Photo: St. Vitus cathedral Prague iStock/GoodLifeStudio
From Romanesque buildings and Baroque structures to towering monuments to Communist Prague, Prague’s buildings tell the story of the city better than any tour guide ever could. Look around and you’ll spot plenty of historical monuments that have been restored, renovated and revered for many, many years. Add to this a smattering of more modern construction across the Czech capital and you’ve got yourself the dream destination for architecture aficionados. Follow our guide to architecture in Prague and discover everything from castles to crawling babies.
Begin your architecture tour of Prague by going back in time to the 10th century, when the city was home to many Romanesque buildings. See one of the finest examples of this period at St. George’s Basilica, hidden away within the historic Prague Castle complex. Considered something of a work in progress, the basilica has been reinvented and redeveloped many times over the years, resulting in a patchwork of different styles, but luckily, its Romanesque twin steeples remain.
The oldest Romanesque rotunda in the city, St. Martin Rotunda is also worth stopping by. Having escaped demolition on a fair few occasions – and once used as a gunpowder store – this is the largest of its kind in the city.
Skip forward to the Gothic period at the famed 14th century Charles Bridge, with its imposing statues and fantastic views down the Vltava River. Set your alarm early because this location is best enjoyed at dawn (before the crowds make a leisurely amble out of the question).
Another great example of Gothic architecture in Prague can be found at St. Vitus Cathedral, also within the Prague Castle complex. Built over six centuries, this vast cathedral includes an elaborately decorated façade and high vaulted ceilings, typical of the Gothic style, as well as Neo-Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and 20th century elements, incorporated over the many generations it took to build.
Speaking of cathedrals, St. Nicholas Cathedral is among the most famous Baroque structures in the city. Situated on Malá Strana and visible from the Charles Bridge (just look out for the iconic green Baroque dome), make sure to venture inside the cathedral to see the beautiful frescoes on the ceiling by Viennese artist Jan Lukas Kracker, as well the organ that Mozart played back in the 18th century.
Historicism in Prague
All the rage in the 19th century, Historicism was a concept liberally applied to architecture in Prague. Channelling the architectural styles of bygone eras, the National Theatre building and the National Museum are quintessential examples of this period, both being highly decorated, grand Neo-Renaissance structures designed to evoke the Italianate style of the Renaissance. Similarly, the State Opera building is another homage to history, but this time of the impressive Neo-Classical persuasion. Keep an eye out for the mythological figures in the triangular frieze on the outside of the building.
Art Nouveau and Cubism
For a touch of ornamental Art Nouveau on your architecture tour of Prague – and to take you swinging into the 20th century – make sure to stop off at the Municipal House to admire its colourful, opulent façade. And, for something a bit different, check out the concrete Cubist Lamp Post (think: Picasso but 3D), just around the corner from Wenceslas Square.
Functionalism and Communist Prague
The Villa Müller, a house designed by Adolf Loos in the late 1920s, best typifies Functionalist architecture in Prague with its clean lines and bold, “modern” aesthetic. And, for a dose of Communist Prague, few buildings exemplify this era quite so vividly as the solid, unsentimental Former Parliament Building at the top of Wenceslas Square, which is now home to a wing of the National Museum.
To conclude your tour of architecture in Prague, move into the 1980s and ‘90s. Built in the “high-tech” architectural style, the TV Tower is now one of Prague’s “thousand towers”, albeit it a strikingly modern, metallic one, and perhaps best known for its sinister crawling babies. Also well worth a look is the award-winning mid-90s Dancing House, designed by Vlado Milunič and architect-extraordinaire Frank Gehry. This dynamic building is so named for its curved shape and sense of movement. Book a table at restaurant Ginger & Fred (get it?) for fine French fare and views over the Vltava River.