Prague is a city of stunning physical beauty. Prague is awash with foreign entrepreneurs and tourists, and this city has more “buzz” than any other capital in Europe, Eastern or Western. We have only one complaint: Pollution is severe, largely because of the sudden, massive increase in traffic. But even when the pollution is at its worst (in winter), the city’s passionate creativity—literary, artistic and musical—can clear your head and your heart. While the capitals of other Eastern European nations were flattened or heavily damaged during World War II, Prague survived intact. Gothic and baroque spires, art-nouveau facades and even cubist structures combine in a pattern that’s distinctly Czech, despite long periods of domination by Saxons, Swedes, Germans and Russians. At one time the seat of the Holy Roman Empire and at another the citadel of the Hapsburgs, Prague sustains a reputation as a vital political, cultural and economic center.
Prague is composed of 10 districts lying on seven hills, centered on the broad Vltava River (known also as the Moldau). Each district is made up of unboundaried areas (Dejvice, Holesovice and Zizkov among them), which you’ll see printed on city maps and which Praguers will use in giving directions.
The central district, Prague 1, includes the areas known as Lesser Town (Mala Strana) on the west bank of the Vltava River and the Old Town and New Town (Stare Mesto and Nove Mesto) on the east side. These areas of Prague 1, along with portions of Prague 2, make up what is often called the center (centrum). The center contains the main tourist attractions, most major businesses, many hotels and restaurants and the banking street. Vaclavske Namesti is the Czech name for that broad, central downtown area also known as Wenceslas Square.
Several bridges cross the Vltava River, and most are open to automobile and tram traffic. Karluv Most is the oldest bridge and known by many visitors as the Charles Bridge. It connects the Lesser Town’s quaint streets with the Old and New Towns and is for pedestrians only.
Prague 6, a district to the north and west of the center, is the site of many embassies as well as several hotels and some of the city’s more upscale neighborhoods. Many Westerners live in this part of the city. Because the area around Prague’s airport is not yet developed, the hotels and public transportation lines nearest the airport are actually located in the Dejvice area of Prague 6.
In general, Prague is safer than most large cities in Eastern Europe. However, precautions against pickpockets are necessary. The money you carry should be divided among several places on your person. Be careful, too, with cameras and camcorders. In general, be alert in public areas where crowds gather, such as on Charles Bridge and beneath the Celestial Clock in Old Town Square. Be especially cautious between Wenceslas Square and Prague Castle; on Trams 9 and 22; at Metro stations Mustek, Muzeum and Florenc. Organized pickpocket gangs, particularly in the Metro or on trams, often create a distraction while intending to run off with your personal possessions as the train or tram moves off. Car theft is also common.
Exercise the usual precautions when walking, and be aware of the many poorly lit side streets. Though Petrin Hill is a lovely place to walk during the day, women should not walk alone there at night. Wenceslas Square and the Mustek area are frequented by pimps, prostitutes and drug dealers at night. Women should not visit the discos in this area alone at night.
When meeting people for the first time and each successive time, shake each person’s hand—women’s as well as men’s. Often this shaking of hands occurs at the time of leave-taking as well. Follow your Czech counterpart’s lead.
Czechs are very formal: Use titles (Mister, Miss, Doctor) in all discussions. Your Czech colleague will advise you when it’s permissible to shift to a first-name basis.
Decision making is slow in Prague. Czechs will be very gracious in conversations, but don’t expect final decisions or actions to be taken quickly: Retain a long-term view in all business dealings.
The center of Prague is basically one big landmark, monument and historic site, spread across three districts—the Old Town, known as Stare Mesto and where most of the city’s attractions are, the Lesser Town and the Jewish Quarter. It’s all best taken in by foot: Public transportation only skirts the edges, taxis are criminally expensive, and a lot of the old city is zoned for pedestrians only.
