Old Town Prague: Best Sights for First-Time Visitors

Old Town Prague, many people agree, is one of the most beautiful in Central and Eastern Europe. It’s also sprawling, with many sights and things to do within its winding streets and around its corners. If you’re visiting Prague for the first time, head to this area of the city for some of its most significant sights. This guide is here to help.

Discover why Old Town Prague is so special and what you should do in the historic center of the Czech capital city.

Aerial view of Prague's Old Town Square
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What Makes Old Town Prague Special

Many of the best cities in Central and Eastern Europe are known for their sprawling, historic old towns (think Old Town Vilnius and Old Town Tallinn). Prague – or Praha, as it is locally known – is no different.

Stare Mesto, or “old town” in Czech, is an area of densely packed sights and attractions, making it convenient as well as memorable for travelers. If you’re visiting Old Town Prague, you can easily stay, eat, shop, and sightsee here and be perfectly content for several days without even seeing other parts of Prague!

Stare Mesto is part of the UNESCO-protected area of Prague that also includes the Lesser Quarter across the Vltava River and Castle Hill. And even UNESCO agrees that “Prague is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.”

The historic center contains architecture and architectural remnants dating back to the Middle Ages, including Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Rococo, Baroque, Art Nouveau, and Cubist styles. With over 1,100 years of history, Prague’s Old Town doesn’t disappoint by way of sights and attractions.

In the Middle Ages, Old Town Prague was the city of Prague. It did not yet spill into any of the other districts surrounding the center. Then, it was surrounded by walls with city gates as well as a moat for defensive purposes. Many important landmarks appeared during this time, including the Town Hall. And that’s why you’ll find so many well-preserved examples of history from those early days of the town’s development.

Furthermore, a good selection of museums will help you learn more about different aspects of Czech history as well as plenty of shops and restaurants.

Sprawling Prague Old Town with church spires in the center
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A Quick-stop Guide for Old Town Prague

If you’re in a hurry to view the highlights of Prague’s Stare Mesto, the following sights are a must – you may be continuing your journey to other Czech cities. You can view these main sights in one straight line as you follow part of the Royal Route of the Czech kings until you get to Charles Bridge, another hugely important landmark (and from then, you can continue to Mala Strana, or the Lesser Quarter, and Castle Hill).

  1. Start at Republic Square, where you’ll see the Powder Tower and the Municipal House.
  2. Follow Celetna Street, a historic street, and be sure to keep an eye out for the House of the Black Madonna, a Cubist structure, and Charles’ University’s Karolinum building.
  3. Follow Celetna until you get to Old Town Square. You’ll be on the Church of our Lady Before Tyn side.
  4. The square is full of architectural treasures: the Kinsky Palace, the House at the Stone Bell, the Jan Hus monument, and houses with colorful and descriptive names.
  5. As you make your way towards the west end of the square, be sure to stop at the Astronomical Clock, which is a part of the Town Hall, and watch as it strikes the hour.
  6. Exit the square, watching for the House at the Minute, which bears sgraffito decoration. You’ll enter the Little Square and be able to continue on to Charles Bridge.

Old Town’s structures have some interiors worth viewing:

  1. The Spanish Synagogue with its Moorish-style interior
  2. The Municipal House, a masterpiece of Art Nouveau
  3. The Klementium, a beautiful library and observatory

For the best views of Old Town, you can climb the towers of:

  1. The Powder Tower
  2. The Town Hall Tower
  3. Klementium Observatory
  4. Old Town Bridge Tower

However, if you have more time and want to get the most of what this part of the Czech capital city has to offer, please read on for a more thorough roundup of Old Town Prague sights.

What to See on Old Town Square

Like with many old towns, the central square is the heart of Prague’s Old Town area. It’s also one of the first stops that travelers make a beeline to when they’re keen on getting the most out of their stay in the capital of Czechia.

As you can imagine, Old Town Square is bounded by several important and interesting sights. It’s also the location of various markets, such as one of the top Czech Christmas markets and an Easter market.

Old Town Prague view of church and square at sunset
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The Church of Our Lady Before Tyn

One of the most recognizable Old Town Square landmarks is the Gothic Church of Our Lady Before Tyn with its tall, dark spires that serve as a backdrop for many photos.

