The varied architecture of Prague is one of the most compelling reasons to visit the Czech capital. Prague architecture reflects almost a thousand years of history, from the Romanesque of St Peter’s Basilica to the vivacious Dancing House, built a few years after the Velvet Revolution and the fall of Communism.
The cobbled streets of the Old Town and Mala Strana, home to many of the best churches in Prague, have elaborate Gothic spires, and Baroque cupolas and domes. You’ll also find Renaissance-era houses and countless Art Nouveau mansions and apartment buildings, and some fascinating retro-futuristic architecture dating from the Communist period.
We’ve explored nearly every street and alleyway in Prague, and it’s incredible how much amazing architecture in Prague there is to admire. Living in Prague, I’ve come to think of the city in the same way as Venice – you can savour the beauty of the city walking pretty much anywhere, rather than heading for the famous places to visit in Prague like the Charles Bridge and Old Town Square.
We’ve compiled a chronological run-through of the last millennium of Prague architecture, showing you the best examples of each style, and suggesting more to seek out. As Prague Art Nouveau buildings are particularly prevalent, we’ve also written an accompanying feature on Art Nouveau Prague. We hope that this guide helps inform your Prague sightseeing, and helps you appreciate this beautiful city even more.
- 1 PRAGUE ARCHITECTURE – 10 MUST SEE PRAGUE BUILDINGS
- 2 ROMANESQUE ARCHITECTURE IN PRAGUE
- 3 PRAGUE GOTHIC ARCHITECTURE – CHARLES BRIDGE, ST VITUS CATHEDRAL AND OUR LADY BEFORE TYN CHURCH
- 4 RENAISSANCE – DŮM U MINUTY, OLD TOWN SQUARE
- 5 BAROQUE – ST NICHOLAS, MALA STRANA; STRAHOV LIBRARY
- 6 ROCOCO – KINSKY PALACE, OLD TOWN SQUARE
- 7 NEO-CLASSICAL– ESTATES THEATRE
- 8 NEO-GOTHIC – SS PETER & PAUL BASILICA, VYŠEHRAD
- 9 ART NOUVEAU – OBECNI DUM AND PRAGUE HLAVNI NADRAŽI STATION
- 10 CUBIST ARCHITECTURE – THE BLACK MADONNA HOUSE
- 11 MODERNIST – SACRED HEART CHURCH VINOHRADY
- 12 ART DECO – CAFE SLAVIA
- 13 SOCIALIST REALIST ARCHITECTURE – HOTEL INTERNATIONAL, DEJVICE
- 14 BRUTALIST PRAGUE ARCHITECTURE – KOTVA, NAMESTI REPUBLIKY
- 15 1980s RETRO-FUTURISM – PRAGUE METRO AND THE ZIZKOV TV TOWER
- 16 POST-COMMUNIST PRAGUE – DANCING HOUSE
PRAGUE ARCHITECTURE – 10 MUST SEE PRAGUE BUILDINGS
Our Lady Before Tyn Church, Old Town Square
St Vitus Cathedral, Prague Castle
Old Town Bridge Tower
St Nicholas Church, Mala Strana
Obecni Dum (Municipal House), Namesti Republiky
Lucerna Passage, off Wenceslas Square
ROMANESQUE ARCHITECTURE IN PRAGUE
You have to visit both castles in Prague to see the best Romanesque buildings in Prague. This style, characterised by rounded arches, was prevalent from the 11th to early 13th centuries.
St Peter’s Basilica is one of the better-known Prague sites, as it’s in the heart of Prague Castle, just beyond St Vitus Cathedral. The exterior – especially the west front -had a Baroque makeover, but the two towers reveal its much earlier origins. Step inside – the church is now used as an art gallery – and revel in the simple stone interior and apse with beautiful frescoes.
The Rotunda of St Martin is located in the other castle in. Prague, Vyšehrad Castle, 4 km south of the more popular Prague Castle. Follow the road up through the main gate of the fortress and continue around 300 metres until you see the small round chapel on the left, across the road from the children’s playground. It’s been restored recently, and isn’t always open, but is an essential part of Prague history well worth seeking out in what is also one of the best parks in Prague.
