Prague is the capital city of the relatively small Czech Republic which lies in the heart of Europe, bordering Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Poland.
Prague (Praha) has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe. No other European capital contains six hundred years of architecture so completely untouched by natural disaster or war. Prague’s rich collection of Gothic, Baroque, and Renaissance buildings has emerged unscathed from centuries of strife.
Prague has been called ‘the Rome of the North’. Rome was built on seven hills, and Prague was built on nine hills: Letna, Vitkov, Opys, Vetrov, Skalka, Emauzy, Vysehrad, Karlov and the highest of all, Petrin. The mountains, forests and lakes surrounding Prague are enchanting and ideal for outdoor holidays as well as winter sports.
Central Prague is made up of four towns, joined together in 1784. The River Vltava (Moldau in German) divides the capital into two unequal halves: on the steeply inclined left bank, are Hradcany and Malá Strana (the Lesser Quarter). The more gentle, sprawling right bank includes Staré Mesto, Josefov and Nové Mesto.
Hradcany, on the hill, contains the most sights: the castle itself, the cathedral and the former palaces of the aristocracy. Below Hradcany, Malá Strana (Little Quarter), with its narrow eighteenth-century streets, is the city’s ministerial and diplomatic quarter, with attractive Baroque gardens for all to enjoy. Over the river, on the right bank, Staré Mesto (Old Town) is a web of alleys and passageways centered on the city’s most beautiful square, Staromestské námesti.
Enclosed within the boundaries of Staré Mesto is Josefov, the old Jewish quarter, now containing only a few synagogues and a cemetery. Nové Mesto (New Town), the focus of the modern city, covers the largest area, laid out in long wide boulevards, the most famous of which is Wenceslas Square. These boulevards stretch south and east of the old town.
In the years since students took to the streets and the communist regime ended, Prague has enjoyed an unparalleled cultural renaissance. Amid Prague’s cobblestone streets and gold-tipped spires, new galleries, cafés, and clubs serve “expatriates.” Prague has somehow emerged as Eastern Europe’s new Left Bank.
Prague Castle has stood on the hill overlooking the Old Town since the 10th century. The city grew around the castle over the centuries. A good way to begin exploration of the wonders of Prague is to take a ride on tram #22 for a free sightseeing tour of downtown Prague. From Vinohrady in the west, it will travel across the river, around several hair-pin bends, finishing up outside Prague Castle.
Then walk or ride the Royal Route downhill from Prague Castle, through Malá Strana (Lesser Town), and across Charles Bridge to Old Town Square. The crossing of the 1,700 foot span of the bridge is an adventure in itself! The bridge is lined with more than 30 sculptures and serves as a venue for performances of puppeteers and musicians.
The trip retraces the route taken by the carriages of the Bohemian kings, with the difference that today the way is lined with galleries, shops, and cafés. Be sure to glance up on the hour as the Astronomical Clock of the Old Town Hall on Staromestské námestí comes to life with its procession of mechanical figures.
Take all the time you can to wander through the narrow winding streets of Staré Mêsto (Old Town). This is the moment to be wearing a comfortable pair of broken – in walking shoes. The cobblestones and hills of Prague require that careful attention be paid to preparing the feet for the journey.
When it is time to rest, numerous cafés offering food, coffee, tea, and fine varieties of locally brewed beer are readily available. Another activity providing relaxation as well as a fascinating afternoon or evening, is a tourboat trip down the Vltava past the castles and palaces of the region. Some tours provide a meal as well.
For the more adventurous, there is the possibility of a “do it yourself ” boat tour via rowboat. Lanterns are added at night to create an aura of romance in and around the rented dinghies. Visitors to Charles Bridge after dark will encounter a lively scene, as musicians and street performers congregate to celebrate the night.
An afternoon with the family in the park at the site of the Citadel on Vyserhad also provides a break from the bustle of the city.
A 30-minute train ride south of Prague leads to the most visited Czech landmark in the area around Prague, Karlstejn Castle built by Charles IV in the 14th century to protect the Holy Roman Empire’s crown jewels. This Romanesque hilltop fortress is of interest to adults and children alike.
