10 Lesser-Known Things to Do in Prague
Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, and there is so much to see and do. If you’re an art and architecture lover, you’re in for a treat. But it can also get very crowded with tourists. There are certain tourist sites that will be unavoidable–the Astronomical Clock, the Old Town Square, Prague Castle, Charles Bridge, the Jewish Quarters–and for good reason. Yet the following recommendations for things to do in Prague include places that aren’t on every Italian bus tourist and British lager lout’s itinerary.
1. Art by Alfons Mucha
Moravian artist Alfons Mucha–one of my favourites–wasn’t actually from Prague, but he was a proud Czech. He is well-known for his Art Nouveau Parisian salon scenes of the fin de siecle.
The Mucha Museum, in the vicinity of the main commercial strip of Wenceslas Square, is also worth a visit if you like Mucha’s work. I don’t think they change their exhibits very often–there were no discernible differences between my visits in 2005 and 2012, seven years apart!–but the museum does a good job of explaining the artists’ life and influences, and the juxtaposition of his Parisian and Czech art.
The most beautiful stained-glass window in St Vitus Cathedral (the main cathedral on the hill, part of the Prague Castle complex) is by Mucha, and is worth scrummaging through the crowds to see.
The Art Nouveau Municipal House, or Obecni Dum, also houses some of Mucha’s work. You can see this on a guided tour. The building is also worth a visit for its salons, stained glass, classical music (if you’re into that sort of thing), and general all-round beauty.
2. Strahov Monastery
This old monastery up on a hill behind the Castle houses a stunning library that contains a lot of old books, globes and furniture. The ceilings are as good (maybe even better) than any of the city’s baroque churches.
3. Museum of Decorative Arts
While not as large as London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, Prague’s Museum of Decorative Arts (Um?lecko-Pr?myslové Muzeum) is another museum highlight. Especially if you love old clothing, ceramics, glassware, tiles, drawings, and other objects of beauty and function. From the galleries, you can look over into the old Jewish Cemetery–probably the quietest view you’ll get of the place (and the most free of Italian school groups).
4. Star Palace
Before Prague grew into the (not exactly sprawling) metropolis that it is now, the Letohrádek Hvezda, or Star Summer Pavilion, was a summer retreat in the countryside outside the city. Now, it’s an easy tram ride away from the centre, near the airport and surrounded by busy roads. The Renaissance palace, built in the mid-16th century in the shape of a star, is beautiful and whimsical, and the gardens surrounding it are peaceful and expansive.
5. Wallenstein Palace Gardens
There are a number of gorgeous gardens in the vicinity of the Castle, most of which are only open in the spring and summer months. The terraced gardens leading down the hill from the Castle are beautiful, but my favourite are the Wallenstein Palace Gardens. The busy, atmospheric streets of Mala Strana (the Little Quarter) are just outside the walls, but the gardens themselves are peaceful (apart from the cries of peacocks), well maintained to their original Baroque design, and have some entertaining architectural oddities (still haven’t figured out what’s going on with that goblin wall!) The Palace itself houses the Czech Senate, and can be toured separately.
6. Museum Kampa
In a riverside location (on the Castle side of the river) is the beautiful and relatively uncrowded Museum Kampa. Highlights include an extensive collection of Czech abstract/cubist painter Frantisek Kupka’s (1871-1957) work. The outdoor sculptures and views across the river are other highlights of this awesome art museum.
7. Cubist Architecture
Yes, it does seem to be a contradiction in terms: Cubist architecture. That is, the art movement was attempting to portray the feel of three dimensions in two dimensional media. Architecture is, inherently, three dimensional, so is it really Cubist? Prague is home to the only so-called Cubist architecture in the world, and this apparent contradiction may explain why it didn’t take off elsewhere. However, some beautiful and interesting buildings came out of the mini-movement, and are scattered around town, but mostly found in the Vinohrady area.
8. Ballet at the National Theatre
A trip to the Národní Divadlo, or National Theatre to see the ballet (traditional or modern) can be the highlight of a trip to Prague. The theatre itself is worth paying money to see inside of, and even if you don’t know anything about classical dance, it’s hard not to be impressed by the elegance of the dancers, the costumes, the surroundings… The tickets can be had for a bargain, too, as long as you don’t mind sitting in the upper, upper balconies. Which are all the better a place to take in the surroundings from.
9. Žižkov Tower
Not the most beautiful building in Prague. Not even close. But a landmark nonetheless, and impossible not to notice. The Žižkov TV Tower, in a working-class eastern neighbourhood, has the best views of the city. And these really weird bronze babies crawling up the outside.
10. Convent of St Agnes of Bohemia
If you’ve been to New York’s Cloisters Museum you may feel that this place is familiar. Except that it’s the real deal. The Convent of St Agnes of Bohemia is part of the Czech National Gallery network, and houses a stunning collection of medieval and early Renaissance religious art from around Central Europe. The buildings themselves date back to the 13th century, and is the city’s oldest surviving Gothic building. It can be a little tricky to get to in the back streets of the old town, but that’s part of the fun.
A version of this post originally appeared on the author’s blog, Wilderness Metropolis.