Prague’s city centre can keep most visitors occupied for days, but if you’re staying outside the city’s heart, or if you have the time to explore beyond the capital’s walls, the outlying areas offer plenty of surprises. Over the centuries, the various rulers of Prague have used the surrounding countryside as their personal playground, building impressive castles, palaces and parks to which they could escape the often claustrophobic streets and winding alleyways of the city. Even the Communists have left their own kind of functional mark on the area, with useful edifices, towers and exhibition spaces. From the peaceful parklands of Vyšehrad and the social atmosphere of Letná, to the rowdy nightlife of Žižkov and the intriguing gardens of Holešovice and Troja, Greater Prague has a diversity that will fulfil almost any requirements you might have.
The former fortress of Vyšehrad is steeped in legend. Bedřich Smetana paid tribute to the second seat of the Přemyslid dynasty that resided here in the 10th century in his opera Libuše and in his rousing work Má vlast (see Vltava). He is buried here in the National Cemetery, as are many other Czech luminaries.
U Trojského zámku 120, Troja • Check online for opening times • Adm • www.zoopraha.cz
Prague’s popular zoological gardens date back to 1931. Spread across a vast area, the zoo is home to a number of bird and animal species, including probably the world’s largest Giant Salamander.
Originally the royal vineyards, Vinohrady today is a gently rolling residential neighbourhood. The central square, Náměstí Míru, features the Neo-Gothic Church of St Ludmila and the Art Nouveau Vinohrady Theatre. For a bit of peace and greenery visit the Havlíčkovy sady.
Developers are helping this former warehouse district make a comeback. It is home to the National Gallery’s Trade Fair Palace, which holds the gallery’s collection of modern and contemporary art. Motor car enthusiasts will love the National Technical Museum, with its exhibits of Czech interwar vehicles such as Škodas, as well as other vintage vehicles.
A grand staircase leads from the Vltava riverbank opposite the Josefov quarter to a giant metronome. The needle marks time where a mammoth statue (see Letná Plinth) of Joseph Stalin once stood before it was blown up in 1962. The surrounding park echoes with the clatter of skateboards and barking dogs. Travelling circuses sometimes set up in the open fields, but Letná’s popular beer garden is probably its biggest draw.
King Ottokar II established the royal game park here in the 13th century; it’s been a public garden since 1804 (stromovka means “place of trees”). Stroll, skate or simply enjoy the ancient park by day and visit the planetarium by night. The fish ponds (see Stromovka) were a creation of Rudolf II – the emperor drilled a tunnel under Letná in the 16th century to bring in water to supply them.
U Trojského zámku1, Troja • Open Apr–Oct: 10am–6pm Tue–Thu, Sat & Sun; 1–6pm Fri • Adm • www.en.ghmp.cz
One of the most striking summer palaces in Prague, Troja Château was built in the late 17th century by Jean-Baptiste Mathey for Count Sternberg. Surrounded by beautiful gardens and two orangeries, the château has a good collection of 19th-century art and sculpture (see Prague City Gallery).
The fairgrounds here were originally built at the end of the 19th century to host trade shows, which are still held at the Industrial Palace and Křižík’s Pavilions. There’s an amusement park with rides for the kids, an indoor swimming pool, an ice-hockey rink at the Tipsport Arena and a Planetarium. If you want to see the original statues that graced Charles Bridge, pay a visit to the Lapidárium, where they are preserved. A visit to the country’s largest aquarium, Mořský Svět, is an excellent option on a rainy day.
Žižkov • Open 10am–6pm Wed–Sun • Adm • www.nm.cz
The one-eyed Hussite general Jan Žižka defeated invading crusaders in 1420 atop the hill where his giant equestrian statue now stands in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Erected in 1929, the monument serves as a memorial to all those who suffered in the Czech struggle for independence. The Communists co-opted the building, and for a time it served as President Klement Gottwald’s mausoleum (see National Memorial on the Vítkov Hill).
Mahlerovy sady • Open 9am–midnight • Adm • www.towerpark.cz
The Prague TV Tower is the highest building in Prague, reaching 216 m (709 ft) in height. However it didn’t begin transmitting until after the Velvet Revolution. Three thematically different “capsules” at the tower (see Žižkov TV Tower) offer unforgettable views of the city, especially at sunset. Outside the tower, there are ten giant sculptures of babies by Czech artist David Černý.
This working-class neighbourhood came into being when city fathers divided the expanding Královské Vinohrady district. The inhabitants of the area thumbed their noses at Habsburg rule and named their new district after the Hussite warrior. Žižkovites’ contrary nature runs deep, even having a separatist movement which promotes an independent Republic of Žižkov. An alternative culture thrives around the Akropolis club and the Divus artists collective, and, increasingly, numerous ethnic restaurants are bringing an international flavour to the area.
