Exploring the Vltava River in Prague is one of the best ways to get to know the city. The stunning Charles Bridge crosses it and mighty Prague Castle overlooks it, but there’s so much more to see besides. For a start, there are four castles in Prague, all within sight of the lovely river Vltava.
The beautiful Prague river is also the national Czech river, rising near Cesky Krumlov and passing through much of Bohemia before flowing into the Elbe north of Prague at Melnik. We travel along it several times a week, seeing familiar and unknown Prague sights along the way.
And we thought it was high time we put together a guide to things to see and do along the river in Prague.
We’ll show you all the Prague attractions along the way, and point out unique Prague architecture along the way. As well as seeing some of the great landmarks of Prague we’ll introduce you to some of the city’s amazing hidden treasures. We’ll also suggest different ways to enjoy your Prague river tour
Our journey down the Vltava River Prague takes us from the southern boundary of the city at the pretty town of Zbraslav, continuing through Prague city centre and beyond to Troja Castle and Prague Zoo. We’ll also suggest ways to explore the river, places to eat and some of the best viewpoints in Prague from which you can appreciate the beauty of the river.
- 1 The River In Prague – An Introduction
- 2 Zbraslav
- 3 St John Nepomuk Church, Chuchelsky haj
- 4 Barrandov Bridge
- 5 Žlute Lázně
- 6 Vysehrad Castle
- 7 Prague Cubist Architecture
- 8 Smichov
- 9 Naplavka
- 10 Palackého náměstí and Palacky Bridge
- 11 Dancing House
- 12 Jirasek Bridge
- 13 Šitka Water Tower and Manes Gallery
- 14 Slavonic Island
- 15 Children’s Island – Detsky Ostrov
- 16 Masarykovo nabřeži
- 17 National Theatre
- 18 Legion Bridge
- 19 Café Slavia
- 20 Petřin Hill and Tower
- 21 Kampa Island
- 22 Smetana Museum
- 23 Charles Bridge
- 24 Old Town Bridge Tower
- 25 Mala Strana
- 26 St Francis of Assisi Church
- 27 Klementinum
- 28 Prague Castle
- 29 Rudolfinum
- 30 Manes Bridge
- 31 Straka Academy
- 32 Cechuv Most
- 33 Letna Park and Metronome
- 34 St Agnes Convent
- 35 Holešovice
- 36 Stromovka Park
- 37 Troja Castle
- 38 Prague Zoo
- 39 Exploring the Vltava River By Prague Trams
The River In Prague – An Introduction
The Vltava River – pronounced VUL-ta-va, with the stress on the first syllable – is 435 km (270 miles) long
It also runs through the cities of Cesky Krumlov and Ceské Budejovice before reaching Prague
It’s one of the most beautiful rivers in Europe, and one of its most scenic stretches is around 20 km south of Prague
It’s known as the Moldau river in German
There are 18 bridges in Prague crossing the Vltava River through Prague, from the iconic stone Charles Bridge to the massive concrete Barrandov crossing
There are three ways to explore the Vltava – on foot, on some of the Prague trams and on a Prague river cruise
We begin in the small, pretty Bohemian town of Zbraslav, which was once occupied by the Celts, who had a large fortress there. The town has some beautiful architecture, most notably Zbraslav Chateau (Zamek Zbraslav), a Baroque edifice built on the site of a Cistercian monastery meant to be the burial place of the early medieval Přemyslid monarchs. There are also several fine villas in the town.
St John Nepomuk Church, Chuchelsky haj
North of Zbraslav, the Vltava passes some of the southern suburbs of Prague, while the left bank is mostly forested. The tiny Baroque church of St John Nepomuk is the only visible landmark in the area, usually only accessible only on foot. It’s such a charming little church,and one of the most intriguing churches in Prague, offering a wonderful journey back in time – there’s no electricity, so some services are conducted in candlelight. The Mala Chuchle Zoo is a short walk away, and has a small collection of forest animals, a great place to take the kids for an hour or two.
Even a city as beautiful as Prague has its corners of concrete brutalism. We’ve included the Barrandov bridge in our Vltava river guide for functionalist rather than aesthetic purposes – it is the busiest road junction in the Czech Republic, and if you’re planning any day trips from Prague by car, there’s a fair chance you’ll be passing over it.