Begin your tour at the Prague Castle, once the home of Bohemian royalty, which overlooks the city from the ancient quarter of Hradcany. Afterward, make your way down to the Mala Strana (the Little Quarter), whose winding streets are the city’s best for strolling. Cross the 14th-century Charles Bridge. At Old Town Square (Staromestske Namesti) you’ll find rows of well-preserved historic buildings, large sidewalk cafes and churches. On the Old Town Square is the Kinsky Palace, where Klement Gottwald proclaimed the beginning of the Communist state. (The event is recalled in Milan Kundera’s The Book of Laughter and Forgetting.) You’ll also find the former city hall (Radnice) with its tall tower and famous astronomical clock (orloj), whose moving figures do their thing at the top of each hour. (You’ll see crowds gathering as the time approaches.) You’ll also see the statue of the 15th-century reformer Jan Hus, the “other” St. Nicholas Church (this one containing a magnificent crystal chandelier) and the many-spired Church of Our Lady Before Tyn.
Prague has dozens of other sights, including the Mozart Museum (it’s in the villa where he wrote Don Giovanni—not a great collection of material, but interesting nonetheless), the Museum of the City of Prague (which has a miniature model of the city circa 1827) and many branches of the National Gallery.
If you have time, climb one of the city’s many towers (most open their doors and spiraling stairways daily for a nominal fee).
LANDMARKS AND HISTORIC SITES
Belvedere—The Renaissance-style Belvedere (or Royal Summer Palace) is at Kralovska Zahrada, Prague 1, and is part of the Royal Gardens.
Bertramka—Bertramka is the villa where Mozart often stayed with friends and where he completed the overture to Don Giovanni the night before it premiered. Daily 9:30 am-6 pm in summer, 9:30 am-5 pm in winter. 90 Kc adults, 30 Kc children, 50 Kc students. Mozartova 169, Prague 5.
Bethlehem Chapel—Bethlehem Chapel (Betlemska Kaple) is the site where 15th-century philosopher Jan Hus advocated church reform. Built in the 1300s, it still has scriptures painted on three original walls. Daily 9 am-5 pm. 20 Kc adults, 10 Kc children. Betlemske Namesti, Prague 1
Charles Bridge—Broad Charles Bridge (Karluv Most on your map), built in 1357 and lined with statues, affords great views of the city and river, as well as the opportunity to see and hear the talent of local artists as you cross from the castle area of the city into the Old Town. It gets very crowded during the summer when it is lined with vendors’ stalls selling crafts to tourists.
Estates Theater—The Estates Theater (Stavovske Divadlo), built in 1783, is a beautiful neoclassical theater where Mozart presented the premiere performance of Don Giovanni. No tours are available, but you can admire its beautifully lit exterior at night or purchase tickets to a music or dance performance. Ovocny Trh 1, Prague 1
Jewish Quarter—Ornate Paris Street (Parizska) leads out of Old Town Square to the Jewish Quarter (Josefov), where several synagogues (some closed for reconstruction) house museum exhibits. You may want to pay 450 Kc for a guided tour, because it lets you into the interesting cemetery: Consecrated land was in short supply, so caskets were sometimes stacked six or more deep, with a corresponding number of tombstones jutting from the ground at every angle. Stars of David appear on buildings and fences throughout.
Lesser Town Square—Lesser Town Square (Malostranske Namesti) is capped by the domed, highly baroque St. Nicholas’ Cathedral (Chram sv. Mikulase), whose organ keys were actually played by Mozart.
Nationale-Nederlander Building—Nationale-Nederlander Building, whose American and Czech architects won an international design award in 1996, is also known as the “Fred and Ginger Building.” When looking at the hourglass-shaped glass, steel and concrete structure, it doesn’t take too much imagination to see a woman dancing with her dress twirling. Her “partner,” a cylindrical building, is ramrod straight. This building really stands out in Prague (as it would, probably, in any city). It contains private offices and a French restaurant on the top floor. At Jiraskovo Namesti.
