Mala Strana Prague – The Complete Guide

by May 27, 2020Czech Republic

MALA STRANA PRAGUE

If you walk the full length of the Charles Bridge from the Old Town, you’ll arrive in Mala Strana, Prague. Many pass through it on their way up the hill to Prague Castle, and forms part of the Royal Route. Its name is translated as either Lesser Town Prague or Lesser Quarter, but don’t be deceived by its name – Mala Strana is one of the best areas in Prague to explore.

Apart from the Charles Bridge, Mala Strana has relatively few of the top Prague attractions. It has a subtler charm, its beauty hidden around 18th century street corners, or above you in the brightly painted Baroque house facades and their emblems, from a time when houses had names rather than numbers. The most obvious sight is St Nicholas’ Church, easily one of the most beautiful churches in Prague. It also has two of the most beautiful gardens in Prague, not to mention some of the best parks in Prague.

In our Prague Mala Strana area guide, we’ll put you onto all the best things to do in the area, and also tell you why we think it’s possibly the best area to stay in Prague, and point you in the direction of some of the most atmospheric Prague restaurants and pubs.

Where is Mala Strana in Prague?

Best things to do in Prague Image of old streets in Mala Strana
Exploring the old side streets of Mala Strana is one of the best things to do in Prague
What to see in Prague Image of Mostecka street and St Nicholas church in Mala Strana Prague
The Baroque houses of Mostecka
What to see in Prague Image of Mostecka street and St Nicholas church in Mala Strana Prague
The Baroque houses of Mostecka
Image of Nerudova Street in Prague Mala Strana district
Nerudova, one of the best streets in Prague, leads up to the Castle

Mala Strana is the area on the left bank of the River Vltava below Hradčany, the Prague Castle District. We’ve written a separate feature on Hradčany, and to avoid any confusion, if it’s around river level and the bottom of Prague Castle Hill, it’s Mala Strana. If it’s near the top or within the Castle precincts, it’s Hradčany.

So Petřin Hill and its park are split between the two areas. The Petřin Tower and Mirror Maze are Hradčany, while the lower slopes of the park, including the blossom trees, are Mala Strana. The area to the south of Mala Strana, along Ujezd, is Smichov, about which we’ve also written an area guide.

Mala Strana Prague History

Best things to see in Prague Image of the Lesser Town Bridge Tower and St Nicholas Church in the Mala Strana area of Prague
The stately skyline of Mala Strana in Prague

Lesser Town Prague was founded in 1257 by King Otakar I of Bohemia, and at first was known as New Town Below Prague Castle (Nové Město pod Pražským Hradem). It was renamed Menši Město after the foundation of Prague New Town – to the south of the Old Town – in the 14th century.  After some residents were expelled, it became home to many German – and later Italian – artisans.

It was burned down in 1419 by the Hussite church reformists, and subsequently rebuilt, initially in Renaissance and later Baroque style. The name Mala Strana first came into use during the 17th century – it means ‘Little Side’ or ‘Small Side’.

The modern city of Prague was formed in 1784, with the amalgamation of Mala Strana, Hradcany, Stare Město (Old Town) and Nové Město (New Town).

St Nicholas Church Prague

Image of St Nicholas Church Mala Strana Prague
The Baroque beauty of St Nicholas at night

Visiting St Nicholas Church in Mala Strana is one of the best things to do in Prague. It’s one of the most beautiful buildings in Prague, a must see for aficionados of Prague architecture.  

Its exterior – along with its adjacent bell tower – has an understated elegance about it, which has always drawn us to it. Inside, it’s a full-on Baroque extravaganza, with white marble statues, gold paint galore and amazing ceiling frescoes, much like in Roman Catholic Italy, to the south. After the Castle, it’s the most prominent of the Prague sights on this side of the river.

St Nicholas Town Belfry

Image of the view from the St Nicholas Town Belfry in Prague Mala Strana district
Climbing the city’s many towers is one of the most popular Prague activities

The graceful belfry next door to St Nicholas’ Church is one of the most intriguing towers in Prague, and it receives fewer visitors than most. It was owned by the Mala Strana Council, who even employed a caretaker for it – you visit the keeper’s quarters on the way up. After stepping outside to the gallery to take in one of the best views in Prague, you can climb to the garret which was a Soviet spy room during the Cold War, from which they could eavesdrop on nearby embassies.

