During our visit to the Czech Republic’s capital, mom and I decided to spend some time wandering through Josefov, the historic Prague Jewish Quarter in the north of the Old Town.
Mom and I had planned to simply wander around the district – which takes its name from Emperor Joseph II, who granted the Jewish community greater freedoms – but, after spotting our first synagogue in the flesh, we decided to buy a Prague City Card. With entry to many of the area's monuments sorted, we spent an hour or two immersing ourselves in Jewish history, culture, and architecture.
Large parts of the Jewish Ghetto were demolished during city renovations around the turn of the century, but the remaining buildings are of great historical value and many now form part of the Jewish Museum in Prague.
Here's a look at some of the places you can see in Josefov.
- Places to visit in Josefov, the Prague Jewish Quarter
- Sites at Josefov we didn't visit
- Josefov with a guide
- Where to stay in Prague
- How to get to Prague
- Other things to do in Prague
- Save money on your trip to Prague
- Don't forget travel insurance
Places to visit in Josefov, the Prague Jewish Quarter
1. Maisel Synagogue
Maisel Synagogue has been rebuilt several times since its original incarnation as a Renaissance temple in 1592. Situated just north of Old Town Square, its current neo-Gothic exterior was built in 1905 and sets the building apart from the rest of the architecture on this street.
Part of Prague's Jewish Museum, the synagogue hosts a permanent exhibition on the history of the Jews in Bohemia, featuring historical artifacts, maps, manuscripts from the Jewish community, and a virtual tour of the old quarter.
Entry is included in the Prague City Card.
2. Pinkas Synagogue
Located near the banks of the Vltava River, Pinkas Synagogue may not be the most grandiose place of worship in the world – or even in Prague or the Czech Republic, for that matter – but it's undoubtedly one of the most moving. The names of almost 80,000 Jewish people are inscribed on its walls, along with their date of birth and date of death.
This touching memorial to the Jewish community of Josefov was installed in the late 1950s but later closed during communist rule in the country. In 1995, after extensive renovation works, the memorial was reopened to the public.
Perhaps even more poignant than the list of names is the collection of children's drawings. The Jewish Museum put together an exhibition of paintings by children who lived in the Terezín Ghetto during World War II. Established by the Nazis, Terezín was both a concentration camp and a ghetto, and Jews living there endured terrible conditions such as not having enough food. Most of the children who made the artworks died in Auschwitz.
Entry is included in the Prague City Card.
3. Old Jewish Cemetery
Situated a short walk from the Old-New Synagogue, the Old Jewish Cemetery in Josefov was founded in the first half of the 15th century and is Europe's oldest surviving Jewish graveyard. National Geographic listed it in its Top 10 Burial Sites to Visit and I have to agree that it's a special place.
There's only one narrow path that runs through the Old Jewish Cemetery so it can be difficult to experience this site at your own pace, especially if you have to share the space with a tour group as we did.
The cemetery was in use from 1439 to 1787. With so many bodies and so little room, graves were piled on top of each other, reaching up to 12 layers thick in some places. We were both struck by the seemingly random placement of the gravestones, which stuck out of the ground everywhere, often crooked and tipping over.
We also noticed some visitors had left pieces of paper, weighed down by stones, on top of the tombstones. I later read these notes contained wishes from people who believe the dead can answer your prayers. If you want to do the same, remember to bring a stone with you from home as taking one from the graveyard is considered disrespectful.
Some stones didn't have papers under them, which, I later found out, is a Jewish sign of remembrance for the deceased.
Entry to the Old Jewish Cemetery of Josefov is free with the Prague City Card.
4. Spanish Synagogue
The Spanish Synagogue was the most impressive of the Jewish synagogues and historic monuments we saw. The ornate interior contains Moorish-style elements based on the design of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain – hence the name!
Another of the Jewish Museum in Prague's synagogues, it hosts an exhibition about the history of Jews in Bohemia and Moravia, as well as a collection of silver artifacts from those regions.
To see more of this part of the Jewish Quarter, check out the 360° tour of the Synagogue on the Jewish Museum website.
Entry to the Spanish Synagogue is included with the Prague City Card.
Sites at Josefov we didn't visit
5. Klausen Synagogue and the Ceremonial Hall
The Klausen Synagogue is located near the Old Jewish Cemetery and is the largest synagogue in the former Jewish Ghetto of Josefov. It hosts an exhibition on Jewish traditions and customs, focusing on rituals that take place at milestones such as birth or marriage.
You can see the second part of the exhibition at the Ceremonial Hall, also near the Old Jewish Cemetery. The exhibits examine the work of the Jewish Burial Society and introduce non-Jews to the concept of “taharah”, the ritual purification of the dead. Both of these sites are part of the Jewish Museum in Prague.
Free entry with the Prague City Card.
6. Robert Guttmann Gallery
Named after the painter Robert Guttman, this Jewish museum is situated in a former hospital next to the Spanish Synagogue in Josefov. Gallery exhibitions are temporary and focus on varying aspects of Jewish culture, life, history, and art.