Mozart experienced moderate success in Vienna, but he triumphed in Prague! Classical music still seems to be everywhere in the city. Tickets are reasonably priced, and the musical performances are superb.
Food in Prague is often based on Austro-Hungarian dishes. Specialties include bramborak, a potato pancake filled with garlic and herbs, and Prague ham. However, a wide range of culinary options exists. Among these are American, Italian, Lebanese, and Japanese cuisine.
Shopping is a favorite pastime also. Arcades under the buildings of Wenceslas Square, along the pedestrian only street of Na Príkope and also along Narodní tríada shoppers discover a variety of quality products ranging from books to antiques, to crystal. There are interesting craft shops on Karlova, near the Charles Bridge. Puppets and marionettes that are works of art can also be discovered in these areas.
The beauty and classical elegance of the buildings, streets, passageways and alleys of this “Golden City” will provide a colorful mosaic of memories that will remain long after the visit has concluded.
Things to do
Alfons Mucha Museum
(Muzeum A. Muchy)
Panská 7, Praha 1.
This museum opened in early 1998 near Wenceslas Square to honor the high priest of art nouveau, Alphonse (Alfons in Czech) Mucha. The new museum, around the corner from the Palace Hotel, combines examples of his graphic works, posters, and paintings as well as shows his influence in jewelry, fashion, and advertising.
(Muzeum B. Smetany)
Novotného lávka 1, Praha 1.
Metro: Starome[av]stská; tram 17 or 18.
Concerts are held here, and you can buy tickets on site or at Prague Information Service, Na Pr[av]íkope[av] 20, Praha 1 (187 in Prague or 02/264 022 outside Prague). This museum, opened in 1936 (in what was the former Old Town waterworks) jutting out into the Vltava next to Charles Bridge, pays tribute to the deepest traditions of Czech classical music and its most patriotic composer, Bedr[av]ich Smetana.
(W. A. Mozart Museum)
Mozartova 169, Praha 5.
Tram: 2, 6, 7, 9, 14, or 16 from Ande[av]l metro station.
Chamber concerts are often held here, usually starting at 5pm.
Tickets are available on site or at Prague Information Service, Na Pr[av]íkope[av] 20, Praha 1. Mozart loved Prague, and when he visited, the composer often stayed at this villa owned by the Dus[av]ek family. Now a museum, it contains displays with his written work and his harpsichord. There’s also a lock of Mozart’s hair, encased in a cube of glass. Much of the Bertramka villa was destroyed by fire in the 1870s, but Mozart’s rooms, where he finished composing the opera Don Giovanni, have miraculously remained untouched.
Betlémské nám. 4,
Praha 1. (Praha 1).
Apr-Oct, daily 9am-6pm; Nov-Mar, daily 9am-5pm.
Metro: Line B to Národní trída.
This is the site where, in the early 15th century, the Czech Protestant theologian Jan Hus angered the Catholic hierarchy with sermons critical of the establishment. He was burned at the stake as a heretic in 1415 at Konstanz in present-day Germany and became a martyr for the Czech Protestant and later nationalist cause. A memorial to Hus dominates the center of Old Town Square. The chapel was completed in 1394 but reconstructed in the early 1950s. In the main hall you can still see the original stone floors and the pulpit from where Hus preached; it’s used as a ceremonial hall for Czech national events.
Church of Our Lady Victorious–Holy Child of Prague
Karmelitská 9, Praha 1.
Mon-Sat 9:30am-5:30pm, Sun 1-5:30pm.
Fee for occasional concerts.
Museum of the Infant Jesus: Admission charged.
Metro: Line A to Malostranská.
This 1613 early baroque home of the Carmelite order is famous throughout Italy and Latino countries for the wax statue of Jesus displayed on an altar of the right wing of the church. The Bambini di Praga (Baby of Prague) was presented to the Carmelites by the Habsburg patron Polyxena of Lobkowicz in 1628 and is revered as a valuable Catholic relic from Spain. Copies of the Bambini are sold frequently on the Lesser Town streets outside the church, angering some of the faithful.
