The compact cobblestoned centre of Prague is a Unesco World Heritage Site – it also makes an ideal half-day walking tour. Guy Dittrich sets out to explore the Czech capital’s heritage on foot
1. Petrin Tower
For the prettiest overview of the city, take the funicular to the top of Petrin Park to reach this mini Eiffel Tower, which is a 1:5 scale model. Don’t forget to take some change for the ticket machine, or buy a ticket at the newsagents at the foot of the hill. The tower is open from 10am and costs CZK50 (£1.20). The funicular railway runs from 9am-11.30pm year round and costs CZK20 (50p). If you’re based on the opposite, eastern side of town, the viewing gallery in the Soviet-style Zizkov TV Tower – the de rigueur monument for all former communist states – is a good alternative, and includes the option of a drink at the uber-kitsch 80s bar/restaurant. Mahlerovy sady 1, open 10am-11.30pm, tower.cz. Entrance CZK150 (£3.60).
Make sure you arrive here in time for the noon changing of the guard ceremony. Stern-faced troopers in rather camp, bright blue uniforms strut and stamp around to the sounds of a military band. This ritual takes place every hour between 5am and midnight, but only at noon do you get the fanfare. It’s highly entertaining when set against the grandiose architecture of the castle and the huge Gothic edifice that is St Vitus Cathedral. Take time to stroll through the expansive, aromatic palace gardens on the southern slopes of the castle. As you wander down the cobbles of Nerudova Street, look out across the red-tiled rooftops of Mala Strana, or the Lesser Town. Look out too for the ornate metalwork on the impressive doors to the Italian embassy.
3. Mandarin Oriental Hotel
After all that walking you will be in need of a refuelling stop, which doesn’t come much more luxurious than the brand-new Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Housed in a beautiful 14th-century building that was originally a Dominican monastery, the ‘new’ hotel actually comprises three restored wings from the Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance periods – to say nothing of the Roman foundations exposed in the basement gymnasium. You can have a coffee or light lunch at the Monastery Lounge, beneath the seven-metre-high vaulted ceiling, or on the terrace of the central garden courtyard. Nebovidska 459/1,tel +420 233 088 888, mandarinoriental.com/prague.
4. Charles Bridge
Join the jugglers and tourists on this beautifully decorated pedestrian bridge across the River Vlatva. On the west bank, a short distance from the bridge, is Kampa Island, home to one of the city’s finest restaurants (with a suitably impressive wine list), called the Kampa Park (Na Kampe, tel +420 257 532 685, kampagroup.com). The island is also home to Museum Kampa, with its extensive collection of abstract paintings by Kupka, and cubist sculptures by Otto Gutfreund. The museum is on U Sovovi½ch mli½nu and opens daily 10am-6pm. Tel +420 257 286 147, museumkampa.cz. Entrance CZK120/£3). The bridge leads to Stare Mesto, the old town.
5. Old town square (Stare Mesto)
The old town square is a must-see, if only for the Horologium clock tower and its procession of the twelve apostles on the hour, between 9am and 9pm (open daily, CZK50/£1.20). Prague has more than 500 spires and from here you can admire many of them – most notably the cartoon-like twin Gothic towers of the Ti½n Church (admission to which is by appointment only). In nearby streets are various examples of cubist, modernist and constructivist architecture. A fine example of the city’s Baroque heritage can be seen in the riotous Rococo gilding that adorns the sky-blue interiors of the Estates Theatre at Ovocni½ trh 1 (estatestheatre.cz). Here, Mozart – who was born in Austria but was adopted by the Czechs after his time in Prague – premiered Don Giovanni in 1787.
Parizska translates as ‘Paris’, and with its Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore-branded stores and numerous restaurants and cafes, it is no surprise to learn that the locals refer to it as ‘French Street’. As well as your regular Versace, D&G and Dunhill, there is a great selection of hip boutiques, such as Vicini for shoes and Stupartska for interiors. Cremeria Milano (Parizska 20, tel +420 224 811 010) serves the best ice-creams in town, and in the summer, the pavement tables are the ideal place to sit and enjoy them.
7. Municipal House
To get a real feel for the Art Nouveau interiors of the Municipal House, it is best to take a quick dip into one of the exhibitions in the second-floor galleries. If time is short, a coffee at one of restaurant that spill onto Namesti Republiky square will give you a taste. Construction work on the other side of the large square is an indication of the rapid growth of this eastern European capital. Municipal House (Obecni dum), Namesti Republiky 5. Open 10am-6pm. Entrance CZK150 (£3.50).
Buses, trams and a subway cover the city thoroughly. Tickets are CZK20 (50p) for a single inner-city journey. A day ticket is CZK80 (1.90). Yellow ticket machines can be found in subway stations and newsagents. Visit dpp.cz.