The church dates back to medieval times, when it got its Gothic exterior, but the interior reflects a Baroque-era aesthetic. It’s the burial place of the astronomer Tycho Brahe and boasts the oldest organ in the Prague.

The church is free to enter, but note that visitors are not permitted to sightsee during services.

The Jan Hus Memorial

The Memorial to Jan Hus sits in the middle of Old Town Square. Jan Hus was a religious reformer who was burned at the stake in 1415 for his religious beliefs, which influenced Martin Luther and the Protestant movement later in history. The statue was placed on the square in 1915 to mark 500 years since Hus’ death.

The Prague Astronomical Clock

Prague’s Astronomical Clock may be the city’s No. 1 sight – and is certainly one of its most photographed. This medieval clock started ticking in 1410 and is the Town Hall’s main feature. Though the clock has had a rocky history, it still keeps time after 600 years – it’s one of the oldest astronomical clocks in the world.

The Prague Orloj, as it is also known, has undergone several restorations to keep it in order. Every hour on the hour, people gather below it to watch the figures appear from the clock. It’s one of the best free things to do in Prague.

If you don’t do anything else in Prague, be sure to visit the Prague Astronomical Clock!

Detail of astronomical clock face in Prague
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Town Hall

Though sometimes overshadowed by the Prague Astronomical Clock, the Town Hall is nevertheless an important feature of Prague’s historic center.

The Town Hall dates to the 15th century and maintains its Gothic appearance. Visitors can view its interior, but perhaps its biggest draw is its tower, which offers unparalleled views of Town Hall Square.

The tower has wheelchair access as a part of Prague’s barrier-free initiative.

Kinsky Palace

The Rococo Kinsky Palace, with its rosy façade, was built in the 18th century and has plenty of history.

Bertha von Suttner, the first female Nobel Peace Prize recipient, was born here in 1843. A baroness by title, she was also a novelist and a long-time peace activist up until right before WWI, when she died. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1905.

Franz Kafka, one of Czechia’s favorite historical figures, also studied here at the German school set up in the palace, while his father practiced his profession of haberdashery on the ground floor.

The palace is now used as a branch of the National Gallery.

The House at the Stone Bell

Next to the Kinsky Palace is the House at the Stone Bell, which has its origins in the 13th century. The building now has its older Gothic look due to restoration that took place to remove some of the Baroque details that were added in the 17th century.

The building gets its name from the stone bell found on a corner of its façade. Nobody is quite certain what the bell signifies – whether a victory in battle or the return of John of Bohemia, who fathered Charles IV, the first King of Bohemia to take the title of Holy Roman Emperor in 1347.

The Prague City Gallery is located on the premises, but visitors can also view the Gothic cellar. Concerts also take place here.

Gothic building next to Baroque Palace
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The House at the Minute

The House of the Minute belongs to the Town Hall complex, but it stands out for its distinctive 17th-century sgraffito work, which depicts myths and legends from both the Bible and the Renaissance era.

Formerly known as the House at the White Lion at the time a pharmacy operated on the premises, it still bears the white lion sculpture that recalls that prior time in the building’s life.

The building gets its current name from the fact that tobacco was sold here. The tobacco was in small (minute) pieces.

It was where Franz Kafka and his parents lived towards the end of the 20th century.

The building is not open to the public, but the sgraffito work is free to view!

Building with figures etched with sgraffito work
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Sights Outside of Old Town Square

While Old Town Square may be the nexus of Old Town, the historic center is large enough that it has many, many other recommended things to do and see.

The Little Square

The Little Square is what you’ll find when you exit Old Town Square in the direction of Charles Bridge. This intersection of roads contains an ornamental fountain and several historic buildings as well as restaurants.

Aerial view of square with historic buildings
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The Powder Tower

Prague’s Powder Tower (not to be confused with the Mihulka Powder Tower at Prague Castle) was a once a gate to the city and dates from the 15th century. Prague originally had 13 city gates, and this one was on the king’s Royal Route that he would use for coronations.

The gate gets its name from its period of use as storage for gunpowder.

It’s located on the west side of Republic Square. With a ticket, you can climb the 180+ steps to get up to the observation platform.

View down the street of medieval city tower gate
Photo 56519321 / Celetna Street © Xin Hua | Dreamstime.com

Municipal House

The Municipal House is one of Prague’s Art Nouveau treasures. Built at the beginning of the 20th century, its exterior and interior features Art Nouveau design, including from the Czech father of Art Nouveau, Alphonse Mucha.

