Old Town Square Prague is one of the most beautiful squares in Europe, indeed the world. Along with the Charles Bridge and Prague Castle, seeing the Old Town Square is one of the absolutely essential things to do in Prague. Why so? Well, for starters it’s an incredible showcase of amazing Prague architecture through the ages, with Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo and Art Nouveau all here.
It’s also one of the places where Prague comes to party, especially with the Prague Christmas Markets taking over the square every December and early January. It also gets busy for the Prague Easter Market, which runs in late March or April.
We’ve visited Prague Old Town Square a great many times, often taking our young son there for a run, and we all love the place. It’s home to some of the great landmarks of Prague, and in the Church of Our Lady Before Týn, possibly the most beautiful of all churches in Prague. As there is so much to see there, we’ve decided to put together this most beautiful of Prague streets and squares, with everything you need to know before you go yourself.
- 1 Old Town Square Prague – A Primer
- 2 Our Lady Before Týn Church
- 3 Old Town Hall Prague
- 4 Prague Astronomical Clock
- 5 St Nicholas Church
- 6 Kinsky Palace Prague
- 7 Stone Bell House
- 8 Storch House
- 9 Dum U Minuty
- 10 Central Gallery Prague
- 11 Jan Hus Statue
- 12 Prague Marian Column
- 13 Prague Meridian
- 14 Prague Christmas Markets
- 15 Hotel U Prince
- 16 Old Town Square Prague Restaurants
- 17 Where Is Old Town Square Prague?
- 18 Getting To Old Town Square in Prague
Old Town Square Prague – A Primer
Its name in Czech is Staroměstské Náměstí
It’s home to several of the most famous buildings in Prague
The Old Town in Prague was a separate entity from Prague New Town to the south, Josefov (Jewsih Town, to the immediate north), Mala Strana (sometimes called Lesser Town Prague) and Hradčany – the Prague Castle district – each had their own separate Town Hall and administration
Prague only became a unified city in 1784
Our Lady Before Týn Church
The fairytale Gothic spires of the Church of Our Lady Before Týn are one of the most familiar sights in Prague, along with the Charles Bridge. It’s by far the largest church in the Old Town Prague district, and even though I’ve seen it thousands of times, I’m captivated by it every time. The church’s Gothic spires and façade are simply stunning.
The Tyn Church (Tynsky chram in Czech) can be reached via the medieval arcade on the same block as the Dali Warhol Mucha Exhibition. The body of the building is Gothic, but most of the ornamentation and artwork dates from the Baroque period (17th to 18th centuries). It’s one of the most atmospheric churches in Prague to visit, and somewhere you should not miss.
Old Town Hall Prague
Prague Old Town Hall is actually a series of medieval buildings adjacent to the magnificent Old Town Hall Tower. Neighbouring houses were acquired al local authorities needed more and more space. The complex hosts the main Prague tourist office, and you can venture further inside to explore some of the Town Hall’s splendid Halls, its underground rooms, the medieval chapel and the inside workings of the famous Astronomical Clock (see below).
You can also climb the Old Town Hall Tower for a brilliant bird’s-eye view of the Square. It’s one of the best towers in Prague to visit, with unbeatable views to the Týn Church in one direction, over the rooftops of the Square in another and over the Old Town rooftops towards Mala Strana and Prague Castle in another.
Prague Astronomical Clock
You’ll find the Astronomical Clock Prague on the south face of the Old Town Hall Tower. If you somehow mange to miss the two clock faces, the crowd gathering around five minutes to the hour will give you another gentle hint.
The Old Town Square Clock Prague – known as the Orloj – is an amazingly complex piece of medieval machinery. The lower of the two faces is a calendar and displays both the date and month. The higher face is the astronomical dial, and was designed for its location, Prague, and it shows the current position of the Sun and Moon as seen from there. There are dials with Zodiac signs, Roman and Arabic numerals, allowing the Orlj to tell the time in several different ways.
Most what to do in Prague lists include watching the hourly parade of the Twelve Apostles. As the clock strikes the hour – between 9 am and 9 pm – the figures appear and move around the outer surface of the clock before retreating back inside. I’d suggest seeing it at least once, and it’s a great thing to do if you’re in Prague with kids.
