Things to Do in Prague - page 4
The 130-foot-high (40-meter-high) green cupola of the church of St. Francis of Assisi (Kostel Sv. Frantiska z Assisi) peeps above the rooftops of Prague’s Staré Město (Old Town). Designed by French architect Jean-Baptiste Mathey, built by Gaudenzio Casanova and Domenico Canevalle, and consecrated in 1688, the neoclassical structure replaced the original Franciscan church, which was built in 1270.
The much-feted Czech composer Bedřich Smetana is regarded as the father of Czech music and is best known for his operaThe Bartered Bride. Born in 1824, he was precociously talented and gave his first public performance aged six. He studied music in Prague before moving to Gothenburg in Sweden, where he continued writing music. In the early 1860s, Smetana returned to Prague and in 1866 became principal conductor at the city’s Provisional Theatre, where his first two operas were performed. His health failed in 1874 and although he composed until his death, he died in an asylum in 1884.
The Bedrich Smetana Museum (Muzeum Bedricha Smetany) was established in his memory in 1926 and moved into its current handsome home next to Charles Bridge on the banks of the Vltava River in 1935. The building itself is worthy of mention: it is the Neo-Renaissance former Old Town Water Works, built in 1884 by Antonín Wiehl. Its exterior is covered in elaborate sgraffito work illustrating a battle between Bohemia and Sweden, which was fought on Charles Bridge in 1648.
Once inside, the museum is crammed with Smetana’s furniture, photographs of his family, scores of his greatest masterpieces, copies of his letters and a couple of his pianos. There’s the chance to listen to his music at the point of an electric baton as well as occasional recitals. A vast reclining bronze of the composer stands in the museum’s riverside courtyard and Smetana fans can take in regular concerts held in the atrium of the Czech Museum of Music, at Karmelitská 2-4 nearby.
Eastern European Ashkenazi Jews first came to Prague in the 10th century and over the years they became a thriving part of the city’s cultural and financial community. Their first cemetery was located in Josefov, where most of Prague’s Jewish resident were required to settle; by the 1890s there were 23,500 Jews living in the city and the Old Jewish Cemetery was full. TheNew Jewish Cemetery (Nový Zidovský Hrbitov) was built in the suburb of Žižkov, many times bigger with capacity for around 100,000 graves; it is Art Nouveau in style, with imposing entrance gates, ornate mausoleums and majestic family tombs adorned with statuary and inscriptions. Its peaceful and orderly tree-lined avenues are a respite from the hectic street life of central Prague, although tragic reminders of World War II include a memorial wall inscribed with the names of the victims of the Holocaust who perished in Terezín concentration camp. The influential writer Franz Kafka is famously buried there; his literary fans make a pilgrimage to his tomb on the anniversary of his death on June 3, 1924.
Tucked away behind the grand façade of the Baroque Villa Amerika, which was designed by Czech architect Kilián Ignác Dietzenhofer and completed in the early 18th century, the Antoniin Dvorak Museum (Muzeum Antonina Dvoraka) is dedicated to the life and times of the revered Czech composer, whose most famous works include his ‘New World’ Symphony and Slavonic Dances. Run under the auspices of Prague’s National Museum (Národní muzeum), the tribute to Dvořák (1841–1904) first opened at Villa Amerika in 1932.
Surrounded by neat gardens filled with statuary, the museum holds a collection of the composer’s scores, correspondence and annotated manuscripts as well as posters, photos and several of his instruments, including a viola and piano. Between May and October a regular schedule of concerts and lectures are held in its ornate Great Hall, which has walls and ceilings smothered with 18th-century frescoes of classical scenes by Jan Ferdinand Schor.
Run under the auspices of Prague’s National Museum, which has five branches, the Czech Museum of Music (Ceske Muzeum Hudby) is located in the former church of St Mary Magdalene in Malá Strana (the Lesser Quarter) on the west bank of the River Vltava. This 17th-century Baroque beauty was designed by Italian architect Francesco Caratti and over the years it has served as a Dominican monastery, police barracks and a history archive before its interior was remodeled into a light-filled, high-ceilinged atrium to accommodate the museum’s vast collections of precious musical instruments and scores. An entertaining permanent exhibition entitled ‘Man–Instrument–Music’ features the relationship between man and his musical instruments, set to the backdrop of music recorded on those displayed; among the highlights is a piano once played by Mozart and a series of ornate harps inlaid with mother of pearl. A schedule of temporary exhibitions might produce a mixed bag of art and music, or the occasional display of rare scores from the museum’s repository of 700,000 musical artifacts.