Find it near the Powder tower on Republic Square, and take a guided tour through the building to learn about how it reflects Art Nouveau aesthetics. If you love this style of architecture and interior design, you’ll be delighted by what you see.

You can also visit the café there, which is separate from the entry ticket to the building.

Detail of Art Nouveau buidling with soft clouds
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The Estates Theater

This pretty, late 18th-century theater stands on Zelazna Street, looking almost exactly the way it did when it premiered Mozart’s Don Giovanni – look for the ghost statue outside of the building that references one of the characters of the work. It was also a site for filming of the movie Amadeus.

Whether or not you care about Mozart, the Estates Theater is worth viewing, both inside and out. You don’t have to book tickets for a concert there to view the inside (though you may want to!). Guided tours are available when productions are not taking place so you can peek into its ever-so-beautiful nooks and crannies.

Historic theater building with columns
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Celetna Street

Celetna Street is mentioned in many guides to Old Town Prague for good reason. It’s one of the city’s oldest streets, and it connects the Powder Tower to Old Town Square as a part of the Royal Route – the coronation procession route for Czech kings.

You’ll see various architectural monuments on this street, many with names that reference decorative elements, such as the House at the Black Sun.

Though the facades of these buildings have changed over the years and many have undergone renovations or restoration to various degrees, their foundations date back to medieval times.

Historic Prague Old Town street with people and church in the background
Photo 184240661 / Celetna Street © Mistervlad | Dreamstime.com

The House at the Black Madonna

The House at the Black Madonna is a distinctive Cubist-style building constructed between 1911 and 1912. It’s one of the most interesting buildings on Celetna Street.

Once used as a department store, it’s now home to a branch of the Museum of Decorative Arts. It gets its name for the Baroque sculpture of the Virgin Mary that was saved from the prior structure that stood in the same location.

Cubist building seen from the front
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The Karolinum

The Karolinum is also an important Old Town Prague site located on Celetna Street. It belongs to Charles University and is a site for graduation ceremonies.

While you can’t tour this venerable structure, you can admire it from the outside and how it represents centuries of university learning in Old Town Prague.

Havel Market

Head south from Old Town Square to Havelsky Street to check out a market that dates to the 13th century! In addition to fresh produce, this market also caters to tourists with souvenir items.

Rotunda of the Finding of the Holy Cross

The Rotunda of the Finding of the Holy Cross dates back to Romanesque times – as early as the 11 or 12th century. Find it at the crossing of Konviktská and Karolíny Světlé streets.

As in times of old, it’s a place of worship.

Hotel Paris

Hotel Paris is one of Old Town Prague’s Art Nouveau beauties. This 5-star hotel was built in 1904 and has elegant interiors that reflect the aesthetics of the era.

Consider booking a room for your stay in the Czech capital or eat at its restaurant or café – both are decked out in Art Nouveau décor.

Hotel Paris is found at U Obecního domu 1.

Closeup of Art Nouveau hotel entrance
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The Rudolfinum

The Rudolfinum is a space for culture. Named for Crown Prince Rudolf, it was built in the second half of the 19th century and stands on Jan Palach Square.

It’s the home of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and a main venue for the Prague Spring International Music Festival.

It also contains an art gallery for contemporary pieces.

Concert and gallery building at night
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The Klementium

The Klementium is a large complex on Mariánské nám. dating from the 16th century and founded by Jesuits. Now it’s known for being the headquarters of the National Library – but it’s also stunningly beautiful.

Guided tours will allow you to see the highlights of its interior. In addition to the library hall, you’ll be able to climb the astronomical tower, which offers a view of the panorama of Old Town Prague.

Jewish Old Town Prague

The Jewish Quarter of Prague, also known as Josefov, is located in the historic center of Prague. As you’re exploring this area, check out some of the following sights.

The Maisel Synagogue

The 16th century synagogue, greatly damaged by fire in the 17th century, was used by Nazi occupiers as a place to store the wealth and objects they stole from Prague’s Jewish inhabitants.

Having undergone multiple restorations and renovations, it now houses and exhibition detailing the story of the Jews of the Czech lands.

The Spanish Synagogue

The Spanish Synagogue, located on Dušní 12, was built in the late 19th century in Moorish style. The distinctive style carries into the interior with rhythmic mosaics and striking stained-glass windows.