St Nicholas Church
The second church in Old Town Square Prague is the Baroque beauty of St Nicholas – not to be confused with the other Baroque St Nicholas Church across the river in Mala Strana. It was built in the 1730s by prolific Bohemian architect Kilian Ignaz Dietzenhofer, who was also responsible for the Church of SS Cyril and Methodius in. Prague New Town and the Kinsky Palace (see below) across the Square.
I’ve only managed to see inside once, at the end of a service. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to be open outside service hours at the time of writing. This is a pity, as if you’re partial to ornate Baroque extravaganzas you’re in for a treat. This is a little ironic as it’s now the main church of the Hussite Church, which started out advocating simple places of worship like the Bethlehem Chapel.
Kinsky Palace Prague
The Kinsky Palace is a splendid building from the brief Rococo (in lay person’s terms, Baroque with bells on) period. It’s believed to have been the work of Bohemian Baroque master Kilian Ignaz Dietzenhofer, and its decorative cream and pink façade is one of the most pleasant sights on the Square.
The Palace is now home to a branch of the National Gallery Prague, and it usually hosts temporary exhibitions. The most recent (as of December 2020) is a series of paintings by Rembrandt. For those following in the footsteps of Franz Kafka, the author attended a secondary school in the Palace, and his father Hermann once had his haberdashery shop on the ground floor.
Stone Bell House
The Stone Bell House, located next door to the Kinsky Palace, is a splendid Gothic palace facing the Square, on the corner of Týnská street. It may date back as far as the 13th century, and it has been postulated that it may have been the home of John of Bohemia and his queen, Elizabeth. The façade was covered over in the Baroque period, and the building’s Gothic origins only came to be fully understood during restoration in the 1970s. It was then restored to its former Gothic glory, and it looks amazingly authentic. Like its neighbour, it’s also part of the National Gallery Prague.
There are amazing house fronts all around this Prague main square, and one of the most striking is also one of the most recent. The Storch House – number 16, named after its publisher owner, looks at first sight as if it is taken from a medieval manuscript. It’s a series of murals by Mikulas Ales from the late 19th century, depicting St Wenceslas (the patron saint of Bohemia) and the Three Magi. These Art Nouveau paintings were destroyed in 1945 and restored three years later.
Also known as At The Stone Virgin Mary, the ground floor is now given over to a gaudily decorated Thai massage parlour.
Dum U Minuty
The ‘House of the Minute’ is a Renaissance era house a few doors along from the Old Town Square. It was originally built in late Gothic style, then substantially altered in the late 16th century, and decorated in the distinctive sgraffito style, with layers of plaster or stucco applied to a wall, with the surface scratched through to reveal a contrasting colour. One of the best places to see examples of this amazing house decoration is the southern Czech town of Slavonice.
The house, also known as At The White Lion, was home to one of the most famous writers from Prague, Franz Kafka, who lived there with his family from 1889 to 1896.
Central Gallery Prague
The Central Gallery in Prague sits in the shadow of the spires of the Týn Church, and is a world away from the medieval marvels outside. It hosts permanent exhibitions by three very different 20th century artists – one of the leading figures of Art Nouveau Prague, Alfons Mucha, the Surrealist (and just plain surreal) Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol of Pop Art and Velvet Underground fame. If you’re unfamiliar with any of them, this is a great introduction.
Jan Hus Statue
Jan Hus was a religious reformer who was opposed to some of the main principles of the Roman Catholic Church. He was active almost a century before Martin Luther, one of the prime movers of the 16th century Reformation, and was excommunicated and eventually executed for his beliefs and voicing them.
Hus remains a powerful figure for Czechs, and his statue – one of the most prominent Prague monuments – is one of the last Art Nouveau works in Prague, created by Ladislav Šaloun and unveiled in 1915. It’s on the left-hand – or north – side of the Square.
Prague Marian Column
The Marian Column is a new Prague landmark, replacing one destroyed over a century earlier. It was originally erected in 1650, a Roman Catholic monument linked, in the eyes of many Czechs, with the Habsburg Imperial rulers. It was torn down just before the end of World War I, and opinion on it has been divided ever since.