Žlute Lázně is the nearest thing there is to a Prague beach. Therre is a sandy area, part of which is used for beach volleyball, and a grass beach on the Vltava. There are also restaurants and swimming pools ideal for kids. It’s always busy in summer, especially popular with locals. Outside the complex (entry 50 Kc per person over 1 metre tall – children’s area an additional 30 Kc per person the same height) a ferris wheel and dodgems are set up close by.
Getting there – Dvorce tram stop (route 2, 3, 17)
Vysehrad Prague doesn’t get anything like the number of visitors that Prague Castle does, largely because 2 or 3 days in Prague doesn’t give you the time to venture this far from the centre. Yet Vysehrad is one of the best places to visit in Prague. It’s the traditional home of the Přemyslid dynasty, many a Czech legend and a great part of the Czech nation’s soul and psyche.
The ramparts have some of the best views in Prague, the Basilica is a Gothic Revival and Art Nouveau treasure and the Vysehrad Cemetery and Slavin tomb are the last resting places of some of the foremost Czechs in history, including composers Dvořak and Smetana and artist Alfons Mucha.
How to get there – Vyšehrad Metro (red line C) or trams 7 or 17 to Vyton.
Prague Cubist Architecture
The streets below Vysehrad fortress are unique architecturally, as they are one of the only places in the world to see Cubist architecture. The Cubist art movement – including the likes of Picasso and Braque – had a huge impact, but Cubist architecture never really spread beyond Bohemian borders. The Kovaricova Villa on Libušina and the Trojdum (Triple House) around the corner on Rašinovo nabřeži are the best examples – look for features like the diamond shapes and decorations. There are other examples further down the river, past Vyton tram stop. In the Old Town, the Prague Cubist Museum reveals all.
Smichov Prague is a busy suburb on the left bank of the river, a busy transport hub with Prague’s second largest railway station, Smichovské nádraži, and one of its largest bus stations the gateway to much of the rest of the Czech Republic. It’s not really one of the Prague tourist places, but it’s one of the most convenient areas of Prague to stay in because of its transport links. The Staropramen brewery is home to one of the most popular Czech beers, and its tall, tapering chimney is the most visible landmark of the area. Also look out for Portheimka, a small art gallery with a superb collection of glassware, and the Kinsky Gardens, on the southern end of Petřin Hill.
Naplavka is the section of riverbank between the Smichov railway bridge and Palacky bridge a few hundred metres downstream. It’s the epicentre of Prague nightlife in summer, the river bank lined with boat bars, restaurants and even a floating beach volleyball court. If you’re in Prague in springtime or summer, it’s one of the best places in Prague to hang out for an evening, enjoying outstanding Czech beer and watching the sights in Prague light up for the night. Naplavka is also the venue for the Saturday Farmers Market.
Palackého náměstí and Palacky Bridge
Palackého náměstí is the busiest junction on the right bank of the river, often crammed with trams running along the river and crossing it between Smíchov and Prague New Town. The square and bridge are named after Czech historian Frantisek Palacky, whose impressive Art Nouveau statue dominates the square. Walk down the hill to the flower garden from which you’ll see the eye-catching twin-spired Emmaus Monastery. These spires replaced the towers destroyed in 1945. The monastery, dating back to the 14th century, was the only Benedictine foundation in Slavic Europe, and some amazing wall paintings remain in the cloisters.
The Dancing House, partly the work of Frank Gehry (of Guggenheim Bilbao fame), is one of the most famous buildings in Prague, and is very much a fixture on the Prague sightseeing circuit. It resembles a man and woman dancing, especially from the Jiraskovo namesti side. You can drop inside for a coffee or upstairs to the roof terrace for something a little stronger, or stay there for the night.
It’s on the corner of Resslova, on which you’ll find the Orthodox Cathedral of SS Cyril and Methodius. The assassins of Nazi governor Reinhard Heydrich made their heroic last stand in the cathedral crypt, which is now a national monument.
Getting there – Jiraskove namesti tram stop (tram 17) or Karlovo namesti Metro (yellow line B)
The Jirasek Bridge (Jiraskuv most) is named after Czech writer Alois Jirasek, whose statue sits surveying the square, Jiraskovo namesti, which is also named after him. This wide bridge was added between 1929 and 1931, ostensibly to carry trams, which it never did. It’s a useful crossing to Smichov, and one of the most popular islands in Prague.
