Prague, city of crystal and marionettes, city of grandiose, intricate architecture and questionable food. How you tore me with your heavenly spires and your plentiful con merchants. How you wore me down with your perpetual cigarette fog and built me back up with your awe-inspiring statues.

The Czech capital is an architectural feast of Gothic, Renaissance, Cubist, Art Nouveau and Baroque delicacies. Despite the graffiti scars, you cannot fail to be impressed with the array of styles, colours and materials. The centre of Prague is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with good reason.

One of my favourite buildings was St Vitus Cathedral, which is situated in the Prague Castle complex. It is a stunning, gothic creation, complete with gargoyles and colourful stained glass windows. St Vitus was finished in 1929, nearly 600 years after building commenced. The front and back of the cathedral are therefore quite different in appearance; the back is equally impressive, resplendent with gold details and painted stone. It is a working cathedral, holding regular Catholic mass.

Possibly the most famous landmark in Prague is Charles Bridge, which straddles the Vltava River and was named for King Charles IV in the 15th century. It is flanked by three gothic bridge towers and is lined with saints. Disappointingly, the Baroque statues are replicas of the originals from the early 18th century, however, these are currently housed in museums.

Another of Prague’s most popular attractions is the Astronomical Clock, located in the Old Town Square, dating back to the late 13th century. It features two large faces, one of which is a calendar, incorporating signs of the zodiac. Every hour on the hour the clock strikes in to action, with several figures, including a representation of Death, moving mechanically. The clock itself is beautiful and complex but if you’re expecting a performance you’ll be clock-watching for a long time.

The Christmas markets, situated in the Old Town and Wenceslas Square, were nice enough but there was a lot of repetition. Although, the markets were missing one interesting sight due to the earliness of the month: live carp, which is traditional Czech Christmas Day fare, rather than the typical turkey.

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Winter is definitely the season to view Prague – the city was filled with festive cheer and plenty of Christmas trees and lights. It wasn’t too cold, despite advice to the contrary, and Prague doesn’t see a lot of rain. Visiting in winter means you also avoid the inevitable stag and hen parties.

Prague is a beautiful city with an interesting history. It is this beauty and history that draws tourists from all over the world – to marvel at its architecture, to trace ancestry, and to immerse themselves in the past. It is a city that knows only too well that this is more than enough to keep tourism alive. The drawbacks – an abundance of beggars, poor signage, graffiti and foul-smelling drains – do somewhat mar the experience.

Despite the prevalence of Art Nouveau in Prague, I chose to stay in an Art Deco hotel, more of which tomorrow.

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