Straddling the meandering River Vltava, and possessing some 600 years of architecture virtually unscathed by natural disaster or war, Prague possesses an ethereal beauty few other European cities can match. While Prague’s classical music and crisp pilsners are among some of the better reasons to visit, there is no greater pleasure than merely taking a Prague walking tour around the winding cobblestone streets, enjoying the unique atmosphere and unearthing the rich mantle of architecture. This post includes a map for a self-guided free walking tour of Prague. Enjoy your walk! 🙂
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Table of Contents
Why Choose This Free Self-Guided Prague Walking Tour?
This free self-guided Prague walking tour itinerary is perfect if you are short on time and trying to save some money. With our free map, you can follow the route quite easily without having to hire an expensive guide for the day. The tour will take you past most of the city’s major attractions, landmark public buildings, places of worship, cultural venues, restaurants, and cafes. You’ll also learn a few lesser-known tidbits about Prague along the way.
The tour will take you through the center of Prague, focusing on the attraction studded areas of the Old Town, New Town, Lesser Quarter, Castle District and the Jewish Quarter.
Prague Walking Tour Itinerary
The walking tour covers a total distance of approximately 10.4 kilometers (6.5 miles). Depending on how fast you go, you could even make a full day of sightseeing out of it. The tour starts at the Charles Bridge and terminates at the State Opera near Wenceslas Square. Feel free to take a break if you feel jaded along the way. Many of Prague’s streets are paved with bricks, some of which have cracks, uneven angles and can become slick when wet. It is thus best to stick with a comfortable pair of flat shoes rather than heels as they can get stuck in the pavement.
I have included some cafes and restaurants in the map where you can take a breather and grab a bite. On this Prague walking tour, you will see:
- Charles Bridge
- Piss Sculpture
- Kampa Island & Crawling Babies
- Devil’s Stream
- Lennon Wall
- Wallenstein Palace & Gardens
- Church of St. Nicholas (Lesser Quarter)
- Nerudova Street
- Schwarzenberg Palace
- Archbishop’s Palace
- Prague Castle
- St. Vitus Cathedral
- St. George’s Basilica
- Golden Lane
- Letna Park
- Pinkas Synagogue
- Old Jewish Cemetery
- Klausen Synagogue
- Old-New Synagogue
- Spanish Synagogue
- Kafka Monument
- Parizska Street
- Maisel Synagogue
- Old Town Square
- Church of St. Nicholas (Old Town)
- Prague Astronomical Clock
- Old Town Hall
- House of the Minute
- Storch House
- Jan Hus Monument
- Kinský Palace
- House at the Stone Bell
- Church of Our Lady before Týn
- Basilica of St. James
- Celetná Street
- Estates Theater
- House of the Black Madonna
- Powder Tower
- Municipal House
- Jubilee Synagogue
- Wenceslas Square
- King Wenceslas Riding on a Dead Horse
- National Museum
- New National Museum
- State Opera
1. Charles Bridge
Start your Prague walking tour at the iconic Charles Bridge (Karlův most), easily Prague’s signature landmark, which connects the two halves of the city across the Vltava River. This is one of Europe’s most famous bridges, and one of its best public spaces. When the Přemyslid princes set up residence in Prague during the 10th century, there was a ford across the Vltava here. After several wooden bridges and the first stone bridge was washed away in floods, Charles IV commissioned a new structure in 1357, which became one of the wonders of the world in the Middle Ages.
The bridge became a symbol of the Counter-Reformation’s vigorous re-Catholicization efforts after 1620, following the disastrous defeat of Czech Protestants by Catholic Habsburgs at the Battle of White Mountain. The bridge is 520 meters in length and is built of sandstone blocks, rumored to be strengthened by mixing mortar with eggs. Charles Bridge derives much of its allure from the artistic differences between Baroque and Gothic styles.
Take a closer look at some of the statues while walking toward the Lesser Quarter. The third one on the right, a bronze crucifix, is the oldest of all. The gilded Christ dates from 1629 and the Hebrew words “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord”, were paid for by a Jew as punishment for blasphemy. The twelfth statue on the left is the statue of St. Luitgard, considered to be the most artistically remarkable on the sculpture on the bridge. The blind Flemish Cistercian nun is depicted in the middle of her celebrated vision, in which Christ appeared so that she could kiss his wounds.
However, the most famous statue is the statue of St. John of Nepomuk, the eighth on the right. According to legend, he was wrapped in chains and thrown to his death from this bridge. The bronze relief below Nepomuk’s statue, the one with five stars on the halo around the head, depicts the final moment of the saint. It is burnished each day by the hands of thousands of tourists who hope it brings good luck or, according to some versions of the legend, a return visit to Prague.
You can also climb both of the mighty Gothic bridge towers for a bird’s-eye view of the masses pouring across. The one on the Lesser Quarter side features two unequal towers, connected by a castellated arch, which forms the entrance to the bridge. The Old Town’s one is the finer of the two; its eastern facade is encrusted in Gothic cake-like decorations, plus a series of mini-sculptures. St. Vitus is the central figure, flanked by Charles IV on the right and his son, Václav IV, on the left; above them stand two of Bohemia’s patron saints, Adalbert and Sigismund. The severed heads of 12 of the Protestant leaders were suspended from the tower in iron baskets following their execution on the Old Town Square in 1621. All but one remained there until the Saxons passed through the capital ten years later.
Since the bridge is so popular, the crush of sightseers never abates during the day, when the niches created by the bridge-piers are occupied by buskers, souvenir-hawkers and street vendors, and occasionally, a few Czechs. The optimum time to visit is in the early hours as the sun rises over the Old Town bridge tower, you won’t be disappointed with the stunning vista.
According to Czech legend, Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV had the foundation stone of the Charles Bridge laid on the 9th of July 1357 at 5:31 a.m. This was no coincidence since Charles IV was a devout follower of numerology and carefully chose the date himself. When it is written in the chronology of the year–the day–the month–the time, it makes a palindrome, going upwards and then downwards: 1-3-5-7-9-7-5-3-1. He felt this would bring the bridge strength and good fortune.
Your next stop is the Piss Sculpture (2). To get there, take the stairs down to Na Kampě, turn right and continue before turn right again onto U Lužického semináře and continue till you’re on Cihelná. You’ll be walking a distance of 300 m.
2. Piss Sculpture
On this free Prague walking tour, you will encounter plenty of artwork all over the city, ranging from the simple to the eccentric and quirky. Some of my favorites are the works by Czech avant-garde installation artist and enfant terrible David Cerny. He first came to my attention when I saw his ‘London Booster’ sculpture at the time of the 2012 Olympics. He is internationally famous for creating pieces that are darkly humorous, eye-catching and highly controversial. Seeing his works is one of the many free things to do in Prague and makes for instagrammable pictures.
The Piss Sculpture or simply “Piss” is my favorite of David Cerny’s works. It’s an obvious crowd-pleaser. What couldn’t be amusing about two gyrating, butt-naked mechanical men micturating into a pool shaped like the Czech Republic! It’s even possible to send an SMS to the number next to the exhibit and have these chaps spell out your own personal message through urinating by wiggling their schlongs.
Your next stop is Kampa Island & Crawling Babies (3). To get there, simply backtrack U Lužického semináře, turn left onto Na Kampě and continue onto U Sovových mlýnů. You’ll be walking a distance of 550 m.
3. Kampa Island & Crawling Babies
Kampa Island is the largest of the Vltava’s islands, and with its cafés, old mills and serene riverside park and playground is the perfect place to escape the crowds on the Charles Bridge. For most of the Middle Ages, there were only gardens on Kampa, though the island was also used for washing clothes and bleaching linen. The island then became well-known for its pottery markets in the 17th century. There are still some picturesque houses from this period.
Kampa Park, which is Prague’s prettiest park, in my opinion, is also situated on Kampa Island and is is the perfect spot to toss down a blanket and open a book or get a tan. Three crawling giant babies are situated in Kampa Park. These creatures with imploded slot-machine faces, which would make David Lynch proud, are part of David Cerny’s “Babies” project – to make the hideously ugly Zizkov TV Tower more attractive. Look into the distance and you will see 10 of these creepy mutants scaling the brutalist eyesore (that looks like a futuristic rocket ready to blast off) that usually features in the list of World’s Ugliest Buildings.