It's estimated that only 10% of the country's Jewish population survived Nazi occupation so, as you can imagine, sharing stories through such exhibits is incredibly important to the Jewish community. Today, the number of Jews living in the Czech Republic is said to be less than 4,000.
Entry included with the Prague City Card.
7. Old-New Synagogue
Built in 1270, the Old-New Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter is Europe's oldest active synagogue. It was originally called the New Synagogue, but as more synagogues were erected in the area close to the Old Town Square and throughout the Jewish Quarter, its name was changed to Old-New Synagogue. As one of Prague's earliest Gothic buildings and the oldest surviving medieval synagogue with a twin nave, its architecture is unique. Be sure to admire the neighboring Jewish Town Hall too – its beautiful Rococo facade was added in the 18th century.
One of the most intriguing tales of the Josefov area is that of the Golem of Prague. Legend has it that in the 16th century, a local rabbi created a golem out of clay and brought it to life to help protect the Jewish population. It's said the body of the golem can be found in the attic of the Old-New Synagogue but, as the attic is closed to the public, you'll have to decide for yourself whether or not to believe the local legend.
Entry included in the Prague City Card.
Josefov with a guide
If you'd like to learn more about the history of the Jewish Quarter and the Jewish people, consider looking into tours of Josefov. This Jewish Town walking tour has great reviews.
Where to stay in Prague
Boutique: Prague Inn
We spent three nights at the Hotel Prague Inn, a small hotel in the heart of the city. We had a spacious room, an elaborate breakfast, and good WiFi. It was an ideal base for our day spent exploring the Jewish Quarter.
Budget: Hostel Damiell
The Damiell is a simple, what-you-see-is-what-you-get hostel. Its location isn't far from Prague Castle and boasts picture-postcard views of the Vltava River. It takes about 25 minutes to reach the Jewish Ghetto on foot but there are numerous bus links available. Dormitories range from one to four beds, with WiFi and a fully furnished kitchen available on each floor. Nearby amenities include a restaurant and supermarket just yards from the door.
Chain: Clarion Hotel Prague City
This modern hotel is centrally located, just a five-minute walk from Wenceslas Square, and has a tram stop right outside, easily taking you all around the city, including to the Jewish Ghetto. Rooms include a coffee-maker, air-conditioning, flat-screen TV, minibar, and WiFi. There's also a varied breakfast.
Luxury: BoHo Prague Hotel
The BoHo Prague boasts a central location with easy access to all the best landmarks, including the Jewish Quarter. Rooms are large, elegantly furnished, and spacious. From the stunning artwork to the comfy modern furniture, no expense has been spared. Guests can enjoy the luxurious restaurant or wellness center for a surcharge.
Apartment: Remember Residence
Just a few minutes from the stunning Charles Bridge and about 20 minutes from Josefov Ghetto, lies the Remember Residence. The apartments are bright and airy thanks to the large windows and feature chic soft furnishings, including an ever-so-stylish hammock! The kitchenette has a stove, coffee machine, microwave, toaster, fridge, and more. The best feature, though, is the charming garden area, perfect for taking a breather from busy city life.
How to get to Prague
We flew from Brussels Airport to Prague and then took a hotel transfer that we'd booked beforehand.
Search Skyscanner for the best overview of your flight options.
If you also want to arrange a private transfer from the airport direct to your hotel, you can do so here.
For a more budget-friendly option, check out this shared shuttle service.
There is no direct train or metro line from Prague Airport to the city center but you can find regular buses going to specific stops in the center.
- Bus 119 runs between the airport and the Dejvicka metro station.
- Bus 100 runs between the airport and Zlicin metro station.
- Bus 179 runs between the airport and Nove Butovice metro station.
There's also the Airport Express bus which runs between the airport and Hlavni Nadrazi, Prague’s main train station which is located in the heart of the city. The bus takes about 35 minutes to get there.
When traveling through Europe, you can also reach Prague by train.
Click here to search train options and prices.
Other things to do in Prague
If you want to learn more about the history and culture of the Czech Republic, check out my list of fun facts about the country.
Save money on your trip to Prague
Aside from getting the Prague City Card, there's another way to save money on your trip to Prague. Prague expert Jiri Moravic has written a book that allows you to save on everything from meals to taxis, currency exchange, and shopping.
He's so sure his tips will help you save at least $60 that he offers a 30-day money-back guarantee in case you're not satisfied with the book.
Don't forget travel insurance
Plan for the best, prepare for the worst. Travel insurance has you covered in case (part of) your trip gets canceled, you get sick or hurt abroad, and sometimes even when your electronics break or get stolen. I always make sure I'm covered every trip I go on.
Don't have travel insurance yet? Check out SafetyWing. They offer super flexible plans that you can even sign up for while you're already on your trip. On top of that, they were the first travel insurance to cover COVID, and when I got COVID, they reimbursed all of my expenses without making a fuss. Their customer support team is great and I can personally recommend them.
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