Every year, thousands of people flock to Old Town Square in Prague to get a glimpse of the Astronomical Clock, one of the finest examples of its kind still around in Europe.
Located on the south wall of Prague’s Town Hall, the Astronomical Clock has an equally colourful history to match its colourful facade. Its oldest part was built in 1410 by a local clockmaker and a professor of astronomy. Other elements, such as the calendar dial and the moving statues, were added in the intervening centuries.
Upon first glance, it can be difficult to figure out what you're seeing, given the number of dials and figures that make up the famous Orloj (as it's known locally). The easiest way to understand the Astronomical Clock is to take it piece by piece. The outermost gold letters on a black ring around the Clock indicate Old Czech Time using symbols known as Schwabacher numerals. This curious system starts at 1 for sunset, and the dial moves during the year to reflect the changing time. Inside of this, there are golden Roman numerals. On the stem of the Clock’s hand is a golden star marking the sign of the Zodiac, and the sun and moon on the dial are used to indicate the current position of the sun and the lunar phase. Even the background of the Astronomical Clock carries its own astronomical meaning: The blue circle in the centre is the Earth, while the blue portion above it represents the part of the sky above the horizon. At night the inner dial moves to the red part to indicate dawn or dusk.
If you're starting to get confused with this detailed description, remember that this is no ordinary clock. It’s more a kind of basic planetarium that displays everything known about the Universe in medieval times. Beneath the main Astronomical Clock you'll see a decorative calendar ring added in 1870, which tells the time of year. To the left and right of the Clock dial you'll see a set of four statues, set in motion upon the hour. These four figures represent entities of loathing at the time of the Orloj's construction: Death (represented by the skeleton); Vanity (shown as a man gazing into a mirror); Greed (represented by a man with a gold bag); and the Turk (a figure dressed in a Turban). Finally, there is a presentation of the Twelve Apostles at small doorways above the Astronomical Clock. They appear and disappear at different times; but if you're there at noon you'll see all twelve present and correct.
The Astronomical Clock has been repaired a number of times over its long history. It suffered the most damage during World War II, when occupying German forces fired from armored vehicles upon the western side of Old Town Square. This was an attempt to silence broadcasts being made from the area. The town hall, along with some nearby buildings, the wooden apostles and the calendar dial on the Clock were all burned. Both were eventually restored and the Orloj began working again from 1948. Since then, it has attracted the curiosity and bemusement of locals and visitors alike.
When to Go to Astronomical Clock
The best time to visit the Prague Astronomical Clock is during the summer and the autumn. During these seasons you may face crowds, but you won't have to battle freezing temperatures. Also, many museums and other attractions have shorter opening hours in the off-season.
Prague in summer is a feast of colours, while the changing landscape of autumn is equally beautiful. Temperatures hit the 60°s (15°C +) beginning in May; while summer temperatures can go as high as the low 90°s (about 30°C). Autumn climes won't dip into the 50°s until after mid-October. If you do go in winter, watch out for freezing temperatures that can sink as low as the mid-teens (-10°C).
Odds n' Ends
Condor and Czech Airlines are the main carriers to the Czech Republic from North America. If you're already in the region, then there are an abundance of budget airlines offering cheap flights from other European cities. If you're touring around Europe, it may also be a good option to go by train from a neighboring country. Vienna to Prague, for instance, is a five-hour ride that will only set you back US$40.
Remember to pack for a variety of weather conditions depending on when you go. Rain is common in summer despite the sunny and warm conditions. As a major world tourist destination, English is widespread in central Prague, but take a phrasebook with you just in case.
The area around the Astronomical Clock can get crowded, especially on the hour and at midday when the Clock is in peak performance; although you should still get a good view of the clock.
Want a Guide?
- Prague Grand City Tour
- This 3 1/2 hour coach and walking tour takes in many of the best spots to see around the Czech capital. The historical center of the city, Prague Castle, St Vitus Cathedral and Charles Bridge all feature. Runs daily starting at 11.15am, tickets US$35, US$32 for students.
- Prague City Tour - Old Town area
- This half-day tour offers a more deluxe experience with a private guide included for your group. It covers all the main sights in the historical city center. Morning and afternoon starts for this 4-5 hour tour. Prices start at US$135 per person for a group of up to 20, with higher rates applying if you want a car or van with a driver for your tour.
- The All in One Prague Insider Tour
- This four-hour tour promises to take in all the main sights of Prague - namely the Old Town, Charles Bridge and Prague Castle, with a stop at a Prague cafe included. Starts at 1.30pm daily. Prices US$32 per person, with a 10% discount for booking online.
Places to Eat
- Grand Cafe Orient
- This centrally-located cafe certainly has the grandeur of its name - think green and mahogany interior - but without any of the high prices that might go along with such a title. Why not grab a tasty savoury pancake with your coffee for only US$7? Best of all, there's free wifi for all your e-postcard needs.
- Golden Tiger Pub
- If you're looking for genuine Czech atmosphere, this beer restaurant is certainly it. Once visited by Bill Clinton, the bar's dark wooden interior will make you think you're in a medieval feasting room. Try a pork shoulder for just US$5 with your pilsner.
- Bily Konicek
- For a treat to eat this cavernous restaurant right on Old Town Square is a good bet. A mix of local specialties and gourmet international entrees start from around US$17. Housed in cellars from the 12th Century, the Bily Konicek (White Horse) also doubles as a jazz club.
Recommended Places to Stay
- Prague Square Hostel
- As this hostel's website proudly boasts, you won't have to spend money on transport when staying here - it's one small street away from the Astronomical Clock. Prices start at US$15 for a bed in a 10-person dorm in off-season.
- Jilska Apartments
- If you want somewhere more cosy and homey than a hostel or hotel, why not try renting an apartment for your trip? Two sharing at this complex, which is located between Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square, can stay for US$62 per night.
- Intercontinental Hotel
- For something a bit more luxurious, try this hotel, one of the oldest serving foreign tourists in the city. Located near the river above the Jewish Quarter, the Intercontinental offers the usual amenities and conveniences of a well-to-do hotel. Rooms start at US$210 per night for two.
Additional Places to Stay Nearby
Search over 900,000 global hotel deals from over 30 merchants. Book via Expedia, Travelocity,
Hotels.com, Booking.com, Priceline and the websites of popular hotel chains.
Staromestske Namesti, 22, Prague 110 00 Being right opposite the Astronomical Clock, this hotel has a unique location in the centre of the Old Town ... 0 miles away
Less than a minute away from Old Town Square and Old Town Hall with Orloj Astronomical Clock, and a quick walk to Parizska Street and ... 0 miles away
More Experiences Nearby
- Learn the Secret Behind Ramen at the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum
- Making instant ramen noodles at home isn't overly exciting, but visit the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum in Osaka, Japan and making them will take on a whole different experience. Here, you get to become a part of the instant ramen noodle-making process, right from scratch. Sound interesting? Well here you are your own cook, designing your new favourite noodle and experimenting with various flavors. The Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum houses a wide collection of the instant ramen sold over the ages. From the packaging materials to the types of instant ramen noodles, everything is on display. Though the ...3568 miles away.
While You're There - Tours and Trips Nearby
You'll be transferred by coach to the River Vltava to board an air-conditioned boat for your lunchtime cruise. Don't forget to bring your camera along, ...0.06 miles away via Prague.
Your first stop will be the largest and best known Czech spa - Karlovy Vary. The founding of the town has been linked with the ...0.06 miles away via Prague.