Your next stop is the Devil’s Stream (4) which can be reached by heading north on U Sovových mlýnů and then turning left onto Ostrov Kampa. You’ll be walking a distance of 150 m.
4. Devil’s Stream
Devil ́s Stream (Čertovka) is a delightfully tranquil corner of the Little Quarter and one of the most beautiful places to see in Prague. It is an artificial channel, separating the Kampa Island from the Lesser Town. The name ‘Devil’s Stream’ reputedly comes from an irascible old lady who once lived on Maltese Square. The stream was used as a millrun for centuries and from Kampa, you can see the remains of three old mills. The old mill-wheel is still on the channel has had its wheel meticulously restored, though it now turns very slowly. The charming atmosphere of the channel has led to the name “Prague’s Venice”, but you will see canoes instead of gondolas.
Though there are several theories as to the origin of Prague’s name, the most likely one is that the city’s name is Czech “Praha” stems from an old Slavic word, práh, which means “ford” or “rapid”, in reference to the city’s origin at a crossing point of the Vltava River. The English spelling of “Prague” is loaned from French.
Your next stop is the Lennon Wall (5). To reach it, backtrack on Ostrov Kampa, turn left onto U Sovových mlýnů and continue over Devil’s Stream and the old water mill onto Velkopřevorské nám. You’ll be walking a distance of 300 m.
5. Lennon Wall
The Lennon Wall is one of the must-see places on this walking tour of Prague. It is the site where Prague’s youth established an impromptu graffiti shrine to the former-Beatle after his murder in 1980. Most of the vivid graffiti on this wall is dedicated to John Lennon and the lyrics of the Beatles. Lennon was a leading symbol of non-conformity for youths in communist-ruled Czechoslovakia. In the 1980s, fed up with the silence and repression, the young people of Prague used this ad hoc protest space to voice their frustration and concerns via some paintings and messages on the wall. The graffiti artists and the secret police once waged a long-running paint battle here, as the latter constantly tried to eradicate the graffiti artists’ work, but a compromise was finally reached and the wall’s scribblings were legalized.
Ironically, Lennon never visited Prague, although the wall is one of Prague’s landmarks. Although interest in the wall has waned, it continuously undergoes change and the original portrait of Lennon is long lost.
Your next stop is the Wallenstein Palace & Gardens (6). To get there, head west on Velkopřevorské nám, turn right onto Lázeňská, followed by turning left onto Mostecká before turning right onto Josefská. Continue and turn left onto Letenská, right onto Tomášská and finally right again onto Valdštejnské nám. You’ll be walking a distance of 600 m.
6. Wallenstein Palace & Gardens
The Wallenstein Palace (Valdštejnský palác), one of the first, and largest, Baroque palaces in Prague, stands as a monument to the fatal ambition of military commander Albrecht von Wallenstein. As early as 1624, von Waldstein started to build a palace with the aim of overshadowing even Prague Castle and which would reflect his status as commander of the Imperial Catholic armies of the Thirty Years’ War. By buying, confiscating, and destroying 23 houses, three gardens, and a brick kiln factory, he succeeded in ripping apart a densely populated area of the Lesser Quarter to make way for the palace. The wonderful main hall is dominated by a ceiling fresco of Wallenstein himself portrayed as Mars, the god of war, riding in a triumphal chariot.
The palace hides a delightful geometrical garden in the rear, which is home to numerous fountains and statues depicting figures from classical mythology or warriors dispatching a variety of beasts. Look out for the statue of Hercules in the central pond. The grotesquery is a curious imitation of the walls of a limestone cave, covered in stalactites. The huge dripstone wall—that you have to see to believe is loaded with creative rock formations, like animal heads, snakes, and other grotesque figures.
Your next stop is the Church of St. Nicholas (Lesser Quarter) (7). To get there, head north and then take a sharp left on Valdštejnské nám, then continue south on Sněmovní and then right onto Malostranské nám. You’ll be walking a distance of 300 m.
7. Church of St. Nicholas (Lesser Quarter)
The wonderful Church of St. Nicholas (Kostel Sv. Mikuláše) is one of the highlights of our free self-guided Prague walking tour. Its giant green dome and tower are among the most characteristic landmarks in Prague’s Lesser Quarter. The building is the crowning glory of the father-and-son Dientzenhofer dynasty, Prague’s greatest exponents of the High Baroque style, although neither lived to see the completion of the magnificent church. Work began in the first years of the 18th century but the church was not finished until 1761. Czechs normally tend to favor Gothic over Baroque, associating the latter with the Austrian Hapsburg occupation, but almost everyone loves this church.
The interior of the church is quite pompous, with ceiling frescoes by the Viennese artist Johann Lukas Kracker depicting scenes extolling the miraculous feats of St. Nicholas Nicholas, and Franz Palko’s Celebration of the Holy Trinity gracing the inside of the dome. In the left transept, stairs lead to several large paintings by Karel Škréta, the greatest Czech Baroque painter. The church organ has 2,500 pipes and 44 registers and was once played by Mozart.
Mozart had a special relationship with Prague, and his music has held a special position for hundreds of years, mainly thanks to the premieres of his two operas, which he himself conducted. His opera The Marriage of Figaro, which had failed to please the critics in Vienna, had been given a rapturous reception at Prague’s Nostitz Theater. The immense success of The Marriage of Figaro came as quite a shock even to Mozart himself. Unsurprisingly, he chose to premiere his next opera, Don Giovanni, later that year, in Prague rather than Vienna. His final opera, La Clemenza di Tito, commissioned for the coronation of Leopold II as king of Bohemia (and completed whilst on the coach from Vienna to Prague). The opera didn’t go down quite as well as previous ones, – the empress is alleged to have shouted “German hogwash” from her box. Despite this, 4000 people turned out for Mozart’s memorial service, held in the Lesser Quarter’s Church of St. Nicholas.
Your next stop is Nerudova Street (8). Just continue straight on Malostranské nám. until it becomes Nerudova Street. You’ll be walking a distance of 40 m.
8. Nerudova Street
Just beyond the Church of St. Nicholas lies Nerudova Street (Nerudova ulice), a narrow street lined with many fine houses that leads uphill to the Prague Castle. The street takes its name from Czech author Jan Neruda, who was born here in the 19th century and wrote many short stories set in this part of Prague. The Nobel prize-winning Chilean poet Pablo Neruda so admired Jan Neruda’s writings that he adopted “Neruda” as a pen name. Nerudova Street used to be the final leg of the “Royal Way,” the king’s cavalcade before his coronation. Historically a hub for artists and craftsmen, the street is worth checking out for its many craft shops and galleries. Some of the shops and restaurants that flank Nerudova are fairly touristy though.
The buildings are each distinguished by an emblem as they were built before the introduction of street numbers. As you make your way up the street keep an eye open for the Red Eagle (No. 6), the House of the Red Lamb (No. 11), the Three Fiddles (No. 12), the Golden Horseshoe (No. 34), the Green Lobster (No. 43) and the White Swan (No. 49).
There are also several marvelous Baroque buildings on Nerudova, including the Thun-Hohenstein Palace, whose ornate entranceway is framed by huge eagles (No. 20, now the Italian embassy) and the Morzin Palace (No. 5, now the Romanian embassy). Further up the street at No. 33 is the Bretfeld Palace, a rococo house with a relief of St. Nicholas on the façade. Mozart, his librettist partner Lorenzo da Ponte, and the aging but still infamous philanderer Casanova stayed here at the time of the world premiere of Don Giovanni in 1787.
Your next stop is the Schwarzenberg Palace (9). To get there, head west on Nerudova, turn right onto Ke Hradu, turn left onto Radnické schody and finally turn right onto Hradčanské nám. You’ll be walking a distance of 500 m.