Church of St. Nicholas
(Kostel sv. Mikuláse)
Old Town Square at Parízská, Praha 1.
Free admission, except for occasional concerts.
Metro: Line A to Staromestská.
At the site of a former Gothic church begun by German merchants, this St. Nicholas church was designed in 1735 by the principal architect of Czech baroque, K. I. Dienzenhofer. He’s the same Dienzenhofer who designed Prague’s other St. Nicholas Church, in Lesser Town (see above). This church isn’t as ornate as the other but has a more tumultuous history.
The Catholic monastery was closed in 1787, and the church was handed over for use as a concert hall in 1865. The city’s Russian Orthodox community began using it in 1871, but in 1920 management was handed to the Protestant Hussites. One notable piece inside is the 19th-century crystal chandelier with glass brought from the town of Harrachov. Concerts are still held here.
(Muzeum A. Dvor[av]áka)
Ke Karlovu 20, Praha 2.
Metro: Line C to I. P. Pavlova.
Built in 1712, the two-story rococo building, tucked away on a Nové Me[av]sto side street, was Dvor[av]ák’s home for 24 years until his death in 1901. In the 18th century when the building was erected, this part of Prague was frontier land. Czechs willing to open businesses so far from the center were called “Americans” for their pioneer spirit. This building came to be known as America. Opened in 1932, the museum shows an extensive collection, including the composer’s piano, spectacles, Cambridge cap and gown, photographs, and sculptures. Several rooms are furnished as they were around 1900.
Staromestské námestí, Praha 1.
Metro: Line A to Staromestská.
The rococo Kinsk‡ Palace houses graphic works from the National Gallery collection, including pieces by Georges Braque, André Derain, and other modern masters. Pablo Picasso’s 1907 Self-Portrait is here and has virtually been adopted as the National Gallery’s logo. Good-quality international exhibits have included Max Ernst and Rembrandt retrospectives, as well as shows on functional arts and crafts.
Loretánské nám. 7, Praha 1.
Tues-Sun 9am-12:15pm and 1-4:30pm.
Tram: 22 from Malostranská.
Loreto Palace was named after the town of Loreto, Italy, where the dwelling of the Virgin Mary was said to have been brought by angels from Palestine in the 13th century. After the Roman Catholics defeated the Protestant Bohemians in 1620, the Loreto cult was chosen as the device for a re-Catholicization of Bohemia. The Loreto legend holds that a cottage in which the Virgin Mary lived had been miraculously transferred from Nazareth to Loreto, an Italian city near Ancona.
The Loreto Palace is thought to be an imitation of this cottage, and more than 50 copies have been constructed throughout the Czech lands. The Loreto’s facade is decorated with 18th-century statues of the four writers of the Gospel–Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John–along with a lone female, St. Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary.
Mustek Metro Station
The street follows the line of the old fortifications all the way down to the Gothic Powder Tower at náme[av]stí Republiky.
Václavské náme[av]stí, Praha 1.
Metro: Line A or B.
It’s not the metro station itself, which is hardly 20 years old, that warrants an entry here. Descending Mu[ao]stek’s lower escalators, the illuminated stone remains of what was once a bridge that connected the fortifications of Prague’s Old and New Towns can be seen.
Museum of the City of Prague
(Muzeum hlavního me[av]sta Prahy)
The museum is 1 block north of the Florenc metro station.
Na por[av]íc[av]í 52, Praha 8.
Tues-Sun 9am-6pm, Thurs 9am-8pm.
This delightfully upbeat museum encompasses Prague’s illustrious past.
Permanent exhibition: Ancient Prague – the history of the city and its inhabitants from prehistoric times to 1620. Prague between the Middle and New Ages. Langweil´s model of Prague created during 1826 – 1837 – a unique three dimensional representation of the city made of paper and wood.
Alfons Mucha Museum
(Muzeum A. Muchy)
Panská 7, Praha 1. Phone 02/628 4162 E-mail email@example.com.
