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One of the things you must do in Czechia is see the Prague Astronomical Clock which has been here for over 600 years.
It’s the oldest working clock in the world that tells you four types of time, celestial movements, moon phases, and zodiac houses. It also has a working calendar.
Every hour, a huge crowd gathers in front of the clock with their phones and cameras to watch a small show. Here, you can see the walk of apostles and other famous characters come to life.
Seeing the astronomical clock chime is something that has to be done in the city of a hundred spires and I would not skip over it.
Here is how to visit the Prague Astronomical Clock and see the Procession of Apostles show!
Prague Astronomical Clock history
Prague’s Astronomical Clock (Prague Orloj) is the third oldest clock in the world. But, as it’s still in working order this makes it the oldest working clock in the world today!
If you were curious, the oldest clock in the world is located in Salisbury Cathedral and the second oldest is in Wells Cathedral in the UK.
The oldest part of the Orloj was installed on the Gothic Old Town Hall tower in 1410.
It was created by a clockmaker called Mikulas of Kadan along with Jan Sindel, a mathematics and astronomy professor of Charles University.
They created the astronomical dial that tells four times, the sun’s position, moon phases, and zodiac seasons.
The calendar dial was installed later. This tells you the days of the year as well as important religious feast days.
There is an old legend that says that the clock was created by a famous clock master called Jan Hanus.
He was apparently blinded by the order of the King and Prague Councillors so he could not make another beautiful clock like Prague’s again.
In revenge, he disabled the clock and it couldn’t be fixed for a hundred years! There’s another legend that says if the clock suffers, the city will suffer as well.
It was eventually fixed in the 16th century by Jan Táborský, a master clockmaker from Klokotská Hora. A little later the wooden figures were added to the clocks decoration.
The Walk of the Apostles was added in 1865. Over 600 years the clock has had many fixtures made and many parts have been replaced. But, it still works and tells the time(s) and current date accurately.
Today, it still draws in hundreds of people every hour to watch the clock chime in the Old Town Square!
What does the Prague Astronomical Clock do?
When reading the clock, the dials show you the position of the sun, moon, earth, planets, and zodiac houses as well as telling you the time and the date.
But, the fascinating thing about this clock is it doesn’t just tell the time as we know it. It tells you the time in four ways; Babylonian time, German time, Old Bohemian time, and Sidereal time (Celestial Time).
It also provides a little show to mark the hour with the clock chiming! You’ll see the walk of the apostles behind the windows and the statues surrounding the clock come alive.
How does the Prague Astronomical Clock work?
The Prague Astronomical Clock is made up of three sections and these are the Astronomical Dial, the Calendar Dial, and the Walk of the Apostles.
Each section should be treated separately when reading the clock as each has its own way of telling you the current time and date.
The most impressive part of the Prague Astronomical Clock is the Astronomical Dial which has no end of readings and looks very complicated. But, you can read it easily if you look at each clock’s face separately.
The most important thing to remember is it’s showing you both the time and movements in the sky.
The golden Roman numerals will let you know the current time as we know it (German Time) and is indicated by a golden hand. But, this clock actually tells you three other types of times.
The outer edges of the clock are written in golden Schwabacher numerals that represent Old Czech Time / Gothic Time.
This is in numbers 1-24 and 24 represents the sunset (not midnight) which varies throughout the year.
Underneath the Roman numerals are smaller black numbers representing Babylonian time.
It’s in a 12-hour format and you can find that time not by the numbers but by the clock hands positioned between the golden lines. This is the only astronomical clock in the entire world that shows a Babylonian time.
Lastly is Celestial or Sidereal time. This time is based on the position of stars in the sky and is indicated by the star hand of the clock.
The best part of this clock, in my opinion, is the tracking of celestial movements or the ‘movement of the heavenly bodies’ as they would refer to it in the medieval period.
You’ll notice that the background of the clock represents the sky and the golden planet in the middle represents Earth.
The sun is represented in gold on a clock hand. Then, the moon is represented on another clock hand as a small black ball with a silver face.
The moon marker is especially clever as it has its own mechanism inside of it to change its shape based on the current moon phase! So, it will show you a full, half, or eclipsed moon.
The colours represent the different horizons at that time of day. These are blues (day), orange/red (dawn/sunset), and black (night).
Then there is the black clock dial with all the golden zodiac signs on it. This covers the 12 months of the year and a clock hand will indicate the current astrological season.
The Calendar Dial is located below and has many different portraits on the clock face to signal the date.