9. Schwarzenberg Palace
The Schwarzenberg Palace (Schwarzenberský palác) is the most distinctive building on Hradčany Square. The sgraffito (patterns incised on a flat wall of plaster to create a three-dimensional effect of shade and depth) on the exterior makes this imposing Renaissance palace easy to distinguish. It was initially built for the Lobkowicz Family by the Italian architect Agostini Galli in the mid-1500s, which explains why it is more Florentine in style rather than Bohemian. It passed through several hands before the Schwarzenbergs, a leading family in the Habsburg Empire, acquired it by marriage in 1719.
This palace once housed the Museum of Military History but is now home to the National Gallery’s collection of Baroque art. The interior of the Schwarzenberg Palace features arched ceilings and displays on how artists worked and what their studios were like during the Baroque era.
Your next stop is the Archbishop’s Palace (10) which is just up ahead on the left when you go east on Hradčanské nám. You’ll be walking a distance of 50 m.
10. Archbishop’s Palace
If the Schwarzenberg Palace is the most distinctive building on Hradčany Square, the Archbishop’s Palace (Arcibiskupský palác) is certainly the most ornate building on the square. The white-and-yellow house became the Archbishop’s Palace after the Counter-Reformation in 1562 and its position was an indication of the power of the Catholic Church and its influence on the Habsburg monarchy. The palace’s original staid Renaissance facade was remodeled in the 1760s in Rococo style for Archbishop Antonín Příchovský, whose coat of arms sits above the portal. The Rococo exterior only hints at the even more opulent furnishings inside, though the plush interior is open to the public only on Maundy Thursday (the Thursday before Easter).
Hradčany Square features prominently in the Miloš Forman film Amadeus (as a substitute for Vienna). The Czech director used the house at No. 7 for Mozart’s residence, where the composer was haunted by the masked figure he thought was his father. The flamboyant Archbishop’s Palace substituted as the Viennese archbishop’s palace in the movie.
Your next stop is the Prague Castle (11) which lies beside the Archbishop’s Palace.
11. Prague Castle
Lying on top of Castle Hill, the immense Prague Castle (Pražský hrad) dominates the skyline of Prague like no other building and is undoubtedly one of the top things to see in Prague. It is the largest ancient castle in the world with an area of 70,000 square meters. The castle isn’t just one sight, but rather consists of several points of interest including four churches, four palaces, sprawling gardens, and even a defense tower.
The first records of the castle date back to 870 and parts of it have been rebuilt over the years due to destruction or fire. By the beginning of the 14th century, it housed the royal palace, churches and a monastery. Refurbished during the reign of Charles IV, it was ravaged by fire in 1541 and most of the buildings were reconstructed in Renaissance style. The castle eventually became a backwater when the Habsburgs made Vienna their permanent base, but in the mid-18th century, it was given its present unified appearance by Empress Maria Theresa and her Italian architect Nicola Pacassi. Since 1918, the castle has been the residence of the President of the Czech Republic.
The Prague Castle complex is open daily from 06:00 – 22:00. Entrance to the castle grounds is free but many of its attractions keep different hours and charge a separate entrance fee. I would advise taking the “Short Visit” ticket option (cheaper option) that allows entry to the sights covered in this Prague walking tour. This will provide more than enough quality time in the castle. Enter through the ornate gates crowned with heroic statues of fighting giants. The somber guards at the main entrance make a great photo-op.
Did you know that the word defenestration (the act of throwing someone out a window as a means of execution) originates from an incident that occurred in the Prague Castle in 1618? When the Habsburgs attempted to make Catholicism the sole religion of the empire in 1617, the Protestants of Bohemia (present-day Czech Republic) took umbrage at the suppression of their religion. To demonstrate how vexed they were, Bohemian nobles in Prague chucked two Catholic regents and their secretary out of a window of the Royal Palace. Luckily, a manure pile cushioned their fall and they escaped. This event was also the catalyst that triggered one of the most calamitous wars in European history, the Thirty Years’ War. However, this wasn’t the first notable defenestration to occur in Prague. The first defenestration in Prague took place at the New Town Hall on July 30, 1419, when a mob of townspeople, followers of the martyred religious reformer Jan Hus, hurled Catholic town councilors out the windows.
Your next stop is the St. Vitus Cathedral (12) which lies within the Prague Castle complex.
12. St. Vitus Cathedral
No Prague walking tour would be complete without paying a visit to the awesome St. Vitus Cathedral (Katedrála Sv. Víta). This Gothic cathedral is among the most beautiful in Europe and is not only the spiritual heart of Prague Castle but of the Czech Republic itself. It’s where kings were crowned, the royalty has their tombs, the relics of saints are venerated, and the crown jewels are kept.
St. Vitus Cathedral owes its asymmetrical appearance (a blend of Gothic, Neo-Gothic architectural styles along with influences from Renaissance and Baroque) to interruptions by wars, plagues, and fire, for although the foundation stone was laid in 1344, the cathedral was not completed until 1929 – exactly 1000 years after the death of Bohemia’s most famous patron saint, Wenceslas. The ornate facade features pointed arches, elaborate tracery, flying buttresses, a rose window, a dozen statues of saints, and gargoyles sticking their tongues out. Designed in the 1920s, the Rose Window above the portals depicts scenes from the biblical story of the Creation. The lean buttresses that surround the exterior of the nave and chancel are stunningly decorated like the rest of the cathedral.
The cathedral’s humongous proportions are immediately apparent once you enter, over 18 separate chapels line the walls. Take a moment to admire the colorful light filter through the brilliant stained-glass windows. I loved the stained glass Art Nouveau window by Alfons Mucha depicting the blessing of Sts. Cyril and Methodius (9th-century missionaries to the Slavs). Another big draw is the magnificent chancel built by Peter Parler in the 1370s. It is remarkable for the soaring height of its vault, counter-pointed by the intricacy of the webbed Gothic tracery. St. Wenceslas Chapel is also full of remarkable Gothic frescoes with scenes from the Bible intertwined with a patchwork of precious gemstones and fine gilding.
The Bohemian Crown Jewels include the Crown of Saint Wenceslas, the royal orb and scepter, the coronation robe of the Kings of Bohemia, a gold reliquary cross, and St. Wenceslas’ sword. They are only shown to the public on special occasions. The rest of the time, facsimiles are on display at Prague Castle. The Crown Jewels chamber in St. Vitus Cathedral is remarkably well-secured and the least accessible place at Prague Castle. The door to the chamber and the iron safe has seven locks, and there are seven holders of the keys, viz. the President of Czech Republic, the Prime Minister, and the Archbishop of Prague, the Chairman of the House of Deputies, the Chairman of the Senate, the Dean of the Metropolitan Chapter of St. Vitus Cathedral and the Lord Mayor of Prague. All seven key holders must be present in order for the door and strongbox to be opened.
Your next stop is St. George’s Basilica (13) which lies behind St. Vitus Cathedral.
13. St. George’s Basilica
St. George’s Basilica (Bazilika Sv. Jiří) was founded in the early 10th century and is said to be the oldest surviving church in Prague. It is easily recognizable by its rusty-red Baroque facade. The interior is spartan in true Romanesque fashion, although it has been extensively restored over the centuries, with the scant remains of original ceiling frescos. the place is beautiful in its austerity and offers a good foil to the opulent St. Vitus Cathedral. The basilica is the resting place of Queen Ludmila, patron saint of Bohemia, and other members of the Přemyslid dynasty.
Your next stop is Golden Lane (14). To get there, head east on nám. U Svatého Jiří and continue onto Jiřská. Then turn left onto Zlatá ulička u Daliborky. You’ll be walking a distance of 200 m.
14. Golden Lane
If one were to make a list of the most instagrammable location in Prague, Golden Lane (Zlatá Ulička) would be at the very top of that list. It is a jumbled collection of brightly painted, ramshackle historic cottages that are built directly into the arches of the castle walls. The houses were built during the 16th century for the castle guards. Contrary to its name you won’t find any golden pavements or items here. Golden Lane is named for the goldsmiths who moved into the houses in the 17th century.
Golden Lane has been home to some well-known writers, including the Nobel prize-winning poet Jaroslav Seifert, and Franz Kafka who stayed at No. 22 with his sister. The houses themselves were occupied until World War II. Now they display medieval torture, alchemy, armor, medieval clothing, textiles and sell tourist souvenirs.