This museum opened in early 1998 near Wenceslas Square to honor the art nouveau master, Alphonse (Alfons in Czech) Mucha. Though the Moravian born turn of the 20th century master spent most of his creative years in Paris drawing luminaries like actress Sarah Bernhardt, Mucha’s influence can still be seen throughout his home country. The new museum, around the corner from the Palace Hotel, combines examples of his graphic works, posters, and paintings and highlights his influence in jewelry, fashion, and advertising.
Atop Petr[av]ín Hill, Praha 1.
Apr-Oct, daily 9:30am-8pm; Nov-Mar, Sat-Sun only 9:30am-5pm.
Tram: 12 or 22 to Újezd, then ride the funicular to the top.
A one-fifth scale copy of Paris’s Eiffel Tower, Prague’s Petr[av]ín Tower was constructed out of recycled railway track for the 1891 Prague Exhibition. It functioned as the city’s primary telecommunications tower until the Emir Hoffman tower opened. Today the Eiffel replica exists solely as a tourist attraction. Those who climb the 195 feet to the top are treated to striking views, particularly at night.
(Pras[av]ná brána, literally Powder Gate)
Náme[av]stí Republiky, Praha 1.
Metro: Line B to Náme[av]stí Republiky
Once part of Staré Me[av]sto’s system of fortifications, the Old Town Powder Tower (as opposed to the Powder Tower in Prague Castle) was built in 1475 as one of the walled city’s major gateways. The 140-foot-tall tower marks the beginning of the Royal Route, the traditional 3/4-mile-long route along which medieval Bohemian monarchs paraded on their way to being crowned in Prague Castle’s St. Vitus Cathedral.
It also was the east gate to the Old Town on the road to Kutná Hora. The tower was acutely damaged during the Prussian invasion of Prague in 1737. The present-day name derived from the 18th century, when the development of Nové Me[av]sto rendered this protective tower obsolete; it was then used as a gunpowder storehouse.
Old Town Hall (Starome[av]stská radnice) and Astronomical Clock (orloj)
Starome[av]stské náme[av]stí, Praha 1.
May-Oct, Mon 11am-6pm, Tues-Sun 9am-6pm; Nov-Apr, Mon 11am-5pm, Tues-Sun 9am-5pm.
Admission charged to Town Hall tower.
Metro: Line A to Starome[av]stská.
Crowds congregate in front of Old Town Hall’s Astronomical Clock (orloj) to watch the glockenspiel spectacle that occurs hourly from 8am to 8pm. Built in 1410, the clock has long been an important symbol of Prague. According to legend, after the timepiece was remodeled at the end of the 15th century, clock artist Master Hanus[av] was blinded by the Municipal Council so that he couldn’t repeat his fine work elsewhere. In retribution, Hanus[av] threw himself into the clock mechanism and promptly died.
S[av]ternberk Palace Art Museum (of the National Gallery)
Hradc[av]anské nám. 15, Praha 1.
Metro: Line A to Malostranská or Hradc[av]anská.
The jewel in the National Gallery crown (also known as the European Art Museum), the gallery at S[av]ternberk Palace, adjacent to the main gate of Prague Castle, displays a wide menu of European art throughout the ages. It features six centuries of everything from oils to sculptures.
The permanent collection is divided chronologically into pre-19th-century art, 19th- and 20th-century art, and 20th-century French painting and sculpture. Also included is a good selection of cubist paintings by Braque and Picasso, among others. Temporary exhibits, such as Italian Renaissance bronzes, are always on show. The Veletrz[av]ní Palace now houses most of the National Gallery’s 20th-century art collection. The rest of the national collection is divided between Kinsk‡ Palace on Old Town Square and St. Agnes Convent near the river.
St. Agnes Convent
(Klás[av]ter sv. Anez[av]ky C[av]eské)
The convent is at the end of Anez[av]ka, off Has[av]talské náme[av]stí.
U milosrdn‡ch 17, Praha 1.
Metro: Line A to Starome[av]stská.
