Prague with Kids: Sights and Rituals on the Charles Bridge
Sometimes, there are certain things in a city you just have to do no matter how many reviews call it a tourist trap. The Charles Bridge is one of Prague’s most popular attraction so we knew we had to spend some time here. Though, it is more than just a bridge. This 14th century, pedestrian, stone bridge crosses the Vltava River and is a big activity hub. Crossing this bridge is a multi-sensory experience.
Construction on the bridge was ordered in 1357 by King Charles IV (who the bridge was later named for). The 502 meter (1600 ft) long bridge was completed in 1402. Originally known as Stone Bridge (Karluv most), it was built to accomodate four carriages at one time since it was the only permanent structure that linked the two sides of the river for three centuries. Cars passed through here until 1965.
This is now the main pedestrian route that connects Prague’s Old Town area with the Lesser Town (Malá Strana) where Prague Castle is located. As you can imagine, it gets pretty crowded here as tourists try to maneuver their way through vendors and artists among other things.
There was no shortage of sketch artists and cartoonists here for that special souvenir from Prague. Some of them were quite talented too.
We bravely crossed the bridge after visiting Prague Castle in mid-afternoon. It is anchored on both sides by beautiful bridge towers.
We entered through the arch in between Judith Bridge Tower and Little Quarter Bridge Tower. The towers are open for climbing but we didn’t get the chance to go up. The taller Little Quarter tower has been here since 1464.
Before walking through the main parts of the bridge, we looked over one of the side walls and found this charming small canal with a water wheel. If you’re walking through the bridge, take your time and look out and you may get some pleasant surprises.
We also stopped long enough to enjoy the views of the Vltava river and all its activity below. Turning our backs from the bridge and focusing on the river almost made us forget all the hustle and bustle behind us.
The bridge is also one of the best places to enjoy the beautiful buildings and spires with Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral looming over it.
The 30 sandstone statues that adorn both sides of the bridge are its main attractions. The statues are mainly saints, some well-known ones and some a bit obscure. This was St. Norbert, St. Wenceslas and St. Sigismund who were the patron saints of the Bohemian provinces.
Most of the statues are replicas after many of the original ones were damaged, deteriorated or lost during the river floodings. Some of the original statues are on display at the Lapidarium Museum at the Prague Exhibition Grounds. Though, some of the statues look like they’ve been part of the bridge since its inception.
It’s hard to believe that Charles Bridge started off with only a wooden cross in the center. The first wooden cross has since been replaced by this gilded Crucifixion in 1629.
Reliefs below the statue show these events and rubbing it is supposed to bring good luck or make wishes come true or ensure your return to Prague soon. We don’t hesitate to do the touristy things including lining up to follow this ritual. Touching the lady on the right will ensure your return to Prague. And who wouldn’t want to come back to this beautiful city?
One can never have enough good luck and the kids actually enjoyed doing this. Touching the dog is supposed to make your wish come true. Unfortunately, we didn’t have an answer for my son of when his wish is supposed to come true.
This was another tribute to St. John Nepomuk and was the spot where he was thrown into the river. Legend has it that five stars appeared when his body touched the water. The ritual here is to touch the cross and stars with your left hand and make a wish and it will come true. It looks like people touched more than the stars here.
The details on some of those statues were remarkable. An upside to the crowds is it gave us a chance to pause and admire some of the statues we otherwise would have walked by. The saints represented here founded the Trinitarian Order which played a large role in raising ransom money and freeing Christians enslaved and imprisoned during its war with the Muslims.
It helped to have a guidebook that pointed out the saints and statues so we knew some of them. I wished I had a more in-depth guide to learn the tales and rich history behind these saints to fully appreciate what we were looking at. Although, some of the sculptures did have some names on them.
People watching is also a wonderful pastime at the bridge. It was great to walk down and hear a variety of languages and see the fun ways people pose. Then, there are those unexpected things we saw like this baby crawling around. She seemed content but the germaphobe in me desperately wanted to pick her up and dip her hands in a bottle of sanitizer.
The Charles Bridge has been the site of executions and floods among other things yet continues to be a top attraction in its 600-year history. It is always bustling with tourists, musicians and vendors but it makes for a fun experience to walk through it. Think of it as visiting an outdoor sculpture museum. Yes, it’s touristy but you can’t leave Prague without at least crossing this bridge once and making some wishes.
Walking The Charles Bridge Tips and Basics
- Keep an eye out and hold on to your purses and wallets since this is also an area known for pickpockets. Be aware of your surroundings especially when taking pictures or rubbing the statues.
- Climb the bridge towers on either side if you can for a unique perspective of the bridge and another panoramic view of the city for less than a US dollar or euro.
- If it’s not provided in your guidebook, print out a guide of the statues along the bridge as a reference. My DK Eyewitness Prague travel book was a great resource.
- Take a guided tour of the Charles Bridge to learn its history and the stories behind the statues. This tip-based tour meets everyday at 1:30 PM (rain or shine) by the statue of Charles IV on the Old Town side of the bridge.
- The bridge was very crowded during our summer visit on a weekday afternoon. It is highly recommended to visit during the early morning hours or late at night. We also visited at night which was a completely different experience with less people and vendors.
*Have you walked through the Charles Bridge in Prague? Any fun sightings?
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