Classical concerts performing the work of Czech composers such as Dvořák and Smetana are frequently held in the atrium, which is beautifully illuminated in a rainbow of colors at night.
Central Europe’s biggest waterpark is 3.75 miles (six km) south of Prague and is a family-centric attraction featuring saunas, a fitness center and a spa as well as swimming pools and water rides. Vodní svět (Water World) is largely undercover and comprises four themed zones, with lap pools, lazy rivers, a coral dome and wave pools as well as rapids and kamikaze twisting tube slides for the more adventurous of families. On offer elsewhere in the park are 14 different kinds of sauna, fitness classes — from Pilates to spinning — gyms equipped with cardio zones and power plates, solariums and a raft of massage options and beauty therapy treatments. There’s a children’s corner for young kids, swimming courses for all levels of expertise, private trainers in the gym and scuba diving classes in the Diving Pit.
Restaurants and bars are scattered throughout Aquapalace and there’s even a four-star hotel for extended stays. Children younger than 12 must be accompanied by an adult when visiting the park; lockers are provided.
Found in the tangle of streets between Charles Bridge and Wenceslas Square in Prague’s spectacular Staré Město (Old Town), the Apple Museum sits neatly inside the Pop Art Gallery in a revamped 12th-century townhouse. The museum opened in December 2015 and is billed as the ‘largest private collection of Apple products in the world’. The displays in this homage to all things Apple include more than 470 original Apple products, and also highlight the backstory of the legendary founders of the company, Steve Jobs, who died in 2011, and his visionary sidekick, Steve Wozniak.
From the curiously toy-like Apple Mac from 1984 through the multi-colored iPods of the early 21st century to the MacBooks introduced 2012, the development of one of the world’s biggest brands is laid out in sleek displays guaranteed to appeal to kids and adults alike. Exhibits from Steve Jobs’ life include his college yearbooks, sneakers and his distinctive black roll neck jerseys; and after walking in his footsteps through the museum, there’s also a raw vegan restaurant where his favorite dishes are on offer.
A magic show in an intimate, fashionable nightclub setting, the Prague Illusion includes surprising illusions, mind reading, dangerous tricks, and plenty of audience participation. Even with close-up views, visitors are frequently amazed by magician Jonathan David Bass’ illusions.
Villa Bílek (Bílkova Vila) was designed in 1911 by sculptor, master craftsman and architect František Bílek; it is in a mixture of Art Nouveau and Symbolist styles, of which he was one of the leading Czech exponents. Constructed of red brick and carved stone columns and reminiscent of an Ancient Egyptian temple, it is crescent shaped and was designed as a family home and studio.
Bílek lived between 1872-1941 and it was his heartfelt wish for his ornately decorated house to become a museum of his work. In 1963 his hopes were realized and today the villa is under patronage of Prague City Gallery; its exhibits include the artist’s studio, where some of his most famous works are displayed; a museum of his religious sculptures; displays of his hand-crafted Art Nouveau furniture; and a series of temporary exhibitions. Recent shows have included drawings and sketches from Bílek and his Art Nouveau compatriot Alphonse Mucha.
The house where Bílek was born in Chýnov is also under the stewardship of the Prague City Gallery, along with five other historic properties including the House of Photography in Prague Old Town and the fabulously Baroque Troja Château in Prague 7. Villa Bílek is an easy walk from the treasures of Prague Castle in Hradčany, where the sculptor’s ethereal wooden Crucifixion is on display in St Vitus Cathedral.
See the largest model railway in the Czech Republic (and one of the largest in Central Europe) at Prague’s Kingdom of Railways. Home to more than 1,300 feet (396 meters) of railway track, the permanent exhibition in the Smíchov district includes hundreds of model trains and cars, as well as models of Czech cityscapes.
More Things to Do in Prague
In the center of Prague’s Old Town area, the M1 Lounge is an intimate and fashionable hip-hop and R&B club, with table service, a thumping dance floor, and a youthful, international crowd. The club hosts various themed evenings, including the popular Prague Illusion magic show by illusionist Jonathan David Bass on Saturday evenings.
Run as part of Prague’s multi-faceted National Museum (Národní muzeum), the Náprstek Museum of Asian, African and American Cultures houses the city’s fascinating repository of non-European treasures. The collection was founded by the Czech explorer and industrialist Vojta Náprstek (1826–1894) and since 1921 has been located in a fine Baroque former brewery known as U Halánků in Prague's Old Town.
