Czech name: Karlův most
Prague (Praha) is a very old city in the Czech Republic. To visit this city is to step back in time nearly a millennium. Right in the very heart of Prague is some of the city’s oldest architecture and most iconic and picturesque buildings. Of these, one that tourists most like to visit and photograph is the Charles Bridge. If you plan to visit this city steeped in history and check out Charles Bridge, there is a lot to know before you go.
Location & How to Get there
Charles Bridge spans the Vltava River, connecting the castle on one side with most of the original village on the other side. With the exception of trams and lighter modes of transport (e.g., bicycles), cars are not typically allowed on the bridge because of the age of the bridge and the need to preserve its history. For that reason you can take any tram on the castle side to the bridge. The Lesser Town Square (Malostranské náměstí) tram station is on this side of the bridge. On the opposite side of the river the nearest tram station is Karlovy lázně.
Because of its amazing width and length and how it connects two large sections of this city, you can easily walk to it. Even better, stay in one of the hotels closest to either end of the bridge. Then you can just take a brisk walk to it whenever it pleases you during your stay.
If you would prefer to view the bridge from the river, there are boats that offer water cruises and tours to show you the bridge from a more unique view. The arcade for which this bridge is so well-known allows many boats to pass through underneath with ease every day. It was designed that way to allow merchants and trade ships to come and go from the city with little difficulty.
Opening Hours & Entry
Of all the sights to see in this Czech city, this one is the least expensive because it’s free. Even the city’s residents cross over it freely without a second thought. The toll on it has not been collected in over two centuries, making it one of the city’s best sites to see for the budget-conscious traveler.
As for when you can see it, it is open all the time. It is not like any other touristy sort of place in that there are no ropes, no rails, no guards and no restrictions in regards to when you can go and take a walk over this majestic bridge. The most beautiful time is early in the morning as the sun rises and the fog rolls over and through it, or late in the evening after sunset when the bridge’s lights turn on and make it quite the sight to see.
What to Do & What to See
You might be thinking, “It’s just a bridge.” Sure, but there is so much more to the bridge than that. In fact, you should go to see it so that you can enjoy the views both up and down river from the bridge. Go to see the amazing way in which the bridge was constructed six hundred years ago with chiseled sandstone. Go to see the many statues that decorate the sixteen pillars that support the weight of this massive bridge. Go to learn the history of the bridge itself, and how it was built on the site of two other bridges. Finally, check out the towers that flank the ends of the bridge, which are all that remains of a former bridge that stood where this bridge now stands.
If that isn’t enough to motivate you to see the Czech Republic’s most famous bridge, consider the “haunted and legendary tour.” This is a must for pursuers of ghost stories and the supernatural. Men were crossed over the bridge to meet their deaths for their crimes, and a ghost-cross where they stopped to pray supposedly appears to those in dire need. Ghosts of people past have been known to tread over the bridge, but not everyone is lucky to see them.
Once upon a time, a bridge of logs helped the Czech people and guests cross to and fro over the river. However, the river has a tendency to flood often. As a result, the log bridges that once spanned the distance of the river were frequently washed away.
Another bridge that came to be known as Judith bridge was built in place of the last log bridge in the late 1200’s/early 1300’s. It was made entirely of wood with a stone path. However, another flood in 1342 overwhelmed this bridge too. All that is left of it is the pillars, which are underwater and can only be viewed by diving and with special permission from the Prague government.
The Judith Bridge was several meters to the north of where Charles IV built the current bridge. He realized that continuing to build wooden bridges in the Vltava river was probably not a good idea. Instead, he chose to have this bridge constructed of sandstone blocks, which are sealed with mortar to prevent erosion. It is so well-constructed that it has stood the test of time for almost seven hundred years.
Parts of the older bridges remain. The towers that once belonged to Judith are on both ends of Charles. You can tour the towers as well as the bridge. In fact, most tourists can easily spend two or three hours seeing the bridge and its many related parts from every possible angle before officially claiming that they have seen all there is to see where this magnificent bridge is concerned.
If You Go
Make it as leisurely as possible. There are benches on the bridge to sit and soak in the sun and eat a traditional Czech lunch. You could take many photos or sketch/paint/draw as many other artists through the centuries before you have done. Do not rush this one sight to go on to the next.