Cobbled Streets, Art Nouveau Architecture and a Dancing House

Prague is a compact city and one of the few in Europe that can be explored on foot. Start at Prague Castle perched high above the Vltava River. Then walk down to Mala Strana, a district speckled with Baroque mansions. From here it is only a short way to Charles Bridge and the Astronomical Clock on Old Town Square. Stroll along the Vltava River until you get to the Dancing House, a daring example of modern architecture.

It is tempting to fit in all Prague sights in one trip. It is much more rewarding to come back a second and maybe a third time to wander through another part of the city and discover more of Prague. Here are some suggestions so that you can start exploring Prague straight away.


Dancing House
Photo courtesy of Dancing House

The Dancing House, Tancící dum, fills the gap of an apartment bombed in the Second World War. When in 1996 the new building was finished, not everybody liked this modern design. The house starkly contrasts with its Art Nouveau neighbors. This new building overlooks the Vltava River and consists of two elegant towers of nine floors, vaguely reminiscent of two ballroom dancers. He is the stiff vertical half and she the swaying glass partner. The pinch in the middle is her slim waist. The house is used as an office building and not open to the public.

Local Expert tip: The only way to see the interior of the Dancing Building is going to the top floor and enjoy French cuisine in Restaurant Celeste.

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Prague Castle
Photo courtesy of Marianne Crone

Prazský Hrad, Prague Castle, is one of the largest castle complexes in the world. Not only is it home to the Czech President it also includes one of Prague's most popular tourist attractions. The castle complex also comprises St. Vitus Cathedral, the Royal Palace, St. George's Basilica and the Powder Tower. Visitors can easily spend a full day exploring the castle and the grounds; from admiring Alphons Mucha's stained glass windows in the St Vitus Cathedral to watching the changing of the guards. Stroll along the Golden Lane, a row of picturesque cottages built for the castle's guards and gunners now transformed into souvenir shops and the lane is always bustling with people.

Local Expert tip: Plan your visit early in the morning to beat the crowd and allow at least three hours for your visit.

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St Vitus Cathedral
Photo courtesy of Marianne Crone

Soaring spires of St Vitus Cathedral dominate the Prague skyline. Not only is the cathedral a place of pilgrimage, it is also a museum, treasure chamber and a blockbuster attraction. This is the church where the archbishop of Prague crowned Bohemian kings and where they have their last resting place. Highlights of the cathedral include the silver tomb of John Nepomuk with an army of angels supporting a canopy, the coronation chamber where the crown jewels are kept, Wenceslas Chapel with wall paintings depicting the saint's life and stained glass windows designed by Art Nouveau painter and decorative artist Alfons Mucha.

Local Expert tip: Climb the 297 steps to the St Vitus Tower for the largest church bell in Eastern Europe and a sweeping view.

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Tucked away on K?í?ovnické nám?stí, Charles Bridge Museum tells the history of Prague's most famous monument. The permanent exhibition tells how floods swept away Judith Bridge, the first bridge to span the Vltava River. Walk down the steps to see the original 12th century stonework of the Judith Bridge. Learn about masonry and carpentry techniques used when building Charles Bridge. Find out if it is true that Charles IV ordered egg yolks to be added to the mortar for a better bond between the bricks. The star exhibit is a scale model of the bridge, including all three hundred and fifty builders in their working clothes. It took eighteen months to complete this model. Be sure to have a look at the dramatic series of black-and-white photographs showing how the 1890 floods swept away three arches and how the bridge almost collapsed.

Local Expert tip: First, take a detailed look at the scale model of Charles Bridge in the museum. Then walk across the real bridge and discover that the miniature bridge is an exact copy of the real one.

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Art Nouveau Architecture
Photo courtesy of Marianne Crone

Walking through Prague, visitors will spot an abundance of buildings with Art Nouveau details. The best examples are in the center of the city and all within walking distance of each other. Art Nouveau is a decorative style and popular in the first decade of the twentieth century. It is the French term for architecture and design characterized by graceful, flowing forms and ornaments either painted or sculpted, often in the form of female figures. Almost all of Prague's Art Nouveau buildings have remained intact because the city suffered hardly any war damage. Most of them have been carefully restored with financial help of the European Union and Unesco. Be sure to check out Obecní Dum (Municipal House) at Republiky Square 5, Grand Hotel Evropa at Wenceslas Square 25 and Novak Departement store (U Novaku) at Vodickova street 30.

Local Expert tip: When strolling through the streets of Prague always look up high because Art Nouveau details are often on the first or second floor of the buildings.