Bringing alive the ancient cultures of Asian, African, and American art with vibrant displays of death masks, costumes, ceramics, fine art, coins, and jewelry, highlights of the museum include primitive wooden masks and ornately painted shields from tribal Africa; dugout sealskin canoes and decorative totem poles from North America; and brightly painted toys from Japan. Temporary exhibitions are chosen from the museum’s rich collection of 95,000 artifacts and are supported by an excellent collection of historic photographs.
The spa town of Mariánské Láznĕ (also known as Marienbad) is one of the Czech Republic’s favorite getaways and easily accessible from Prague. With a balmy climate, panoramic mountain views, elegant architecture, and lush gardens, Mariánské Láznĕ is the perfect place for a day trip or relaxing weekend away from the big city.
The Jan Becher Museum, less than two hours west of Prague, is home to one of the Czech Republic's most beloved liquors, called Becherovka. At the museum, visitors can learn about the liquor as well as tour the distillery and the original cellars. While you're there, you can also taste this liquor that has been produced for centuries. It is made from Karlsbad water, alcohol, sugar, and a mixture of herbs and spices, although the exact recipe is said to be known by only two people today.
The company was founded over two centuries ago by Jan Becher, who came up with the recipe in a pharmacy that is now the museum. A visit to the museum also allows visitors to learn about the history of the company's beginnings and how the liquor survived during the communist regime when the company was forced to hand over the recipe.
Travelers in search of a unique and memorable performance need look not further than Prague’s Krizik Fountain (Krizikova Fontana). This iconic Czech landmark has been in operation since 1891 and served as an easy meeting place for city residents on the move. Today Krizik Fountain hosts dozens of live shows and its one-of-a-kind spectacle features dancing water, traditional music and brilliant colors. A few of the regularly schedule evenings even include film projections on the water and live accompaniment by the regional ballet company. While tickets are essential, advance reservations aren’t, so catching a show at Krizik Fountain can be done on the fly for visitors who find themselves nearby when the performance starts.
Part of Prague’s UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Jewish Quarter (Josefov) is among the most remarkably preserved in Europe. Today, its striking monuments and memorials stand both as a tribute to the city’s rich Jewish heritage and a poignant reminder of its tragic past.
As impressive as it is macabre, Sedlec Ossuary(Kostnice Sedlec) is the peculiar star attraction of the Kutná Hora UNESCO World Heritage Site. The subterranean ossuary lies beneath the Cemetery Church of All Saints and is decorated and furnished entirely with human bones and skulls, earning it the nickname the "Chapel of Bones.”
The Slav Epic (Slovanská epopej) is a series of 20 large paintings by Czech artist Alfons Mucha designed to celebrate Slav culture and history. Painted between 1910 and 1928, the canvasses commemorate major events in Slavic history, including battles, coronations and the abolition of serfdom. Mucha visited many of the places he depicted in the paintings, including Russia, Poland and many of the Balkan countries. He also consulted with historians to ensure accuracy in the historical events he depicted. In 1928, Mucha bestowed the collection to the city of Prague, but the paintings ended up being hidden during World War II to prevent seizure by the Nazis. In 1963, they went on display in the town of Moravsky Krumlov as the communist officials in Prague didn’t care to display Mucha’s work.
In 2012, after a two-year legal struggle, the collection of paintings went on display at the Veletzrni Palace (also known as the Trade Fair Palace) in Prague, where they will remain through the end of 2016.
Please note: The Slav Epic painting series is currently not on display as it awaits its new Prague location.
Founded in 2002, the Sex Machines Museum in Prague is unique in that it is the only sex museum in the world devoted solely to sex devices. Covering three floors of a building not far from Prague’s Old Town Square, the museum shows off about 200 different machines, all designed to bring sexual pleasure and allow unusual positions during intercourse. Devices on display include body harnesses, copulation tables designed to facilitate weightless sex positions, vibrators and other gadgets meant for penile, anal, vaginal or clitoral stimulation and a throne chair with a hole in the seat to allow for oral sex. The oldest machines date all the way back to the 16th century and several are accompanied by dummies to demonstrate how exactly they work. The museum also features two pornographic films from 1925 that were said to be produced at the demand of King Alphonso XIII.
The museum was criticized by the government as inappropriate when it opened, but that tended to make it even more popular with tourists.
Opened in 2011, the KGB Museum in Prague is a small museum dedicated to displaying memorabilia related to the activities of various national security authorities, including the KGB, the Cheka and the NKVD. Items on display include spy cameras, weapons, electrical interrogation equipment and other equipment from KGB laboratories. Of particular interest to visitors are Vladimir Lenin’s death mask, the weapon used to kill Leon Trotsky and the personal belongings of Lavrentiy Beria, the head of the NKVD.
