Things to Do in Prague - page 3
Sitting right next to the Charles Bridge on the eastern flank of the Vltava River, theClementinum(Klementinum) is a vast complex of buildings covering fives acres (two hectares). It started life in 1232 as a place of learning for medieval scholars before becoming a Jesuit monastery in 1556. For the next two centuries, it slowly expanded into one of the biggest learning centers in Europe, featuring an astronomical observatory, baroque libraries smothered with frescoes, and ornate apartments full of marble and gilt. It then served as a university withstudy rooms, lecture halls, and dormitories until around 1930 when the Klementinum became the Czech National Library—20,000 books and manuscripts are housed in the Baroque Library Hall, which is a masterpiece of 17th-century frescoes by Jan Hiebl.
Equally startling is the Mirror Chapel. Designed in 1724 and also rich in flamboyant baroque flourishes, the chapel serves as a venue for nightly classical concerts and features an organ played by Mozart. The Klementinum’s Astronomical Tower offers some of the best views of Prague and the river (it’s an arduous, 172-step climb up, however), while the site's two churches are widely considered to be the best examples of baroque architecture in the city.
The Orthodox Cathedral Church of St Cyril and St Methodius (Katedrální chrám sv. Cyrila a Metoděje) was completed in 1736 in honor of the two saints who developed the Slavonic alphabet. In Baroque style, it is the work of architects Paul Ignaz Bayer and Kilian Ignaz Dientzenhofer, and it has an interior adorned with swirling floral frescoes by Jan Adam Schöpf.
However, the cathedral has another, more unexpected, claim to fame. In May 1942, Czech paratroopers were sent into Prague to assassinate the hated Nazi leader of Bohemia, Reichsprotektor Reinhard Heydrich. After wounding Heydrich (he died several days later), the partisans fled into hiding in the crypt of St Cyril and St Methodius but were betrayed to the SS and Gestapo. Realizing there was no escape, they committed suicide rather than be captured by Nazi troops. Later hundreds of innocent people in the Bohemian village of Lidice paid with their lives in retaliation for the assassination.
The intense bravery of the seven paratroopers involved in Heydrich’s death is marked with a permanent exhibition in their memory in the cathedral crypt, known as the National Memorial to the Heroes of the Heydrich Terror. The museum also tells the story of how the Czechs resisted Nazi occupation, and displays include maps, period photos and memorabilia.
Karlovy Vary (also known as Carlsbad) is a charming spa town located about two hours west of Prague and full of Art Nouveau buildings and wealthy Russian tourists. Legend has it that Charles IV discovered the spring while out hunting with his dogs and founded the town, hence the name.
The town enjoyed a vogue in the 19th century when all manner of fashionable folk (including Beethoven and Chopin) rolled up to take the medicinal waters. Visitors can still indulge in a number of treatments here, including the drinking of the whiffy spring waters, but most Western visitors prefer to try out Becherovka, the town's signature herbal liqueur.
In Cesky Krumlov, 105 miles (170 kilometers) away from Prague, the St. Vitus Church (Kostel sv. Vita) is not be confused with the cathedral of the same name located at Prague Castle. With its unusual steep-sided roof and single tower, the church is a popular stop for visitors coming to see Krumlov Castle—the church is inside the castle complex.
Founded by King Charles IV in 1347, the Church of Our Lady of the Snows (Kostel Panny Marie Snezne) was designed to rival St Vitus Cathedral in terms of size and grandeur, but these plans were never completed and what remains today was originally merely to be the presbytery. Nevertheless it is still an imposing sight for the height of its Gothic vaults, which loom up to the height of 111.5 ft (34 m). These original vaults have survived, despite the fact that the church was left to decay for over a century following the Hussite Wars of the mid-15th century. It wasn’t until 150 years later that Franciscan monks took over the abandoned church and built the surrounding monastery, cloister and library in Baroque style.
