Called the City of a Hundred Spires, Prague is one of the smaller European capitals, and abounds with stunning architecture and history. A compact tourist center makes this the ideal city for a fleeting visit, since a lot can be seen in a relatively short time. The city’s Václav Havel airport has excellent transport connections, and is close enough to the city center to make sightseeing easy if you have a layover of six hours or more.
Once known as Ruzynĕ, Václav Havel airport was renamed in 2012 to honor the last president of united Czechoslovakia and the man responsible for bringing democracy to the Czech Republic. One of the largest airports in east and central Europe, Václav Havel has modern amenities and is open and spacious. However, with only two main passenger terminals walks between gates are short. You’ll find free WiFi, an assortment of passenger lounges, as well as various food and drink options. But with the centre of Prague just over half an hour away, there’s no reason not to do a little sightseeing on a longer layover. For more information on the airport itself, check out our Prague Václav Havel Airport Guide.
A few essential sights:
The Royal Route/Silver Line Tour (Self Guided)
Because Prague’s historical center is so compact, seeing a little bit of everything is very possible. The easiest way to do this is by following the Royal Route (also known as the Silver Line). This was traditionally the route that Czech kings took on their way to be crowned at Prague’s St. Vitus Cathedral, and it passes most of the major Prague landmarks. Beginning at the Powder Tower at the city’s Municipal House, the route takes you through the old town and the Jewish quarter, before turning and crossing the Charles Bridge and continuing on up to Prague Castle and the Cathedral. Along the way you’ll see small silver disks with the words “silver line” emblazoned on them cemented into the sidewalk, so getting lost isn’t an option! The perfect way to see all that Prague has to offer, the Royal Route can be done in part or as a whole, and if you have plenty of time feel free to make a few stops along the way.
Time Required: The entire route is 2.5 km (about 1.5 miles) from start to finish, and takes around an hour and a half with no stops. From the Powder Tower turn your back to the main street and begin walking down Celetná street to spot your first “silver line” disk, then follow the trail. Be aware that this timing does NOT reflect the time taken to travel from the airport.
How to Get There: Check out this Google Map for details on public and private transport options from Václav Havel airport to the Powder Tower. Note that you will need to walk from the metro station to the beginning of the tour.
Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral
Prague Castle and its connected cathedral dominate the Prague skyline. Situated on top of a hill in the city’s Little Quarter (Mala Strana), and a UNESCO world heritage site, the castle is the official residence of the Czech president. The castle itself is a large complex, rather than a single building, consisting of halls, small alleys and lanes, as well as the large Cathedral of St. Vitus at its heart. You can freely tour most of the complex without a ticket, though if you want entry to any of the buildings, the cathedral, or Golden Lane (a street of tiny houses now turned into shops), you’ll need to buy a ticket. Building was begun on St. Vitus Cathedral in 1344 by Charles IV, and the cathedral is now the largest in the Czech Republic. Burial place of saints and notables, as well as the coronation site for Czech kings, the cathedral is famed for its architecture and stained glass windows. Tours of the castle, cathedral, and grounds are available, but really aren’t necessary. Just pick up a free guide map at the ticket office and show yourself around.
Time Required: Travel time from the airport is around 40 minutes. Official tours last anywhere from one to three hours, depending on what you opt to see. If you’re self-guiding then allow at least an hour to see the grounds of the castle (no ticket necessary), or at least two hours if you wish to visit some of the buildings.
How to Get There: Check out this Google Map for information on public and private transport options and times from Václav Havel airport. Be aware that the castle can be approached from the front or the rear. The front approach, however, involves a relatively steep climb up a hill which isn’t suitable for pushchairs or wheelchairs.
