Old Town Walking Tour, Prague

Old Town Walking Tour (Self Guided), Prague

The Staré Město (Old Town) of Prague is a former medieval settlement that is now a lively cobblestoned hub with landmark attractions.

The area was once separated from the outside world by a semi-circular moat and a wall, hugged by the Vltava river. The moat is now covered up by streets, which form the official boundary of the Old Town. One of them, called Na Příkopě (literally “On the moat“), is among the most important lanes in the city. Another marker of the border between the Old and New Towns is Náměstí Republiky (Republic Square), an intersection of eight roads and ideal spot for people-watching.

Notable places within the Old Town itself are numerous and include, among others, the Gothic Church of Our Lady Before Týn on Old Town Square, a dominant feature of the city since the 14th century. One of the city's most visited monuments in this square, however, is undoubtedly the Old Town Hall with the famous medieval Astronomical Clock.

A number of important monuments are concentrated around the Royal Road leading from the Powder Gate via Celetná Street, through Staroměstské náměstí, Karlova Street to Charles Bridge that links the Old Town to Malá Strana (the Lesser Town of Prague) across the river Vltava.

The area near the Church of St. Havel today houses the only preserved marketplace in the Old Town, Havelské Market, dating back to 1232, a small remnant of the once large medieval open-air market.

To see the Old Town of Prague at its best and explore these and other attractions in more detail, take this self-guided walk!
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Old Town Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Old Town Walking Tour
Guide Location: Czech Republic » Prague (See other walking tours in Prague)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 13
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.8 Km or 1.7 Miles
Author: vickyc
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Old Town Square
  • Church of Our Lady before Týn
  • St. Nicholas Church (Old Town)
  • Old Town Hall
  • Astronomical Clock
  • Celetna Street
  • Republic Square
  • Municipal House
  • Powder Gate / Powder Tower
  • Na Prikope
  • Havelska Street and Market
  • Old Town Bridge Tower
  • Charles Bridge
Old Town Square

1) Old Town Square

While in Prague, you are bound to visit the Old Town Square which sits right in the heart of the city. Once a thriving market, this square is now a pedestrian area abuzz with shops, hotels, restaurants, and bars; a place to meet fellow travelers, take in some of the city's most jaw-dropping sights, and enjoy nightlife.

Here you will find some of the most impressive medieval buildings in the city too, starting with the Old Town City Hall, built in 1364 and famous for its Astronomical Clock. In the northern part of the square stands the 18th-century St. Nicholas Church (a classical music venue as of lately), with its white façade that seems to gleam in the sunlight.

Overlooking the square, the 14th-century Týn Church is probably the most photographed religious site in the city, laded with Gothic spires (access inside is through the Týn School, another impressive Gothic building with many arcades). Nearby, you can visit the Stone Bell House where a prominent art gallery showcases contemporary & modern works; while next to the Stone Bell is the lovely Kinsky Palace (now part of the National Gallery Art Museum) with its Rococo façade.

On the south side you will find some wonderful Baroque and Renaissance buildings are named after their house signs: At the Golden Unicorn; At the Blue Star; At the Stone Ram; and At the Red Fox. What does the fox say? The fox says that in the past, buildings in Prague weren't numbered, but instead had to be identified by their names.

In the center of the square is the huge Jan Hus Memorial, placed here to mark the 500th anniversary of the religious reformer's death. The revered martyr of the Czechs was labeled a heretic and burned at the stake on July 6, 1415.

Climb or take an elevator to the top of the clock tower for a 360° bird's eye view of the city.
Church of Our Lady before Týn

2) Church of Our Lady before Týn (must see)

This grand 14th-century Gothic edifice, characterized by its irregular twin towers capped by four small spires, dominates not only the Old Town Square, but is also seen from everywhere in Prague and, as such, is an excellent landmark to help keep one's bearings. Like the nearby Hus Monument, the Týn Church is a source of Czech national pride, adding to the overall feel of "Magic Prague" – no wonder Disney used it as an inspiration for his fairytale castle.

The best view of the exterior can be obtained by getting a ticket to the opposite clock tower and then taking a lift to the top. As for the interior – a triumph of gilded wood – it is the product of Baroque transformation with countless altars placed everywhere: in front of pillars, beside the main altar, in corners and along the side walls. The profusion of these tall, black-gilded altars, along with the brightly stained glass, makes the church stand out in memory.