The church now has a highly ornate Baroque interior, of which the main attraction is the dramatic high altar, designed by Jan Arnošt Heidelberger in 1651 at the behest of Jan the Elder of Talmberk. Studded with gold, gilt and dark marble, it is topped with a massive Crucifix and has the distinction of being the tallest altar in Prague, reaching up to 95 ft (29 m).
The Franciscan Gardens are right next to the complex, a calm respite providing an excellent view of the church’s Gothic vaulting. The church is also steps away from Wenceslas Square in one of the modern city’s busiest districts; it can be seen as part of private walking tours of Prague New Town.
Prague's New Town Hall (Novomestská Radnice) isn't as new as its name might suggest. It dates back to 1377 after Charles IV founded the New Town, and it served as the seat of municipal government until 1784. At that point, the building was converted into a criminal courthouse and prison. Today the New Town Hall building is a heritage center and is used for exhibitions, social events and weddings.
Not much remains of the original building from the 1300s, but today you can see additions and renovations from different periods in history. The Gothic tower, which was added in the 15th century, stands at almost 230 feet tall and offers visitors who climb the 221 stairs views of the New Town and Karlovo (Charles) Square. The south wing of the building was designed in a Renaissance style in the 16th century, and if you look closely, you'll notice a chain fixed to the building. This is from a time when the streets in Prague were closed off by chains.
Prague’s bizarre Zizkov Television Tower (Zizkovský Vysílac) is a futuristic landmark on a skyline of Baroque roofs and church spires, located in the eastern suburb of Zizkov. Rising 709 ft (216 m) above the city, the tower was constructed between 1985 and 1992 to block ‘decadent’ Western TV transmissions; ironically the Soviet Union had collapsed by the time it was completed.
Awarded the strange accolade of being the ‘second-ugliest’ building in the world and also called the Tower Park Prague since its extensive refurbishment in 2012, the tower is famous for the ten giant baby sculptures crawling up its metal lower reaches; they were designed by controversial Czech pop artist David Cerny, whose work can be found throughout the city, including three more babies in Kampa Park.
A 305-ft (93-m) ride up the internal elevator leads to the Observation Tower, with multi-media displays and movies about Prague plus panoramic views over the Staré Město (Old Town) and right out to the concrete apartment blocks constructed during Soviet occupation — visit after dark to see the city sparkling below. Also inside the rocket-like tower are two classy restaurants, a bar and the aptly named One Room Hotel, which has just one stylish suite with a glass-walled bathroom 230 ft (70 m) above the city. Underground parking is found at the foot of Zizkov TV Tower, along with more restaurants, a mini-golf course and apetanque court.
Located in Mala Straná (Lower Town) on the left bank of the River Vltava, the 17th-century, Baroque Wallenstein Palace was built by military commander Albrecht von Wallenstein, who achieved great success during the Thirty Years War of 1618–48. He used his wealth to create an extraordinary garden around the palace, filled with fountains and Mannerist bronzes of heroes from Greek mythology created by the Dutch sculptor Adrian de Vries. Von Wallenstein’s fantastical parklands were completed in 1630 but he was murdered four years later at the command of Emperor Ferdinand II, who felt threatened by his power.
Today Wallenstein Palace is home to the Czech Senate and only open occasionally for guided tours; in summer there are concerts in the palace’s frescoed loggia. The Wallenstein Gardens (Valdstejnska zahrada), however, are free to visit; they are a spectacle of bizarre grottoes and follies, neat ornamental topiary, and pathways lines with bronze statues (copies of the originals, which were stolen). A vast statue of Hercules stands over a pond full of ornamental fish, peacocks roam freely and there’s a refuge for owls. Wallenstein is a tranquil spot to linger after visiting Prague Castle and the gardens can also be enjoyed as part of walking tours of Mala Straná.
Prague Zoo covers more than 140 acres (58 hectares) in the Prague Troja district on the banks of River Vltava. The zoo—with 150 exhibits and 13 pavilions—is home to more than 5,000 animals from 694 species (many endangered) including a Komodo dragon, polar bear, Galapagos tortoise, Malayan tiger, Humboldt's penguin, and hippopotamus.
