Charles Bridge in Prague is one of the most memorable places you'll visit. It's an amazing centerpiece to the city's soul, connecting Old Town with Malá Strana (Lesser Town).
Like a lot of places in Prague, I'm a bit infatuated with this bridge. It's a deep, magical place for me. A place where you can easily feel transported back in time. It's intense to say the least.
Now, I can hear the naysayers... the bridge is a hassle, it's overrun with tourists!
Ok, I get it.
The bridge can get crowded and overwhelming sometimes. But how often will you be in Prague to experience this place?
So, I want to invite and challenge you a bit. Come and experience Charles Bridge rather than blindly following the beaten path like all the other tourists.
Below you will find a few tips for visiting the bridge to get a unique perspective.
Of course, I've mixed in a few historical notes too!
I admit this tip is not very concrete. But, hang on! I think you can apply this idea to the bridge and your broader visit to Prague.
It seems to me that most people only think about walking across Charles Bridge. That's perfectly natural, and everyone should do it. But, if your goal is to simply "walk across," then you're missing out with too much linear thinking ;-)
The bridge is much more than a footpath between two points. It's a work of art with depth and history. It's a grand structure of significant symbolic and practical importance to the Prague's history.
So why not imagine other ways you can experience it?
For me, I love the physicality of the bridge. I still marvel at its large stonework and structure that has stood the test of floods and wars. So, I find ways to get up-close and personal with the bridge (more on that below).
What about you? What if you couldn't cross the bridge, how would you experience it? Do you want to follow the crowds and simply walk across?
I think new experiences lie in your answers. Apply them and get more from this fantastic place (and Prague in general).
Charles bridge gets crowded - a lot crowded ;-)
So, take one day to get up early and come for a visit. If you can do this, I guarantee that your whole visit to Prague can be revolutionized. This suggestion actually applies to all areas of the historical city center - but espeically to Charles Bridge because it's a narrow space that can get crowded easily.
But here's the real value in this tip.
You don't have to get here before the sun rises. (Although a dawn visit can be stunning.) Just come around 7-8 AM if you can. I promise, an early morning on this bridge will make all your tired efforts worth it.
And, if you can't come so early, then come by 9-10 AM at least.
The bridge is a totally different place without the crowds. You can breathe easy, relax and take many more photos without the hassle of dodging people.
This tip is my favorite tip. Because by simply getting off the bridge, you can get a wonderful perspective of the bridge's beauty - and you can avoid 90% of the people on it.
I do this from Lesser Town (Maáa Strana). Bascially, before walking through the bridge tower, I turn left and go down and under the bridge. Here you can see the stonework and other details that you miss from above.
Then, I walk under the bridge across the Čertovka canal and onto Kampa Island. From here there are lots of options to just wander. Walk south on Kampa and turn left after the Archibald Hotel. Here you can sit at a restaurant next to the bridge or loop back around toward the bridge and pass under it again. If you go this way, there is a particularly fantastic view of the bridge looking toward Old Town.
Best of all, there really aren't any crowds at these points. Of course, it won't be desolate, but considering the thousands of people passing by above you, this is a quiet gem. And it will take a whole 5 minutes of your time to experience this. Awesome value!
If you continue walking under the bridge, you'll see a children's playground just ahead. Feel free to enter and walk toward the river for another interesting perspective of the bridge. Have a seat on a bench and just soak it all in.
On the bridge
Walking across the bridge is a visual treat. But here are a few thoughts to keep in mind that might make your experience richer.
Off the bridge...
It's amazing how few visitors actually get off the bridge to explore. Other than crossing it, the single best way to experience Charles Bridge is to take a river cruise.
Ok, now for a little history that isn't too boring. Promise!
Prague's famous bridge wasn't the first to span the Vltava River. After the destruction of the original Judith Bridge due to flooding, emperor Charles IV set out to have a new bridge built.
And, legend has it that the bridge's construction began precisely in 1357 on the 9th day of the 7th month at 5:31 am.
Charles IV chose this time so that when written, the date is all odd numbers: 1-3-5-7-9-7-5-3-1.
The bridge was supervised by Peter Parler and constructed with sandstone. Another legend insists that egg was used in the original mortar - which is why the bridge has survived so long.
Long been considered a tale, this theory has recently been supported by tests finding organic materials in the bridges mortar.
The first statues were added to the bridge in the 17th century. The current statues are mostly replicas since the city has chosen to preserve the originals from weather elements.