Nerudova

Image of Nerudova Street in Prague Mala Strana district
Nerudova, one of the best streets in Prague, leads up to the Castle

Nerudova is one of the best-known Prague streets as it’s the most popular route taken by visitors to Prague Castle from Charles Bridge. It’s lined with Baroque houses of many shades and hues, and is home to several Prague hotels and hostels, as well as the lofty Baroque St Kajetana Church.

Image of a plaque of Bohemian poet Jan Neruda in Mala Strana in Prague
The house where Jan Neruda lived and wrote

It’s named after Czech poet Jan Neruda, and there’s a memorial to him on the wall of a house near the top of the street where he once lived–this is just across the street from the Golden Star Hotel.

Vrtba Garden Prague

Prague top attractions Image of the Vrtba Garden in Mala Strana Prague
The splendid Baroque Vrtba Garden, hidden behind the streets of Mala Strana

The Vrtba Garden (Vrtbovska Zahrada) is a magnificent Baroque garden hidden away between the busy Karmelitska street and the lower slopes of Petřin Hill. The available land spaced influenced the unusual design, with two terraces and a ground level with a beautifully painted vaulted grotto. Climb the stairs at the top of the garden for one of the best viewpoints in Prague, with St Nicholas Church dominating the view in one direction, and the Church of Our Lady Victorious in the other. Our article on the Vrtba Garden tells and shows you more.

Mostecka

What to see in Prague Image of Mostecka street and St Nicholas church in Mala Strana Prague
The Baroque houses of Mostecka

Look upwards and Mostecka is one of the prettiest streets in Prague. It has a beautiful array of baroque houses, many with brightly painted facades. These frame the dome and tower of St Nicholas’ Church, so it’s a must see if you’re planning on photographing Prague. At ground level the street has become very touristed, and has been for the last decade and more, with fast food joints, a few trdelnik stalls, bureaus de change and more. Keep looking upwards – as my 5-year-old son says, it’s much more beautiful.

Kampa Island Devil

Image of the devil statue on the Devil's Stream, Kampa Island, Prague
The devil – a sort of half-fish, half-hobgoblin – guarding the stream named after it

The Devil’s Stream – Čertovka in Czech – is a narrow man-made canal separating Kampa Island from the rest of Mala Strana. It’s one of the most picturesque places in Prague, with old Baroque houses and two water wheels. From the Lovers’Bridge on the edge of Kampa Park you get a view of a crusty hobgoblin statue sitting next to one of the wheels, guarding the canal. One for the kids, this. The wheel still turns, but the water mill is no longer functioning.

Na Kampe Street

Image of houses on Na Kampe Street in Mala Strana Prague
Kampa Island is one of the must visit places in Prague

Na Kampe (‘On Kampa’) is the island’s main street, and it’s just below the Charles Bridge. It’s usually relatively quiet despite being so close to one of the prime attractions of Prague. It’s full of pastel-shade Baroque houses with a couple of restaurants and bars, a great spot to while away a few hours. It’s also a great place to stay in Prague, with Archibald’s at the Charles Bridge, one of the most luxurious Mala Strana hotels, facing the square and backing onto the Vltava, with superb Charles Bridge views. The square is also used to host various small Prague markets throughout the year.

Kampa Park

Image of a statue in Kampa Park Prague
Kampa Park on a stormy late winter afternoon

Kampa Park is just to the south of Na Kampe, and it’s one of the prettiest parks in Prague.  It’s remarkably quiet, considering that it’s so close to Prague city centre. It’s one of the Prague highlights simply for its views to the Charles Bridge and along the river, but there’s plenty more to see besides. The yellow penguins standing above the river are popular with kids, and carry a serious environmental message. They’re made from recycled plastic, to highlight the damage waste of this product can cause.

Prague destinations Image of the yellow penguin sculptures next to Kampa Park Prague
Prague’s famous yellow penguins, standing guard next to Kampa Park

A few metres from the penguins, three of David Černy’s Babies sculptures – also seen crawling up the pillars of the Žižkov Tower across the river – can be found on terra firma. Up close, they’re not nearly as appealing as from afar. They don’t have faces – rather a vertical mesh, which gives them a surreal sinister appearance. Not that it bothered my five-year-old, who, after an initial,”Urgh!” proceeded to join some other kids climbing one of the figures.

