Prague - May 1st to May 4th 2004
Prague, with it's magnificent castle, churches, gothic towers and fascinating architecture, must be one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, if not the world. If you haven't been, you owe it to yourself to visit.
UNESCO added the city to it's list of World Cultural Heritage Sites in 1992 and it is easy to see why.
May 1st 2004 was the day that the Czech republic joined the European Union. Perhaps not the best time to visit, the weather wasn't at it's best, there were untold crowds of tourists, and it was the middle of an international ice hockey tournament. Cheap European flights haven't helped either, Prague is now a premier destination for boozy Brits going away for a weekend bachelor party!
However, don't let that put you off. There's much to see, including the magnificent Prague Castle, the Charles Bridge with it's towers and statues, the Old Town Square and Astronomical Clock, Petřín Hill with the Petřín Tower (a 5:1 scale model of the Eiffel Tower) and the funicular, churches, synagogues and much more.
With a magnificent cliff-top outlook, a 1000-year-old history going back to a simple walled-in compound in the 9th century, and a breathtaking scale that qualifies it as the biggest ancient castle in the world, Prague Castle is the indisputable centrepiece of the Czech capital.
The most popular attractions include Gothic St Vitus Cathedral (1344), its rich decorations epitomized by the glittering Chapel of St Wenceslas; the Old Royal Palace (1135) and its jousting and coronation hall, still used for the swearing in of new presidents; and the Royal Garden (1569).
This 1043ft hill is topped with a network of eight parks, comprising one of Prague's largest green spaces. It's great for quiet walks and postcard-perfect views of the 'City of 100 Spires.'
You can tone your thigh muscles hiking up from Hradcany or Strahov, or take the funicular railway for the same price as a tram ride.
North of the terminus on the summit is Petřín Tower, a 203ft copy of the Eiffel Tower, built for the 1891 Prague Exposition. You can climb its 299 steps for a small fee. On a clear day, you'll be able to take in sublime views of the central Bohemian woodlands.
The Old Town Square and Hall
The centrepiece of Staré Město is the huge Old Town Square. It has been Prague's working heart since the 10th century, and hosted its largest market until the beginning of the 20th century. It's surrounded by a maze of alleys and is home to some of Prague's most famous monuments.
Despite the over-the-top commercialism and crowds of tourists swarming the place, it's still a fun place to stop - cafés spilling onto the pavement, buskers and performing dogs, and silly horse-drawn beer wagons are some of the possible sights.
The Old Town Hall (1338) was cobbled from a series of row houses by a cash-poor city council. Though it took heavy damage in WWII, the famous Astronomical Clock (1410) survives. Visitors intent on ogling the mechanical marvel wait for the hourly show, when Death rings a bell and inverts his hourglass and a parade of apostles pass by, nodding to the crowd.
Other sights worth seeking out around the square include Powder Tower (1475), where the defenestration craze got started!
Stroll down the Royal Way to the Vlatava, where the Charles Bridge has endured traffic for 600 years - thanks, legend says, to eggs mixed into the mortar. Monuments and statues of historic importance, dating from 1657 to 1858, provide a dramatic frame for views up and down the river. Don't get completely caught up in the crush of beauty and tourists, however; pickpockets work the bridge day and night.