You’ll see some tiny text around the outside of the dial and this includes the days represented by a number and alphabet. Plus, the names of 365 saints and feast days.
The 12 months are represented by the larger images and the inner circle has small portraits that represent each zodiac sign.
If you look really closely at the top of the calendar dial, there is a golden marker showing the current date.
Walk of the Apostles
The last part of the clock will let you know when the clock chimes the hour with the “Procession of Apostles”.
When the clock strikes the hour, the two windows open above the astronomical dial and you’ll see the apostles appear one at a time.
You’ll see St Paul with his sword and book and then St Thomas, St Simon, St Jude Thaddeus, St Bartholomew, and St Barnaby.
Then in the other, you’ll see St Peter with a key to the kingdom of heaven, then St Matthias, St John, St Andrew, St Philip, and St Jacob Less.
At the very end, a gold rooster will then crow like a trumpet and flap his wings. This movement is only made when the windows close and triggers the bellows!
What are the famous figures in Prague’s Astronomical clock?
As well as the apostles, there are many other famous figures that you can see around the Prague Astronomical clock as well.
- Death – the skeleton is my favourite character on this clock. He’s a grim reaper who rings a bell throughout the walk of the apostles and reminds us all of our fate.
- Vanity – a man holding a mirror who can’t stop looking at himself.
- Greed / Miser – a businessman with a walking stick and a huge bag of money. He’s a symbol of vice and avarice.
- Extravagance – a Turk who is a prince playing the mandolin.
- Gold rooster – This cute little rooster symbolises life and crows at the end of the show and flaps his wings.
There are also other figures that are not animated. There is a stone Angel above the Astronomical Dial.
Then, around the Calendar Dial, you can see statues of the archangel Michael, a philosopher, an astronomer, and a chronicler too!
Where is the Astronomical Clock in Prague?
The Prague Astronomical Clock is located at the bottom of the Old Town Hall Tower in the Old Town Square or Staroměstské náměstí.
You really can’t miss it as you arrive as it’s a huge clock with two faces and it’s painted in bright colours and symbols in gold!
You’ll especially not miss it if you approach the clock on the hour during the ‘Parade of Apostles’ show as it draws in a huge crowd.
There are many cafés in the area, and even a Starbucks opposite the clock, so you can grab a coffee to watch the show.
The Prague Astronomical Clock address is Staroměstské nám. 1, 110 00 Josefov, Czechia. Click here for a Google Pin!
What time does the Astronomical Clock in Prague go off?
The Prague Astronomical Clock chimes every hour from the hours of 9 am – 11 pm but don’t expect to be alone.
The Walk of Apostles draws in huge crowds who are all eagerly waiting for the clock to strike.
At first, you’ll just hear the bells chiming. But, look out for the two small windows just above the upper clock face.
These doors will open and you’ll see the twelve apostles appear in the windows. Once, it’s over the doors will again close, and everyone claps!
Although many people think this show is overrated for what it is, I think it’s spectacular as a history lover.
It’s one of the oldest working clocks in the world, hundreds of years old, and the fact it’s still working today to entertain us all is a testament to its craft.
Top tip: make sure to zip up your belongings when you’re watching the astronomical clock show. Many people are gathered here and it’s a prime location for pickpockets.
Prague Astronomical Clock photography tips
As one of the most popular attractions in Prague and one of the most popular photography locations in the city, you can expect this astronomical clock to be packed throughout the day.
If you wanted to get some empty photos of the clock or with the clock, you’ll need to be up bright and early to see it without the crowds.
Even at 7.30 am, there were photoshoots going on and lots of people milling about in the Old Town Square. So, the ideal time to capture this clock would be around sunrise!
As soon as the first chime takes place at 9 am, this clock will be super crowded until the evening time.
Yes, it’s tiring to be up before the crowds. But, it’s always worth it in my opinion.
Can you go inside the Prague astronomical clock?
Yes! Well, technically you don’t go inside the clock. But, you can go inside the Old Town Hall Tower which has a museum that shows you the workings of the astronomical clock behind the scenes.
This allows you to see the twelve apostles up close through a window and some of the mechanisms that make them spin on the hour.
It must be so cool to witness the apostles up in the tower spinning when the clock chimes.
However, visiting the Old Town Hall Tower is worth it anyway for the spectacular views you get from the very top. You can see for miles over the Old Town Square and Prague Castle.
Old Town Hall Tower Museum
The Old Town Hall was established in Prague in 1338 and the oldest part of the building was constructed in the Gothic Style.