Astronomy buffs will certainly enjoy a stop at the beautiful marble tomb of Tycho Brahe, who served as Rudolf II's "personal consultant" (right beside, look for a wood relief carving that shows him holding astronomical symbols), much as the chance to wonder at the imposing 17th-century organ. If you're willing to spend a little bit extra, be sure to book through Via Musica for the occasional concert here.

Why You Should Visit:
Great pictures from the square and/or clock tower outside and much detail on the interior, which is free to enter.
The church is lit up at night with orange lights which give it a complete fairytale look, if viewed from the square.

Entrance is through a narrow passage; if you stand in the square and look at the two spires, it is actually at the last arch on the left in the row of restaurants. Note that visiting times are rather limited and the doors may close between 12 and 3pm.
St. Nicholas Church (Old Town)

3) St. Nicholas Church (Old Town)

The original Gothic Parish church of Saint Nicholas, founded by German merchants, had stood on this site from the 13th century. In the second half of the 17th century the Jesuits decided to build a replacement, designed by Giovanni Domenico Orsi. The new church was built in two stages during the 18th century. In between 1703 and 1711, the western façade, choir, Chapels of St Barbara and St Anne were erected.

Count Wenceslaus Kolowrat-Liebsteinsky (1634-1659) from the prominent Czech House of Kolowrat was the largest patron of St. Nicholas's and donated his entire estate, worth 178,500 golden talents, for its construction along with the adjacent buildings in Prague's Malá Strana (Lesser Town).

The new plans involved an intricate geometrical system of interconnected cylinders with a central dome above the transept. In 1752, the construction of the church tower was completed. In the following years the church continued to expand. Following the abolition of the Jesuit Order by Pope Clement XIV, by 1775 St Nicholas's had become the main parish church of the Lesser Town.

Matching the external architecture is the interior decoration: impressive frescos by Jan Lukas Kracker and that by František Xaver Palko inside the 70-meter high dome. There are also sculptures by František Ignác Platzer. Saint Nicholas's Baroque organ – over 4,000 pipes up to six metres in length – is famed to have been played by none other than Mozart himself in 1787. Mozart's Mass in C was first performed inside the church shortly after his visit.

The 79-meter Rococo-style belfry, directly connected to the church’s massive dome, affords terrific panoramic view. It was completed in 1751-1756 by Anselmo Lurago.

During the communist era, the church tower was used as an observatory for the State Security as a vantage point to keep watch on the American, Yugoslav and West German embassies.

Daily musical performances in the evening make St. Nicholas's a firm favorite with those who enjoy unique acoustics.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Old Town Hall

4) Old Town Hall (must see)

As the mainstay of the Old Town Square, the Town Hall building is one of Prague's most visited sites. Architecturally it is most unusual, emerged over the years through amalgamation of a number of smaller buildings nearby. In 1338 the councilors of the Old Town bought a large patrician house from the Volflin family and adapted it to their needs. In the following centuries the original Town Hall building had largely disappeared as a result of renovations and expansions; one external remnant of the original structure still in place is the Gothic stone portal with mouldings, on the western side.

The Old Town burghers extended the original Town Hall towards the west by buying the adjoining house, which entailed the construction of a stone tower on a square plan. The viewing tower, completed in 1364 and largely unchanged since, stands nearly 200 feet tall and was the highest structure in the city in the Middle Ages. The expansion of the building continued throughout the 15th century with the Mikeš house added to the west side in 1458 and the Council Chamber in the east wing vaulted with a net vault, supported by two pillars.

The Gothic "Cock" house was acquired in 1835 and the "Minute" house was sold to the town council for the extension of the Town Hall in 1896. The east wing and further addition to the north wing, both made in the 19th century, were destroyed in the last days of World War II, during the Prague uprising in May 1945. Today, only the surviving torso adjoining the tower gives the idea of how this part of the Old Town hall once looked. None of the architectural attempts made during the 20th century to find the right architectonic design for the expansion and reconstruction of the building came to fruition – the architectural competitions either failed to produce a winner, or the winning projects were never materialized.

You can climb the tower at a 50% discount, from 9 am to 10 am. The early bird catches the worm, as they say.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Astronomical Clock

5) Astronomical Clock (must see)

The most famous and intriguing feature of the Old Town Hall since the 1400s, the Horologe (Astronomical Cock) is a marvel to behold. The sophistication of its form – the moving figures set in motion on the stroke of each hour by a complex mechanism, the astronomical and calendar dials – reveals the degree of scientific advancement of its creators.