A complex of early Gothic buildings and churches dating from the 13th century, the convent, tucked in a corner of Staré Me[av]sto, was once home to the Order of the Poor Clares. It was established in 1234 by St. Agnes of Bohemia, sister of Wenceslas I. The Blessed Agnes became St. Agnes when Pope John Paul II paid his first visit to Prague in 1990 for her canonization.
The convent is now home to the National Gallery’s collection of 19th- and 20th-century Czech art. In addition to rooms of contemplative oils, the museum contains many bronze studies that preceded the casting of some of the city’s greatest public monuments, including the equestrian statue of St. Wenceslas atop the National Theater. Downstairs, a Children’s Workshop offers hands-on art activities, most of which incorporate religious themes. The grounds surrounding the convent are inviting.
St. George’s Convent at Prague Castle
(Kláster sv. Jirího na Prazském hrade)
Jirské nám. 33.
Metro: Line A to Malostranská or Hradcanská
Dedicated to displaying old Czech art, the castle convent is especially packed with Gothic and baroque Bohemian iconography as well as portraits of patron saints. The most famous among the unique collection of Czech Gothic panel paintings are those by the Master of the Hohenfurth Altarpiece and the Master Theodoricus. The collections are arranged into special exhibits usually revolving around a specific place, person, or time in history.
Strahov Monastery and Library
Strahovské nádvorí, Praha 1.
Tues-Sun 9am-noon and 1-5pm.
Admission 40Kc adults, 20Kc students.
Tram: 22 from Malostranská metro station.
The second oldest monastery in Prague, Strahov was founded high above Malá Strana in 1143 by Vladislav II. It’s still home to Premonstratensian monks, a scholarly order closely related to the Jesuits, and their dormitories and refectory are off-limits.
What draws visitors are the monastery’s ornate libraries, holding more than 125,000 volumes. Over the centuries, the monks have assembled one of the world’s best collections of philosophical and theological texts, including illuminated manuscripts and first editions.
The Church of Our Lady Before Tyn
(Kostel paní Marie pred Tenem)
Staromestské námestí, Praha 1, entrance from Stupartská.
Metro: Line A to Staromestská.
Huge double square towers with multiple black steeples make this church the most distinctive standout of Old Town Square. The “T‡n” was the fence marking the border of the central marketplace in the 13th century. The church’s present configuration was completed mostly in the 1380s, and it became the main church of the Protestant Hussite movement in the 15th century (though the small Bethlehem Chapel in Old Town where Hus preached is the cradle of the Czech Protestant reformation.
Veletrzní at Dukelsk‡ch hrdinu 47, Praha 7.
Tues-Sun 10am-6pm (Thurs to 9pm)
Metro: Line C to Vltavská or tram 17.
This 1925 constructionist palace, built for trade fairs, was remodeled and reopened in December 1995 to hold the bulk of the National Gallery’s collection of 20th-century works by Czech and other European artists. .
Doors open 7.30am. Tram #5, #9 or #26.
Kubelíkova 27, Zízkov.
Decent live arts/gig venue in the backstreets of seedy Zízkov
Agharta, Jazz Centrum,
Krakovská 5, Nové Mesto.
Open until 1am.
jazz club with a good mix of foreigners and locals.
Belehradská 120, Vinohrady.
Open until 6am. Metro I.P. Pavlova.
Known as the best dance club in Prague, with a great veggie café attached
Národní 20, Nové Mesto
Open Mon-Fri until 2am, though the music stops at midnight.
Prague’s oldest-established jazz club, serving up anything from traditional to modern
James Joyce Pub
is authentically Irish (it has Irish owners), with Guinness on tap and excellent fish-and-chips.
Malostranské nám. 7
is a haven for younger expats, serving bottled beer, mixed drinks, and good Mexican food.
Areas of the historical center
Hradcany, Mala Strana (Lesser Town)
Stare Mesto (Old Town) including Josefov, Nove Mesto (New Town) and Vysehrad
The main attraction for many is simply walking along the winding cobblestone streets and enjoying the unique atmosphere. Exquisite examples from the history of European architecture–from Romanesque to Renaissance, baroque to art nouveau and cubist–are crammed next to one another on twisting narrow streets.