Old Town Square (Staromĕstské Námĕstí)
Old Town Square is the heart of old Prague, and aside from beautiful architecture, you’ll find plenty to occupy yourself with here. In the middle of the square is a statue dedicated to protestant martyr Jan Huss, and the south side of the square is dominated by the 14th century Gothic Church of Our Lady Before Týn (the burial place of astronomer Tycho Brahe). The biggest tourist attraction here, however, is the Astrological Clock (Prague Orloj). Built in 1410 this is the oldest Astrological Clock still in operation. On the hour the bells of the Old Town Hall chime, accompanied by the robotic dance of various figures representing life and death. You’ll also find the house where author Franz Kafka was born, as well as plenty of restaurants, shops, and a few smaller museums as well. However, beware the restaurants located on the central square which are renowned for high tourist prices, slipping down a side street to eat will save you a few precious Czech Crowns. During the Christmas and Easter seasons the square becomes home to a large craft and souvenir market which can get crowded.
Time Required: From the airport the trip is around 40 minutes, and how much time you spend in Old Town Square is really up to you. Plan on at least an hour to give you the chance to see the Astrological Clock chime.
How to Get There: For information on how to get to Old Town Square, check out this Google Map. The square can get very crowded both in the height of summer and around Christmas time, so be prepared to battle the crowds.
Charles Bridge (Karlův Most)
Perhaps the most iconic landmark of Prague is the Charles Bridge. Begun in 1357 under the auspices of Charles IV, the bridge spans the river Vltava, connecting the Little Quarter (mala strana, where Prague Castle is located) to the Old Town (staré město). The 621 metre stone bridge is lined with statues, buskers, and souvenir stalls, and each end is capped with a tower. A stroll across Charles Bridge is the high point of most people’s visit to the capital, and is to be especially recommended early in the morning or late at night when the crowds have gone home. There are a couple of things that you should be on the look out for. The eighth statue on your right (as you’re looking towards the Castle) is St. John Nepomuk, rubbing the statue’s plaque is said to guarantee you a return visit to the city. Also on the right side of the bridge (looking towards the Castle) you’ll find a small golden cross located about a third of the way along. Placing your hand on this cross is said to grant you any wish you please. Prague is renowned for its pickpockets, and Charles Bridge is one of the largest danger zones, so watch your pockets and bags carefully here, and try not to carry valuables.
Time Required: The trip from the airport takes around 40 minutes or so, and the bridge takes about twenty minutes to cross (mostly due to crowding). Be prepared to spend more time if you’re souvenir shopping or simply taking pictures.
How to Get There: This Google Map will show you directions and transport options to get to the Charles Bridge from Václav Havel airport.
There are two options to get you from Václav Havel airport to the center of the city.
- Taxi – Taxis leave from the front of both passenger terminals. Be aware that Prague does have a problem with unlicensed cabs (though this is less of a problem at the airport than on the street), so ensure that your taxi has a meter and has that meter switched on before departing.
- Public Transit – Though there are plans to have Prague’s metro system extended to the airport, so far these have not come to fruition. In the meantime, the Airport Express bus transfers travellers from the Airport to the Prague Main Railway Station. Tickets on the Airport Express are not valid on other public transportation. Tickets can be bought inside the airport terminal (Arrivals) or from the bus driver. Take the metro in the direction of Depo Hostivař to reach either of the centrally located metro stops (Staromĕstská or Můstek).
Before You Go: Layover Tips
Now that you are motivated and excited for your mini layover vacation, just make sure to check a few final logistical concerns off your list before you fully commit.
- Do you need to organize a visa to leave the airport? Requirements change frequently and for each nationality, so be sure to seek out current details on the availability, cost and procedures of obtaining a transit visa.
- When is your next flight’s check-in time? Make sure you double check with your airline exactly when you need to be at the airport – and plan your layover accordingly.
- What are security wait times like at the airport? Some airports are notorious for long security wait-times, so be sure to do a bit of research in advance and factor that into your overall time-budget.
- What’s happening with your luggage? When you check in to your first flight, be sure to confirm whether your luggage is checked through or needs to be picked up between your connecting flights. Check out our Václav Havel Prague Airport Guide for information about luggage storage.
Other Useful Resources
Finally, here are a few handy resources to help you plan your layover even more thoroughly: