A massively popular bridge, you’ll likely find Charles Bridge at the top of any “must-see” list for Prague. Located within Praha 1, it’s one of the numerous bridges that cross the Vltava River connecting Old Town. It’s the most popular of the bridges for multiple reasons, but mainly for the 30 large, Gothic-style statues that line it from north to south. Along with the statues, this bridge is also known for its street musicians, performers, and artists. Lastly, it’s a well-known hunting ground for pick pockets, so best to remain vigilant.
For us, the bridge was (disappointingly) incredibly crowded, almost unbearably. We happened to visit Prague during not only Halloween weekend, but also on Czech Republic Independence Day, when apparently half the country had the day off and came to Prague (we sadly had no choice – this trip came at the end of my brother’s work-planned business trip). Numerous family members have visited during different times of year and have said the bridge was nowhere near as crowded. So, plan accordingly! 😬🙃
Construction began in 1357 under King Charles IV, finishing sometime in the early 15th century. Originally called “Stone Bridge”, it has been referred to as “Charles Bridge” since at least 1870. As the only way to cross Vltava River for 484 years (1357 to 1841), it served as the most important connection between Old Town and Prague Castle (and was the way we took to get to Prague Castle). The distance across the bridge is 1,693 feet (516m) and it’s nearly 33 feet wide (10m). Protected by three bridge towers, there are 30 statues that line the entire bridge from north to south, on both sides, mostly in the baroque style.
Most of the statutes were erected between 1683 and 1714, putting them between 339 and 308 years old. A majority of the statues depict a saint or patron saint including Saints Ivo, Vitus, Joseph, Francis Xavier, Anne, Cajetan, John the Baptist, and Augustine. Other statues depict various Christian entities, like the “Statue of the Holy Savior with Cosmas and Damian” (1709), the “Statue of the Madonna attending to St. Bernard” (1709), the “Crucifix and Calvary” (1861), and the “Statue of the Lamentation of Christ” (1858). Many were created by the most prominent Bohemian sculptors of the time, including Matthias Braun, brothers Emanuel Max and Josef Max, Jan Brokoff and his two sons, Ferdinand Maximilian and Michael Joseph, and Jan Oldřich.
As mentioned, it was extraordinarily, and almost intolerably, crowded. However, I fully believe this was due to our unfortunate weekend of “choice” and was abnormal. Almost every person I’ve talked to who has visited Prague said the bridge was definitely not as crowded as our experience. Nonetheless, be prepared for hordes of people because it (clearly) can happen. It was difficult, but not impossible, to get a good picture of the statues, unencumbered by strangers, or to get a picture alone with one. The only place I’ve been that compares is the Lincoln Memorial in D.C. (American Pilgrimage Story (Washington D.C.).). It was still well worth it, and I’m very happy we visited, despite the unrelenting mass of people.
The bridge is about a 10-minute walk from Old Town Square, 15-miute walk to Prague Castle or the Powder Tower (opposite directions), and 12-minute walk to the Old Jewish Cemetery (The Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague, Czech Republic.) and/or Jewish Quarter. To get to the bridge, you need to pass through one of the 13 entrance towers welcoming you to Old Town. This tower resembles the famous Powder Tower (The Powder Tower of Prague.), another entrance tower, and you can climb this one as well. The bridge is completely free to walk across and is a pedestrian-only bridge. There are street performers, musicians, and artists along the bridge, looking to capitalize on the great industry of tourism.
Overall, regardless of crowds, Charles Bridge should be at the top of all visitors’ lists when they come to Prague. It’s a beautiful and historic bridge, and it’s popular for a reason. However, I’m fairly certain that if you don’t visit during not one, but two, major national holidays for the Czech Republic, it’ll be much more tolerable, peaceful, and easier to traverse! So, again, best to plan accordingly 🤪… Unless you have no choice of when you can visit because you must come at the tail-end of your brothers work-sponsored/planned work trip – in that case just enjoy the ride. 🤙🏼🤘🏼