Charles Bridge Lesser Town Tower

Image of the Lesser Town Bridge Tower and Mostecka Street Prague
The Lesser Town Bridge Tower, one of the most intriguing things to visit in Prague

The Gothic Lesser Town Tower at the Mala Strana end of Charles Bridge is one of the best vantage points in Prague. From the gallery at the top – just below the characteristic sloping roof – you get a bird’s eye view of Kampa Island, the terracotta rooftops of Mala Strana and, of course, back along the most famous of the bridges in Prague, the Charles Bridge.

Image of the Charles Bridge from the top of the lesser Town Bridge Tower in Prague
The Charles Bridge from the top of the Lesser Town Bridge Tower in Mala Strana

There’s not a great deal to see in the Tower on the way up, but it’s worth the short climb for the views.  You also get a prime view across the river to the magical Old Town skyline, a wonderful sight at any time. Just a word of caution though – be careful when descending, as getting back inside from the gallery onto the steep flight of steps down is no easy feat. I opted to descend backwards – it felt much safer than going forwards.

Lennon Wall

Prague things to see Image of the famous Lennon wall in Prague
The Lennon wall, one of the most popular landmarks in Prague

The John Lennon Wall, which backs onto land owned by the Maltese Church, became a rallying place for protesters against the totalitarian Communist regime in the 1960s. After the murder of the former Beatle John Lennon in 1980, someone painted an image of Lennon along with some of his lyrics, which inspired further written protests. This continued until the 1989 Velvet Revolution which saw the resignation of the Communist government and the rebirth of Czechoslovak (as it was then) democracy. It is still frequently repainted, and has inspired other Lennon walls around the world, including Hong Kong. It’s one of the most popular landmarks of Prague, and can be found on Velkopřevorské namestí, a three-minute walk from Charles Bridge.

Thunovska Arch

Image of the painted arch on Thunovska street in Mala Strana in Prague
The arch on Thunovska, one of the hidden gens of Prague

Thunovska Street in Mala Strana isn’t one of the regular Prague tourist spots. It’s a quiet side street hidden away on the hillside below Prague Castle, and the only way you’d discover it is the same way I did – by stumbling upon it.

The main point of interest is the gorgeous arch above the street, which seems to be a passageway connecting the buildings either side of the street. It runs parallel to Nerudova, and the arch is painted with Renaissance-style sgraffito, so the street still maintains an aspect of its medieval appearance. Definitely one to add to your ever-expanding list of where to go in Prague.

Wallenstein Garden

The Wallenstein Garden (Valdštejnska Zahrada) is an essential Prague sightseeing stop. It’s an early Baroque garden, built as part of the Wallenstein Palace complex at the foot of Prague Castle Hill between 1623 and 1629. It’s nearly a century older than the Vrtba Garden on the other side of Mala Strana.

The Palace is now home of the Czech Senate. Its builder, Count Wallenstein, had studied in Padua, and was heavily influenced by Italian Renaissance art and architecture. The statues in the garden depict figures from Greek mythology, and the ceiling of the Sala Terrena has a superb series of frescoes showing scenes from the Trojan Wars. The Garden is secreted away behind Malostranská Metro station, but try to seek it out – it’s one of the best things to do in Prague.

Franz Kafka Museum

The Kafka Museum is one of the best museums in Prague.  The renowned author is one of the most famous people from Prague, despite being almost unknown during his short lifetime. He created intense, almost paranoia-inducing worlds, in some ways prefiguring the totalitarian states that would rise within a few years of his death.

The Kafka Museum exhibition is quite refreshing, as it focuses on two aspects. Kafka in Prague – Existential Space is all about how the city shaped his life and worldview. Meanwhile, Prague in Kafka – Imaginary Topography looks at how Kafka incorporated Prague into the settings for his stories, but without ever naming any specific places. One of his best-known characters, the protagonist of The Trial, Josek K, walks from the Old Town, across Charles Bridge, to Mala Strana in the final chapter of the novel, but none of these are named.

This museum has a superb setting in the Herget Brickworks building in Mala Strana, just to the north of Charles Bridge.

Piss Sculpture

David Černy’s sculpture Piss is one of the quirkiest things to see in Prague. The scenario is simple: two men stand around two metres apart in a fountain (that happens to be carved in the shape of the Czech Republic). And they pee. If you want them to pee a specific message you can request it by SMS and they duly oblige.