A separate room of the museum features a collection of photographs taken in Prague in 1968 by KGB officers, while other rooms give visitors a sense of the offices and everyday work environments of the officers. It is said that some of the materials on display are still officially classified.
Prague’s outpost of the Wax Museum of Legends by Grévin (Musee Grévin) is one of the largest in Europe, famous for its waxwork likenesses of international celebrities, royalty, sporting heroes and historic Czech figures. Opened in 2014, the museum provides three floors of family fun and fantasy and is found close to the Baroque beauty of the Staré Mesto (Old Town) on one of the city’s main shopping streets.
Although displays change along with the world of stardom, the Grévin is currently divided into six themed and interactive sections, giving visitors the chance to pose with Michael Jackson, meet the alchemist Emperor Rudolf II and marvel at the outfits worn by actresses Angelina Jolie and Meryl Streep. Uniquely Czech attractions include the world-famous ice hockey team HC Sparta Praha, Franz Kafka in a traditional Prague café and former President Václav Havel at his desk. Kids can time travel from the world of Mozart to John Lennon’s Liverpool, make their own waxwork models and create a 3D likeness of their heads in the Discovery Workshop.
The Grévin is a firm favorite with families visiting Prague and gets very crowded during school vacations, so buy a skip-the-line ticket ahead of time for priority access. The bistro-style Café Grévin is right next door.
Prague’s gritty suburb of Zizkov lies to the east of the city center and is best-known as being home to the bizarre Television Tower (Tower Park Prague), much hated when it was completed in 1992 but now regarded with affection by local residents.
Hilly Zizkov itself had its origins as a blue-collar area of the city, built in the 19th century for the workers who stoked Prague’s industrial boom. Under Soviet rule, the district became a Communist stronghold nicknamed ‘Red Zizkov’, and today it is a Bohemian district with a reputation for underground drinking dens, grungy pubs and a subversive nightlife along Borivojova, the perfect spot for pub crawls.
Thanks to its reasonable property rentals, a young and innovative workforce has started to move into Zizkov, bringing with it new hi-tech industries and a burgeoning bar and multicultural restaurant scene. There’s a farmers’ market at Jiriho z Podebrad from Wednesday through Friday, and funky art galleries are springing up in the laid-back, cobbled streets. As well as Olšanské cemetery — the biggest in Prague — the New Jewish Cemetery, the burial place of author Franz Kafka, is also found in Zizkov, along with the National Monument and the Czech Army Museum.
Like the Army Museum Žižkov, Kbely Aviation Museum (Letecké Muzeum Kbely) is one of four museums overseen by the Military History Institute Prague. It was founded in 1968 on an historic military airfield at Kbely on the north-eastern outskirts of the city, and — thanks to its spectacular collection of 275 aircraft — is one of the biggest and best aircraft museums in Europe. At any one time, 85 planes are on show in the museum’s vast hangars, with many more displayed in the open air.
The museum showcases the early days of Czech aviation, from World War I biplanes to Cold War Soviet spy planes, military helicopters to MIG-29s, supersonic jets to a (somewhat scorched) Russian Soyuz re-entry capsule. Most of the exhibits are related to Czech military aviation, but several Tupolev commercial airliners are on display and rare treasures from overseas include a South Vietnamese 5F Tiger II, a Swedish Saab 35 Draken fighter plane and a British Air Force F-4 Phantom II. Aircraft are displayed surrounded by period ephemera, including banners, medals, weapons and mannequins wearing military uniforms.
Dedicated to the delicate Art Nouveau talents of Czech artist Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939), the Mucha Museum is located in the Kaunický Palace, itself built in Baroque style in the early 18th century. A must for all fans of Art Nouveau, the museum hosts the world’s best exhibition of Mucha’s intricate posters, decorative panels, lithographs and sketches, typically of blue-eyed, flowing-haired Slavic beauties.
Many of the posters on display were completed while Mucha lived in Paris between 1895 and 1904, and several advertised productions starring the famous actress Sarah Bernhardt. Photos taken during these years at his notorious Paris studio reveal gatherings of the great and good of the Belle Epoque, including one of Expressionist artist Paul Gauguin minus his trousers. Visits to the museum round off with a fascinating and in-depth 30-minute documentary on Mucha’s life.
Guided tours of the Mucha Museum are available in several languages and should be booked seven days in advance. Fans of Mucha can also see his work in the stained-glass windows of St Vitus Cathedral and at Prague’s landmark Art Nouveau Municipal House.
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