PRAGUE GOTHIC ARCHITECTURE – CHARLES BRIDGE, ST VITUS CATHEDRAL AND OUR LADY BEFORE TYN CHURCH
Prague’s Gothic legacy is a rich one indeed, and includes some of the best things to see in Prague. The famous Charles Bridge is an obvious starting point. It’s the oldest of the extant bridges in Prague, and was built between 1357 and 1402 in Bohemian sandstone and designed by architect Petr Parler, who was also responsible for our next Prague building. The statues on the parapets of the Bridge date from the early 18th century – they are now all replicas, the originals having been taken down for preservation.
St Vitus’ Cathedral is the most prominent of the landmarks of Prague, dominating the Prague castle skyline and most views along the River Vltava. It’s a Gothic masterpiece inside and out, with its three spires and, inside, its soaring pointed arches and stone vaults making it the most impressive of all the churches in the Czech Republic. It’s the Czech equivalent of Westminster Abbey in London, the coronation church and burial site of Bohemian kings and the nation’s patron saint, Wenceslas.
For me, the elaborate Gothic spires of the church of Our Lady before Tyn (Tynsky chram in Czech) are what make Prague Old Town Square magical. We’ll be visiting a few other Old Town Square buildings later in this feature, but this is the standout one for us. The interior of the church had a Baroque part-makeover, but from the outside, it’s an unadulterated Gothic beauty, a wonderful glimpse back to medieval Prague and quite possibly the most beautiful building in Prague. It also makes for a wondrous backdrop to the best of the Prague Christmas Markets, which takes place in the Square.
RENAISSANCE – DŮM U MINUTY, OLD TOWN SQUARE
The Renaissance also made a big mark on Prague, especially after the fire of 1541 destroyed many buildings in then city. Parts of Prague Castle were rebuilt in the Renaissance style, as well as other buildings in the Hradčany (Castle District). One of the best of these is the Schwarzenberg Palace in Hradčanske Namesti, which has a fantastic trompe l’oeil façade. The diamond-shaped bricks across the front are not what they appear – they are actually intricate sgraffito patterns on a flat wall.
Another Prague building adorned with sgraffito is Dům U Minuty, the House of the Minutes, a minute’s walk from the Prague Astronomical Clock on Old Town Square. The present building was completed in 1564, and the stunning sgraffito friezes, depicting scenes from the Bible and Greek mythology, were added after 1600. Incredibly the sgraffito was whitewashed over for centuries, but mercifully it was rediscovered early in the 20th century, and has now been restored to its former splendour.
BAROQUE – ST NICHOLAS, MALA STRANA; STRAHOV LIBRARY
Prague is one of the best places in Europe to see Baroque style architecture, as many Prague monuments and buildings date from this period (the 17th and 18th centuries). It became fully ensconced in the Bohemia region during the Thirty Years War (1618-48) in which the Catholics emerged victorious.
The list of Prague Baroque buildings is extremely long so we’ll stick to a few of the best and most prominent examples for now. St Nicholas Church in Mala Strana (Lesser Town) is a stunning Baroque church, elegant without and exuberant within, full of rich decoration and elaborate statuary. The adjacent Town Belfry is one of the best towers in Prague, and it’s also worth climbing for the views over Mala Strana and Petřin Hill – definitely one of the best viewpoints in Prague.
You can see several other fine Baroque buildings from the tower, including the Strahov Monastery. It’s worth the walk to the top of Hradčany to see this alone. There are actually two Library Halls to see. The first you encounter, the Philosophical Hall, is the larger and higher of the two, and contains a hugely impressive ceiling fresco, The Intellectual Progress of Mankind, by Anton Malbertsch. At the other end of the corridor, don’t miss the smaller, but equally beautiful, Theological Hall.
You’ll pass many other Baroque churches when you visit Prague, including St Francis of Assisi, that with the green dome just to the left of Charles Bridge, and (confusingly) the other Prague church dedicated to St Nicholas, on the corner of Old Town Square.
ROCOCO – KINSKY PALACE, OLD TOWN SQUARE
Rococo architecture is the last flowering of Baroque architecture, tending towards the flamboyant and florid, as opposed to the strait-laced straighter lines of some contemporary Baroque buildings.
The Kinsky Palace on Old Town Square is one of the best-known Rococo buildings in the world, along with the likes of the Catherine Palace is St Petersburg, Russia and the Ca’ Rezzonico palace on the Grand Canal in Venice. Its stucco façade is painted pink and white, and it was designed by prominent Baroque-era architect Kilian Ignaz Dietzenhofer.
