Vltava River: Swans, Bridges, Ferries and Symphonic Poem

The Vltava River is the longest river in the Czech Republic, beginning its 300km journey with its source in the depths of the Bohemian Forest until it joins the Elbe River at the town of Melnik, 40 km north of Prague. Along the way, The Vltava River cuts Prague in two. On the west bank side are Mala Strana and Hradcany and on the east are side Stare Mesto and Nove Mesto. These are the four most visited neigbourhoods of Prague and if you want to visit all four you will have to walk across Charles Bridge, the most storied of Prague’s 18 bridges.

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1. Vltava River and flooding
2. Vltava River swans, ducks and coypu
3. Vltava River and ferries
4. Vltava River symphonic poem


1. Vltava River and Flooding

The Vltava River is unpredictable and regularly caused flooding because of heavy rainfall in central Europe. The last major flood was in 2002 and since then flood defenses have been installed putting an end to flooding. In that year, the water rose more than 7 meters and large parts of Prague were flooded. The historic centre barely escaped the disaster.

The banks of the river are now protected by flood barriers that can be activated in a matter of minutes. The photo shows the one at the Troja end of the foot bridge connecting Troja via Císařský ostrov (Emperor Island) with Stromovka.

The banks of the river are now protected by flood barriers that can be activated in a matter of minutes. The photo shows the one at the Troja end of the foot bridge connecting Troja via Císařský ostrov (Emperor Island) with Stromovka.

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The Vltava River and the Karlin District
The Karlin district was almost completely flooded in 2002, as were many metro stations. Repairing the escalators in the stations was a difficult task and some were replaced by new ones that moved much slower than the old ones. The National Theater, which is right on the Vltava River, and Prague Zoo in the Troja district were also badly affected.

The Karlin district benefited from the 2002 floods because the damage was so extensive that the renovation process of the district was accelerated. A new business district has sprung up along the river and other parts of Karlin have undergone a metamorphosis and are now a desirable areas to live.

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When you travel on metro line A, look for a train with a small blue double-wave picture above the driver’s door. There are two trains which were flooded during 2002 flood. They were dried and renovated. Now they are running again on Line A again.

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The Floods of 2013
In 2013, a large part of Prague was flooded again, but this time the water did not reach the high water levels of 2002. The newly installed flood barriers proved their worth. These preventive measures stretch over twenty kilometers along the Vltava River and includes seven kilometers of mobile barriers around the historic centre, which can put into use immediately.

High Water Marks
High water marks in several places in Prague indicate the height to which the water rose in past years.

1. Kampa Island
On the north side of Na Kampe Street, under the bridge leading to Charles Bridge, a commemorative plaque at waist height states: Výska vody 4.žáří 1890 (water level on September 4, 1890), and above that a plaque indicating the water level in 2002.

2. Vyton
A plaque at steps of the stairs leading down to Rasinovo nabrezi says: povoden 8/14/2002 (flood)

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4. Hotel Olympik
The plaque in the lobby of hotel Olympik in the Karlin district indicates that on August 13, 2002, the water reached a height of 162cm.

5. Mala Strana
Against a white wall of Nosticova street 4 there is a high water mark at shoulder height with only the date: 14.8.2002
These are only some of the high water marks in Prague. You will find them in many more places near the Vltava River

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2. Vltava River: Swans, Nutria and Ducks

The first swans appeared in Prague about 50 years ago. In 1972, there were only 160, today there are about 1000.

The coypu or nutria is an exotic and native to South America. Investors saw a market in Europe for their fur and meat but once they realized that they had vastly overestimated its potential, they set the animals free. In 1929, the first nutrias appeared in the United Kingdom. One year later they crossed the channel and in the 1950s they were spotted in former Czechoslovakia.

There are plenty of ducks in Prague, about 22 species live in the Czech Republic and large numbers can be found on the Vltava. River

The Swans of the Vltava River
You can feed swans in Prague, but do not give them bread. Blueberries, seedless grapes, birdseed, oats, lettuce, sweet corn, peas, and also carrot and potato skins are healthy meals for them. If you don’t have these ingredients at home, go to a pet shop and get special pellets for ducks and swans. You will find pet shops in the Palladium Shopping Centre (on namesti Republikyname) and the Quadrio Shopping Centre (Spálená 22), both in the Nove Mesto district.

There are two places where the swans gather in the morning and at the end of the day.
1.Smichovska Naplavka, at the intersection of Horejsi Nabrezi and Na Valentince streets
2. Next to Cihelna Park in Mala Strana

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Nutria in Prague
The nutria, also known as the coypu, is a large rodent easily mistaken for a beaver. Beavers, native to the Czech Republic, nutria are not. Like rats, the nutria is a carrier of diseases and although they look quite cuddly, they should not be approached. When you take photos of them or feed (which is not recommended!), they will bite you with their sharp front teeth, and you run the risk of an infection.

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They are unwelcome intruders in Prague and their explosive growth can be clearly explained as they have no natural enemies and they get enough to eat as the locals and tourists feed them because they are so ‘cute’. The city of Prague is regulating their numbers by euthanizing them or donating them to Zoos as food for carnivores.

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3. Vltava River Bridges and Ferries

The first and most famous bridge spanning the Vltava River is Charles Bridge, built in the fourteenth century. Seventeen other bridges connect the banks, including 4 railway bridges and 3 foot bridges.

All bridges in the Prague centre are named after famous people. The order from north to south is:
1. Hlavkuv most – named after Josef Hlavka, philanthropist
2. Stefanik most – Milan Stefanik, meteorologist and mathematician
3. Cechuv most – Svatopluk Cech, writer
4. Manesuv most – Joseph Manes, painter
5. Karluv most – Charles IV
6. Most Legii – Legion Bridge
7. Jiraskuv most – Alois Jiraska, writer and politician
8. Palackeho most – Frantisek Palacky, historian

More about Bridges in Prague

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Ferries and the Vltava River

Prague’s ferries are a perfect way to see Prague without tourists. You will need a valid public transport ticket, which you can also buy directly from the ferryman. Bicycles and strollers are transported free of charge. Most ferries do not start until spring, only the Sedlec – Zámky and V Podbabě – Podhoří ferries operate all year round.

These are the lines:
Prague 1: Sedlec – Zámky
Prague 2: V Podbabě – Podhoří
Prague 3: Lihovar – Veslařský ostrov (Dvorce)
Prague 4: Císařská louka – Kotevní
Prague 5: Císařská louka – Výtoň
Prague 6: Lahovičky – Nádraží Modřany
Prague 7: Pražská tržnice – Ostrov Štvanice – Rohanský ostrov
Prague 8: Troja – Císařský ostrov

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4. Vltava Symphonic Poem

Ma Vlast (My Fatherland) is a cycle of six symphonic poems composed by Bedrich Smetana (1824-1884). Each poem describes aspects of the countryside, history or a legend of Bohemia. The second poem, Vltava, is the most famous and the music takes you on a journey along the Vltava River. You start at the spring, then travel through forests, meadows and fields, with a peasant wedding on the way, water nymphs sitting in the moonlight, the rapids, the Vltava River widens and flows past Vysehrad towards Prague and ends in the Elbe River.

Listen to Ma Vlast

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Photos: Marianne Crone

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