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Prague

astronomical clock old town square prague Old Town, anchored by Old Town Square, is a colorful collection of restaurants, shops and a stunning hodgepodge of architecture that includes Gothic towers, a premier Art Nouveau exhibition hall and Cubist houses. Vendors, sausage stands and, seasonally, a Christmas market enliven the square, which is also home to Prague's famous Astronomical Clock. The clock was installed in 1410; every hour between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m., two cuckoo clock windows open and statues of the 12 Apostles parade past, while the Grim Reaper rings his bell.

As any local will tell you, no visit to Prague would be complete without a stroll across Charles Bridge. The bridge, with its famous statues, straddles the Vltava River and has been Prague's lifeline for centuries. Armies, monarchs and now tourists have all trooped across the bridge, completed in the early 1400's. The Charles, named for famed Bohemian emperor Charles IV, has two towers worth climbing, if only for the photo opportunities. There's also a museum with information about the history of the bridge.

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If Prague has a visual signature, it is Prague Castle, the hilltop fortress that has dominated the city since the ninth century. There is no place better to view the so-called City of 100 Spires (though there are hundreds more than that across the city skyline). Said to be the largest ancient castle in the world, the complex has been reconstructed four times over the centuries and still serves as the seat of the presidency. When the president is in the country, his flag is flown. The grounds have four courtyards, a royal palace and several museums. An on-site cathedral, started in 1344, remarkably was not completed until 1929. There is a changing of the guard at the castle at the top of each hour, as well as a ceremony at noon, all with much ado.

Josefov, Prague's Jewish quarter, is a well-preserved complex of Jewish historical monuments. It's a strange little place because the former Jewish ghetto -- which includes six synagogues, a town hall and the second-oldest Jewish cemetery in Europe -- now houses chic boutiques and galleries in what were once overpopulated medieval alleys. Much of the original Jewish quarter was demolished after 1893 to make way for a redevelopment project, but the buildings that did survive are testimony to Prague's Jewish culture.

The 305-foot Zizkov Television Tower is a modern edifice, built in the late 80s and early 90s under the auspices of the Soviet Union. Disparaged by many locals, the skinny silver tower is sometimes jokingly referred to as "the Russian Finger," said to offer the nicest view of the city because the tower itself isn't in it. A panoramic observation deck is open daily.

A number of Vltava River cruises, some with dinner and music, originate at the Charles Bridge, among other places. One of the most popular, called Jazzboat, boards in the evening and features live jazz and dinner. The ship departs from Terminal 5, across from the InterContinental Hotel.

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Even if you don't use the metro system, check out a subway station just to ride the escalator. They're extremely high and steep, and have become featured fodder on YouTube.com. (Go to the site, enter "Prague escalator" in the search bar and you'll see what we mean.)
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