There is a reason why Prague is one of Europe’s top destinations. There is nothing quite like the view of the spires rising above Charles Bridge at sundown when the musicians flock to the bridge to give concerts besides the Vltava River. Or when you take in the vista across the terracotta rooftops up from the Castle walls or wait patiently in the crowd for the Astronomical Clock’s vintage puppets who make a punctual appearance on the hour to charm you. However, especially in the summer, Prague feels overcrowded, as visitor jostle for the perfect selfie or view, but the good news is that even if you step one street away from all the must-see sights in Prague, you’ll find some breathing space, with just as much Bohemian beauty.
Get Up Early
If you want to see the sights without jostling against the hordes, you may want to set the alarm clock so that you hit the streets ideally before 7.30am. You can wander over Charles Bridge and appreciate the work of art of its sculptures or spend time simply gazing the view without getting in anyone’s way. You’ll find Prague’s old town almost ghostly from its lack of crowds. Even if you get to the museums by 9 am, like the cluster of Jewish sites in the Jewish Quarter feel sparse, so you can explore the synagogues and the famous Jewish Cemetery in peace before the big groups show up.
Letná Park and Holešovice
Head out to some of the districts just outside the touristic kernel of Prague’s old town. On the Castle-side of the river, the neighbourhoods of Letná and Holešovice are residential, yet up-and-coming neighbourhoods filled with trendy cafés, converted industrial spaces and hip restaurants. Letná Park is one of the most beautiful, and underrated, parts of Prague, spanning the hillside on the top with views over the Vltava River and the old town.
One of the best spaces to check out is the Letná Beer Garden, a place popular with locals, lined with benches overlooking the city, cheap but good Czech beer on tap and an al fresco beer hall feel. If you want to have a breather before hitting Prague Castle, instead of taking the classic route from Charles Bridge up the hill, begin at Letná and walk along the path to the giant metronome and beyond, for a scenic walk that’ll bring you right up to the Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral.
Located on the same side as the old town, but further down the river, Vyšehrad is a fortress set on a hill
that’s famous for its cemetery. It’s quite a hike up the hill, although there is a metro station nearby if you prefer a gentler route. It’s also home to the Basilica of St. Peter and Paul, a dramatic neo-gothic church that dominates the Prague skyline in the distance with it two towers threaded with holes.
The cemetery itself is beautiful with its frescoed colonnades, graves featuring avant-garde sculpture and the resting place of famous Czech personalities, like the composers Antonín Dvořák and Bedřich Smetana, and art nouveau artist Alphonse Mucha.
Local historical legend says this was once the first settlement in Prague, but even if that’s not true, you’ll also find one of the oldest buildings in Prague, the Rotunda of St. Martin, which dates back to the 11th century.
The Vltava Bank and Islands
In the summer, the area around the Vltava River comes to life, and unlike the Danube in Budapest, whose current is far too strong, you’ll find the river filled with duck-shaped pedalos and boats. While the traffic in the river might slowly approach the level of business in the old town, the surrounding areas, the banks of the river and the islands thin out from the crowds.
Even Kampa Island, an artificial island which even has steps going up to Charles Bridge, is still relatively quiet when considering Prague’s tourism hot spots. Separated by the Čertovka mill race, it’s an island that has leisure in mind with cafés and modern art museums, and grassy lawns that are pleasant to walk through during the golden hour of the summer sun. Other islands include Štvanice, Střelecký, Children’s Island and Slovansky island, among many others. Slovansky is a wonderful spot with a beautiful neo-renaissance style Žofín Palace.
Beyond Slovansky, if you head under the bridge to the embankment, you’ll find restaurants and craft beer huts and terraces, where you can enjoy riverside drinks with the locals.
The Hidden Gardens of Malá Strana
Take a walk in the streets below the Castle close to the river, and you may need to keep an eye out for hidden doors that lead into extravagant gardens and parks. Close to the Malostrasnká metro stop, tucked behind a door, you’ll find the charming Wallenstein Garden or Valdštejnská zahrada in Czech. Th17th-century garden is inspired by France’s elegant landscaped gardens, with its neo-Classical Herkulova fontána and statues the lie under the shadow of Prague Castle perched up on the hill. The garden opens up into rows of sculpted, geometrical hedges, a Baroque palace and a curious aviary of owls. Keep an eye out for the strange wall formation that looks like something in a cave, but feature gruesome creatures hidden in the man-made stalactites.
Up on the hill towering over Prague, Petřín may have queues for its funicular, and its namesake tower also sees the crowds line up to get selfies from one of the highest spots of the city. However, step away from the main attractions and you’ll find yourself in quiet green spots, where you can still overlook Prague in peace – especially if you take the back way from the Castle District.
In Prague’s suburbs close to the Žižkov TV tower with David Černý’s babies crawling up it, the neighbouring district of Vinohrady is an up-and-coming area devoid of tourists, but home to great contemporary Czech bistros and even the odd craft beer place or two.
While the church is the main punctuation of this area, perhaps one of the most curious highlights is the poetry jukebox that lies directly in front of the church, featuring a mix of Czech works and American Beat poetry.