Many people are under the false impression that Prague Castle is nothing but the cathedral they can see from afar. But that’s not Prague Castle, that’s not even a quarter of it. The beautiful gothic spires you see in the distance belong to St. Vitus Cathedral, which happens to be inside Prague Castle. But the entirety of the castle grounds includes the massive wall of buildings that surround St. Vitus. Prague Castle is, after all, the third largest in the world.
Until last year, the castle grounds were constantly open and accessible on foot from any of the four main entrances. In the summer, you can also enter the grounds through the Royal Garden. But since last fall, visitors to the castle have been required to pass through security, creating long lines at the most popular entrances. Though wait times vary depending on the time of year and time of day, you can expect to wait in line at least 15-20 minutes, and sometimes more than an hour. You may be better off skipping the main castle entrance to the first courtyard and taking the Old Castle steps which are closest to the Malostranska Metro station.
Things to do in Prague Castle
Prague Castle is like a walled-off city, so you can easily spend your entire day at the UNESCO World Heritage site. The grounds are free to enter. This means you can stroll through the courtyards and (in the summer) the gardens without paying a dime. The Southern Gardens are particularly nice because they give you a great view of the entire city. You can also walk around the courtyard where St. Vitus Cathedral is located. And if you think it looks good from the other side of the river, it’s downright jaw-dropping up close.
You can also see the changing of the guard every day at noon in the first courtyard of the main entrance. It’s not the London Guard, but it’s interesting. (To be honest, the Changing of the Guard in Buckingham Palace is not much better. They just wear funnier hats.) The non-ceremonial guard change occurs every hour.
Tickets to go inside the various castle attractions come in bundles. For the most complete tour of the castle, you should get a Circuit A ticket which includes access to: St. Vitus Cathedral, the Old Royal Palace, St. George’s Basilica, Golden Lane and the Daliborka Tower, the castle’s Powder Tower (not to be confused with the one in Old Town), and Rosenberg Palace. Your bundle entrance to all these sites is 350 Czech crowns which is a whopping $13.
But frankly, who has time for all that?
Prague Castle highlights
The Circuit B entrance ticket includes St. Vitus, St. George’s Basilica, the Old Royal Palace, and Golden Lane including the Daliborka Tower for 250 czk (around $9).
The Old Royal Palace is the castle’s original residence building, and probably precisely what you would expect of the inside of a castle: massive hallways, vaulted ceilings, and ornate furnishings and decor.
St. George’s is the other church inside Prague Castle. If you enter from the Old Castle steps, you’ll see this first, sharing the same courtyard as the massive rear end of St. Vitus.
Golden Lane is the name for the narrow alley of small homes that is sandwiched between the old northern wall and the one that replaced it. The homes were used by servants, castle defenders, and marksmen. Touring the inside of the Golden Lane dwellings is almost more interesting than the Old Royal Palace. At one end of the lane is Daliborka Tower which was an old prison. The dungeon is a much better torture exhibit than anything you’ll find at any of the tourist trap torture museums around town.
And finally, there’s the star of Prague Castle: St. Vitus Cathedral. The massive gothic edifice is gorgeous inside and out, and has the distinction of being one of the oldest structures in Prague, dating back to the year 930. Regular church services are still scheduled here, so you may want to check the schedule before planning your visit.
Not included in the cost of the ticket is the entrance to the South Tower of the cathedral. It costs 150 czk (around $6) to walk up the narrow stone steps that spiral all the way to the lookout at the top. Though the climb is grueling, the view is totally worth it.
After all that sightseeing, you’ll probably be parched. So you can wrap up your castle visit by going to the St. Wenceslas Vineyard, where you can have dinner at the Villa Richter restaurant or just sample the wine while you enjoy the view over the city. That’s right. There’s a fucking vineyard in Prague Castle. Suck it, Neuschwanstein.