Your next stop is Letna Park (15). To get there, head west on Jiřská, turn left onto Na Opyši, cross the road onto U Bruských kasáren and then turn left onto Nábřeží Edvarda Beneše. You’ll be walking a distance of 1.2 km.
15. Letna Park
Set on the banks of the Vltava River in Prague’s seventh district, Letna Park (Letenské Sady) is one of the most popular parks in Prague. It has numerous paths for running or strolling, making it a hit with tourists and locals, who come here at all hours of the day. The best reason to come here is for a superb view of Prague and the tranquil Vltava River with its many bridges.
Letna Park is also well-known for formerly being home to the world’s largest statue of ex-Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. The 15-meter tall statue, which depicted Stalin standing at the head of a line of workers, soldiers, and citizens, was dubbed by Prague residents as “the meat queue”—a reference to the notorious food shortages during the Communist era. The statue was commissioned in the early 1950s at the height of Stalin’s cult of personality and was revealed in 1955 to the cheering masses. But within a year, Kruschev’s (Stalin’s successor) de-stalinization policy which denounced Stalin meant that the monument had to go. It lingered uneasily over the city for several years and was finally blown to smithereens in 1962. The statue’s vast concrete platform and steps are all that remain and are now graced with David Černý’s symbolic giant red metronome.
Your next stop is the Rudolfinum (16). To get there, head south on the Čech Bridge over the Vltava, turn right onto Dvořákovo nábř and then turn left onto nám. J. Palacha. You’ll be walking a distance of 650 m.
Next up on this free walking tour of Prague is the Rudolfinum (Dům umělců), one of the most stellar landmarks in the Old Town. It consists of several concert halls and is home to the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. It also plays host to many of the major concerts of the Prague Spring International Music Festival. The Rudolfinum was built between 1876 and 1884 and is an outstanding example of Czech Neo-Renaissance architecture. The arching woody-brown balustrade is adorned with statues of distinguished Czech, Austrian and German composers and artists. Between 1918 and 1939, and for a brief period after World War II, the Rudolfinum was the seat of the Czechoslovak parliament.
Your next stop is the Pinkas Synagogue (17). Just head east on nám. J. Palacha, take a slight left onto 17. listopadu and then turn right onto Široká. You’ll be walking a distance of 130 m.
17. Pinkas Synagogue
The Pinkas Synagogue (Pinkasova Synagoga) is Prague’s second-oldest Jewish house of worship, dating from the 1500s and has undergone countless restorations over the centuries. It began life as a private place of worship for the influential Horowitz family, although it was later expanded to rival the Old-New Synagogue. The core of the present building is a hall with crisscross Gothic vaulting and the Art Nouveau stained glass.
However, the chief focus of the Pinkas Synagogue lies in its walls, inscribed with the names of 77,297 Jewish Czechoslovak citizens who perished in the Holocaust. It is the longest epitaph in the world and the names are carefully organized. Family names are in red, followed in black by the individual’s first name, birthday, and date of death (if known) or date of deportation. This is perhaps the most moving of all the sights of the Jewish Quarter.
The main synagogues and cemetery in the Jewish Quarter are covered in this self-guided Prague walking tour. To visit any of these places, you are required to buy a ticket (valid for 7 days) to the Jewish Museum, which allows access to all these sites (a separate ticket costing 200 CZK is required for visiting the Old-New Synagogue). The Jewish Museum is open Sunday-Friday. Opening hours are 09:00-18:00 (April-October) and 09:00-17:00 (November-March). A ticket costs 350 CZK. Tickets can be purchased online or in one of the museum’s ticket offices.
History 101: Jews in Prague
The Jewish community was founded in the latter years of the 11th century. Starting from the 13th century, Prague’s Jews were obliged to live in a walled community in the confines of the ghetto which consisted of 31 streets and over 200 wooden buildings. The area gradually grew to become the biggest Jewish community in Europe, as well as an economic and cultural center of the highest importance. Throughout the centuries the Jews were alternatively accepted and ostracized by the ruling dynasties. Despite this, the vital Jewish community was an exuberant part of the city’s culture. In 1897, the ramshackle Jewish Quarter was razed because the lack of sanitation made it a health hazard and replaced by a new modern town which turned into one of Europe’s finest Art Nouveau neighborhoods. Only a handful of the synagogues, the town hall, and the cemetery were preserved. Of the estimated 55,000 Jews in Prague at the time of the Nazi invasion, over 36,000 died in the camps. Many survivors emigrated to Israel and the US. Many of those who survived World War II found themselves victims of Stalinist anti-Semitic purges during the 1950s. Today, in spite of their scant numbers (around 2000), the legacy of Prague’s Jewish community lives on.
Your next stop is the Old Jewish Cemetery (18) which can be enetered through the Pinkas Synagogue.
18. Old Jewish Cemetery
The Old Jewish Cemetery (Starý Židovský Hřbitov) is one of those places you have to see to believe and is an absolute must-see on par with the Charles Bridge & Prague Castle. It is Prague’s oldest surviving Jewish burial ground, dating to the middle of the 15th century. Because local laws at the time prohibited Jews from burying their dead outside the ghetto, this puny graveyard is crammed with some 12,000 visible tombstones and an estimated 100,000 more bodies stacked up to 12 layers below ground. The graves were never relocated because Jewish traditions dictate not to move bodies after they are buried. The settling of the ground over time has created lopsided tombstones pointing in every direction, a most surreal an evocative sight that casts an eerily hypnotic spell.
Each headstone bears a symbol denoting the background, family name or profession of the deceased: a pair of hands for the Cohens; a pitcher and basin for the Levites; scissors for a tailor; a stag for Hirsch’s or the Zvi’s. Many visitors continue the ancient tradition of placing small pebbles on grave markers or stuffing the graves with small scraps of paper bearing wishes. The cemetery’s oldest grave belongs to the poet Avigdor Karo and dates from 1439. Moses Beck, who died in 1787, was the last person to be buried in the cemetery. Look out for the headstone of Jehuda ben Bezalel aka the famed Rabbi Löw, a scholar and chief rabbi of Prague, credited with creating the mythical Golem.
The giant man of clay called the ‘Golem’ is Prague’s equivalent of the Frankenstein monster. Rabbi Löw who was thought to possess magical powers wanted to protect Prague’s Jews from persecution. He thus proceeded to create a figure, the Golem, from mud and then brought it to life by placing a šém in its mouth, a tablet with a magic Hebrew inscription. The golem performed his allotted task of protecting the Jewish Quarter, but—in keeping with the Jewish custom of reserving the Sabbath as a day of rest—Rabbi Löw always removed the šém (that keeps him under control) on Friday night. But one day he forgot and the golem ran amok creating bedlam. Eventually he was overcome and Rabbi Löw had to remove the šém for good. He hid the golem in the rafters of the Old-New Synagogue, where it’s said to be to this day. Two of the most popular retellings of the Golem include the silent-screen classic of the same name by the German director Paul Wegener and the dark psychological novel of Gustav Meyrink.
Your next stop is the Klausen Synagogue (19) which can be entered through the rear of the Old Jewish Cemetery.
19. Klausen Synagogue
The Klausen Synagogue (Klausová synagoga) was founded in the 1690s by Mordechai Maisel, the then-mayor of the Jewish Quarter, on a site that was formerly occupied by a small Jewish school and prayer houses (klausen), in what was then a notorious red-light district of the Jewish Quarter. This Baroque synagogue has a fine barrel-vaulted interior with relatively ornate stucco decorations. It now houses Hebrew prints and manuscripts tracing the history of the Jews in Central Europe back to the early Middle Ages and an exhibition detailing the rituals of everyday Jewish life and Jewish holidays.
Your next stop is the Old-New Synagoue (20) which can be reached by heading east on U Starého hřbitova. You’ll be walking a distance of 80 m.