The lovely late Baroque Troja Chateau (Trojský Zámek) was designed by Italian architect Jean Baptiste Mathey for Count Václav Vojtěch Šternberk and was completed in 1689; it was used by the count as his summer residence. The striking russet-red and white palace is entered via a spectacular flight of steps flanked by figures taken from Greek mythology and has an impressively elaborate interior swathed in frescoes; the best are found in the ornate Grand Emperor’s Hall — named for Emperor Leopold I, who came visiting in 1702 — and are by the Dutch artists Abraham and Isaac Godyn; the project took five years to complete. The opulent rooms are filled with sculptures and artwork and the chateau forms part of Prague City Gallery.
Troja is surrounded by formal gardens divided into terraces and parterres and decorated with fountains, statuary and ornamental trees. An imposing stable block stands in the courtyard, with vaulted ceilings decorated by Abraham Godyn with more scenes from Greek mythology.
Northwest of the city center near Prague Zoo and the botanical gardens, the chateau can be reached along the new bike path following the banks of the River Vltava. It is a popular venue for public functions and is only open to the public at weekends, although the grounds are open daily.
More Things to Do in Prague
A short walk from the New Town’s central Wenceslas Square, the grand Prague State Opera (Státní Opera) is one of the city’s most exquisite buildings, undergoing several name changes over the years. Originally built as the German Theater, the ornate Neo-Rococo structure was designed by Viennese architects Fellner & Hellmer and opened to much acclaim in 1888. Despite falling into disrepair during the post-WWII communist years, the Prague State Opera has now been fully restored to its previous glory and the opulent interiors are truly magnificent, blending elegant white and gold décor with plush red velvet and glittering chandeliers.
Of course, the only way to truly experience the old world ambiance of Prague’s Opera House is to attend a performance, and there are plenty of opportunities during the Prague State Opera season between September and June. A varied program of opera and ballet features works by all the greats, including Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Rossini, Verdi, Puccini and Donizetti, and the Opera house also hosts an annual Verdi festival throughout the summer months, an elegant New Year’s Eve Gala and a series of Christmas-themed classical music concerts during the festive season.
Built in the 13th century, the Konopiste Castle (Konopiste Chateau) was originally built in the Early Gothic era on the model of a French castellum near Prague. Renaissance and Baroque reconstruction changed the castle into a grand stately home. At the end of the 19th century Konopiste Castle was refurbished in the Romantic style for Franz Ferdinand d'Este, successor to the Habsburg throne, and famous for his death in 1914 which acted as a pretext for the start of WWI.
The chateau offers a fine display of furniture, drape tapestries, sculptures, paintings and a cornucopia of hunting trophies.There is also a baroque rose garden and a greenhouse.
Home to Rückl Crystal, the Nizbor Glass Factory carries on the tradition of making the high-quality Czech glass and crystal that was originally known as Bohemian crystal. All stages of production are carried out here, including glass blowing, painting, crackling, and cutting. Champagne glasses, bowls, plates, vases, perfume bottles, and lamps are just a few of the items you’ll see made.
Following World War II, Czechoslovakia fell under Soviet rule between 1948 and 1989; during this time the Communist authorities arrested more than 205,486 Czech nationals and executed 248 after show trials, with 4,500 prisoners dying in jail. Around 170,940 people were driven into exile, with many more killed trying to flee the country. These dark days behind the Iron Curtain are explored at the Museum of Communism (Muzeum Komunismu) - ironically housed alongside a casino on the first floor of the Baroque 18th‐century Savarin Palace. Using photos, political posters, medals, a jumble of busts of Lenin and Marx, Soviet uniforms and movie reels, the displays deal with the perils of living under state‐sponsored terrorism, showcasing anti‐capitalist propaganda; the constant threat of Cold War warfare; work conditions in a Soviet factory and Russian teaching in schools. Highlights include the mock‐up of a stark interrogation room and rare film footage of the 1962 destruction of the massive, granite Stalin Monument in Letná Park. Happily, the exhibition ends on a positive note, with avideo showing events that led to the (largely) peaceful Velvet Revolution and the re‐
establishment of Czech democracy under the leadership of Václav Havel.