The first version of the horologe was completed in 1410, followed by extensive reconstruction in 1490 by Jan Růže (aka Hanuš), the old town locksmith, who produced a timepiece based on the pendulum system. In 1552 the clock was repaired again.

In 1629 or 1659 wooden statues were installed, followed by the Apostles' figures added in 1787-1791. During another major repair, in 1865–1866, the golden figure of a crowing rooster emerged. The most recent repairs, after World War II, saw the badly damaged original statues replaced with copies. Still, despite the numerous repairs, the most fundamental features of the clock remain unchanged.

The clock face represents the Earth and the sky: one part for the day and the other for the night. The outer ring shows old Bohemian time, while the astronomical dial charts the movement of the Sun and planets around the Earth (which is, of course, positioned at the centre of the universe!). The third dial charts the movement of the Sun and the Moon through zodiacal signs. Around the edge, yet another pointer shows what day of the month and week it is, and, perhaps more importantly, what saint's day it is (and hence what holiday).

As the clock face is quite difficult to read, the greatest attraction for viewers is the hourly show of wooden statuettes (including Christ and the Twelve Apostles), appearing from mini-trapdoors and moving from left to right, while a suitably creepy skeletal figure signifying Death pulls a rope to the rhythm of the chimes.

One of the legends surrounding the clock is that its maker, Hanus, had his eyes pulled out so that he could never re-create his masterpiece. In revenge, he is said to have broken the clock which then took another 100 years to repair. Another legend says that if the clock stops for any length of time, Prague will fall.

Climb or take elevator to the top of the clock tower to get a bird's eye view of the city.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Celetna Street

6) Celetna Street

No visit to Prague is complete without a walk along this lively pedestrial lane, part of the medieval Royal Road that was once a coronation route from the Old Town to Prague Castle. One of the city's oldest streets, it was named after the plaited bread rolls that used to be sold to the public here while they waited to watch the nobles pass by on their way to the Castle. Today, the street is lined with a myriad of souvenir shops, cafés and restaurants, mixed up with beautiful murals, facades, and important pieces of architecture, including the aesthetically pleasing Black Madonna House. In Prague it is difficult not to start a photo collection of house signs, and if you have become an aficionado, you will love Celetná!

Most of the buildings here have kept their Gothic or Romanesque vaulted cellars, except "at the Black Madonna" which is Prague's first Cubist building. Manhart Palace or "at the Goats" is owned by the Theatre Institute and the Theatre in Celetná; "at the Black Sun" is an early Gothic house with Baroque façade restored in the 18th century; "at the Three Kings" (#3) has an excellent café and wine tasting room (Kafka lived there for a short time, too); while "at the Golden Deer" was once a "rattle" post office, from which letters were delivered all over Prague – the postmen used to rattle chains outside houses to signal the arrival of a letter for the occupant. Other house signs include "at the Comb", "at the Czech Eagle" and "at the Golden Angel" (#29), which used to operate as an inn and extended its hospitality to revered guests, such as Mozart.

Bustling with activity during the day, Celetná reverts to one of Prague's most romantic streets at night.
Republic Square

7) Republic Square

An ideal people-watching spot at the boundary of Old and New Towns, Republic Square marks the intersection of eight roads. Here you will find old and new architecture, street vendors, shops, banks, hotels, restaurants, along with historic sights, such as the Municipal House – an Art Nouveau masterpiece with its salons, reception rooms and concert halls, and the majestic Powder Tower which can be accessed by 186 stairs.

Once you have admired (and perhaps visited) the above-mentioned buildings, you can head to the Kotva department store – a high-point in Czech architecture of the 1970s and a great place to find jewelry, cosmetics, apparel and almost anything else you can imagine, complete with a terrace restaurant with glorious views.

Also in the square is the huge, 115,000 sq-m Palladium Mall that houses four floors of shopping and commercial galleries with over 200 stores and 30 cafés/restaurants. During the survey preceding the construction, archaeologists discovered foundations of several 12th-century structures which have then been incorporated into the Palladium architecture.
Municipal House

8) Municipal House (must see)

The Municipal House ('Obecní dům') is a major civic landmark and concert hall in Prague, equally important from both architectural and political-historical standpoints. The Art Nouveau artifact of Czech nationalism, the structure carries a wealth of ornament created by some of the top Czech artists of the time.