20. Old-New Synagogue
The Old-New Synagogue (Staronová synagoga) is the oldest surviving synagogue in Europe and is also one of the earliest Gothic buildings in Prague. Built around 1270, it is easily recognizable because of its steep, sawtooth brick gables. The synagogue has endured fires, many Jewish pogroms, the razing of the ghetto in the 19th century and the Nazi occupation. Prague’s Jews have often sought refuge within its walls and today it is still their religious center. The synagogue was originally called “New” but took on the name “Old New” in the 16th century until another synagogue was constructed nearby.
Thick pillars, rib vaulting, soaring arches, and narrow lancet windows, cornerstones of Gothic architecture, can be seen in the synagogue’s austere interior. The interior and the main hall is reached through a small, arched doorway featuring an elaborate carving of vine leaves; the 12 clusters of grapes depict the 12 tribes of Israel.
During World War II, the various synagogues in Prague stored valuables looted from Jewish communities and synagogues across the Reich by the Nazis. Ironically, Hitler had a perverted plan to build a museum in Prague, dedicated to the Jews as an “extinct race”!
Your next stop is the Spanish Synagogue (21). To get there, head north on Maiselova, turn right onto Břehová and then turn right onto Dušní. You’ll be walking a distance of 300 m.
21. Spanish Synagogue
The Spanish Synagogue (Španělská Synagoga) stands on the site of Prague’s first synagogue, known as the Old School (Stará škola). It is Prague’s newest synagogue having been constructed in 1868 and it is also the most ornate one. I love the synagogue’s exterior with its horseshoe arches atop slender columns, elaborate tracery, and pseudo-minarets.
The richness of the gilded pseudo-Moorish interior deliberately imitates the Alhambra in Spain (hence its name) and stands in complete contrast with the simplicity of the Old-New Synagogue. It seems like every inch of the surface is smothered with a profusion of swirling arabesques and geometric patterns, in vibrant reds, greens, and blues, which are also seen in the synagogue’s massive stained-glass windows.
Formerly off-limits to the public, the Spanish Synagogue acts as an exhibit that lends insight into the evolution of Jewish culture in Bohemia from the late 18th century to the end of World War II.
Please NoteThe Spanish Synagogue is currently closed until further notice due to modernization.
Your next stop is the Kafka Monument (22) which lies a bit further south on Dušní. You’ll be walking a distance of 50 m.
22. Kafka Monument
Franz Kafka was born in Prague to a Czech-Jewish father and a German-Jewish mother. For the majority of his short life, Kafka lived in the Old Town. As a German among Czechs, a Jew among Germans, and an agnostic among believers, Kafka had a valid reason to live in a chronic state of alienation and fear, which also reflects in his writings. Hardly any of his work was published in his lifetime along with most German-Czech authors, was deliberately overlooked in his native nation. Although he was persona non grata in his homeland for a large chunk of the last century, and although most Czechs regard him as a German writer, Kafka now suffers from over-exposure in Prague, due to his popularity with Western tourists. His image is plastered across T-shirts, hats, mugs, magnets, and postcards.
The Kafka Monument is one of the bizarre monuments you will encounter on our Prague walking tour. It depicts Franz Kafka riding on the shoulders of a headless figure (presumably Kafka himself), in reference to the author’s 1912 story “Description of a Struggle” and provides a popular photo-op.
Your next stop is Parizska Street (23) which can be reached by exiting the roundabout onto Široká heading west. You’ll be walking a distance of 100 m.
23. Parizska Street
Parizska Street (Paris Street) is Prague’s answer to the Champs-Élysées and Fifth Avenue and is the most elegant boulevard in the city. This tree-lined shopping paradise has an array of high-end fashion boutiques from Prada, Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Swarovski, and more. It runs through the Jewish Quarter, connecting the Old Town Square to the Čech Bridge. What I love about this street is the wealth of plush Art Nouveau buildings here, which have Neo-Baroque and Gothic influences. The buildings at the intersection of Parizska Street and Siroka Street (known as the Four Corners) are especially lovely.
Your next stop is the Maisel Synagogue (24). To get there, head west on Široká and then turn left onto Maiselova. You’ll be walking a distance of 100 m.
24. Maisel Synagoue
The Neo-Gothic Maisel Synagogue (Maiselova synagoga) was initially erected at the end of the 16th century as a private house of prayer for the family of mayor Mordechai Maisel. Maisel was a merchant who had made his fortune by lending money to Emperor Rudolph II to finance wars against the Turks. He used the profit from his loans to the Emperor and invested heavily in the Jewish Quarter and helped to revive it. Maisel’s investment aided the Jewish community to grow into its golden age and also made him a venerated leader in Prague.
The original Maisel Synagogue was the most ornate in Prague during its heyday but was destroyed in the fire that devastated the Jewish Town in 1689. It was subsequently rebuilt and its current crenelated, Gothic appearance dates from the start of the 20th century. The synagogue is no longer a functioning synagogue, but it houses a part of an exhibition on the history of the Czech-Jewish community from the 10th to the 18th century. The collection includes silver Torah shields and pointers, spice boxes, candelabra historic tombstones, and fine ceremonial textiles. A rather tragic irony is that the bulk of these treasures were brought to Prague by the Nazis from synagogues all over Czechoslovakia.
Your next stop is the Old Town Square (25). To get there, head south on Maiselova, turn left onto Jáchymova, and then turn right onto Pařížská. You’ll be walking a distance of 250 m.
25. Old Town Square
The Old Town Square is undoubtedly the most spectacular square in Prague and has been the city’s heart and soul for nearly a millennium. The square grew to its current dimensions when Prague’s original marketplace moved away from the Vltava River in the 12th century. Its shape and appearance have changed little since that time, and today it continues to host the popular Easter and Christmas markets. You can witness some of Prague’s storied history that is preserved around the Old Town Square in the form of its pastel-colored buildings.
The intriguing diversity of different architectural styles as Art Nouveau, Gothic, Baroque, Rococo, Romanesque, and Renaissance will surely make your head twirl. One of my favorite buildings on the Old Town Square is the Ministry of Regional Development (Ministerstvo pro místní rozvoj) at number 6 on the north side of the square. It is a delightful Art Nouveau edifice with figures of firefighters on the upper facade.
The hype about the Old Town Square is justified and it is no surprise that travelers from all over the globe flock here to see its beautiful architecture and vibrant atmosphere. In recent years, the square has become over-commercialized with overpriced restaurants and cafes, horse-drawn carriages waiting to ferry tourists around, and tacky souvenir shops. This still doesn’t take away the Old World charm.
While it may not seem like it today, the Old Town Square used to serve as a backdrop to public gatherings and also executions. In 1437, 56 Hussite soldiers mounted the scaffold. On 21 June 1621, 27 Protestant nobles, merchants, and intellectuals were beheaded on the order of Catholic Emperor Ferdinand during the dark days following the defeat of the Czechs at the Battle of White Mountain. This defeat acted as a catalyst in the emigration of Protestants unwilling to give up their faith, a Counter-Reformation drive, and Germanization. The event is commemorated by a plaque set in the wall of the Old Town Hall along with 27 white crosses planted in the ground.
Your next stop is the Church of St. Nicholas (Old Town) (26) which lies on the north side of the Old Town Square.
26. Church of St. Nicholas (Old Town)
The Church of St. Nicholas (Chrám sv. Mikuláse) is the creation of Kilian Ignaz Dientzenhofer and was built in just three years between 1732 and 1735. It is distinguished by its dramatic white facade that is studded with statues that looks very similar to the facade of its sister church of the same name in the Lesser Quarter.
While not as impressive as the exterior, the interior of the church features some fine stucco work, wrought-iron galleries, and the trompe l’oeil frescoes on the dome. The original Baroque interior was stripped when the Jesuits were forced out of Prague in the 1790s. In World War I, the church was used by the troops of Prague’s garrison and at the end of the conflict was handed over to the Czech Hussite Church. The church is now a popular concert venue.
Your next stop is the Prague Astronomical Clock (27) which lies on the southwestern corner of the Old Town Square. You’ll be walking a distance of 100 m.