Anyone wanting to learn more about Prague’s 20th‐century history can visit the Nuclear Bunker Exhibition near Olšanské Náměstí. The Memorial to the Victims of Communism, whose disintegrating bronze figures were created in 2002 by Czech sculptor Olbram Zoubek, stands on a stone stairway at Petřín Hill on the west bank of the River Vltava.
Founded in 1869, Staropramen is the second-oldest brewery in the Czech Republic. Beer enthusiasts can learn more about the history of Czech beer and how it’s made on an interactive tour and beer tasting at the Staropramen Visitor Center (Návštěvnické Centrum Staropramen), in Prague’s former industrial Smichov neighborhood.
During World War II, Terezín was the largest of the concentration camps constructed by the Nazis to imprison Europe’s Jews; while not an extermination camp in itself, more than 30,000 prisoners died here due to the appalling, disease ridden and cramped conditions, while 80,000 more were shipped to the death camps in eastern Europe such as Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen.
The Magdeburg Barracks (Magdeburská Kasárna) were originally constructed in 1780 in Baroque-style and formed part of a military fortress commissioned by Habsburg Emperor Franz Josef II to protect the Austro-Hungarian Empire from invasion by Prussia. During WWII they became part of the Terezín complex, housing countless Jewish families in primitive, freezing conditions in ramshackle, ghetto-like dormitories.
Thanks to the Soviet Army, liberation finally came to the Magdeburg Barracks in May 1945; ironically Terezín ended up as the prison and execution site for many Nazi war criminals. Today the barracks are a place of reconciliation and hope, restored and reopened in 1997 as a conference center run by the Holocaust Education Trust; also displayed are the replica prison dormitories and heart-wrenching exhibitions showcasing the art, literature and music produced by Jewish inmates during the Holocaust.
Museum Kampa is one of Prague’s most charming museums and exhibits contemporary European art in the shiny-white, medieval Sova Mill, which sits on the Vltava bankside on cute-as-pie Kampa Island. The exhibitions are formed from the private collections of Jan and Meda Mládek, Czech art connoisseurs who gifted their stellar artworks to the country in 1999. Among the highlights of the collections are chunky bronzes of the human form by early 20th-century Cubist sculptor Otto Gutfreund and the world’s finest mass of works by pioneering abstract artist František Kupka.
Several temporary exhibitions of European artists take place throughout the year —Yoko Ono and Andy Warhol have both been featured there — and an ever-changing series of wacky art installations scatter the grounds of Sova Mill, which could range from a vast chair to an oversized bright-red plastic dog or ranks of yellow penguins lined up along the breakwater.
First mentioned in 1393, Sova Mill is itself worthy of interest as the oldest watermill on Kampa Island. It was converted into a two-story, Neo-Gothic mansion in the 19th for a wealthy milling family called Odkolek, and was reworked again by architect Helena Bukovanska, with the help of several other Czech designers, before the museum opened in 2003. From the glass rooftop terrace, there is a spectacular view of Prague Castle and the statuary of Charles Bridge.
Henry’s Tower (Jindrisská Vez) is the tallest free standing bell tower in Prague. More than 200 feet tall, it was first built in the 15th century as the bell tower of the Church of St. Henry and Kunhuta, the parish church of the New Town in Prague. Originally made of wood, the current stone version was built at the end of the 16th century and renovations in 1879 gave it a neo-Gothic appearance.