Its main facade features a large ceramic half-dome mosaic above the entry, called “Homage to Prague”, by Karel Špillar. On either side thereof there are allegorical sculptural groups representing “The Degradation of the People” and “The Resurrection of the People” by Ladislav Šaloun. The main space within the Municipal House is the concert space, Smetana Hall, named in honor of the Czech composer, Bedřich Smetana. On October 28, 1918, Smetana Hall was the scene of the proclamation of the independent state of Czechoslovakia.

Why You Should Visit:
One of many beautiful Art Nouveau buildings in Prague, it stands out for the great condition and scale. Every detail of the building is amazingly crafted.

Check out the eateries/café/bar on the ground floor and in the cellar, representing four different styles – each one impressive.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Powder Gate / Powder Tower

9) Powder Gate / Powder Tower

The Gothic-style Powder Gate is one of the symbols of Prague, found in the Old Town. Dating from 1475, this was one of the 13 gates leading into the city. During the early stage of its construction, the gate was linked to the royal palace.

Prior to its completion, however, in 1485, King Vladislav Jagellonský moved residence to the Prague Castle. Still, the Powder Gate remained important for the Bohemian kings who, from that time until 1836, had passed through the Powder Gate en route to St. Vitus Cathedral for their coronation. The gate was architected by master builder Matěj Rejsek, who modeled it on the design by Peter Parler for the Old Town Bridge Tower, standing at the base of Charles Bridge.

The Powder Gate is now one of the few remnants of the historical fortifications that once surrounded the city. In the 17th century, it was used as a storage facility for gunpowder, hence the name.

Why You Should Visit:
One of medieval Prague's most significant pieces of Gothic architecture.

If interested in scenery, you may climb the 160 steps of the Powder Tower for a stunning view over the Old Town, New Town and all the way across to the Prague Castle. The tower itself is quite photogenic, too, from all angles.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Na Prikope

10) Na Prikope

Na Příkopě (literally "On the moat"), commonly known also as Na Příkopech or Příkopy, is a street in the heart of Prague, connecting Wenceslas Square to Republic Square, and separating the Old Town from the New.

Founded in the 14th century, the street sits on the site of the former 10-meter-wide, 8-meter-deep moat, dated from 1234, which led along the medieval walls of the Old Town. The moat was filled with water flowing directly from the Vltava river and thus made the Old Town a closed island. The moat was covered in 1760, upon which chestnut trees were planted and the emerged street was named Ve starých alejích (“In old alleys”). In 1845-70 it was renamed Kolowratská třída and since 1871 has been known as Na Příkopě.

Because it was one of the few reasonably wide streets in Prague, it soon became a traffic artery. As of 1875, the city's first line of horse-drawn tram had run here, electrified in 1899. In 1919, Můstek became the first intersection in Prague to be controlled by a traffic policeman. In 1927, it gave way to the light signaling, making it the city's second electrically-regulated road crossing.

In the 1960s, traffic jams were getting worse. However, in 1978 the metro station was opened at Můstek, and Line B followed the street since 1985 for almost its entire length to the Republic Square. The nearly century-old tram line was terminated in 1985 and the bustling urban street became a pedestrian zone – a major business quarter and promenade lined with many new stores.

Home to some of the most expensive residential and commercial property in Prague, it has among its residents the imposing headquarters of the Czech National Bank, historic palaces, cafés, and luxury shops, such as Černá Růže, Myslbek, and Slovanský dům.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Havelska Street and Market

11) Havelska Street and Market

The only preserved marketplace in the Old Town, Havelské Market dates back to 1232 and is just a small remnant of the once large medieval market that used to cover the space currently occupied by Ovocný Trh (“Fruit Market”), teeming with furriers, drapers and other craftsmen's shops, and extending all the way to Rytířská Street which runs parallel to the current Havelská Street.

Back in the 15th century, part of the street was known as Tandlmark, or Tarmark, referring to the second-hand wares sold there at the time. In the first half of the 18th century, one half of the street was called Uhelný trh (Coal Market) while the other half – the Green market because of the vegetables and flowers sold there. The name “Havelská Street” was officially coined in 1870. It derived from the nearby St. Gallen (Havel) Church (kostel Svatého Havla), which back in the day was one of the four main parishes in the Old City and the home of the Hussite movement.

