The bohemian city of Prague, with its skyline of gothic spires and narrow cobbled streets, is perfect for a romantic city break. It also offers many cultural hotspots, including Kafka’s house and the Mozart Museum.
Old Town Square, Prague. The Old Town Hall’s Astronomical Clock, or Orloj, has been parading its medieval saint statuettes from 8am to 8pm almost non-stop since 1490, and it never fails to wow the crowds. The saints march by, visible through a window that opens on the hour above the clock face, itself an arcane work of old science, with Zodiac phases and sunrise and sunset times marked off in gold-bordered segments. While the saints do their stuff, four other statuettes surrounding the clock face, Greed, Vanity, Death and the Turk, wag their heads in moral instruction. If you’re early, look at the scenes of Bohemian life painted by the great Czech artist Josef Mánes on the calendar dial below the clock face.
Prague’s most familiar monument, the 13th-century home to kitsch souvenir sellers, connects the Old Town with the Mala Strana at the foot of the castle.
Jirska 3, Prague Palace (00 420 223 312 925;www.lobkowiczevents.cz)A wonderfully varied collection of treasures, including Bruegel’s Haymaking, a Velázquez, two Canalettos depicting panoramic views of London, a priceless collection of weaponry and Beethoven’s own performance score of the Third Symphony, annotated with the composer’s own comments.
OLD TOWN HALL
Staromestske Namestí 3, Prague(00 420 724 508 584). Built in 1338, this is the only building in Prague to suffer Nazi gunfire, now superbly restored.
OLD TOWN SQUARE
The Old Town Square (Staromestske Namesti) is the site of the church of Our Lady before Tyn, the Jan Hus memorial – a symbol of dissidence against oppression – and the Astronomical Clock (see above).
Hradcany, Prague(00 420 224 37 3368,www.hrad.cz) One of the most popular sites in the city, the buildings enclosed by the castle walls include a palace, an art gallery, three churches, Kafka’s house and a monastery.
ST VITUS CATHEDRAL
Prague Castle, Hradcany, Prague (00 420 2 2437 3368). Once a 10th-century chapel where farmers offered up sacrifices to the fertility god Svantovít, St Vitus’s Cathedral in Prague Castle remained more or less permanently under construction right up until the 1920s. Its original medieval stonework, visible in the apse and transepts, is oddly fronted by Art Nouveau stained-glass windows in the nave. The crypt is well worth a look, housing the tomb of Charles IV, father of Bohemia’s brief Golden Age. Even without a ticket for the crypt and tower, though, you can take in the enormous baroque, silver submarine-like coffin of St John of Nepomuk, one of the great Hapsburg propaganda tools for converting the Protestant masses.
WALLENSTEIN PALACE AND GARDEN
Valdstejinske Namesti 3, Prague (00 420 2 5732 0057). Baroque masterpiece built by the great Hapsburg general between 1624 and 1630. This was one of the first buildings of this architectural era in Prague. There is an exquisitely manicured garden in period style, open only during the summer months.
BERTRAMKA MOZART MUSEUM
Mozartova 169, Prague (www.bertramka.com). Overlooked in guidebooks, but well worth a visit. From April to September Bertramka also presents a programme of classical concerts, some with a “living history” element attached, where performers play out the days of the 18th century. Open April to Oct daily, from 9am to 6pm; and November to March daily, from 9:30am to 4pm.
U Staré skoly 1, Prague (00 420 221 711 511; www.jewishmuseum.cz). One ticket covers all six components of the Jewish Museum, in the former Prague ghetto, Josefov: the Klausen, Maisel, Pinkas and Spanish synagogues, the Old Jewish Cemetery and the Ceremonial Hall. The recently restored walls of the Pinkas synagogue list the names and home towns of 77,297 Jews killed in the Holocaust. The museum was established in 1906 to preserve the remains of this massive clearance project. Closed Saturdays and Jewish holidays.
NARODNI GALERIE: ST AGNES’S CONVENT
U milosrdných 17, Prague (00 420 224 810 628; www.ngprague.cz). The National Gallery’s fabulous medieval and Gothic art collection could not have been given a more appropriate new home than St Agnes’s Convent. The oldest surviving Gothic structure in the city, its blackened stone walls emanate mystery and gloom. A highlight of the art collection is the work of Master Theodoric, who painted hundreds of small, moon-faced portraits of saints for Charles IV’s summer palace at Karlstejn. Closed Mondays.
NARODNI GALERIE: STERNBERG PALACE
Hradcanské námestí 15, Prague (www.ngprague.cz). The European art collection displayed here is outstanding, with emphasis on the 14th-18th centuries. The ground floor houses the exhibition of German and Austrian art of the 16th to 18th century. The second floor hosts an exhibition of the works of Italian, Spanish, French and Netherlands masters from the 16th to the 18th century, including Tintoretto, Ribera, Tiepolo, El Greco, Goya, Rubens and van Dyck.
NARODNI GALERIE: ST GEORGE’S CONVENT
Jirske Namesti 33, Prague (00 420 257 531 644; www.ngprague.cz). Bohemia’s first convent is now a Renaissance and Baroque art gallery.
Václavské námestí 68, Prague (00 420 224 497 111; www.nm.cz). Apart from the extraordinary display of animal skeletons, the balcony to the museum has a very commanding view of Wenceslas Square.
Novotneho lavka 1, Prague (www.nm.cz). The life and work of the great Czech composer is remembered here beside the river that inspired Ma Vlast.
THE OLD JEWISH CEMETERY
U Staré skoly 1, Prague (www.jewishmuseum.cz). The Old Jewish Cemetery was established in the first half of the 15th century. Today it contains some 12,000 tombstones.
VIEWS OF THE CITY
Entrance 1: Krizovnicka 190 (00 042 222 220 879,www.klementinum.com) This silent complex of 17th and 18th century buildings lies just north of bustling Karlvoa Street. Climb the astronomical tower for a great city view.
Above Ujezd Street: Malá Strana area. Even the most inspiring vista of Prague would seem incomplete without the spires of Prague Castle shooting up from the skyline. For that reason, the view from the castle itself has to take a backseat to that from the hill just upstream of it, known as Petpín. It’s a safe place, conducive to contemplation, and necklaced with cherry and pear orchards that were once the property of the king. The night view is even more appealing. A few park benches and a hillside pub are handily placed.
ZIZKOV TV TOWER
Mahlerovy sady 1 (00 420 242 418 778; www.tower.cz). The phallic Zizkov TV Tower, thrown up by the Communists just before the Velvet Revolution of 1989 to block Western broadcasts, now beams ER reruns to every Czech household. A threadbare, once futuristic café hangs in the sky midway up the tower, from which you can get a great view of the largest equine statue in Europe: it depicts the one-eyed Bohemian general Jan Zizka charging the fearful Hapsburg armies in the 15th century. Open 10am to 11.30pm.