It shared the Square for three years with the Jan Hus statue, and the two made rather incongruous bedfellows. A replica of the Marian Column was erected in August 2020, and the new figure carved by Petr Vana. The two statues, representing very different visions and ideologies, now occupy the same Prague square once again – though times have changed with the Czech Republic now one of the least religious countries in the world.
The Astronomical Clock isn’t the only centuries-old means of telling the time in the Old Town Square in Prague. A narrow brass strip is set into the stones of the Square close to the newly-reinstated Marian Column. This strip follows the line of the shadow cast by the Column, and when the shadow passed over the line was the time of high noon . An inscription in Latin and Czech translates as,“The Meridian, by which time in Prague was determined’. Now that the Column and statue have been rebuilt, you can see the Meridian put to use once again.
Prague Christmas Markets
Each year the Old Town Square plays host to the most popular of the Prague Christmas Markets. The setting – surrounded by so much stunning Prague architecture – makes it one of the best Christmas cities in Europe. There are few sights more magical than the main Prague Christmas tree and the Church of Our Lady Before Týn lit up at twilight, while all around the aromas of mulled wine, Prague ham and grilled sausages warm you up against the Prague winter cold.
It’s far and away the most picturesque of the Prague markets, though prices do tend to get inflated somewhat for the tourists, it’s still a Prague must see. There is a less atmospheric Christmas market on modern Wenceslas Square (Vaclavské náměstí), and a smaller affair between St Vitus Cathedral and St George’s Basilica in Prague Castle.
Hotel U Prince
You can’t possibly beat the Hotel U Prince’s location on the south side of the Square. It’s one of the most impressive Old Town Square Prague hotels, a medieval marvel inside. There are two restaurants and a downstairs bar in the Hotel, but we’ve singled it out as somewhere you should visit – especially if you’re devoting much time and energy to photographing Prague.
The place to head for is the Terasa U Prince, the rooftop terrace restaurant and bar that is one of the best viewpoints in Prague. The view – of the Old Town Hall and the Týn Church – is simply breathtaking. As you might expect, you have to pay for the privilege – around 10 euros for a glass of champagne – but compared to some of the rooftop bars in Bangkok, this is exceedingly reasonable!
Old Town Square Prague Restaurants
You can always rely on restaurants close to famous tourist sights – especially on main squares – not being up to much. The same is true of restaurants in Old Town Square Prague – incomparable setting, average food, very overpriced, and beer double what you’d pay in a bar away from Prague city centre.
Sitting outside with a Pilsner Urquell watching the sun turn golden on the façade of the Tyn church is wonderful, but we don’t eat there. Head to Celetna on the corner of the square to the right of the Týn Church, then bear left onto Štupartska, where you’ll find the Pivnice Štupartska, which has been serving glorious Gambrinus and stupendous pork knuckles since 1869. It’s one of the best pubs in Prague Old Town that we’ve come across yet.
Or you could go a couple of blocks further to the Municipal House Restaurant Prague, where you can eat superb Czech and European food in a palatial Art Nouveau dining hall.
Where Is Old Town Square Prague?
The Old Town is on the east side and right bank of the Vltava River in Prague. It’s a 5-7 minute walk from the Old Town end of the Charles Bridge.
Getting To Old Town Square in Prague
Getting to the Old Town Square by Prague public transport is very easy.
It’s within a five-minute walk of two different Prague Metro stations – Staroměstská
on the green line A and Náměstí Republiky on yellow line B. From Staroměstská, walk the short distance down Kaprova, you’ll enter the Square next to St Nicholas Old Town Church. From Náměstí Republiky, walk past Municipal House, turn right at the medieval Powder Tower onto Celetna, along which it’s a few minutes’ stroll.
Several Prague trams also pass close by. Staroměstská is the most convenient stop, and it’s next to the metro station of the same name. Trams 2, 17 and 18 all stop there – from the tram stop, turn the corner onto Kaprova and head down to the Square.
The only public transport that actually stops on Old Town Square is the 194 bus which runs between Mala Straná across the river and Florenc, to the east of the Old Town.