See Vyšehrad late in the day, but only if the weather looks promising. Take the metro to the Vyšehrad stop at the Congress Centre, from where you have marvellous views of Prague’s spires. Walk west along Na Bučance and enter the fortifications through the Tábor Gate. Once inside the walls, you’ll find historic constructions everywhere you turn, such as the lovely Romanesque Rotunda of St Martin. Enjoy the park at your leisure but get to the westernmost edge of the compound atop Vyšehrad’s rocky outcrop in time for sunset.
Žižkov and Vinohrady are also best seen in the second half of the day. From Florenc metro, climb to the National Memorial on the Vítkov Hill for a wonderful view, then compare it to the one you get from the Žižkov TV Tower. Take a stroll as far into Vinohrady as your feet will permit you, but save your strength: you’ll need it for a night out pubbing and clubbing.
Energetic and keen walkers can manage to see Stromovka and Troja in half a day. Take the tram to Výstavište, among the trees of the former game park, before crossing the Vltava to the Troja Château. From there, you’re within easy walking distance of Prague Zoo. Take bus 112 back to the metro at Nádraží Holešovice.
Výstaviště 422, Holešovice • Open May–Nov: 10am–4pm Wed, noon–6pm Thu–Sun • Adm • www.nm.cz
This is where Prague’s statues go when they retire. The 700-plus items include the original St Wenceslas.
Kostelní 44, Holešovice • Open 9am–5pm daily • Adm • www.nzm.cz
A visit to the museum is an excursion through the history of agriculture and the hard work of the Czech farmers.
This used to be the city’s main industrial centre. Anděl metro station still bears traces of its Communist origins.
Markétská 28, Břevnov • Check online for tour times • Adm • www.brevnov.cz
St Adalbert founded this Benedictine monastery in 993. You can see the remains of a Romanesque and an 18th-century church.
Mickiewiczova 1, Hradčany • 267 071111 • Open 10am–6pm Tue–Sun • Adm • www.ghmp.cz
The exhibition of art at this villa captures the essence and style of František Bílek's work and techniques.
Vinohradská 153 • Open Mar, Apr, Oct: 8am–6pm; May–Sep: 8am–7pm; Nov–Feb: 8am–5pm
Plague victims were interred here when the site was still far from the city. Other notable residents include Jan Palach (see HISTORIC DEMONSTRATIONS).
Izraelská 1 • Open Apr–Oct: 9am–5pm Sun–Thu, 9am–2pm Fri; Nov–Mar: 9am–4pm Sun–Thu, 9am–2pm Fri
Kafka’s sombre gravemarker lies close to the entrance along Row 21 at the New Jewish Cemetery.
Nám. Jiřího z Poděbrad, Vinohrady
Designed by Slovenian architect Josip Plečnik, this modern building was inspired by old Christian architecture.
Nad Hradním vodojemem 14 • Adm• www.muzeumprahy.cz/mullerova-vila
A masterpiece of avant-garde architecture, this villa by Adolf Loos is a fusion of Functionalism and old English-style design. Reservations needed.
Poupětova 1, Holešovice • Open 10am–6pm Wed–Mon • Adm • www.dox.cz
Housed in a former factory, this space presents contemporary international art, architecture and design.
Štulcova • Metro Vyšehrad • Open Apr–Oct: 10am–6pm; Nov–Mar: 10am–5pm
Although the first church to stand on this site was founded by Vratislav II in the 11th century, the Neo-Gothic structure seen today dates from 1903. The very valuable Gothic altar with a panel depicting Our Lady of the Rains is on the right-hand side of the chapel.
K Rotundě • Metro Vyšehrad • Open Jan, Nov–Feb: 8am–5pm; Mar, Apr, Oct: 8am–6pm; May–Sep: 8am–7pm
This is the burial place of several notable Czech cultural figures. Students laid flowers in remembrance here on 17 November 1989, before marching into town for the Velvet Revolution.
K Rotundě • Metro Vyšehrad
The story goes that the devil bet a local priest that he could carry this pillar from the Church of St Mary to Rome before the clergyman could finish his sermon. Being a sore loser, Satan threw the column he was carrying to the ground here.
V Pevnosti • Metro Vyšehrad
Charles IV restored Vyšehrad’s fortifications in the 14th century. Catholic crusaders rode through this gate on their way to crush the Táborites in 1434.
This ex-Communist palace of culture now hosts international conferences as well as – thanks to its excellent acoustics – pop concerts (see Congress Centre).
This simple, utilitarian viaduct spans the Nusle Valley, connecting New Town to the Pankrác banking and commercial district.