Obecni Dum—The striking building with the dome and large mosaic to the left of the tower is Obecni Dum (Municipal House), glistening after a three-year renovation. If Prague were a necklace, Obecni Dum would be the diamond pendant. This art-nouveau masterpiece houses the Prague Symphony Orchestra in spectacular Smetana Hall, three restaurants, space for traveling art exhibits, reception rooms for dignitaries and a gift shop. Truly, no expense was spared in restoring this building to its former splendor: Gold, silver, stained glass, tile and murals throughout show the loving work of patriotic Czech artisans. Although you may tour the ground floor without charge, we recommend the guided tour, which will show you Smetana Hall and the glittering reception rooms upstairs. Check for times in the downstairs gift shop; you may have to reserve a tour in English. Namesti Republiky 5.
Powder Gate—The Powder Gate (Prasna Brana), a tall stone medieval orphan in the midst of newer buildings. It was once used for the storage of gunpowder. Celetna street leads here at the corner of Na Prikope street from Old Town Square.
Prague Castle—Prague Castle (Prazsky hrad) has stood a thousand years, built at the end of the ninth century and first renovated in the 14th century. Within the castle, the Spanish Hall contains paintings by Brueghel, Durer, Holbein, Leonardo da Vinci and Titian. The fortress grounds include St. Vitus’ Cathedral (Katedrala sv. Vita) with its brilliant stained-glass windows, the Romanesque St. George’s Basilica (Bazilika sv. Jiri), the row of tiny former craftsmen’s houses called the Golden Lane (Zlata Ulicka), several small exhibitions, and many government offices, including that of President Vaclav Havel. (Guided walking tours will help sort out the tumultuous history that produced these structures.) Tram 22 goes to the castle. Either get off at the castle stop (Metro Malostranske) or, to avoid the crowds, continue one stop more, cross the road and enjoy a pleasant stroll down the hill through the castle grounds.
St. Agnes’ Convent—St. Agnes’ Convent (Klaster sv. Anesky Ceske), which was built in the 1200s, is Prague’s oldest Gothic structure.
Vysehrad—Ancient castle grounds predating Hradcany, the village at Prague Castle established in the 14th century. Many well-known Czechs are buried in the Vysehrad cemetery. Daily 9:30 am-5:30 pm in summer, 9:30 am-4:30 pm in winter. Free. Sobeslavova 1, Prague 2
Wenceslas Square—If you turn right at the tower by the Powder Gate, you’re on Na Prikope, the banking street. Follow Na Prikope until it ends at the broad, open space called Mustek (Little Bridge), which forms the lower end of Wenceslas Square (Vaclavske Namesti). This is not so much a square as a broad, gently sloping, very commercial street with the National Museum (Narodni Muzeum) at the top and Mustek at the bottom. St. Wenceslas (Sv. Vaclav) sits astride his giant horse at the top of the square, from which he’s silently watched kingdoms and regimes rise and fall. Warsaw Pact tanks moved through the square in 1968. Jan Palach set himself on fire in the square to protest that invasion (see the small memorial to him a few yards in front of Wenceslas’ statue), and hundreds of thousands of angry Czechs gathered in the square in November 1989 to demand the end of communism. Many high-priced, purely capitalistic businesses line the square today.