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Wenceslas Square
Photo courtesy of Marianne Crone

Wenceslas square, Václavské námestí, is the most crowded pavement in Prague. Brightly-lit souvenir shops rub shoulders with bookshop and cafes. Tourists mingle with office workers and sausage vendors. Square is a misnomer because Václavské námestí is a sloping avenue about 750m long and 60m wide, with a walkway in between. The statue of St Wenceslas on horseback dominates the top. Behind him is the monumental national Museum. Climb its ornate steps for a sweeping view. Wenceslas Square is a crash course in architectural styles. Neo-Renaissance, Art Nouveau, Socialist Realism and modernist buildings sit side by side. The Art Nouveau-decorated façade of Hotel Evropa sparkles in the sun. Opposite is Wiehl House adorned with colourful sgraffito. Socialist realist style Hotel Jalta is a Unesco World heritage site and streamlined Bata shoe store is an exquisite example of funcionalist architecture.

Local Expert tip: Stop at one of the stand-up-fast-food outlets and try a spicy sausage with a big dollop of mustard.

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Lesser Town Square
Photo courtesy of Marianne Crone

Malá Strana or Little or Lesser Quarter is built on the slopes of Castle Hill with breathtaking views of the Vltava River and the Old Town. Its centre is Malostranské námestí or Lesser Town Square. Trams and cars crisscross this busy square. Tourists wind their way uphill to the Prague Castle. Vaults and arcades hiding shops, cafes and restaurants ring the square. St Nicholas Church dominates the square. Take in all the details both outside and inside. Its dome and bell tower are the most characteristic landmarks of Malá Strana. When your eyes have adjusted to the semi-darkness inside, look out for the oversized church fathers who gape at you from their high position in the copula.

Local Expert tip: Drink a large glass of Pilsner Urquell and watch the world go by from one of the outside cafes under the arches of the square.

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The Museum of Communism was founded by Glenn Spicker, an American businessman who scoured junk shops and flea markets to gather Communist-era artifacts. The museum offers visitors a glimpse of the past demonstrating how suppression, fear and double-speak were parts of everyday life from the Communist coup in February 1948 until its collapse in November 1989. The Museum of Communism is divided into three rooms: the Communist dream, the reality and the nightmare. Snippets of daily life are eerily realistic; a classroom and a blackboard with letters in Russian, an almost empty grocery shop, and an interrogation room. One very interesting exhibit is an old photo of the Stalin monument that used to be on the plinth in Letna Park. The original monument depicted Jozef Stalin leading the way and followed by the proletariat. This was the largest group statue in Europe; 15.5 m tall and 22 m wide. When Nikita Khrushchev accused Stalin of homicide, Moscow decided that the monument had to disappear. In 1962, it was blown up with 800 kilo of explosives

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: The museum gives an insight of what was happening in Communist ruled Eastern Europe until 1989.

Local Expert tip: Be sure to watch the video footage of the protests against Communist rule and the Velvet revolution of 1989.

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Mucha became famous for his posters advertising theatre productions. His best known work is for the stage play Gismonda in which Sarah Bernardt, the celebrated French actress played the leading role. Mucha also designed decorative panels, magazine covers, menus, postcards, calendars, stamps and banknotes. His designs for jewelry, tableware and cutlery were so popular that he published 'A Handbook for Craftsmen'.The museum covers all periods in Mucha's career. Many of his posters, banknotes and stamps are on display. One section is devoted to informal photos of Mucha and his models. A thirty-minute video in English gives a good insight in his life and works.

Local Expert tip: The Mucha Museum features the works of Alfonse Mucha, one of the most celebrated Art Nouveau artists of the early 20th century.

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Municipal House
Photo courtesy of Marianne Crone

Obecní dum, or Municipal House, is the best example of Art Nouveau architecture in Prague. Marvel at the lavish entrance. The central wrought-iron gate and stained-glass canopy compliment a delightful mosaic entitled Homage to Prague. The gilt inscription around it is taken from Hail to Prague a poem by Svatopluk Cech, written at the end of the nineteenth century. Join the guided tour and soak up the interior peppered with mosaics, filigree metalwork, jewel-like encrustations, works by Alphonse Mucha and many other flamboyant Art Nouveau details. Round off your visit by having a coffee in the Grand Kavarna, the Municipal House café while feasting your eyes on Art Nouveau details.

Local Expert tip: Attend a concert in the Smetana Hall, home of the Prague Symphony orchestra and listen to a rousing performance of Bedrich Smetana's Ma Vlast which means My Home.

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Meet Marianne Crone

Marianne Crone divides her time between her home in the Netherlands and an apartment in Prague, the city where her son, daughter-in-law and grandson live.

Now retired, Marianne is still an...  More About Marianne