city (in my opinion anyway, alongside St Petersburg, Tallinn, Dubrovnik and Ronda). It is also one of the most international–in the space of minutes, no matter the season, one will hear not only English and Czech, but also Polish, Russian, Italian, French, Spanish, German, Swedish, Portuguese, Danish, Slovakian (should I continue? You’ll hear them all!), as well as plenty of non-European languages. It seems that everyone has discovered the Czech capital–but don’t let that stop you! Prague’s magnificent old town, its massive castle, its picturesque views from Castle Hill, its delicious beer, its unbelievably low prices, and its generally quaint yet elegant appearance is to die for! Its central location makes it easy to visit, as a 5-hour drive in any direction will get you to : Berlin, Bratislava, Budapest, Częstochowa, Dresden, Graz, Krakow, Munich, Nuremburg, Vienna, or Wroclaw !  While in town, be sure to go shopping–they have some of the cheapest prices you’ll ever see–but most importantly, be sure to rise and shine early at least once, because Prague during the sunrise is, well, utterly beautiful!

Charles Bridge, Prague, Czech Republic

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Charles Bridge, Prague, Czech Republic

If you haven’t been to Prague, then you are certainly missing out. Yes it’s true, so many others have decided to make the trip that you will be up to the neck in tourists (even in December, when this photo was taken). But is that a reason to miss out for a chance to see a contender for Most Beautiful European City? (tied with Tallinn, Brugge, and  perhaps Budapest, though Prague is the frontrunner). The Charles Bridge, with construction beginning in 1357 under King Charles IV, was originally called the Stone Bridge or Prague Bridge; the name wasn’t changed until 1870. In fact, the bridge was the only means to cross the Vltava River up until 1841. Clearly, it was–and is–full of people, but traversing the bridge is also a wonderful experience. A way to avoid the crowds would be to be an early riser and get out there to photograph the famous bridge before the other tourists awaken–quite the opposite of this photo taken at high noon. Evening is also a lovely time for a stroll. No matter how or when you cross the Charles Bridge, it will still be beautiful.

Prague, Czech Republic

Prague

Prague, Czech Republic.

Prague is easily one of Europe’s prettiest cities, and with views such as this one, who can judge? It’s been around for 1,100 years, it’s the 14th largest city in the European Union, and was once the the seat of two Holy Roman Emperors, so by extension, the capital of the Holy Roman Empire. It is also a UNESCO site, and is the 6th most visited city in Europe. Outside of all that, it affords views such as this one, which can be seen from a quiet little vista point behind Prague Castle.  Sit down on the thousand year old wall, let the sun fill the valley, let the light bounce off Prague’s roofs and stay awhile because you don’t see view like this just any old day…It’s like magic!

Prague, Czech Republic

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Prague, Czech Republic.

An organ-grinder on the Charles Bridge, one of the world’s most famous and most beautiful bridges. Street performers are a common sight in European cities…anything from a puppeteer to an opera singer to a guitar-player to a juggler to a statue, you will see them everywhere. They add character and life as well as entertainment for tourists and locals alike. Sometimes, they even become iconic. Anyone who has visited Prague will surely remember this fellow and his mechanical monkey on Charles Bridge!