History and Culture in Prague

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History and Culture in Prague
Prague is rich in both historic and contemporary culture. Its architectural delights span hundreds of years, while museums and galleries showcase everything from old Czech masters to edgy up-and-comers.
By Joann Plockova, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Lucas Vallecillos/age fotostock
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    Prague’s Medieval Heart
    The best place to start exploring medieval Prague is in Old Town Square, where buildings date back to the 13th century. The plaza features a mix of Gothic and baroque architectural styles as well as a famed astronomical clock and a memorial to the Czech priest and martyr Jan Hus. A stroll across the historic Charles Bridge takes you to Mala Strana—the charming “Lesser Town”—and its looming, elegant centerpiece: Prague Castle.
    Photo by Lucas Vallecillos/age fotostock
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    The Noble Delights of Lesser Town
    In contrast to the labyrinthine Old Town, Mala Strana seems like a perfectly planned (if slightly steeper) district located on the left bank of the Vltava River. The name translates to Lesser Town (or sometimes Little Quarter), though there’s nothing inferior about its noble origins or regal credentials. Dominated by the magnificent Prague Castle, the area is home to Kampa Island, a green space including the Kampa Museum — a modern art museum focused on Central European art — a cafe, and artist David Černý’s gigantic crawling babies. The poignant Memorial to the Victims of Communism is on the steps just below Petřín Hill.
    Photo by Joao Canziani
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    Prague’s Vibrant Art and Culture Scenes
    Art lovers won’t want to miss the National Gallery, whose treasures are strewn across the city in various venues including Veletržní Palác, which is home to the gallery's Czech and international art collection and set inside a unique functionalist building. Kampa Island's Museum Kampa hosts major works by modern Czech artists. For something edgier, visit the DOX Center for Contemporary Art. For art with a view, head to the gallery inside the Dancing House.
    Photo by Alex M.
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    Historic Town Squares and Beyond
    Prague has a number of handsome squares that have played an important role in the city’s historic and social life. Old Town Square is the famous one. Baroque and renaissance palaces and houses ring Hradcany Square at Prague Castle. To round things out, head away from the tourist center to Karlín, where it will be just you and the birds in this neighborhood's beautiful square.
    Photo by Ryan Warfield
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    Tall Towers and Climbing Babies
    They don't call it the city of a thousand spires for nothing; Prague is home to many tall towers that offer stunning views. Head to the Old Town Square and up into its 230-foot Old Town Hall Tower. The more modern Dancing House also provides panoramic views from its riverside location. But its Prague's landmark TV Tower that combines a killer view with a space-age feel. Czech artist David Cerny installed several playful sculptures around town, including the giant babies that crawl up the tower's sides.
    Photo by Lucas Vallecillos/age fotostock
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    Beyond Prague’s Historic Core
    There’s plenty you can do and see while avoiding the crowds of Old Town. Head to Prague's Karlín district, a foodie hub where you can start with a cup of speciality coffee at Můj Šálek Kávy, have lunch at Eska, and then a glass of wine at Veltlín. Across the river, the Letná district is home to Letná park, which includes a popular beer garden, some exceptional architecture, and a panaromic view over the city. In Dejvice, check out the weekend Dejvicka Farmer's Market or the award-winning National Technical Library just down the street.
    Photo by Rony/age fotostock
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    Shadows of Communism
    For anyone interested in Iron Curtain–era Prague have a look at the Memorial to the Victims of Communism, a powerful sculpture by artist Olbram Zoubek comprised of a succession of 7 slowly decaying men on the stairs below Petřín Hill. Not far away, Letná Park is home to the landmark Metronome sculpture. Created after the fall of communism as a symbol of a new era, it stands where a massive sculpture of Stalin once stood before it was blown to bits in 1962.
    Photo by Christian Beier/age fotostock
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    Prague’s Best Street Markets
    Visit Prague’s street markets for a unique glimpse into the local culture. Located in Prague 7, Prazska Trznice includes flea market fare such as second-hand clothes, household wares, and Czech fashion, along with bistros and good coffee in an odd location (a computer and electronics warehouse). If you are in town during Easter or Christmas, you’ll find many atmospheric markets inspired by the season.
    Photo by Alex M.
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    The Pick of Prague’s Performing Arts
    Prague has some of the finest opera and theater houses in all of Europe. They put on top quality opera, ballet, and classical-music performances year-round. The Art Nouveau Municipal House is home to the 1,200-seat Smetana Hall, which plays hosts to the annual Prague Spring International Music Festival and a year-round program of chamber orchestra and classical music concerts from leading local and international ensembles.
    Photo by Natasha
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    The Modern Side to the Cityscape
    Prague is well known for its beautiful medieval buildings and even its Communist throwbacks, but there are some wonderful modern examples, too. The most famous is Frank Gehry's Dancing House building on the river, more popularly known as Fred and Ginger. Letná Park is home to the glass and steel Expo 58 pavilion, which won the top prize in the 1958 Expo World's Fair in Brussels. For something from the 21st century, check out the National Technical Libary in Prague 6, which was built in 2009 and has been described as a "high-tech living room” for students.
    Photo by Chris Ciolli