27. Prague Astronomical Clock
Prague’s legendary Astronomical Clock is probably the best-preserved astronomical clock in existence. This landmark was built in 1410 by Mikuláš Kadaň, a clockmaker, and Jan Šindel, an astronomer. The clock’s working figures were added in 1490 by a master clockmaker called Hanuš (real name Jan Z Růže) who, legend has it, was then blinded with a red-hot poker by the town councilors, to prevent him from recreating the masterpiece for anyone else. In retaliation, he groped his way around the clock, succeeded in stopping it, and then promptly died of a heart attack. Though the clock has been repaired many times since the mechanism was perfected by Jan Táborský between 1552 and 1572.
It is the third-oldest astronomical clock in the world and the oldest one still functioning. It displays Babylonian time, Old Bohemian time, German time, and Sidereal time. The clock also displays the movement of the sun and moon through the signs of the Zodiac. The vibrant colors are another fascinating aspect of the clock. You’ll have an even greater appreciation for the clock if you read up on how it works. Unfortunately, the theory is a bit too long for me to explain here.
Each hour, animated figurines flanking the clock are set in motion. First, the figure of Death, the skeleton on the right of the clock, gives a pull on the rope that he holds in his right hand. In his left hand is an hourglass, which he raises and inverts. Two windows then open and Twelve Apostles shuffle past, acknowledging the crowd while perched on pinnacles below are the four threats to the city as perceived during the medieval days: Death carrying his hourglass and tolling his bell, Greed (adapted from the original medieval stereotype of a Jewish moneylender and since 1945 minus his stereotypical beard) with his moneybags, Vanity admiring his reflection and a turbaned Turk shaking his head. Beneath the moving figures, four characters representing Philosophy, Religion, Astronomy, and History stand motionless throughout the performance. Finally, a cock crows and the hour is rung. The whole spectacle lasts about 45 seconds and is what most people flock to see.
I’ve read a lot about people complaining about the slightly underwhelming display. Granted, it’s nothing spectacular, but you have to remember that this is a 600-year-old piece of machinery.
There’s always a big crowd to really around the top of the hour to see the moving statues. If this show isn’t important to you, you’ll definitely find fewer people in between the hour. If you really want to witness the spectacle, arrive at least 15 minutes early so you aren’t caught in the back of the crowd.
Your next stop is the Old Town Hall (28) which lies beside the Prague Astronomical Clock.
28. Old Town Hall
The Old Town Hall (Staroměstská Radnice) is one of the must-see attractions on this walking tour of Prague. This striking building was established in 1338 after King John of Luxembourg agreed to set up a town council. In 1364, the distinctive trapezoidal tower was added to what was the private house of Wolflin of Kamen. Gradually, over the centuries, the neighboring row of colorful Gothic and Renaissance merchants’ houses were incorporated into the building.
The town hall is a popular place to get married, but casual visitors can also get to see the interior. For a rare panorama of the Old Town and its maze of crooked streets and alleyways, you can ascend the tower.
Your next stop is the House at the Minute (29) which can be reached by heading a little further west on Staroměstské nám. You’ll be walking a distance of 30 m.
29. House at the Minute
The House at the Minute at number 3 (Dům U Minuty) is undoubtedly one of the most dazzling houses you’ll encounter on our free Prague walking tour. It was originally a late-Gothic house from the 15th century that received a Renaissance makeover in 1564. The house is famous for its numerous beautiful sgraffito etchings that were added to the facade in 1610. The white etchings on the black facade depict Habsburg rulers like Philip II of Spain, Rudolph II, and Maxmilian II, among others along with scenes from Greek mythology and references to biblical and Renaissance legends.
The house has served many purposes and has had varied names. At one time it was an apothecary and called “The House at the White Lion” for the sculpture of the white lion at the corner. The house also once served as a tobacconist shop, and the current name, “House at the Minute” was taken from the word ‘minute,’ i.e. very tiny, referring to the diminutive pieces of tobacco sold there. It is also famous for being the childhood home of Franz Kafka and his family in the late 19th century.
Your next stop is the Storch House (30), which lies on the southeastern side of the Old Town Square. To get there, head back east on Staroměstské nám. You’ll be walking a distance of 120 m.
30. Storch House
At number 16 on the south side of the Old Town Square is the ever-popular Storch House (Štorchův dům) aka the House of the Stone Madonna, which boasts arguably the most beautifully painted facade of Prague’s medieval buildings. The medieval house probably originates from the 15th century and was reconstructed in Neo-Renaissance and Neo-Gothic style in 1896-1897 when bookseller and publisher Alexander Storch took over the house. Storch had it adorned with a series of figurative murals. The murals are divided into 4 sections. The bottom part shows scientific and astronomical study, the middle parts contain the seal of the City of Prague squeezed between four windows, and the Saint Wenceslas on horseback while the top part shows the Three Wise Men.
Your next stop is the Jan Hus Monument (31), which lies in the center of the Old Town Square. You’ll be walking a distance of 50 m.
31. Jan Hus Monument
The newest addition to the Old Town Square is the colossal Jan Hus Monument (Pomník Jana Husa). Jan Hus was a religious reformer who objected to the Catholic Church’s corrupt practices, opulent style and wealth. Influenced by the teachings of English philosopher John Wycliffe, he argued that the Scriptures should be the sole source of doctrine.
When the popularity of Hus gained momentum, the catholic church excommunicated him. Having been guaranteed safe conduct by Emperor Sigismund himself, Hus naïvely went to Constance to defend his views and was burned at the stake after being pronounced a heretic by the Council of Constance in 1415, making him a Czech national hero in the process. Approximately a century after his death, Hus’ doctrine helped to rouse Martin Luther as he broke his group of followers off into the Lutheran sect of Protestantism.
The monument was unveiled in 1915 on the 500th anniversary of Hus’ death and has been a potent symbol of Czech nationalism since then. The monument shows the dominant figure of Hus flanked by two groups of people, one of the victorious Hussite warriors, the other of Protestants forced into exile 200 years later. It’s interesting to note that Hus, who appears here as tall and bearded in flowing garb, was in reality, short and had a babyface.
History 101: The Hussites
In the early 15th century, Central Europe was rocked by a series of conflicts called the Hussite Wars courtesy of the revolutionary Hussites, followers of the reformist cleric, Jan Hus, who rebelled against the Roman Catholic Church. The Hussites achieved legendary military successes against the Emperor’s Catholic crusades despite only possessing simple weapons. This was largely due to their religious zeal and the tactical prowess of their brilliant leader, Jan Žižka, who pioneered mobile artillery. The Hussites eventually divided into two camps, the moderate “Utraquists” and the radical “Taborites”. The Ultraquists consisted largely of lesser nobility and the bourgeoisie and were fighting for the right of everyone (not just priests) to drink the blessed wine at Communion. The Taborites, who consisted chiefly of peasants total abolition of the feudal system and the establishment of a classless society. The were finally vanquished at the Battle of Lipany in 1434, paving the way for the moderate Hussite king, George of Poděbrady. The Hussite Church still lives on today as the Bohemian Czech Brethren, but its numbers have dwindled since the fall of Communism.
Your next stop is the Kinský Palace (32), which lies directly behind the Jan Hus Monument on the east side of the Old Town Square. You’ll be walking a distance of 25 m.
32. Kinský Palace
The Kinský Palace (Palác Kinských) lies on the eastern side of the is definitely one of the must-see attractions in the Old Town Square. Its gorgeous pink and white stuccoed Rococo facade is topped with statues of the four elements and was designed in 1765 by Kilian Ignaz Dientzenhofer. The Rococo facade seems a little flamboyant in comparison with the soberer Baroque facades nearby.
The palace is most notorious, however, as the venue of the fateful speech in 1948 by the Communist leader, Klement Gottwald. He used the palace’s balcony to address the thousands of enthusiastic party members who packed the square below. The speech marked the beginning of “Victorious February”, the bloodless coup which brought the Communists to power and sealed the fate of the country for the next 41 years. The Kinský Palace is now home to the National Gallery’s “Arts of Asia and Africa” exhibition.
Your next stop is the House at the Stone Bell (33) which lies beside the Kinský Palace in the Old Town Square.