Getting there – tram to Jiraskovo namesti
Šitka Water Tower and Manes Gallery
The functionalist Manes Gallery was built on the site of the Šitka Water Mills which were demolished in the early 20th century. The adjacent 16th century water tower was destabilised and started to tilt, but its decline was arrested. The new Manes building is one of the most important art galleries in Prague, an excellent exhibition space that is hosting a Banksy retrospective at the time of writing. The building is also home to the Manes Art Restaurant, one of the finest in Prague.
Getting there – tram to Jiraskovo namesti
Slavonic Island – Slovansky ostrov in Czech – is one of the best places in Prague to sit back and chill for a while. The island got its name after hosting many pan-Slavic cultural events. There are two small parks, one either side of the pretty yellow Zofin Palace, a concert venue where the likes of Berlioz and Wagner have performed. The park near the northern tip of the island is shady, whereas the more exposed one to the south has a brilliant children’s playground. It’s connected to Masarykovo nabřeži by two bridges. It’s also one of the best place to hire pedal boats in Prague for a foray on the Vltava.
Children’s Island – Detsky Ostrov
If you’re wondering where to go in Prague to let your kids burn off some energy, welcome to one of our favourite hangouts. Children’s Island is on the left bank (Smíchov) side, between Jirasek Bridge and Legion Bridge. The medieval white Malostranska Water Tower was for centuries the source of water for the left bank area. After crossing the steep footbridge, turn left down the hill for one of the biggest Prague playgrounds, with something for kids of all ages. There’s also an all-weather hockey pitch which is mainly used by local kids as a football pitch. The island also has great river views, and several Prague boat tours pass this way.
Getting there – Arbesovo náměstí – in the northern part of Smichov – is the closest tram stop, and Anděl is the nearest Metro stop (yellow line B)
This elegant stretch of right bank embankment is one of the most beautiful of all Prague streets. It’s lined with a series of handsome Art Nouveau Prague mansions, best seen and appreciated from across the water on Slovansky Island. Look out for the Hlahol building, home to one of the oldest choirs in Prague, with its lavish Art Nouveau mosaic façade.
Getting there – Narodni divadlo tram stop (tram 9, 17, 22)
Suddenly the top things to see in Prague come thick and fast. The National Theatre – Narodni divadlo – is one of the best performance venues in the country, and the home of Czech opera. The opulent original building, which looks out over the river, was completed in 1881, and the second stage building behind it was completed in the early 1980s.
Getting there – Narodni divadlo tram stop (tram 9, 17, 22)
In any other city, the Legion Bridge (Legii Most) would be the most beautiful in the city. It’s a particularly beautiful bridge, with a pair of graceful domed towers at each end and Art Nouveau trimmings aplenty. It was built to honour the Czechoslovak Legion who fought for independence from the Habsburg Empire in its dying days. The views of Prague Castle are fantastic, and an elevator and staircase lead down to Shooters’ Island (Strelecky Ostrov), another lovely Prague summer hangout.
Kavarna Slavia is across the street from the National Theatre, and was long frequented by performers from the latter. One of the best cafes in Prague, it was opened in 1884, and originally decorated in Art Nouveau style, later undergoing a refurbishment, making it one of the finest Art Deco Prague interiors. Its mirror walls and Art Deco chandeliers are its signature. It was for many years a haunt of Prague intellectuals, including former President Vaclav Havel, who campaigned for its reopening after the Velvet Revolution. They also do a fine roast duck.
Getting there – Narodni divadlo tram stop (tram 9, 17, 22)
Petřin Hill and Tower
Petřin Hill dominates the landscape of the left bank of the Vltava, stretching all the way from Smíchov to Malá Strana, the district below Prague Castle. The Petřin lookout tower is located near the highest point, and commands extraordinary views of Prague and the Vltava river. It was inspired by the Eiffel Tower, which was built two years before it. The summit area – which can be reached by funicular from Újezd, also has a lovely Old Catholic cathedral and a Mirror Maze. The Gardens lower down the hill are an incredible sight in spring, with hundreds of trees covered in white blossom.