Charles Bridge Playground

If you’re in Prague with kids you’ll need somewhere for them to run off steam at some point. The playground next to Charles Bridge is just the ticket. It has a small sandpit, a couple of swings and slides, and various solo spinning rides. The hedge area at the end of the park is a great hiding place and den. It’s on the north side of the Charles Bridge, on Kampa Island, next to the Kampa Park restaurant. Oh, and the view – the Bridge and the skyline of Old Town Prague – is pretty hard to beat, and anywhere in the world at that.

Petřin Park and Hill

Image of St Nicholas Church Mala Strana in springtime
St Nicholas Church from the blossoms of Petrin Park

Petřin Park has become one of our favourite places to visit in Prague.  It’s a steep sloping park on a hillside, with winding paths leading up towards the landmark Petřin Tower at the top.

It’s a must see if you’re photographing Prague as it has unrivalled views back towards the Old Town and, higher up, of Prague Castle and St Vitus Cathedral. It’s absolutely essential to visit if you’re in Prague in springtime, when hundreds of trees are laden with gorgeous white blossom. It’s a local tradition for couples to kiss beneath them on May 1st – the blossom was there in 2020 until around a week after this.

I also think it’s one of the best parks in Prague for kids – my five-year-old and I found some great fallen trees and logs to climb and balance on. There’s also a playground and Mirror Maze at the top of the hill, below the Petřin Lookout Tower.

Church of Our Lady Victorious

Image of Our Lady Victorious Church in Mala Strana Prague
Our Lady Victorious Church, home to the venerated Infant Jesus of Prague statue

Many people visit Prague on pilgrimage to venerate a famous statue, the Infant Jesus of Prague, at this church. Many miracles have been attributed to this figure, from relieving the siege of Prague in 1639 to bringing about miraculous cures.

The church is part of the convent of the Discalced Carmelites (also known as the Barefoot Carmelites), an Order co-founded by St Teresa of Avila. The church dates from the early Baroque period, the early 17th century. Its characteristic onion spire is typical of the period, and there are many such church towers throughout the Czech Republic and Central Europe. Inside, the austerity of the nuns doesn’t get a look in – it’s full-blown ornate Baroque, with no expense spared on gilded statuary, massive altar paintings and golden baldacchinos. The Infant Jesus of Prague statue is kept in the Chapel of St Cross, just to the left of the entrance.

KGB Museum

We are yet to visit the KGB Museum, which is located on Vlašska, the street that leads to the top of Petřin Hill. According to a multitude of reviews, it’s a fairly small museum, and the owner conducts a guided tour giving many an insight into the nefarious activities of the Soviet secret police.

Narrowest street in Prague

One of the more unusual things to do in Prague is to seek out this tiny alleyway in Mala Strana. If you’re visiting the Kafka Museum (see below), have a brief look at this little curiosity. The street is U Lužickeho semináře, off Cihelna. It’s basically a tiny gap between two buildings, and someone has installed a set of traffic lights for pedestrians.

Memorial to the Victims of Communism

Image of the Memorial to the Victims of Communism in Prague
Mental and physical disintegration – the Memorial to the Victims of Communism

This memorial is a series of six statues on a staircase at the base of Petřin Hill, unveiled in 2002. They are the work of sculptor Olbram Zoubek. The front figure is physically whole, but as you ascend the stairs, you notice that the others are not – with flesh seemingly withered away, part of a face or limbs missing.  This is meant to depict the effects of living under the totalitarian system, especially on political prisoners opposed to the one-party regime.

It’s one of the more controversial Prague monuments, with some critics vilifying it as kitsch. I think it’s rather effective, my one reservation being that no women (but six men) are represented.

The Memorial is next to a delightful small garden on Ujezd. There’s a short promenade under a row of trees which bloom bright pink for a couple of weeks or so every April. It soon became one of our favourite places to go in Prague, and a path leads from there into Petřin Park.

Prague Castle

Image of St Vitus Cathedral in Prague Castle
St Vitus Cathedral dominates the Prague Castle precincts

Prague Castle is, of course, outside Mala Strana, but it would be remiss of us not to give a taster of what to expect. The vast complex is one of the most beautiful castles in Europe, and according to some it’s the largest castle in the world. It was the home of the kings of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperors, and is now the official residence of the President of the Czech Republic.

Prague Castle is the heart and soul of the Czech nation. The fine Gothic St Vitus Cathedral is the Westminster Abbey of Prague, the burial place of Bohemian monarchs and the Czech patron saint, Wenceslas. The palaces are some of the richest in the country architecturally, and they house some of the nation’s greatest art treasures.

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