Antonin Dvorak Museum—Traces the famed Czech composer’s life with photos, copies of birth and marriage certificates, correspondence and other documents. On display are his piano, viola, graduation gown, trophies and other items. Daily 10 am-5 pm. Admission: 30 Kc adults, 15 Kc children. Ke Karlovu 20, Prague 2 (Karlovo Namesti Metro)
Franz Kafka’s Birthplace and Exhibition—Kafka was born 3 July, 1883, in an apartment next to St. Nicholas Church near Old Town Square. Only the stone front of the original building remains. But visitors can enter the building and see pictures of and read about Kafka and the important people and events in his life. Books, graphic works and posters are on sale. Tuesday-Saturday 10 am-4 pm, Sunday 10 am-5 pm. Admission is 20 Kc. U Radnice 5
Jewish Museum in Prague—The museum complex encompasses the extraordinary Old Jewish Cemetery, the Old-New Synagogue, Pinkas Synagogue, Klaus Synagogue and Maisel Synagogue. The present shape of Prague’s Jewish Quarter, or Jewish Ghetto (Josefov), is the result of extensive reconstruction. The museum houses exhibitions tracing the history of Jews in Bohemia and Moravia and drawings from the Terezin Ghetto. Open daily (except Saturday and Jewish holidays) 9 am-6 pm. Ticket for 250 Kc lets you in at several places. The Old-New Synagogue is extra (200 Kc). U Hrbitova 3a, Prague 1
Museum of Decorative Arts—The Museum of Decorative Arts (Umeleckoprumyslove Muzeum) contains a large collection of Prague’s famous and beautiful glass, plus furniture and ceramics, and a large collection of European art from the 16th to the 19th centuries. Open daily 10 am-6 pm. 40 Kc adults, 20 Kc children. Ulice 17 Listopadu 2, Prague 1 (behind the Jewish cemetery)
National Gallery Center of Modern and Contemporary Art—Opened in 1994 in the renovated Veletrzni Palace. The permanent exhibition includes Czech modern art. Expect to see works by French impressionists, cubists and such artists such as Klimt, Munch, Van Gogh, Cezanne and Picasso. Open Tuesday-Sunday 10 am-6 pm, Thursday to 9 pm. Adults 80 Kc, children 40 Kc. Dukelskych Hrdinu 47, Prague 7 (Tram 5 to Strossmeyerova Namesti)
National Museum—The National Museum (Narodni Muzeum) contains busts and statues of well-known Czechs, as well as natural history and anthropology exhibits. The building itself is often more interesting than the exhibits. The grand interior staircase, for example, was used in the film Mission Impossible. Daily 10 am-6 pm. Closed first Tuesday of each month. 60 Kc adults, 30 Kc children, free for children six and under. Vaclavske Namesti 68 (Wenceslas Square), Prague 1
National Technical Museum—The National Technical Museum (Narodni Technicke Muzeum) presents interactive exhibits on mining, transport, astronomy, photography and more. Tuesday-Sunday 9 am-5 pm. 30 Kc for adults, 10 Kc for children. Kostelni 42, Prague 7 (behind Letna Hill)
Obecni Dum—The Obecni Dum, a work of art in itself, houses important traveling exhibitions in its beautifully reworked galleries. Namesti Republiky 5. For information, call +420-222 002 101.
Sternberg Palace—Sternberg Palace (Sternbersky Palace), part of the National Gallery, presents permanent and temporary exhibitions of painting and sculpture by Czech and other European artists. Contains a small but comprehensive collection of the old European masters (Durer, El Greco, Rembrandt, Rubens) as well as some modern works (Picasso, Braque). Tuesday-Sunday 10 am-6 pm. 70 Kc adults, 15 Kc children. Hradcanske Namesti 15, Prague 1
Toy Museum—Exhibits of traditional toys. Daily 9:30 am-5 pm. Jirska 6
PARKS AND GARDENS
Petrin Hill—Petrin Hill is topped by Prague’s own miniature Eiffel Tower (Rozhledna). You can climb the tower—daily April-October, 10 am-7 pm. 20 Kc adults, 10 Kc children. Phone 531-783. A normal public transport ticket allows you to ride the funicular train between the top of Petrin and Ujezd Street, daily 9:15 am-8:45 pm, with a convenient stop at the Nebozizek restaurant.
Sarka Valley—Featuring a landscape of cliffs and large grassy areas, walking trails and a reservoir for swimming in summer. Divoka Sarka. Metro station Dejvicka: take tram 20 or 26 to Divorka Sarka.
Vojan Park—Vojan Park (Vojanovy Sady) is a site of weeping willows, fruit trees, multicolored flower beds, white benches, elderly ladies. Quietly hidden away near the Malostranske Metro. U Luzickeho Seminare.