Czech architect Josef Chochol (1880–1956) built these angular masterpieces in 1913 on Rašínovo nábřeží, Libušina and the corner of Přemyslova and Neklanova streets.
At the start of each year’s Prague Spring International Music Festival, musicians attend a ceremony at composer Bedřich Smetana’s grave.
In the 18th century, occupying French troops drilled niches in Vyšehrad rock to store ammunition.
K Rotundě • Metro Vyšehrad
This 11th-century chapel is the oldest in Prague and most likely to be the oldest Christian house of worship in the country. It was reconstructed in 1878.
Lublaňská 676/50, Vinohrady • 720 385622 • www.kavarnaprazirna.cz
Enjoy the flavour and aroma of freshly roasted Arabica coffees at this brick-lined café. Also try the home-made desserts and pickled cheese.
U Božích bojovníků 3, Žižkov
The name “At the Shot-Out Eye” is a tribute to the half-blind Hussite general Jan Žižka from whom Žižkov takes its name and whose enormous statue (see U Vystřelenýho Oka) looms overhead.
Londýnská 10, Vinohrady
Tuck into a plate of pickled sausages or herring at Vinohrady’s favourite no-nonsense pub. Simple but clean, with perfunctory service; they don’t make them like this anymore.
Bořivojova 110, Žižkov • 222 711239 • No credit cards
This hidden little gem in Žižkov serves Czech meals that are great value for money. In summer you can sit outside.
Kubelíkova 27, Žižkov • www.palacakropolis.com
One of the most active independent cultural centres in Prague, Akropolis annually hosts nearly a 1,000 cultural events. Both local as well as top international artists perform here.
U Průhonu 3, Holešovice • www.mecca.cz
With major renovation and emphasis on good service, Mecca has beome a synonym for dance music from around the world and is known for its international acts.
Bubenské nábřeží 306 • www.sasazu.com
Located in the city centre, SaSazu offers a good gastronomic experience. The restaurant has a sharing style concept.
Zahřebská 14, Vinohrady
This refined pub takes its name from Bohumil Hrabal’s 1976 short novel Too Loud a Solitude. Neither loud nor solitary, this pub offers its guests excellent food and beer, for which they loyally return every time.
Křižíkova 105, Karlín • 725 556944 • www.mujsalekkavy.cz
Sip away at speciality coffee and savour homemade cakes and cookies at the flagship café of Czech double-shot coffee roasters. The interesting decor includes bare walls, books and artwork.
Blanická 25, Vinohrady
The Mousetrap is a perfect blend of old-fashioned beer hall and modish gastropub. Visit it for a choice of light and semi-dark Bernard beer, good, filling food and eclectic Irish decor.
Náměstí Míru 6, Prague 2 • 222 713222 •
This excellent Italian restaurant serves up a fantastic menu of authentic food accompanied by an extensive range of wines from all the world.
Kubelíkova 9, Žižkov • 222 722239 •
Prague’s best Greek food is on offer here. The large garden, complete with table tennis, is ideal for summer dining. The mixed salad platter is the best value around.
Lipanská 1, Žižkov • 774 972010 •
This little Pakistani eatery offers better value than the Indian restaurants in the centre. Located close to the No. 9 tram stop, it’s not as remote as it appears.
Na Dědince 12, Palmovka • 721 809084 • No credit cards •
When Mehfooz Ahmed sold Mailsi to his brother, his fans followed him here, where he serves up the best curries in town. The vindaloo is for true spice devotees.
Gregorova 8, Horní Roztyly • 774 215957 •
Visitors and locals alike enjoy traditional Czech and Slovak specialities and a good choice of wines. At the weekend, evenings are enlivened by a Romany band.
Slévačská 496/48, Prague 9 • 724 854223 • Closed Sat D & Sun D •
It’s a trek getting here, but this wins the prize for the best game restaurant. The dill-and-potato kulajda soup is a must. Try the boar, too. The dress code is formal.
K Novému dvoru 124/54, Prague 4 • 261 711307 •
Artist Mikoláš Aleš (see Malé náměstí) was an early guest of the original 1912 Daliborka inn. Today’s diners are offered traditional European and Czech cuisine indoors or under the ancient chestnut trees in the garden.
Národní Obrany 27, Dejvice • 233 342974 •
For an authentic Lebanese dining experience, order pitta with hummus, tabbouleh and other appetizers.
Mánesova 13, Vinohrady • 728 274260 •
This restaurant, with a beautiful decor, serves steaks, stuffed beef and soups prepared with fresh ingredients.
Veleslavínská 14, Prague 6 • 235 360623 •
Folk music and dancing make this a fun lunch spot. Large portions of Czech food are served at communal tables. Book ahead and take a taxi.