Prague has been known to have many nicknames. The ‘city of a hundred spires’, ‘the magic city’, ‘the mother of cities’, ‘the city with 100 bell towers’, ‘the golden city’; and the ‘heart of Europe’. Travel to Prague and you will instantly understand why. It is a captivating city full of beautiful buildings and historical sites just waiting to be explored. This bohemian city sits on the hills alongside the Vltava River. It features a stunning skyline of Gothic spires. It is so photogenic with its cobblestone streets, red rooftops, extensive gardens and brightly coloured buildings.
Prague used to be known as the ‘Five Towns’, although it is divided into 10 separate districts. Most visitors tend to concentrate on the five historic towns:
- Castle district (or Hradčany)
- Old Town (or Staré Město)
- Little Quarter (or Malá Strana)
- New Town (or Nové Město)
- Jewish Quarter (or Josefov)
This travel guide is part of a five-part series focusing on each of the five areas at a time. It will highlight some of the area’s best of, so you won’t miss a thing. This is the fourth one, focusing on Nové Město or New Town.
The History of New Town
Despite its name, New Town was founded by Charles IV in 1348, is considered the youngest of the five historic areas. This area of Prague is a mix of new and historic buildings, as much of it was redeveloped during the late 19th century.
This area is noticeably different than the other historic areas of Prague. Not only due to its architecture, but also its size. New Town is twice as large as Old Town. It is sprawled across one of the banks of the Vltata River and features, not just one but three large squares – Wenceslas, Charles and Republic Square.
Also, it features public transportation (bus, tram and metro) – where the other areas are mainly foot traffic only. New Town is the business and party neighbourhood of Prague – holding the greatest number of international hotels, theaters, chain stores, night clubs, cafés, restaurants and fast food. It’s crawling with tourists and young people. So, if that is your vibe, this is where you need to be!
The Squares – Wenceslas, Charles and Hay
All three squares were founded in 1348 – one used for horses (Wenceslas), one for cattle (Charles) and one for hay (Hay). All three are connected by today’s Vodičkova and Jindřišská streets and each have their own metro station.
Wenceslas Square is the heart of New Town. It doesn’t look like your typical European square, rather it looks like a long broad boulevard. However, it is here where many historical moments in the country’s history took place. The revolution in 1848, the creation of Czechoslovakia in 1918, and the anticommunist protests in 1989. Also, it’s where you will find patriot holiday celebrations and political protests. At the top of the square sits the National Museum, built in 1880s. It features intellectual and scientific history of the Czech Republic.
Charles Square is the largest square in Prague. It was supposed to be the most important square in the city, and is where the New Town Hall was built, but despite those plans, Wenceslas Square later became the most important square. In the 1860s, a large portion of the square was turned into a park.
Lastly, there is Hay Square, the smallest and least important, so much so it was never renamed during its course of history.
The New Town Hall
The New Town Hall was built in 1377, and has quite the history. Have you ever heard the term ‘defenestration’ which literally means throwing out of a window? Well, the term just might have originated here. In 1419, two councilors were thrown from the window to their death which began the Hussite revolution.
The Dancing House
The Canadian-born architect Frank Gehry designed this office building and nicknamed it ‘Fred and Ginger’ as he thought the two glass towers resembled two dancers. Officially this building is known as the Nationale-Nederlanden, and it was completed in 1996. The building is not open to the public, as it is used for office space. But, there is a restaurant on the top floor and would offer wonderful views of the Vltava River.
The National Theater
The best view of this magnificent building is from the Charles Bridge. I fell I love with the architecture which has a mix of Austrian and Italian influences. Since 1881 it offers ballet, opera and theater productions. My biggest regret was not getting tickets in advance and being able to see the inside. Don’t miss out the opportunity, click here for their website.
The most notable museums in this area are:
- Mucha – featuring art nouveau
- National – featuring intellectual and scientific history
As a holidaymaker…
Prague is easily one of Europe’s most photogenic cities. From its medley of architectural styles to its numerous landmarks. Time has stood still in Prague’s five historical quarters, straight out of a fairytale.
Be sure to check out the other four historical areas within this blog series.