As for the street itself, running for some 250 meters, it came into being in the 13th century around the same time as St Gall’s (Havel's) Quarter, an important part of the Old Town, was established. Most of the houses with arcades that once lined the quarter’s northern side have been rebuilt now, although some of them – those in the section between Melantrichova Street and Uhelný trh – still retain their original form.

Presently, Havelské market lies on the pedestrian route between Wenceslas Square and Old Town Square, just a few minutes walk from either of the two, and is rightfully regarded the most photogenic in Prague. Open daily, it offers a selection of fresh fruit and vegetables, and on weekends – mainly tourist items of all kinds. The market also sells flowers, arts and crafts, leather goods, wooden toys, ceramics and other authentic souvenirs. While the shops on either side of the street sell ordinary souvenirs, the market stalls are well worth a quick browse for an original gift, such as fresh honey or sweets.
Old Town Bridge Tower

12) Old Town Bridge Tower

The beauty of Prague’s architecture is amply represented by the Old Town Tower Bridge which stands at one end of the Charles Bridge. Erected in the 14th century, it was part of the old fortifications built to protect the city from invaders coming from the North.

Above the arch, you can see the coat of arms of the Bohemian Kingdom and the symbol of Wenceslas IV, a kingfisher. Above these are the three statues: of Charles IV on the right; Wenceslas IV on the left; and of St Vitus in the middle. Statues of St Vojtech and St Sigismund are higher up, near the top of the tower.

The east and west façades were once also decorated, but the west side decorations were destroyed by invading Swedish troops in 1648. Marking that period is a stone plaque depicting citizens of Prague repelling the Swedes, installed shortly after. The first floor of the tower was once a debtor’s prison; today, there is a short documentary played there, showing how the bridge and the tower came into being. The top floor affords visitors a marvelous view over Prague.

You can also see two rather enigmatic inscriptions under the roof of the tower’s archway. These palindromes read: “Signate Signate mere me tangis et angis” and “Roma tibi subito motibus ibit amor”. The exact reason why these inscriptions have been put up there is lost in the mists of time, but some say it could have been a magic formula against evil.

Why You Should Visit:
One of Prague's most iconic structures; an architectural masterpiece which offers arguably the best views over the bridge.

Come back down backward for the first two or three flights of stairs from the top, as it may prove much easier.
Charles Bridge

13) Charles Bridge (must see)

The Charles Bridge (Karlův most) is a famous historic bridge that crosses the Vltava (Moldau) river in Prague. Its construction started in 1357 under the auspices of King Charles IV, and was completed 45 years later in 1402. A legend has it that the construction began precisely at 5:31am on 9 July 1357 with the first stone being laid by Charles IV himself. This exact time was very important to the Holy Roman Emperor as he was a strong believer in numerology and felt that this specific time, which formed a palindrome (1357 9, 7 5:31), was a numerical bridge, and would imbue Charles Bridge with additional strength.

As the only means of crossing the Vltava, standing 516 meters long, nearly 10 meters wide, and resting on 16 arches shielded by ice guards, the Charles Bridge had been the most important connection between the Old Town, Prague Castle and the adjacent areas until 1841.

The bridge was originally called the Stone Bridge (Kamenný most) or the Prague Bridge (Pražský most) but has been known as "Charles Bridge" ever since 1870.

In the early 20th century, the bridge saw a steep rise in heavy traffic. On 15 May 1905, the horse line on the bridge was replaced with an electric tram and later, in 1908, with buses. All vehicular traffic has been excluded from the Charles Bridge since 1978, making it pedestrian-only.

The avenue of 30 mostly baroque statues and statuaries situated on the balustrade forms a unique connection of artistic styles with the underlying Gothic bridge. Most sculptures here, depicting various saints and patron saints venerated at the time, were erected between 1683 and 1714. As of 1965, all of the statues have been systematically replaced with replicas, while the originals have been exhibited in the Lapidarium of the National Museum.

Why You Should Visit:
For a picturesque panorama of the Prague riverside.
A chance to step back in time, into the 15th century.

Come early in the morning or late in the evening if you need more space, as this place is usually packed with tourists!
If you decide to walk across the bridge, take the time to also visit the nearby John Lennon wall.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.

Walking Tours in Prague, Czech Republic

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Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.6 Km or 2.2 Miles

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