Still on the left bank, tiny Kampa Island is one of the best places to visit in Prague, especially if you like things a little quieter. It’s an artificial island created to provide water for several mills along what is now the Čertovka Canal, or Devil’s Stream. There are several charming Baroque back streets to explore, and Kampa Park and adjoining Museum Kampa, with its popular David Černy Babies sculptures. It’s also one of the best places to stay in Prague, a quiet area despite its immediate proximity to Charles Bridge Prague.
Bedřich Smetana (1824-1884) is one of the great Czech composers, honoured with a concert hall named after him, a tomb in the prestigious cemetery in Vysehrad in Prague and this Museum, in a neo-Renaissance building on the right bank next to the Charles Bridge. It’s a branch of the Czech National Museum, housed in a rather marvellous 19th century waterworks, complete with sgraffito that wouldn’t look out of place up the hill in Prague Castle. There is a permanent exhibition on the composer’s life and works, and space for additional temporary exhibits.
One of the most popular things to do in Prague is, of course, to take a walk on the Charles Bridge. It’s one of the most beautiful bridges in Europe, its parapets lined with Baroque-era statues of saints and mostly religious figures. The views in either direction are jaw-dropping, to Prague Old Town and Mala Strana (see below), each with its cluster of spires, domes and towers making one of the most beautiful city skylines in the world.
Old Town Bridge Tower
If you’re only going to climb one of the many towers in Prague, make it this one. It’s a fortified 15th century tower, its intricate sculpture full of fascinating symbolism. I first climbed the tower just before dusk on a cold, clear Prague winter evening, and the 360° views from the (crowded) gallery at the top blew my mind. The views over the Old Town and across the Charles Bridge to Mala Strana and Prague Castle are astonishing.
Getting there – Metro to Staroměstská, or tram to Staroměstská or Karlovy Lazne
Located on the left bank, Mala Strana is the Czech name for Lesser Town Prague. It was the third ‘town’ of what was to become the city of Prague, and developed from the 15th century onwards. The skyline is dominated by the graceful dome and tower of St Nicholas Church, and it’s packed with Prague tourist attractions, from the Baroque Vrtba Garden and Wallenstein Garden to the Franz Kafka Museum, a few steps from the river near the Manes Bridge. It also includes Kampa Island.
St Francis of Assisi Church
St Francis of Assisi Church is one of the most prominent Prague landmarks, its green dome such a familiar sight to anyone who has walked on the Charles Bridge. It should be one of the must visit places in Prague, but is unfortunately seldom open. The Church is owned by the Knights of the Cross with the Red Star, and occasionally hosts classical music concerts. The door is usually locked but you can see inside, the fresco of the Last Judgment by Wenzel Lorenz Reiner in the dome a tantalising glimpse of the outstanding art inside. The impressive statue of King Charles IV, who commissioned the Charles Bridge, stands outside in the small square.
Prague is known as the City of 100 Spires, and a good number of them adorn the church of St Salvator, across Křižovnická náměstí from the Charles Bridge and Old Town Bridge Tower. The Klementinum is a complex of buildings which includes the splendid Baroque library, which was opened in 1722. The guided tour is a little disappointing, as you only get to stand in the corner of it for a couple of minutes, but it’s a memorable sight nonetheless. The Astronomical Clock Tower is one of the best towers in Prague, commanding awesome views over the Old Town and across the river to Prague Castle and Petřin Hill.
It’s a bit further from the river than the other Prague attractions featured in this article, but omitting Prague Castle is like writing about Venice without San Marco. It’s one of the most beautiful castles in Europe, and the largest in the world by area. It contains St Vitus Cathedral, the national church of the Czech Republic, sumptuous palaces, gardens and much more. Hradčany, the surrounding Castle district, is also one of the most beautiful areas in Prague – there’s enough up there to drag you away from the Vltava for at least a day.
The riverside Rudolfinum Concert Hall is one of the main things to visit in Prague for music lovers. The venue is home to the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, and the neo-Renaissance concert hall is one of the best classical music venues in Prague, along with the National Theatre, Smetana Hall in the Municipal House and the Estates Theatre. If you wish to sample the traditional Prague café experience, head for the Cafe Rudolfinum, located in the elegant Column Hall.
The Manes Bridge – Manesuv most – is named after 19th century Czech painter Josef Manes. It enjoys an especially scenic setting, linking the Old Town and Mala Strana, with awesome views up the hill to Prague Castle. Try taking a trip across it on the tram – the charming old single carriage number 2 crosses it, as does the sleek modern 18 – to appreciate the view upstream to the Charles Bridge.