33. House at the Stone Bell
The House at the Stone Bell (Dům U Kamenného zvonu) is another building that is simply a treat to photograph. Built in the 14th century, the facade of this former Gothic Palace was considered one of the most beautiful ones in Europe. The house was subsequently rebuilt into a Baroque residence after it supposedly housed the Royal Elizabeth I of Bohemia and her son Charles IV. In the 1980s, the house underwent extensive restoration in the Gothic Revival style and features towering narrow pointed arched windows and a facade of pale stone.
The eponymous stone bell is still found on the house corner. Legend says that the bell fell from Týn Church and was then placed on the corner of the Gothic structure in 1413. Today, the two restored Gothic chapels inside now serve as branches of the Prague City Gallery and as chamber-concert venues.
Your next stop is the Church of Our Lady before Týn (34) which is situated adjacent to the House at the Stone Bell in the Old Town Square.
34. Church of Our Lady before Týn
The magnificent Church of Our Lady before Týn or Týn Church (Kostel Matky Boží Před Týnem) is one of the best examples of Gothic architecture in Prague and undoubtedly one of the best things to see in the city. Its immense 15th-century towers shoot up like giant antennae to a height of 80 meters and dominate the Old Town skyline. If you look closely, you’ll notice that the two towers aren’t identical, the larger one is ‘Adam’ and the smaller one is ‘Eve’.
The Gothic church dates back to the 14th century and soon became a hotbed of heresy from its earliest days eventually becoming the main Hussite place of worship as the reform movement grew in popularity during the 16th century. Its spires once held a giant golden chalice (the mascot of the Hussites) between them, which the Catholics promptly melted into a golden Madonna with a halo, scepter and crown (still visible on the front of the church) when they regained power in 1621 after the Battle of White Mountain. The largely Baroque interior of the church contains the remains of the famous Danish (and Prague court) astronomer Tycho Brahe, who died in 1601.
According to popular legend, the fairly-tale-like appearance of the Týn Church is supposedly where Walt Disney got the inspiration for his Sleeping Beauty Castle. Fact or fiction, it is utterly enchanting and even more so at night when brilliant floodlights illuminate the towers, making the effect even more powerful.
Your next stop is the Ungelt courtyard (35) which lies behind Týn Church. To get there, head east on Týnská. You’ll be walking a distance of 100 m.
Ungelt (Týnský dvůr) is a pleasant, cobbled, courtyard which was a cosmopolitan center of international trade during the Golden Age of Prague and once the seat of the city’s wealth. Thousands of merchants came from all over Germany, France, Poland, Russia, Arabia to sell furs, fine art, clothes, spices, and many other goods. They converged on this fortified courtyard, where they could declare their goods and pay their customs (which is what Ungelt means in old German).
The highlight of the courtyard is the lovely Granovský Palace, with its arcaded loggia. It is one of Prague’s best-preserved Renaissance treasures with beautiful sgraffito, and murals that depict scenes from the Bible and the Judgement of Paris from Greek Mythology. After centuries of disuse, Ungelt has been marvelously restored and is an enticing blend of upscale restaurants and shops.
The Golden Age of Prague is referred to as the period in the late Middle Ages when The Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV chose Prague as his Imperial residence with the intention of transforming it into the most magnificent city in Europe. He founded a university (the Carolinum) and built many grand churches and monasteries in the Gothic style. He also initiated several town-planning schemes which were of major importance, such as the reconstruction of Prague Castle, the building of a new stone bridge (Charles Bridge) to replace the Judith Bridge, and the foundation of the New Town.
Your next stop is the Basilica of St. James (36) which lies opposite the Ungelt courtyard on the other side of Malá Štupartská. You’ll be walking a distance of 30 m.
36. Basilica of St. James
Don’t be fooled by the relatively simple exterior of the Basilica of St. James (Bazilika Sv. Jakuba) as it has the most beautiful church interior in the Old Town. Take a moment to step inside to wander down the long nave and marvel at the parade of gilded statues and paintings under a colorfully frescoed ceiling telling stories of Virgin Mary’s life. The blue light in the altar highlights one of Prague’s most venerated treasures—the bejeweled Madonna Pietatis.
As you exit, look for the black, mummified forearm with clenched fingers (hanging by a chain from a metal post 5 meters above the entrance). According to legend, a thief attempted to steal the jewels from the Madonna Pietatis on the high altar, but The Virgin grabbed his arm and held on so tightly that the monks had to amputate his arm. The shriveled-up arm now hangs here as a warning.
Your next stop is Celetná Street (37). To get there, head south on Malá Štupartská, turn right onto Štupartská and turn left onto Celetná. You’ll be walking a distance of 140 m.
37. Celetná Street
Celetná Street (Celetná Ulice) is one of the oldest streets in Prague and follows an old trading route from eastern Bohemia. It has been around since the 10th century filled when this area was filled with merchants and guilds. The street gets its name comes from the plaited bread rolls that were first baked here in the Middle Ages. Celetná became famous in the 14th century as a section of the Royal Route for coronation processions. There are some very fine Romanesque and Gothic buildings here, but a large chunk of the colorful houses are Baroque and Neoclassical.
Your next stop is the Estates Theater (38). To get there, head west on Celetná, turn left onto Kamzíková, turn left again onto Železná, followed by turning left onto Rytířská. You’ll be walking a distance of 300 m.
38. Estates Theater
The lime-green and white Estates Theater (Stavovské Divadlo) is one of the finest examples of Neoclassical elegance in Prague. It was built in 1783 by Count Nostitz Rieneck for Prague’s influential German community. It is something of a mecca for Mozart aficionados since on 29 October 1787, it hosted the world premiere of Don Giovanni (a hooded bronze statue of Il Commendatore flanks the main entrance on the left), with Mozart himself conducting from the piano. The opera was an instant hit with Prague audiences despite flopping everywhere else in Europe. Due to his love affair with Prague, Mozart also chose to premier La Clemenza di Tito at the Estates Theater in 1791. Recognizing Mozart’s strong connection with the theater, Czech director Miloš Forman made use of its interior in his famous Oscar-winning film Amadeus.
The gold and blue auditorium of the theater looks something like a chocolate box and can only be seen when attending a performance inside. The Estates Theater occupies a special place in Czech history, for it was here that the Czech national anthem, “Kde domov můj?” (Where Is My Home?), was first performed, as part of the comedy Fidlovačka, by J.K. Tyl.
Your next stop is the House of the Black Madonna (39). To get there, head northeast on Ovocný trh and then turn left onto Celetná. You’ll be walking a distance of 200 m.
39. House of the Black Madonna
Since you’ve witnessed a bevy of architectural styles on this free self-guided Prague walking tour, you can add another style to the list. The House of the Black Madonna (Dům U cerné Matky Bozí) is one of the best examples of Cubist architecture from the early 20th century. Although cubism is mostly associated with painting, architects in Prague saw it as an alternative to the humdrum historicist trends of the 19th century. The building was formerly home to a department store and now houses an exhibition on Czech Cubism by the Museum of Decorative Arts and a beautiful 1920s era Cubist café.
Your next stop is the Powder Tower (40). To get there, head east on Celetná straight onto U Prašné brány. You’ll be walking a distance of 170 m.
40. Powder Tower
The Powder Tower or Powder Gate (Prašná Brána) is a fancifully decorated, dark, imposing Gothic tower that was once one of the original 13 entrances to the Old Town and marks the start of the Royal coronation route. The name comes from the tower’s early purpose: to hold gunpowder for defending the city. The tower dates from the 15th century, but was rebuilt in the 19th century after suffering heavy damage during the Prussian siege of 1757 and is topped with one of Prague’s signature styles—a trapezoidal roof.
Your next stop is the Municipal House (41) which lies beside the Powder Tower.
41. Municipal House
If someone asked me to choose my favorite building in Prague (a difficult conundrum I know), I would probably choose the fantastic Municipal House (Obecní Dům). The Municipal House is Prague’s flagship Art Nouveau edifice that was completed in 1911 as a center for concerts, rotating art exhibits, and café society. It was built as an expression of Czech nationalism (at a time when Czechs were demanding independence from the Habsburgs). The architects derived their inspiration for the design from the elaborate Parisian variant of Art Nouveau, thus snubbing the more subdued “Secession” style favored in Vienna. Fittingly, it was here that Czechoslovakia’s independence was declared on October 28, 1918.