Wallenstein Garden—Wallenstein Garden (Valdstejnska Zahrada) contains sculptured hedges and fountains, bronze statues and a few (live) peacocks. Outdoor concerts in the summer. Daily May-September 10 am-6 pm. Admission free. Valdstejnsky Palac, Valdstejnsky Namesti 4, Prague 1
ZOOS AND WILDLIFE
Zoo—The Zoo (Zoological zahrada) has animals, birds, lots of greenery and a playground. Daily 9 am-7 pm in summer, 9 am-4 pm in winter. 50 Kc adults, 25 Kc children, free for children under 6 years. U Trojskeho Zamku 3, Prague 7
WHERE TO STAY
As tourism has increased in Prague, so have the number of hotels. Budget hotels are few and far between, and prices are high compared with what many travelers expect. Advance reservations are recommended, especially for spring and definitely around Easter and other holidays. Some hotels offer lower, off-season rates.
Hotel Praha—On a hill above the city, not far from the Hotel Diplomat but in a classier, embassy-studded neighborhood. Rooms in the front afford commanding views of Prague Castle, the city and countryside. Swimming pool, sauna, fitness center, massage room, tennis and volleyball courts, French restaurant and beer house. Business center and conference facilities for 300. English-speaking staff. Susicka 20, Prague 6, Tel.: +420 224 341 111Fax: +420 224 311 218E-mail: [email protected]
Hotel Savoy—This five-star hotel enjoys an exclusive location on Prague’s castle hill, not far from Strahov monastery. Each of its 60 luxurious rooms and suites has a fax, satellite TV and video and marble bathroom. Conference rooms with library (for up to 35 participants) are available for seminars, conferences and receptions. The business center offers translation, secretarial services and assistance in arranging meetings. Whirlpool, sauna, steam room, solarium and fitness room. International specialties at the first-class restaurant Hradshin. Keplerova 26, Prague 1, Tel.: +420 224 302 430, Fax: +420 224 302 128, E-Mail: [email protected]
Marriott Hotel—This five-star hotel offers 293 rooms, some executive rooms and suites. Fitness club, pool, solarium and sauna. Two ballrooms. V Celnici 8, phone 420-222-888 888.
Movenpick Hotel—Opened in 1996 next to the Mozart Museum Villa Bertramka.Three hundred rooms in the colorful main building and 135 suites and rooms in the executive wing, which is uphill from the main building and connected by a private cable car. Banquet halls and conference rooms can host 10-350 people. Inviting rooms, a Movenpick restaurant, Italian restaurant, cafe, lobby bar and terrace. Fitness center. Mozartova 261/1, Prague 5, Phone:+420 257 151 111Fax:+420 257 153 131E-mail: [email protected]
Parkhotel Praha—A high-rise close to the Prague Exhibition Ground (Vystaviste), newly air-conditioned with a Vegas-style interior. Tennis court, solarium, French restaurant, good bar and grill. Casino and nightclub. Conference rooms accommodate 200. Fax service. Veletrzni 20, Prague 7, Tel. 296 797 111, Fax 224 316 180, E-mail: [email protected]
Prague Hilton-Atrium—With more than 700 rooms, the Prague Hilton-Atrium is the largest hotel in the Czech Republic. It’s situated on the Vltava riverbank, five minutes from the city center, near the Florenc Metro station (Lines B and C). From the outside it’s a modern mirrored cube unlike any other building in Prague. Inside it’s all plants and fountains. Rooms have either a view of the interior atrium or of the castle and river. Executive floor, fitness center with pool, two indoor tennis courts, sauna, solarium, beauty salon, boutiques, five restaurants, cafe and lobby bar. Business service center and hall accommodating 1,400. Meeting rooms, press centers and banquet rooms. Pobrezni 1, Prague 8, Tel: +420-2-2484-1111 Fax: +420-2-2484-2378
