High atop the hilly West Bank of this “Golden City” is one of the most beautiful sights in Europe: Prague Castle (Prazsky hrad) perched above the curving Vltava (or Moldau) River that flows below it, with the Gothic masterpiece of St. Vitus Cathedral (Chram svateho Vita) soaring behind it. This was the site of early Prague, and everything that evolved from it lay in its proverbial shadow. An amble through this picturesque hilltop town-within-a-town provides breathtaking views of the river and the Gothic-style Charles Bridge. The fabled skyline of spires and turrets of the lower Old Town (Stare Mesto) rises above the ancient rooftops of the right, or east, bank. Prague Castle is a monumental fortresslike collection of buildings and courtyards spanning the millennia from the 10th to the 20th centuries. Its spiritual core is the 14th-century cathedral, not completed until 1929. Of its twenty-one chapels, the most lavish is dedicated to “Good King” Wenceslas, patron saint of Bohemia; others honor Czech princes and kings from the 11th to the 13th centuries.
Adjacent is the Royal Palace (Kravlovsky palac), residence for the lords of Bohemia from the 11th to the 16th centuries. This is where, in 1990, the dissident writer Vaclav Havel was inaugurated as president of what was then Czechoslovakia. Prague’s two most important art galleries are the highlight for many: the deconsecrated St. George’s Basilica houses a unique collection of ancient Czech art, while six centuries of European art is found in the Sternberk Palace. If the rich 1,000-year heritage of the castle complex makes your head swim, escape to the small and intimate Hotel U Pava (the name means “peacock”), with its excellent location on a charming gas-lit street. The homey rooms in the front of the house have unforgettable nighttime views of the illuminated Prague Castle.
Just 100 yards from the Charles Bridge is the riverside Four Seasons, Prague’s first bona fide luxury hotel. Much of the hotel comprises three classic 18th- and 19th-century buildings (one of which served as King Charles IV’s laundry), with suites that promise romantic views of the river and the hilltop castle.