The interior of the tower was completely modernized in 2001 by adding a self-supporting iron-concrete structure inside and today visitors can enjoy a café and whisky bar on the ground floor, two floors of exhibition space, a restaurant on the 7th to 9th floors and an observation deck on the 10th floor. All floors are accessible by either stairs or elevator. A chime was installed in the tower in 2003 with 10 small bells. Every hour it plays one of more than 1000 preprogrammed tunes that can only be heard inside the tower.
Franz Kakfka was born in Prague in 1883 in a home on the corner of Maiselova and Kaprova, next to the St. Nicholas Church. The original building was torn down years ago, although the door was preserved. A bust of Kafka and plaque now commemorate the site and a small museum has opened in his family home nearby. The Franz Kafka Exposition retells Kafka’s life using simple displays of pictures, quotes and a timeline. Also on display are first editions of several Kafka books, including a 1916 edition of the Metamorphosis. The exposition also features artifacts from Jewish life in Prague and a small gift shop sells Kafka related memorabilia.
Across the river in Prague, the Kafka Museum presents a multimedia exhibit of even more Kafka memorabilia, including photographs and original letters.
Prague’s outpost of the worldwide Hard Rock brand is one of the most popular hangouts in the city. Tucked away behind the fresco-covered façade of the 19th-century VJ Rott House, Hard Rock Café Prague is just a five-minute walk from the focus of the night-time action in Old Town Square. As one of the largest branches of Hard Rock in Europe, it has two sleek bars in which to sample Czech pilsner beers or a couple of cocktails, plus three floors of restaurant selling the world-famous menu of steaks, salads and legendary burgers.
The ornate Art Nouveau interior of the restaurant contrasts neatly with Hard Rock’s grungy displays of rock ‘n’ memorabilia—from Johnny Cash’s embroidered Western-style shirt, a pair of Elvis’s trousers and a tails coat worn on tour by Madonna, but these are all totally overshadowed by the huge, guitar-shaped chandelier hanging over the atrium. Prague’s Hard Rock also offers live music on Thursday and Friday nights; a souvenir store selling logo-ed T-shirts, fluffy toys and biker jackets; and an outdoor terrace for enjoying summer-time evenings.
The 130-foot-high (40-meter-high) green cupola of the church of St. Francis of Assisi (Kostel Sv. Frantiska z Assisi) peeps above the rooftops of Prague’s Staré Město (Old Town). Designed by French architect Jean-Baptiste Mathey, built by Gaudenzio Casanova and Domenico Canevalle, and consecrated in 1688, the neoclassical structure replaced the original Franciscan church, which was built in 1270.
Prague is a culturally rich city, with lots of opportunities to watch traditional and contemporary dance and theater. WOW Black Light Theater hosts creative contemporary dance performed under black lights, so only the colorful costumes of the dancers and the stage set and props can be seen.
Prague’s National Technical Museum (Národní Technické Museum) was established in 1908 but moved in 1948 to an austere, Modernist purpose-built museum designed by architect Milan Babuška and found north of the city center near Letná Park. Its role is to monitor and showcase the development of technology across the years, and following a long-standing reconstruction project that saw the collections expanded, the museum reopened back in 2013. It now has 14 impressive science-based permanent exhibits spread over six floors, with three being underground.
Highlights of the astronomical, photographic and design displays include a photographic studio kitted out with historic cameras; printing presses from the 17th and 18th centuries; and a 5,000-year-old meteorite. The undoubted star of the show, however, is the massive Transport Hall, which is stuffed with vintage Czech planes, racing cars, trains, fire engines and bicycles. Probably of less interest to youngsters but nevertheless fascinating is the peerless collection of architectural records documenting the development of Prague over the last 100 years, from the Art Nouveau grace of the early 20th century to the Socialist Realism of the post-war, Communist years.
The spa town of Mariánské Láznĕ (also known as Marienbad) is one of the Czech Republic’s favorite getaways and easily accessible from Prague. With a balmy climate, panoramic mountain views, elegant architecture, and lush gardens, Mariánské Láznĕ is the perfect place for a day trip or relaxing weekend away from the big city.
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