The Palace is now a branch of the Czech National Gallery (Narodni Galerie). Author Franz Kafka’s father once had a shop there, and Kafka also attended secondary level school there. The good news is that you don’t have to go out of your way to see it – it’s slap-bang in the middle of one of the two most popular Prague places to visit, the Old Town Square, next door to the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn.
NEO-CLASSICAL– ESTATES THEATRE
Some Baroque buildings bore Classical elements a century before Classicism succeeded Baroque as the architectural style du jour, in the late 18th century. The main facade of the building, facing Rytirska, is a superb example of Neoclassical architecture, with a frontage in the style of an ancient Greek or Roman temple.
The interior is very different, and the main auditorium is extraordinary. Try to fit in a performance there (usually ballet or opera) – it’s one of the best things to do in Prague.
NEO-GOTHIC – SS PETER & PAUL BASILICA, VYŠEHRAD
The twin spires of the Basilica in Vyšehrad are a popular Prague landmark, high above the river at the southern edge of the centre of Prague city. The church was built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the fourth building on the site.
It’s a fine Gothic Revival church, the best of several (If you’re passing through Holešovice on the tram, look out for the Church of St Anthony of Padua just after the Strossmayerovo Namesti stop) around Prague. We had to wait a while to get to see inside, but it was worth persevering – it’s beautifully decorated with mainly Art Nouveau frescoes. It’s less than five minutes from the aforementioned Rotunda of St Martin – Vyšehrad as a whole is one of the loveliest Prague places to visit.
ART NOUVEAU – OBECNI DUM AND PRAGUE HLAVNI NADRAŽI STATION
Prague is one of the best cities in Europe to see Art Nouveau architecture in Europe – and indeed the world. The relative lack of physical damage during World War II around Prague city centre meant that much of this rich Czech Art Nouveau heritage has survived. It’s always worth looking upwards in Prague, as there are so many amazing architectural details to see, especially Art Nouveau murals and motifs near the top of building facades.
Our Art Nouveau Prague feature gives many more examples than we can here, but there are two examples you absolutely should seek out. Obecni Dum, or Municipal House, is a stunning concert venue on the edge of Old Town Prague, close to Namesti Republiky. We rate it one of the best places to visit in Prague, whether it’s for a concert in the sumptuous Smetana Hall or breakfast in the Café downstairs, you’ll have plenty of time to marvel at the interior details. Outside, look for the mural below the dome and the stained glass in the marquee above the entrance.
Praha Hlavni Nadraži – better known to most travellers as Prague main railway station – won’t strike many visitors as one of the best places to see in Prague for architecture lovers. Whether you arrive at or depart from the modern station, it’s very easy to miss some of the most beautiful architecture Prague has. An escalator to the right of the main concourse leads to the historic old station vestibule, a gorgeous semicircular half-domed hallway decorated with medieval coats of arms and flags. If you’re passing through on a day trip out of the city, this is an absolute Prague must see.
Masarykovo Nabřezi, one of the most beautiful Prague streets, also has a row of superb Art Nouveau mansions. This is on the right (east) bank of the Vltava River, between the Dancing House and Narodni Divádlo (the National Theatre).
CUBIST ARCHITECTURE – THE BLACK MADONNA HOUSE
Whereas its predecessor Art Nouveau was popular right across Europe, Cubist architecture is almost solely a Czech phenomenon. It’s an almost unique Prague architectural style, and one of the most short-lived of all. This Bohemian architecture style was the forerunner of the much more popular Art Deco style, and only developed between 1911 and 1914, when World War I broke out.
The main feature of Cubist architecture is the use of three-dimensional shapes – especially diamonds, hexagons, isosceles triangles and crystals – in decoration. The most famous Cubist building in Prague – and probably the world – is the House of the Black Madonna in Ovocny trh in Prague Old Town. It was built by Josef Gočar, and now houses the Czech Museum of Cubism and the world’s only Cubist café, the Grand Café Orient. Try to stop by inside to see the Cubist furniture and lighting, and the magnificent staircase.
MODERNIST – SACRED HEART CHURCH VINOHRADY
The Church of the Most Sacred Heart of Our Lord was built between 1929 and 1932 to commemorate the 1000th anniversary of the patron saint of Bohemia, St Wenceslas. It’s an unusual, striking building by Slovene architect Jože Plečnik, whose work can also be found in Ljubljana.