Your museum ticket allows you to see the Chapel, Old Town Halls, and the viewpoint at the top!
The chapel is where you’ll find the apostles and it’s gorgeous with the colourful stained glass windows.
This chapel was dedicated to St Mary and was consecrated in 1381. Services used to be held here before every council meeting.
The Old Town Hall rooms are also very impressive and ornate. You’ll see the Municipal Hall, the Old Council Hall, the Brožík Assembly Hall, and the George Hall.
Old Town Hall Tower viewpoint
The highlight of a visit to the Old Town Hall Tower is the viewpoint from the very top. It’s the only medieval tower in Prague that is completely wheelchair accessible.
You can either take the winding slopes up to the viewpoint or there is a lift that you pay a little extra for.
Once you reach the very top, you’ll get to see panoramic views all over the city. The Old Town Square is stunning from above with the Church of Our Lady of Tyn.
Or, you can look over towards The Charles Bridge, Prague Castle District, and Strahov Monastery.
The coolest part, in my opinion, is being up here when everyone gathers to see the Prague Astronomical Clock on the hour.
You’ll usually see a huge crowd, hear the clock chiming, and then a round of applause after the parade of apostles. It was so funny seeing all the phones and cameras pointed at the tower from above!
Old Town Hall Tower opening times and tickets
If you wanted to visit the Old Town Hall to see the back of the Astronomical Clock it’s easy to buy a ticket on the day. Or, you can purchase them in advance via Get Your Guide.
Simply head inside the building (which is also the tourist information centre) and head up to the 2nd floor to buy tickets.
You’ll find the museum and chapel on that floor beside the ticket desk and then you can head up to the 4th floor to ascend to the viewpoint.
The Old Town Hall Tower is open daily from 9 am – 7 pm (April – December) and 10 am – 7 pm from December to March. On Mondays, it opens from 11 am – 7 pm.
Tickets for the museum and tower cost 250 CZK per person which is 10 euro. Getting the lift costs 100 CZK extra.
Be prepared to queue to access the viewpoint. If you wanted to avoid a long wait time I would arrive as soon as they open.
Get an amazing view from Tarasa U Prince
If you wanted to enjoy a view of the Prague Astronomical Clock with a coffee or a drink in hand I would recommend snagging a table at Tarasa U Prince.
It’s a rooftop bar that’s located above Hotel U Prince and has an amazing rooftop terrace overlooking Old Town Square.
Tables are very limited in the viewing area so you may have to wait to take a seat. But, you can stand up in the meantime.
The rooftop terrace makes such a good photo opportunity and you can watch the crowds gather beneath the clock from the comfort of your table.
I grabbed an Aperol Spritz here and loved the vibe! They had all these beautiful flowers decorating the terrace and, although drinks were a little pricier, you’re paying for the panoramic views.
Prague Astronomical Clock facts
- Pragues’ Astronomical Clock is the oldest working clock in the world
- Many people refer to this clock as the ‘Eye of the Devil’.
- There is a legend that says if the Astronomical Clock suffers or is neglected that the city will suffer and be neglected as well. It apparently stops in times of suffering.
- This clock was made 200 years before scientists realised that the Earth rotated around the sun!
- The Prague Astronomical Clock tells many times. Babylonian time, German time, Old Bohemian time, and Sidereal time as well as moon phases and the sun’s journey around the Zodiac.
- This clock has a calendar. It shows you the days, weeks, and months of the year and also marks feast days.
- Many of the features on this clock are now replicas. The clock faces and marionettes have been replaced over time. I guess they take the legends very seriously and don’t want the city to suffer!
Is watching the Prague Astronomical Clock worth it?
I would say so, yes! It’s one of the main attractions in Prague and for good reason – it’s absolutely amazing.
It’s the oldest working clock in the world, it’s beautiful, tells you every type of time you could think of, and even gives hourly fanfare.
The show is completely free to watch in the Old Town Square and only takes place for a few minutes.
It also takes place on the hour throughout the day. So, it’s really easy to fit a show into the shortest of Prague itineraries.
Don’t overthink it. Just join the crowds and get your phone/camera ready to watch the Walk of Apostles in Czechia!
Read more of my Czechia guides
How to visit the magical Klementinum Library
A complete guide to the John Lennon Wall
Visit the Infinite Tower of Books in Prague
How to visit the magical Strahov Library
Magical Cloak Bridge in Česky Krumlov
Discover the bone church of Kutna Hora