Best of Prague in a Nutshell for Individual Travelers
Individual travelers may have heard stories about Prague’s crammed streets and masses of tourists. This is true. Even in September, Charles Bridge and the Old Town Square are still quite crowded. The good thing about Prague is the compactness of the city. This means that after seeing the most important sights you will have enough time to seek out lesser-known places and avoid the crowd.
Prague the Golden City
Prague is amazingly photogenic. The whole town sparkles with Gothic, Baroque and Art Nouveau architecture. The Vltava River flows like a satin ribbon through the heart of the city. Prague Castle crowns a hill above the west bank, to the south is the 13th century Mala Strana or Lesser Quarter.
Charles Bridge spans the Vltava River. Tourists of all nationalities amble up and down and down and up as if this is the only place to visit. On the east bank is Josefov, the Jewish district, these days mainly known for the Jewish museum which includes the Old Jewish cemetery and several synagogues.
South of Josefov is Staré Mĕsto or the Old Town district with the illustrious astronomical clock on Staromĕstské Námĕstí or Old Town Square. Every hour, a multitude of tourists watch the spectacle. Death rings a bell, a procession of apostles pops out of one window and disappear through another. The cock crows. The hour strikes. Don’t wink as the spectacle is over in one minute.
Wenceslas Square, the heart of the New Town District. Further to the south is Nové Mĕsto or New Town with Václavské Námĕstí or Wenceslas Square at its centre. It is not a square at all but a wide bustling boulevard lined with 19th and early 20th century buildings. The crowd shuffles along or sits on the pedestal of equestrian statue of Wenceslas. Restaurants, cafés, shops, and interesting shopping arcades are part of the scene. Wenceslas Square is very much carbon copy of Leicester Square in London or Times Square in New York.
However, there is a difference. Wenceslas Square abounds in architectural elements. Study the details of Hotel Europa at number 25. Its ochre façade is a true eye catcher. Across the road at number 34 you will see Wiehl House another architectural wonder with colourful murals, gables, turrets, an oriel window, and a belfry.
Prague is more than the astronomical clock and Charles Bridge. Until now you may have missed all this because you thought Prague was packed, congested and teeming with tourists. This is undoubtedly true, pluck up courage and join the crowd. Gaze at all the famous sights, and in the low season some even without other tourists obstructing your view.
When you have seen the highlights, venture outside the centre and discover that Prague is more than Charles Bridge and Old Town Square. Prague is a masterpiece of Art Nouveau.
Art Nouveau was a popular architectural style late 19th early 20th century and characterized by geometrical lines, figures and flowery garlands. Architects did their best to make functional details like windows and balconies as decorative as possible.
Hlavní nádraží, Prague’s central train station, Wilsonova Avenue is a mix of Art Nouveau and Socialist Realist architecture. Kavarna Fantova situated in the dome-shaped former ticket hall is a wonder of art Nouveau details. Be sure to go to platform 1 to see the touching statue of Sir Winton who saved many Czech children from being sent to concentration camps
Villa Henlenka is at na Václavce Street 30, is remarkable for its square tower and floral sgrafitto. The top layer of plaster is scratched to show parts of the first layer and thus showing patterns.
Art Nouveau Statue of Princess Libuse is in Karlovo Street. She sits between two windows on the façade of numbers 22 – 24. Princess Libuse was the first woman to rule Prague. She had visionary powers and foretold that the seven hills of Prague would develop into a beautiful city.
Miniature Museum is in Strahovske Nadrovori 11, in Malá Strana. Its exhibit is a flea with gold horseshoes grasping a padlock, keys and a scissor in its tiny paw. Just imagine the scissors are only 0.9 mm long. The artist is Mr Konyenko an instrument maker and specialized in eye-microsurgery. His tiny works of art can only be seen with the help of microscopes and magnifying glasses. Otherwise, it would be impossible to see the Eiffel Tower carved in a cherry stone, a sailing boat on the wing of a mosquito or the portrait of Chekhov engraved on a poppy seed.
The Museum of Communism, V Celnici 4 in Nové Město offers a glimpse of the past, from the communist coup in February 1948 until its collapse in November 1989. The museum is divided into three themes; the communist dream, reality and the nightmare. Snippets of daily life are shown; a classroom, an almost empty grocery shop and an interrogation room.
Petřín hill rises is a 318-m high hill on the west bank of the Vltava Tiver. At the top is Petřín Look-out tower a 60m high and a lookalike of the Eiffel Tower in Paris but only one -fifth of its size. 299 steps lead to a circular viewing platform. It is inside, but windows can be opened and offer an unrestricted view of the city below and the Žižkov television tower in the distance. This tower worth a closer look because baby’s crawl along its façade and peep round corners. They are made by the Czech artists David Cerny who is famous for his provoking art.
The television tower is a 20-min walk from Wenceslas Square. Simply follow Vinohradská, a wide street with interesting fin de siècle architecture, turn left at Jiřího z Poděbrad metro station and head for the tower which towers above the houses. Return to Vinohradská and continue until you get to the Jewish cemetery. On your left, in front of the third gate is the grave of the writer Franz Kafka. Take the metro from Želivského metro station opposite the cemetery to get back to the centre. Alternatively, walk back, but this time via Slezská, a street that runs parallel to Vinohradská. It is another street with beautiful buildings.
Hanavský Pavilion in Letná Park is one of the best places to eat or have a coffee. It is across Svatopluk Čech Bridge at the end of Pařížská Street in the Josefov district. Take the stone stairs that lead to Letná Park and turn left at the huge metronome. Hanavský Pavilion is a wrought-iron structure built for the Centennial Exhibition of 1891. The pavilion is in the shade of fragrant smelling pine trees. From here you have the best view of the Vltava River and the many bridges spanning it.
Finally, some information about Václav Havel Airport, some 14 km to the north-west of the city centre. ATM’s are on your right, at the far end in the arrivals hall. The bus ticket booth is on your left. You can also buy your bus ticket on the bus, contactless. The bus stop is right across the parking area in front of the airport building. Bus 119 takes you to Nádraží Veleslavín metro station and from here you take the metro to the centre. The journey time from the airport to the city centre is 45 mins.
Next article: Best Street Art and Graffiti
Previous article: Best Art Nouveau in Prague