Hotel Diplomat—The major hotel closest to the airport, close to a Metro station and a target especially for business travelers. Gourmet restaurant, Viennese cafe, souvenir shop, fitness room, sauna, massage, hairdresser, Jacuzzi and small pool. Business service center with hall for up to 375, conference rooms and salons. Some rooms smoke-free, some wheelchair-accessible. English-speaking staff. Evropska 15, Prague 6 (near the Dejvicka Metro, Line A). Tel.: +420 296 559 111, Fax: +420 296 559 215, E-Mail: [email protected]
Ametyst Hotel—Newly upgraded to four-star status, this cozy, 84-room hotel is tucked away in a quiet, leafy neighborhood that nevertheless is within scenic walking distance of Old Town. It features Austrian and international restaurants, a small bar, a small but polished lobby. Non-smoking and wheelchair-accessible rooms. Superior, helpful staff. Jana Masaryka 11, Prague 2, Phone:+420 222 921 921 Fax:+420 222 921 999 Reservations:+420 222 921 946 +420 222 921 947 [email protected]
Best Western Hotel Meteor Plaza—A four-star, four-story modern hotel nestled among music and glassware shops five minutes from Namesti Republiky (Wenceslas Square) and its Metro station, and around the corner from Prague’s grand Obecni Dum. This is the site of a very old (17th-century) hotel where Emperor Joseph II was once a guest. Utilitarian lobby, 89 smallish rooms (and 5 suites), but terrific location and good service. Fitness center, garage. Hyberska 6, Prague 1, Tel: +420 224 192 559, +420 224 192 111, Fax: +420 224 192 413, Email: [email protected]
Grand Hotel Bohemia—Renovated in 1993—its lovely, creamy, curved exterior still intact—and located in the city center near the Namesti Republiky Metro stop (Line B). This is a hotel where tradition reigns in decor, appointments, cuisine and service. Spacious rooms, Old World-style dining and meeting facilities, with an intensely ornate ballroom that will accommodate 100 for dinner. Kralodvorska 4, Prague 1, phone +420 234 608 111.
Hotel Inter-Continental Praha—Its contemporary exterior notwithstanding, it does manage to incorporate antique furniture and traditional Czech glasswork in most of its public areas. The Inter-Continental is located in the center of the city along the Vltava River. 364 rooms and suites with satellite TV (nonsmoking rooms available), some rooms with jacuzzi and fine marble baths. Three restaurants and cafes, wine cellar, an atrium fitness center, sauna, pool, golf putting green, beauty salon, gift shop. Meeting rooms accommodate up to 400. Curieovych Namesti 43/5, Prague 1, phone +42 296 631 111
Hotel Palace Praha—A luxury hotel with 124 rooms located in the city center near Wenceslas Square. Art nouveau is the theme, seen from entrance to piano bar to the rooms themselves. Restaurants (including an evocative Central European one with rich Czech pastries), sauna, conference facility for 80. Casino. Panská 12, Tel.: +420 224 093 111, Fax: +420 224 221 240, E-Mail: [email protected]
Hotel Pariz—Perhaps the grande dame of Prague, this art-nouveau-style beauty (originally constructed in 1904 and elegantly restored) is near another architectural masterpiece, the grand Obecni Dum. Delightful, chandeliered lobby with domed ceiling and curving staircase, lace-curtained Bohemian cafe, handsome rooms, marble baths with heated floors. Ten smoke-free rooms. A good breakfast buffet is included in the price. U Obecniho Domu 1, Prague 1, phone +420 222 195 195.
Radisson Blu Alcron Hotel—This five-star luxury hotel close to Wenceslas Square offers 211 rooms and suites with classic period furnishings. Room amenities include air-conditioning, safe for valuables storage, fax and PC-connections and on-line entertainment systems providing Internet access and video games. Underground parking. Conference facilities include the Crystal Ballroom (it will accommodate 200) and five private salons. The hotel’s business center offers secretarial services, including a translation service. Fitness center with sauna, solarium and gym. Close to Muzeum and Mustek Metro stops. Stepanska 40, phone +420 2 22820000