The Municipal’s House exterior is absolutely sublime, embellished with stucco and allegorical statuary, characteristic of the Art Nouveau style. The intricate wrought-iron balcony—flanked by bronze Atlases hoisting their lanterns, the lovely stained glass, and the mosaics make the building’s facade a pure treat to photograph. The most striking features of this building are the imposing glass dome, a local landmark and the mosaic above the main entrance, entitled ‘Homage to Prague’.
The interior of the building is also lavish, the lobby features a load of Art Nouveau figurines and murals, elegant chandeliers, and upholstered furniture. The cafe and restaurants inside the building double as museums of grandiose decor and are the best way to soak up the glittering chandeliers, vibrant mosaics, and exquisite woodwork without a guided tour.
Your next stop is the Jubilee Synagogue (42). To get there, head southeast on U Prašné brány, turn right onto Na Příkopě, left onto Senovážné nám followed by another left to stay on Senovážné nám. Then turn right toward Jeruzalémská and continue till you reach the synagogue. You’ll be walking a distance of 550 m.
42. Jubilee Synagogue
The Jubilee Synagogue (Jubilejní synagoga) is the newest and largest synagogue in Prague. It was built in 1906 and is a dazzling hybrid of Art Nouveau and Moorish Revival styles. The facade of the synagogue is characterized by a large arch and a rose-window with the six-pointed Star of David inside. The interior is richly decorated with wrought chandeliers and a beautiful organ. It is home to an amazing exhibition of artifacts, photographs, and films upstairs detailing the history of Prague’s Jewish community post World War II.
Your next stop is Wenceslas Square (43). To get there, turn right onto U Půjčovny and again onto Růžová followed by turning left onto Jindřišská and continue till you reach the square. You’ll be walking a distance of 600 m.
43. Wenceslas Square
Wenceslas Square (Václavské náměstí) is the marquee attraction in the New Town on this walking tour of Prague. It is the fulcrum around which modern Prague gyrates. The name Wenceslas Square is a bit of a misnomer since it is more of a wide, gently sloping boulevard that stretches for about 750 meters than a square as such. It was first laid out by Charles IV in 1348 and started its existence as a horse market at the center of the New Town. It is named in honor of Saint Wenceslas, Bohemia’s patron saint and at the top of the square sits the St. Wenceslas Monument, crowned by a statue of the saint astride a noble steed.
Despite the square’s medieval origins, the oldest building dates only from the eighteenth century, and the vast majority are much younger. All artistic styles of the past century, from Neo-Renaissance and Art Nouveau to Socialist Realism and hi-tech modernism are represented here. Wenceslas Square is also home to some glitzy shopping arcades (leading to shops, clubs, theaters, and cinemas) that were built during the commercial boom of the early 20th century.
Two of the best buildings to look out for on Wenceslas Square are the Wiehl House (Wiehlův dům), a striking Neo-Renaissance edifice with colorful murals, and sgraffito and Grand Hotel Europa, an ornate Art Nouveau building with a splendid facade crowned with gilded nymphs.
Throughout much of Czech history, Wenceslas Square has served as the venue for public demonstrations and celebrations and has thus has witnessed many key events in Czech history. It was one of the rallying points for the jubilant crowds on October 28, 1918, when Czechoslovakia’s independence was declared. In 1939 Czechs gathered here to oppose Hitler’s annexation of Bohemia and Moravia. During the Warsaw Pact invasion of August 1968, it was the scene of some of the most bloody confrontations between the Soviet invaders and the Czechs. It was here that the young philosophy student Jan Palach immolated himself in 1969 in protest at the continuing occupation of the country by Warsaw Pact troops, and in November 1989, a protest rally in the square against police brutality led to the Velvet Revolution and the overthrow of Communism.
Your next stop is the King Wenceslas Riding on a Dead Horse sculpture (44) which lies inside Lucerna Passage. To get there, head southeast on Václavské nám and turn right onto Pasáž Lucerna. You’ll be walking a distance of 100 m.
44. King Wenceslas Riding on a Dead Horse
“King Wenceslas Riding on a Dead Horse” is the last of David Cerny’s works that you will see on this Prague walking tour. It is located in the Art Deco style Lucerna Arcade. This surreal and humorous piece hangs from a lime-tiled dome ceiling and features a saint sitting atop an upside-down, dead horse. It is a mocking reference to the equestrian statue of Saint Wenceslas in Wenceslas Square and supposedly pokes fun at Vaclav Klaus, former Czech President. Whatever Cerny’s intentions were, the outcome is hilarious and intriguing.
Your next stop is the National Museum (45) which lies at the end of Wenceslas Square. To get there, exit the Lucerna Passage, turn right onto Václavské nám and continue straight. You’ll be walking a distance of 550 m.
45. National Museum
The National Museum (Národní Muzeum) sits at the top of Wenceslas Square in a hulky Neo-Renaissance building. Built between 1885-1890, it is one of the prominent landmarks of the Czech national revival, sporting a monumental gilt-framed glass cupola, superior sculptural decoration and allegorical frescoes from Czech history. The building’s facade is so impressive that invading Soviet soldiers in 1968 mistook it for parliament. The collections are mainly devoted to mineralogy, archaeology, anthropology, and natural history.
History 101: Prague Spring
Reformists in the Czechoslovak Communist Party reacted to the Communist authorities’ reluctance to adopt a more liberal course by taking control of the government in January 1968. The secretary of the Communist Party Alexander Dubček granted the press greater freedom of expression and promulgated a sweeping reform program that included autonomy for Slovakia, a revised constitution to guarantee civil rights and liberties. However, on 21 August with an invasion by Warsaw Pact troops the democratic reforms of the so-called “Prague Spring” came to an abrupt halt. The conservative Communists returned to power and with it, the totalitarian rule was re-established and all dissent suppressed.
Your next stop is the New National Museum (46) which sits beside the National Museum and can be reached by crossing the street.
46. New National Museum
The New National Museum (Národní Muzeum – Nová budova) building is one of those ugly Communist-era buildings that you would expect to encounter in Prague. Typical of the Socialist Realism style, there’s a statue of a triumphant worker under its canopy. This ugly building was once the headquarters of the Czechoslovak Parliament during the Iron Curtain days. Between 1994 and 2008, the building was home to Radio Free Europe. It now hosts temporary exhibitions on behalf of the New National Museum introducing important historical events or objects from different walks of life.
Your next and final stop is the State Opera (47) which can be reached by continuing straight up the street. You’ll be walking a distance of 250 m.
47. State Opera
You’ve now reached your final stop of sightseeing on this walking tour of Prague, the State Opera (Státní Opera). It has been the leading opera house in Prague since 1945 and offers a highly polished repertoire of classics like Rigoletto, Madame Butterfly, and The Magic Flute. It was built in 1885 by the city’s German community and was originally known as the New German Theatre, built to rival the Czech National Theater. I really love the Neoclassical facade of the State Opera. The pediment above the columned loggia is adorned by a frieze featuring figures like Dionysus and Thalia. The interior is equally ornate and features intricate stucco work.
What Else to See in Prague
Obviously, there is plenty more to see in Prague than what we have covered in our walking tour. Places like the fantastic Loreto shrine, the exquisite Strahov Monastery, the tranquil Vyšehrad fortress, the Czech National Theater, the Museum of Communism, and many more sights all deserve to be seen.
Where to Stay in Prague
It’s handy to stay in or around the districts of the Old Town, New Town and the Lesser Quarter as they are a good base for sightseeing. There are plenty of good options here for all budgets.
Hostel: Hostel Prague Tyn, a great choice within 2 minutes of the Old Town square.
Budget: Palac U Kocku, an amazing budget hotel within 2 minutes of the Old Town square.
Mid-range: Archibald at the Charles Bridge, within 2 minutes of the Charles Bridge, in the Lesser quarter.
Splurge: Art Nouveau Palace Hotel, sumptuous top-choice within 5 minutes of Wenceslas Square.
Now, what do you think? Did you enjoy our self-guided walking tour of Prague? Are there any other stops that we should be adding? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!