The historic city of Prague is best known for its Baroque style architecture and beer drinking culture. Nicknamed “The city of one hundred spires”, this central Bohemian metropolis has become a popular city break destination among travelers from far and wide. Famous sights include the Mala Strana, Charles Bridge, and perhaps most notably the strikingly picturesque Old Town Square. The Czech capital’s main attractions are barely a stone's throw from one another, and meandering through the narrow cobblestoned streets to each venue is a delight in itself. However, scattered abundantly throughout the city are alternative attractions just waiting to be explored, allowing the more inquisitive tourist to really get under the skin of Prague.
St. Cyril and Methodius Cathedral
Located in Prague’s Nové Mesto or “New Town” is the small Baroque orthodox cathedral of Ss. Cyril and Methodius. Despite the church’s uniquely raised terrace and intricately carved statues, it is most noteworthy for the role it played during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia in the Second World War. It became the hiding place of the Czech paratroopers responsible for the assassination of former Gestapo Director and Deputy Protector of Bohemia and Moravia, Reinhard Heydrich. After being betrayed by one of their comrades, they were attacked by the SS and Gestapo, resulting in the heroes taking their own lives when all hope of escaping was lost. The crypt now serves as a small memorial to the soldiers with detailed placards describing the events leading up to their deaths.
This center for contemporary art lies in Prague’s up-and-coming trendy area, Holešovice. Paintings, sculptures, and films made mainly by Czech artists comprise the work on exhibition. The aim of DOX is “To present Czech art within an international context and to provide a platform for dialogue between the local and international arts scene”. The gallery, which is continuously refreshed with new exhibitions every few months, has included artworks by the Czech Republic’s stand out artist David Černý. Petr Motyčka’s six foot sculpture, “Shoe Christ” is one of the more notable permanent fixtures within the complex which depicts Jesus’ crucifixion made entirely out of used shoes.
Grand Café Orient
Prague is fast joining the list of central and eastern European countries to become Americanized, with one aspect being an innumerous amount of chain coffee houses. Fortunately though, there are still original cafés existing within the city that haven’t been blown out of the mocha by mega chains such as Starbucks and Costa. Grand Café Orient was originally opened in 1912 in the House of the Black Madonna - one of the first examples of cubist architecture in the world. After the formulation of Cubism, Czech artists such as the building’s architect, Josef Gočár took a keen interest in the movement and applied the style to building and furniture designs. The café occupies the first floor of the building, and on display are some beautiful examples of cubist decor. Live classical piano music is performed from Wednesday – Saturday afternoons.
Located on a hill overlooking the Vltava river, Vyšehrad Castle is a historical fort and former royal home that is thought to have been built during the early 10th century. Following attacks in 1420 and 1448 by the Hussites and King George of Poděbrady's troops respectively, Vyšehrad Castle fell into ruins but was later renovated and remodelled as a baroque fortress by the Habsburg Monarchy. Points of interest within the castle include the Basilica of St Peter and St Paul and the Rotunda of St Martin - Prague's oldest surviving buildling. The cemetry contains the remains of some of the most famous Czechs in history, including Alphonse Mucha, Antonín Dvořák, Bedřich Smetana, and Karel Čapek. Furthermore, a handful of beers gardens offering drinks and snacks are located in the vicinity, making Vyšehrad Castle an ideal spot for a picnic.
John Lennon Wall
This particular attraction may not exactly fit into the alternative category, but there are still a large number of tourists visiting Prague who are unaware of this little gem. Situated in the Malá Strana area, the John Lennon Wall has been filled with the former Beatles lead man‘s inspired graffiti since the early 1980s. During the totalitarian era, young Czech artists used the wall to promote and excercise freedom of speech in acts of defiance against the communist regime. The wall was cleared of the grafitti by the Czech police on numerous ocassions, but even the threat of prison could not prevent people from sneaking to the wall late at night in order to scrawl down inspirational messages of peace and love. The wall continuously undergoes change, with many visitors from far and wide contributing their own personal messages.
Petřín Hill and Funicular
Arguably the best views of Prague can be seen from Petřín Hill and one of the best ways to observe the elaborate medley of red rooftops and spectacular spires is by taking a ride along the 512m long funicular railway. The funicular provides a fantastic solution for those less able bodied to enjoy the magnificent views of the Czech capital. Constructed in 1851, the funicular railway used to work on a water overbalance system but was later purchased by the city of Prague's electric company who renovated and reopened it in 1932. Due to massive landslips on Petřín in 1965, the railway was closed down for 20 years before being opened to the public again in 1985. The funicular runs every 15 minutes between October and April and every 10 minutes between May and September. Once reaching the hill's summit, visitors can mosey around the well manicured gardens, which contain an impressive astronomical observatory, an old lookout tower and an intricate maze.
Designed by the grandfather of former president Václav Havel, Pasáž Lucerna is perhaps the most elegant of all Prague's shopping arcades. The 1920s style complex runs through the Art-Nouveau Lucerna Palace and contains a number of marvellous attractions including theatres, shops, cafes, restaurants, a cinema and a rock club. The arcade is also home to "Horse" - an intriguing and highly controversial sculpture designed by the Czech Republic's most famous modern artist - David Černý. Pasáž Lucerna is a joy to behold for enthusiasts of Art-Nouveau architecture and is a haven for urban retro photographers.
Loosely translated as "New World", Nový Svět is one of Prague's best kept secrets. Located in Hradčany (Castle District), Novy Svet is a small picturesque area which dates back to the 14th century. Despite being located just two streets away from the main route between Prague Castle and the Strahov Monastery, this quiet little area has managed to elude the vast majority of tourists that flock to the Czech Capital. Consisting of a few streets and a handful of shops, cafés and restaurants, Nový Svět has managed to retain its charming and tranquil small village atmosphere.