The church dominated Jiriho z Podebrad Square in Vinohrady, a short walk from the Žižkov Tower. The clock tower is especially unusual – it’s very broad yet slim, and is also at the east end of the church. The clock face is said to be the largest in the Czech Republic. It’s worth turning up for a service to see the interior, with brick walls and a wooden coffered ceiling.
ART DECO – CAFE SLAVIA
Art Deco follows on from Cubist architecture in its use of shapes, especially triangles. There’s much more of an emphasis on straight lines and angles than the free-flowing curves and flourishes of Art Nouveau.
The Slavia Café is one of the great traditional Prague cafes, one we’ve visited several times over the years. We love the Art Deco interior of this café, with its rows of lamps and lights. It’s like being in the 1930s, and the food – especially the Czech dishes – is excellent too.
SOCIALIST REALIST ARCHITECTURE – HOTEL INTERNATIONAL, DEJVICE
On the whole, the Czechs really did not take to Communism, especially the first version foisted on them, that of Josef Stalin. Unsurprisingly, relatively little remains in Prague from this era, with the exception of this one building in Dejvice, in the north-western suburbs of the city.
It’s a mini-version of the likes of the Moscow University building or the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw – a drab brown exterior, with a tall central tower possibly inspired by the Giralda, the Cathedral bell tower in Seville, with a spire tapering still higher from it. The original Socialist Realist murals, depicting the proletariat doing the hard yakka, can also be seen. It’s well off the beaten track path Prague, and one of the less obvious places to stay in Prague, right next to a tram stop minutes from Dejvicka metro stop. You also get a good view of it from Prague Zoo.
BRUTALIST PRAGUE ARCHITECTURE – KOTVA, NAMESTI REPUBLIKY
The best example of Brutalist Czech architecture in Prague isn’t terribly brutal, if I’m honest. Kotva department store is a fascinating building, nonetheless, a series of interlocking hexagons with a glass frontage. It’s the work of Vera Machoninová, a renowned architect who worked on this project with her husband, Vladimir.
It was intended as a showcase for prosperity under socialism, but in its 14 years prior to the Velvet Revolution was beset by shortages of many consumer goods. Funnily enough, we visited to take our son to some children’s play areas there – yet both were closed on a Saturday. My son wasn’t best pleased, but there’s no better way to understand history than to live it! It’s only 150 metres from the exuberant wonder of Municipal House – the vast range of Prague architectural styles is why I love the city.
1980s RETRO-FUTURISM – PRAGUE METRO AND THE ZIZKOV TV TOWER
When I visited Prague for the first time in 1991, I was struck by some of the most recent Prague architecture, which seemed to have been inspired by low-budget BBC science fiction series from the 1960s to the 1980s.
I left Prague back then with some of the Prague Metro stations as prominent in my mind as the Charles Bridge. They’re not the most obvious Prague things to see, but it’s worth taking a ride on Line A (the green line) between Malostranská and Namesti Miru, getting out at a few of the stations to admire the décor. The walls look like the lower half of a Dalek, the screeching machine-monsters from the BBC Doctor Who series.
Nobody knew it at the time, but the Žižkov TV Tower, now one of the most famous buildings in Prague, was Communism’s last architectural hurrah. They steamrollered part of Prague’s Old Jewish Cemetery to make way for this giant silver syringe that is so incongruous sticking up on the hillside behind the ‘City of a Hundred Spires’. This was undoubtedly deliberate.
Many locals have told me it has become much more accepted now, and I confess to softening towards it myself, especially with David Černy’s baby sculptures crawling all over it.
POST-COMMUNIST PRAGUE – DANCING HOUSE
Tancici Dum – the famous ‘Dancing Building’ – has become one of the most recognisable Prague tourist attractions. It was co-designed by Frank Gehry, who went on to design the stunning Guggenheim Museum Bilbao a few years later. It was originally built for a Dutch bank, and now houses a hotel, bar and restaurant.
The Dancing House is a very prominent riverside landmark, on the corner of Jiraskovo Namesti. Since its completion in 1993, it has become one of the most popular things to visit in Prague, and unmissable if you’re intent on photographing Prague. Gehry nicknamed it ‘Fred and Ginger’, after Astaire and Rogers, and it does indeed resemble a couple dancing. The concrete tower is the male partner, holding the female glass tower by the narrow waist. It’s also my five-year-old son’s favourite building in Prague.