Prague is definitely one of the most iconic European cities. As one of the oldest cities on the continent it is a history lovers delight. To our good fortune it remained relatively unscathed during the two World Wars and is excellently preserved to this date. From Romanesque to Contemporary, this place really has it all. We fell in love with it from the get go and are now looking to spread the love.
In this post we will:
- familiarise you with examples of all the architectural styles in the city
- introduce you to the Old Town square and its iconic buildings
- suggest a walking tour which will lead you up and down the Vltava river
- provide you with a comprehensive map of even more beautiful buildings to discover
Architectural Styles in Prague
In this section we want to give you a quick introduction to all architectural styles in Prague and where to find them. Feel free to flip through as many styles as you like!
As the earliest pan-European style of the modern world, only few examples of true Romanesque survive. Prague hosts quite a few of them. One example is the Rotunda of St. Longinus, built in the early 12th century. With its thick walls and few, small openings it’s a prime example of the style.
Some of the most beautiful examples of Gothic architecture in Europe can be found in Prague. The most famous example is probably St. Vitus Cathedral on the Castle grounds. If you want to catch a sneak peak of the stain glass windows, you can enter the first few metres of the church for free. We definitely recommend you take a look!
One of the most striking facades on the Old Town Square is the one of the so-called Minute House, also known as The White Lion. It was built in the 15th century, but the iconic sgraffito facade was added in 1610. It is one of several examples of this architectural style.
At the entrance to the Old Town you will find the Church of the Holy Saviour, a beautiful example of Baroque architecture. Built between 1578 and 1653 it is home to the Czech National Library today. Buildings of the Baroque and Neo-Baroque style litter the streets of Prague, it is hard to miss them!
The Rococo style was short-lived, but it can be found in a handfull of places in the city. One example is the Golz-Kinský Palace in the Old Town Square. The present building with its rococo facade dates from 1768. Today it is home to the National Gallery’s collection of artefacts from the ancient world.
The State Opera is a splendid example of the Neo-Classical style. It bears close resemblance to many buildings in Hungary and Austria and in fact it was designed by Viennese architects Ferdinand Fellner and Hermann Helmer.
Art Nouveau is our favourite architectural style and that’s why Prague was such a delight for us. The main tourist areas are laced with several buildings in this style. It spread easily as it was adopted by residential construction. The best example, however, would probably be the Municipal House, built between 1905 and 1912.
Cubism was another style which was only in fashion for a handfull of years. Nonetheless, there are a few examples for you to enjoy in the city. One is the so-called House of the Black Madonna in the Old Town. The Grand Cafe Orient remains one of the few surviving cubist interiors in the world.
Closely related to the Art Nouveau style, Art Deco shares many of its brother’s identifying elements. Indeed, often it is difficult to tell these two apart or the transition is fluid. One example would be the Koruna Building, just off Wenceslas Square.
Again close to Wenceslas Square you find a striking buildings which has had many functions since its construction. Today it is part of the National Museum. It was designed by the uncompromising Karel Prager.
The most iconic example of contemporary architecture in Prague is without a doubt the Dancing House. Situated on the right bank of the Vltava close to the National Theatre, it is the work of the award-winning Canadian architect Frank Gehry, in collaboration with Zagreb-born Vlado Milunić.
Architectural Overview of the Old Town Square
Some of the most beautiful examples of classical architecture can be found in the heart of the city, around the Old Town Square. It is one of the places most tourists are sure to visit. That’s why we decided to give you a bite size introduction into the city’s architecture right at this location.
Naturally we have to start with the Astronomical Clock, a stunning example of Gothic architecture. It is attached to the old town hall and features 2 dials. The upper dial shows the relative position of the sun and moon along the ecliptic. The lower dial is a calendar of the months and seasons. If you like you could climb up the tower and take in an aerial view, or follow our tour from the ground.
Slightly North-West from the Clock, across the square you will see the imposing Baroque Church of Saint Nicholas. Actually this is one of three churches dedicated to the saint and was erected between 1732 and 1737.
