The first day I came to Prague I went straight to the world-famous Charles Bridge! The Charles Bridge is set against the stunning backdrops of Prague’s breathtaking architecture and the mirror like Vltava River. But, with such popularity comes the tourist’s nightmare; crowds! When I visited that afternoon the crowds were so thick you could barely see the bridge, ruining what I had hoped would be a magical experience. I was so overwhelmed I didn’t even venture onto the bridge and instead found a quaint side street to meander along instead. The next day, after some research, I decided to revisit it in the early morning when the crush of visitors had lessened. Although it was still busy on, it was nothing compared to the afternoon hoards we’d seen on the bridge the day before.
The bridge was constructed in 1357 under the watchful eye of King Charles IV. The old bridge which connected the two parts of the city, built in 1158, was more than due for some repairs. It was severely damaged in a flood in 1342 which lead to its demolition and the construction of the new Charles Bridge, named after the King. The reason this bridge was always so important was that it connected the castle past of town to the city’s old town.
When to Arrive
The best time to see the bridge is either in the early morning or late at night. As previously mentioned, the afternoon is when you’ll see the most tourists arrive, especially those on tour buses or river cruises who will depart by dinner time and won’t have arrived before breakfast.
Before you step onto the bridge, you must pass through the Old Bridge Tower Gate. The gate welcomes passersby, with a small inscription, into the Little Quarter. The entrance to the bridge is a dark black tower; its old stone stained with age. It was constructed in 1380 as a functional aspect of the bridge, a fortification against invaders. Its Gothic features loom down upon you. Above the archway are several royal crests and resting on top of them are statues of various religious figures, each one holding a shield with heraldry emblazoned upon it.
The bridge is 621 meters long and almost a whopping 10 meters wide! On either side of the bridge are two guard towers, once used for protection, now they only serve as a fascinating decoration for the tourists. Two stand guard on the Little Quarter side and the other one is located on the Old Town Side.
As you walk along the bridge, you come across dozens of statues and statuaries in Baroque and Gothic styles. They were all once original pieces created in the 16th and 17th century but now are replaced with replicas to keep better in the weather. The statues depict various saints and patrons who were of great importance during the time of its construction.
The most famous figures to keep an eye out for as you're walking along the bridge are depictions of St. Luthgard, the Holy Crucifix and Calvary, and John of Nepomuk.
Some of the statues are very disturbing and portray the harsh reality of early medieval life in Prague. It would serve as a warning to any villagers passing through to keep on the path of virtue and to frequent the church to repent all their sins.
Souvenirs Stalls vs Craftspeople
All along the bridge, people are selling their arts and crafts. There are paintings, magnets, sculptures and more. Many of these people are very strict about tourists taking photos of their works, instead of simply being it. Which, to be fair, I do understand. We stopped at this woman's glass jewelry stand and found a beautiful and simple pair of earrings I loved. She was so sweet, and I felt great about buying something so kind and dedicated to her craft. We look a little picture, with her permission, of her beautifully manicured booth along the bridge.
All in all, despite the mad crowds that scared me off, I was thrilled to have spent the time walking across the bridge. The views of both old town and the Prague Castle as incredible. Pedestrian bridges like this are few and far between and its understandable that it would be frequented by so many pedestrians. Find the right time of day and you'll find the bridge less busy and more enjoyable.