Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Charles Bridge, Prague - So Much More Than Just a Bridge

Sunset on Charles Bridge, Prague

When I was planning and researching for my trip to Prague, I continuously came across Charles Bridge as something to do or see, but I didn't really understand why until I went there to see it for myself. I'm not someone who's regularly entertained by the idea of a bridge or architecture and I'm not even much of a sightseeing enthusiast while traveling. I mean, I'll do a bit, but I prefer being able to immerse myself in a different culture through food, activities and meeting the locals instead of standing around pointing at historic monuments and snapping photos. That said, on one afternoon in Prague we found ourselves at a bit of a loose end and I noticed we were near Charles Bridge so we walked over to see what the fuss was about and goodness me - it's worth all the press!

Charles Bridge from afar

Charles Bridge isn't your average bridge. It's stunning, but more than that, it's fun! To see Charles Bridge from a bit of a distance is a sight in itself. It's beautiful with its 16 matching arches that seem to file in line one after the other like little soldiers. The silhouettes of the many sculptures are slightly visible, but what's more appealing are the crowds. Charles Bridge is pedestrianised, so there are scores of people walking across it on an August day and it creates a bit of a buzz that makes you want to join the party.

String Quartet playing on Charles Bridge, Prague

As you get closer to the bridge the sounds of various musicians start to fill the air and you get the feeling you're heading into a street party. There are crowds everywhere and as you walk onto the bridge you begin to understand why. This historic bridge isn't just for crossing the Vltava River - it's a thoroughfare of entertainment with art, music and various vendors selling their wares.

Ashley Turner on Charles Bridge

Construction of the Charles Bridge began in 1357 during the reign of King Charles IV which I imagine is where it gets its name. The bridge was completed in the 15th century. Originally named Stone Bridge, the name was changed in 1870. Until 1841, the Charles Bridge was the only way to cross the Vltava River and it was the connector between Old Town and Prague Castle. It's not difficult to imagine that the busy, thoroughfare that it is today is somehow a continuance of how heavily trafficked the bridge must've been in Prague's history... 

Statue of saints on Charles Bridge, Prague

While standing on Charles Bridge the views of the city are stunning, but the bridge itself is decorated with 30 statues and sculptures depicting saints and patron saints, adding another dimension to the breathtaking scenery. These incredible artworks lining either side of the bridge give a gothic feel to it and several of them are quite shiny as they attract visitors to rub them. I assumed people do this for luck or blessings from the saints, so I joined in. You can never have too much luck or too many blessings. The statues on the bridge today are replicas, but you'd never know it. The originals were removed to place in the National Museum in the mid-60's, but they're no less impressive and add a kind an extra, historical layer to the views that can be seen from the bridge.

Paddle Boats on the Vltava River

All around Charles Bridge there are pubs, riverside restaurants and lovely little bars where you can sit a spell and enjoy the view over drinks or food. If you're up for something a bit more active, there are loads of paddle boat rentals around, many of them offering boats in the shapes of cars, swans and other quirky designs.

Colourful skies and the Prague Skyline in Silhouette during sunset

The best time of day to visit Charles Bridge is widely debated with many saying to go super early in the morning to avoid the tourists or some preferring midday for the best light. I visited Charles Bridge twice at different times of the day and my opinion is that you can't beat the incredible sunsets when the weather is nice. The skies turning into a rainbow of colours behind the dark silhouettes of saintly statues and the Prague skyline are sights to behold. If Instagram is your thing, you'll get some cracking photos at that time too! As I said before, we visited in August which is high tourist season and I didn't find the crowds unbearable. Sure, it was crowded, but not so much that I could get the photos I wanted or move around freely. The crowds actually added to the experience, giving the bridge a buzz as the musicians played. I wouldn't change a thing about my first visit to Charles Bridge and while I still enjoyed it, our crossing of the bridge the next day around 1pm wasn't as magical.

Prague Charles Bridge Statue of a saint at sunset

Walking along the Charles Bridge you'll see entertainers of all sorts, depending on what time you go. We saw everything from a steel drum band to a group playing what could only be described as Dixieland Jazz with a soloist who played a mean washboard. Artists line the bridge, painting the views and selling their works while the odd street performer does whatever trick he or she has mastered. It's a fun way to spend an hour or two, listening to music and taking in the scenery. Whether you visit Prague for only a day or two, or you vacation there for a week, Charles Bridge is definitely something to add to your itinerary for a bit of fun and some incredible views of one of the most visually stunning cities I've ever been to. It's worth planning it in early so you can move it to a later time in your trip if the weather doesn't cooperate. I wouldn't want you to miss out on those beautiful, sun-kissed skies!
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