To the East of St. Nicholas Church you will find the former Municipal Insurance Building, easily identifiable by its white and yellow coat. It is a beautiful example of the Neo-Baroque style.
A bit further to the East yet (or to the right, if you like) you will find a Neo-Renaissance facade featuring the Arms of the City of Prague: ‘Gules, a tower, triple-towered or, in the open gateway an arm in armour embowed fesseways holding in the hand a sword in bend sinister, all proper.’
Further to the South, coming back into the square, lies the Golz-Kinsky Palace. As mentioned above it is an example of the Rococo and is currently home to the National Gallery’s collection of artefacts from the ancient world.
Further to the right you find the House of the Stone Bell, one of the earliest surviving domestic residences, and a Gothic beauty.
Beside the Stone Bell you find a building with a simplistic Renaissance facade and behind that towers the famous Tyn Cathedral. This Gothic masterpiece dominates the Eastern side of Prague’s Old Town Square.
To the South of the Tyn Cathedral lies the House of A. Storch and Son which features a stunning Art Nouveau Facade.
If you complete the circle towards the Astronomical Clock, you may spot a contemporary plaque dedicated to Albert Einstein. And finally, just West of the Astronomical Clock and on the very edge of the Old Town Square you will find one of my favourites: The Minute House and its very recognizable Renaissance facade.
Walking Tour: A stroll along the Vltava river
On a rainy day, Mihir and I wandered the streets of Prague somewhat absent mindedly, but ended up going on a beautiful architectural stroll along the river. It is a bit off the beaten tourist track but without losing the distinct charm the city has to offer. If you want to follow in our footsteps, read ahead. The whole tour is about 3,5 km long. We recommend walking it during early evening when the sun is just starting to set. That way you will get to watch the sunset from the Charles Bridge!
You would start at the edge of the Old Town, at the Church of the Holy Saviour, a beautiful Baroque piece. If you turn around you may see two more such buildings, the Colloredo-Mansfeld Palace as well as the Monastery and Church of St. Francis. You then head South-bound on Smetanovo nabr. If you take a left at Divadelni and then another left, you will stumble upon one of the few Romanesque architectural pieces left in Central Europe, the St. Cross Rotunda. You can then head back to the riverside.
After about 150m you will reach the Bridge of the Legions, a beautiful Baroque bridge, and the Neo-Classical National Theatre. You are now following Masarykovo nabr. This street is littered with beautiful Art Nouveau architecture, most notably the Goethe Institute and the Hlalol Building. Across the streets from the latter you will find the Manes Exhibition Hall, a striking example of Functionalism. Another 200m down the street you will reach Jiraskuv Bridge and one of Prague’s icons and a beautiful example of Contemporary architecture: The Dancing House.
You then cross the bridge and turn right onto Janackovo nabr. You will walk between shippable canals and rows of charming classical residences. Their entryways are often works of art and well worth the stroll along this less touristic street. After the Legion Bridge, the street is named Malostranske nabr. At 563/3 you will find a beautiful neo-classical entryway. If you have read our post on Tallinn, you’ll know that I have a thing for doors 🙂
Shortly after you will take a few steps down into a quiet park. Basically you just follow the path until you reach the Liechtenstein Palace, a quaint Renaissance structure. On the way you will enjoy beautiful views over the river. Just after the palace is probably the best spot to take your picture of the Charles Bridge, onto which you will finally set foot. This icon of the city is your final stop along our tour. Make sure to take in the atmosphere and snap a picture of the Prague Castle!
Thank you for walking with us!
Comprehensive Architectural Map of Prague
This map contains a large selection of architectural pieces from each period. You can use it for orientation around the main sights, but you could also use it to discover lesser explored gems and neighborhoods in the city. We hope you enjoy it!
If you enjoyed this, you might also want to follow our Rough Guide to Identifying European Architectural Styles for Travellers!
Now what do you think? What is your favourite piece of architecture in Prague? Is there anything we have left out? Share your thoughts and pictures with us. Let’s stay in touch!