If you’ve ever been to Prague, Czech Republic, or read much about the tourist sites there, you’ve probably heard about the Charles Bridge. One of the most famous and popular landmarks in town, the bridge dates to the 14th century and features prominently on most lists of things to do in Prague. Its sixteen stone arches gracefully span the Vltava River, guarded along the way by dozens of (replica) statues and three bridge towers. It’s beautiful, historic…
And, for most hours of the day, extremely crowded.
Because of the Charles Bridge’s reputation as one of the best and most essential things to do in Prague, it is frequently swarming with visitors. When M and I visited Prague in the fall of 2017, our first glimpse of the Charles Bridge came from a viewpoint on the Mánes Bridge nearby. Even from hundreds of yards (or meters) away, you could still see that the pedestrian bridge was packed full of people.
M and I knew we wanted to see the bridge, but we weren’t keen to be jostled by crowds the entire time we were trying to appreciate the statues and the views. Thankfully, we had read that there was a time to visit the bridge when crowds would be minimal and it would be at its most atmospheric.
If the thought of getting up before sunrise to go walk on an old bridge doesn’t thrill you, you’re not alone. But that’s exactly why experiencing the Charles Bridge at dawn is such a good idea. You get to walk this historic stone expanse practically by yourself because the rest of the city is still fast asleep.
M and I chose to visit the Charles Bridge the morning we left Prague for Budapest. As much as we loathed our alarms for waking us up while it was still dark outside, we ended up being very glad that we made the effort. The streets were quiet and peaceful on our twenty-five-minute walk from our hotel in New Town, and we arrived to find the Charles Bridge practically deserted.
The lamplight shining off the wet stones, coupled with the dark, shadowy presence of the statues looming over you, gave the bridge an otherworldly, almost eerie feeling. You certainly felt like you were standing in a place that had seen a lot of history.
One of the best parts of visiting the Charles Bridge at dawn was the view of the city from the river. The streetlights illuminated the gorgeous old buildings and reflected on the water so prettily that it was hard to look away.
Slowly, the sky lightened around us as we explored the bridge from end to end. It was a cloudy morning, so we didn’t get a stunning sunrise to cap off our time in Prague, but in a lot of ways the gloominess only added to the atmosphere on the bridge.
It was fun to see the city wake up and to slowly watch the details around us come into view. The statues felt less alive as their features were illuminated, and the myriad colors of Prague appeared to chip away at the monochromatic darkness the night had imposed.
While the sunrise itself was a bit anticlimactic, there’s nothing underwhelming about the Prague cityscape. Seeing the City of a Hundred Spires slowly come into view was really special. Reveling in the peaceful beauty of the waterfront in the early morning was a great way to cap off our too-few days in the city.
By the time dawn was transitioning into morning, more people were starting to explore the bridge. We took a few last photos, said a wistful goodbye to the Old Town, and headed back for a hearty breakfast at our hotel before our train to Budapest.
If you’re planning a trip to Prague and want to add the Charles Bridge to your list, I highly recommend making the effort to see it at dawn. For us, it was absolutely worth the early alarm to have the place almost entirely to ourselves and to experience it at its most ethereal and atmospheric.
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