Prague Architecture

by May 19, 2020

Prague Architecture

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.  

Image of townhouses on Mostecka Street Mala Strana Prague
Townhouses on Mostecka, in Mala Strana
Image of Mostecka street in Mala Strana or Lesser Town Prague Czech Republic
The beautiful painted houses of Mostecka

Image of tram on Letenska Street Lesser Town Prague
One road, three tunnels – Letenska, In Mala Strana

Image of St Nicholas Church Mala Strana Prague at night
St Nicholas Church in Mala Strana from Petrin Hill

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.

Prague Architecture – Top 10 Must See Prague Buildings

Image of St Nicholas Church Mala Strana and the Lesser Town Bridge Tower from the Charles Bridge Prague
The Baroque beauty of St Nicholas Church and Gothic grandeur of the Lesser Town Bridge Tower

Our Lady Before Tyn Church, Old Town Square

The Baroque beauty of St Nicholas Church and Gothic grandeur of the Lesser Town Bridge Tower

Image of St Nicholas Church in Mala Strana or Lesser Town Prague
One of the finest churches in Prague, the Baroque St Nicholas Church in Mala Strana

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

St Vitus Cathedral, Prague Castle

Charles Bridge

Old Town Bridge Tower

Image of the Art Nouveau front of Municipal House, or Obecni Dum, in Prague
Municipal House, Prague – an Art Nouveau masterpiece

St Nicholas Church, Mala Strana

Obecni Dum (Municipal House), Namesti Republiky

Estates Theatre

Lucerna Passage, off Wenceslas Square

Romanesque Architecture In Prague

What to visit in Prague image of the Rotunda of St Martin a small Romanesque church in Vysehrad fortress, Prague
The oldest church in Prague still standing, the Rotunda of St Martin

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

Image of Charles Bridge Prague looking towards the Old Town
Charles Bridge and the Old Town from Kampa Island

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.

Image of St Vitus Cathedral from Charles Bridge Prague
St Vitus Cathedral

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.

Image of the Church of Our lady Before Tyn in Old Town Prague
The finest Gothic architecture in. Prague – Our lady Before Tyn Church and St Vitus Cathedral

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

Image of Renaissance period stonework on the Schwarzenberg Palace in Prague
Remarkable Renaissance stonework on the Schwarzenberg Palace

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.

Image of Dum U Minuty - House of the Minutes - on Old Town Square, Prague
Dum U Minuty – House of the Minutes – on Old Town Square

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

Image of St Nicholas Church Mala Strana Prague at dusk
The finest Baroque architecture in Prague – St Nicholas, Mala Strana

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.

Image of the view from St Nicholas Lesser Town Belfry in Prague
The view over Mala Strana from the Town Belfry adjacent to St Nicholas Church

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.

Image of the interior of the Strahov Library in Prague
The Philosophical Hall in the stunning Strahov Library

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

Image of the Rococo Kinsky Palace on Old Town Square Prague
The Rococo Kinsky Palace, now part of the Czech National Gallery

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

Image of the Estates Theatre in Prague
The Estates Theatre, one of the great Prague concert venues

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

Image of the Basilica of SS Peter and Paul in Vsehrad fortress Prague
The fine Gothic Revival SS Peter and Paul towers above Vysehrad Castle

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.

Image of Art Nouveau paintings on a Neo-Gothic vault in the Vysehrad Basilica in Prague

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

Image of Municipal House Prague at dusk
Municipal House – Obecni Dum – at twilight

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.

Image of the stained glass marquee at the the entrance to Municipal House Prague
The marquee at the front of Obecni Dum

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.

Image of the historic Hlavni Nadrazi Railway Station entrance hall in Prague
The Art Nouveau vestibule of Prague’s main Hlavni Nadrazi station

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

Image of the Cubist Hlouse of the Black Madonna in Prague Old Town
The House of the Black Madonna, one of a few original Cubist buildings in Prague

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.

Image of a Cubist lamp post in Prague New Town
Cubism lovers gather round – a rare relic from the all-too-brief Cubist period

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

Image of the Sacred Heart Church Vinohrady Prague
The Church of the Most Sacred Heart of Our Lord in 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

Image of the Socialist Realist Hotel International in Prague
Warsaw had it worse – the Hotel International is the one remnant of the Stalin years in Prague

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 ARCHITECTUREKOTVA, NAMESTI REPUBLIKY

Image of the Czech Brutalist Kotva department store in Prague
The Kotva department store on Namesti Republiky – Velvet Brutalism, anyone?

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

Image of the Malostranska Metro station in Prague
The Malostranska Metro station – integrated urban transport for Daleks perhaps

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.

Image of the retro-futurist decor of Namesti Miru metro station in Prague
Namesti Miru station and its colourful Dalek bumps

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.

Image of the Zizkov TV Tower in Prague
The Zizkov TV Tower, one of the last architectural contributions of the Communists

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.

Image of the crawling baby sculptures on the Zizkov TV Tower in Prague
David Cerny’s crawling babies on the Zizkov TV Tower

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

Image of the Dancing House in Prague
Frank Gehry’s Dancing House on the Prague riverfront

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.

Image of the Dancing House Prague
A closer view of the Dancing House

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.

image of David Angel, the photographer/writer/creator of the Europe travel blog Delve into Europe

Let Me Help You Discover The Best Of Europe

Hi, I’m David Angel and I love Europe.   I’ve been fortunate to have spent every spare moment of the past 25 years travelling and photographing this extraordinary continent.  This site shares my best advice, tips and travel secrets for Europe.   And I hope my photos will encourage you to delve deeper and discover some less visited gems of Europe.  You can find out more about me here.

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