The handsome building on the left bank with the prominent dome is the Straka Academy (Starkova Akademie). It’s one of the most beautiful buildings in Prague that you can’t visit, unfortunately – it’s the seat of the Czech Government. It’s a fine neo-Baroque building with a hint of Art Nouveau in its dome, and it’s best seen from across the river or from the viewpoint above in Letna Park.
Cechuv Most – the Svatopluk Cech Bridge – is a gorgeous Art Nouveau bridge at the northern end of the Old Town. Many Prague boat trips depart from the embankment either side, and the bridge offers a great view of Prague Castle.
Getting there – Staromestska Metro or Pravnička fakulta tram stop
Letna Park and Metronome
Letna Park is one of the best Prague parks, and it’s also home to one of the best beer gardens in Prague, offering wonderful panoramic views. The Hanavsky Pavilion, at the other end of the Park, is somewhere you’ll wish to seek out if you’re keen on photographing Prague, as this is where you get the amazing view of several Prague bridges, including the Charles Bridge.
The other Letna Park landmark is the Prague Metronome, which is on the site of a gargantuan statue of Josef Stalin that was demolished in 1962.
Getting there – Čechuv most tram stop then a brief, steep uphill walk
St Agnes Convent
The Convent of St Agnes of Bohemia really should be considered one of the Prague top attractions. The medieval convent has been beautifully repurposed as a branch of the National Gallery Prague, showcasing some of the country’s amazing medieval art. Its gardens and the surrounding streets are also a blissfully peaceful haven from the hubbub of Prague in full tourist mode, the cobbled streets around there and the church of St Catullus a joyful step back a few centuries or so.
Holešovice is the next area on the left bank of the Vltava. It’s one of the most intriguing areas of Prague, with new art galleries and restaurants springing up in old industrial and port buildings. Thrre are some great bars like the Cross Club and Hole Point, both very close to Holešovice station. Holešovice is also home to Veletržni palac, a vast early functionalist building that’s home to a branch of the Czech National Gallery. The Art Nouveau Industrial Palace is 300 metres away, the centrepiece of the exhibition grounds built for the 1891 Jubilee Exhibition.
Holešovice is also home to Stromovka Park, a stone’s throw away from Veletržni palac. It’s one of the best parks in Prague, a huge green area with forest, lakes, playgrounds, restaurants, bars, a Palace and more. This was once a royal Obora, or hunting ground (like nearby Hvezda Park Prague), and the Letohrádek (Governor’s Summer Palace) on the hill above offers another great panorama of Prague, looking across to our final two locations. Stromovka is enormous, with attractions including a small historic tramway and the Prague Planetarium. If you’re looking for places to go in Prague with kids, look no further.
Troja Castle Prague is an exquisite Baroque chateau across the Vltava from Stromovka, on the right bank. This handsome Palace is so overlooked, even though it’s right across the street from one of the main Prague tourist spots, the Zoo. It’s surrounded by one of the most beautiful Prague gardens, decorated with Baroque statues and ornamental vases. If you visit Prague in springtime, be sure to make a beeline for Troja Castle as it has one of the best displays of cherry blossom you’ll see anywhere.
Getting there – bus 112 from Holešovice
Zoo Praha is one of the top attractions of Prague, and is considered one of the best zoos in the world. Until becoming a Dad I wasn’t a zoo person, but after many visits with my son, I’ve come to really appreciate Prague Zoo. You could spend a whole day there (I know – with over 20 visits under our belts!) – a full circuit of the Zoo will take several hours, with some moderate climbs and descents. There are so many highlights – we always drop in on the wonderful orangutans, and also the elephants and giraffes. Some Tasmanian devils recently moved in – try to catch them around feeding time, as they’re nocturnal.
Getting there – bus 112 from Holešovice
Exploring the Vltava River By Prague Trams
There’s no contest – the best tram route to explore the river is the number 17. It runs north from the Modřany district of south Prague, passing all of the sights along the way to Holešovice except for the town of Zbraslav. If you sit on the left-hand side you’ll have river views from Podolska vodarna – the stop before Vyšehrad – as far as Čechuv most, where you leave the Old Town.