The exhibition here extends the history of the Jews of the Czech lands into the 19th and 20th centuries, which begins in the Maisel Synagogue.

You’ll find the statue to Franz Kafka next to the Spanish Synagogue.

Interior of Moorish-style Spanish synagogue in Prague
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The Jewish Town Hall

Not open to the public, the Renaissance-style Jewish Town hall was built in the 16th century. Look up at its tower, and you’ll see two clocks: one bearing Roman numerals and one keeping time with Hebrew numerals.

Find it where Maiselova and Červená streets meet.

The Old New Synagogue

There’s nothing new about the Old New Synagogue, found across the street from the Jewish Town Hall. This synagogue, of Gothic style, was completed in the second half of the 13th century!

Though it’s a working synagogue, it can be viewed upon payment of the entry fee.

Gothic-style synagogue building in Jewish Old Town Prague
Photo 137736755 © Fedecandoniphoto | Dreamstime.com

The Old Jewish Cemetery

The Old Jewish Cemetery, founded in the 15th century, is a highly important burial ground that was used for almost 350 years.

Due to limited space, the cemetery grew in layers. Many important historical figures are buried here.

The Old Jewish Cemetery can be visited through a tour provided by the Prague Jewish Museum, which also includes a tour of important sights of Josefov.

Museums in Old Town Prague

As you can imagine, Stare Mesto has its share of museums. Consider visiting the following museums in this area of Prague:  

  • Museum of Decorative Arts – The Museum of Decorative Arts has several branches, with its main one at 17. listopadu 2, but the House at the Black Madonna is also under its aegis. Czech decorative arts shine in this museum packed with beautiful objects.
  • Magic Garnet Museum – The garnet, that deep red semi-precious stone, is the star of the Garnet Museum. Czech garnets are renowned for their intensity and have been used in jewelry and decoration for generations. Learn about garnet mining and the history of this jewel through this museum’s exhibitions.
  • Speculum Alchemiae – The Museum of Alchemy is located in a historic building that was used in the 15th and 16th centuries as a pharmacy and then a laboratory for alchemical experiments. Learn about the building, alchemy in general, or take a “magical” tour.
  • Jewish Museum of Prague – the Jewish Museum of Prague operates several locations in important Jewish sites in Prague, including in the synagogues of Josefov. This museum also offers tours of sights related to the Jewish history of the city.
  • Sex Machines Museum – The Sex Machines Museum is a collection of erotic paraphernalia from ages past.  
  • Museum of Torture – The Torture Museum presents medieval torture instruments and explains how they were used.
  • Charles Bridge Museum – Visit the Charles Bridge Museum to learn fascinating details about Prague’s most famous bridge. This landmark is one of the most famous of old Praha, so it’s no wonder it has a museum dedicated specifically to its story.
  • The Klementium – A beautiful library is preserved in time at the Klementium. A tour of this building includes views from the observation tower and an exhibit of old manuscripts.
  • The National Gallery – The National Gallery has many branches throughout Prague. Find one of these at the Kinsky Palace on Old Town Square.
  • The Czech Beer Museum – The Czech Beer Museum is dedicated to the long heritage of brewing beer in the Czech Republic. Learn about its history and development through the ages.

8 Things to Know About Old Town Prague for Travelers

  1. Don’t limit your visit to Prague’s Old Town. Crossing Charles Bridge into the Mala Strana district and visiting Castle Hill, or Hradcany, is a must. Of course, Prague has many things to see and do that aren’t in the Old Town.
  2. In addition to sights and museums, Stare Mesto is packed with restaurants and shops. Though you should certainly go beyond Old Town during your visit to Prague, if you are limited on time, you’ll find everything you need here.
  3. Accommodation may be most expensive in Old Town due to it being prime real estate. You can easily find a hotel or Airbnb on the outskirts of old town in one of the other districts to save some money. In many cases, you’ll still be within walking distance of the main Old Town sights – and if not, public transportation is always an option.
  4. Plenty of cultural events happen in this neighborhood of Praha. You’ll be able to enjoy both outdoor markets and festivals and concerts and performances. Events calendars can help you decide if any of these are for you.
  5. The summer season is the most crowded for Prague, and especially for the historic center. If you want to avoid crowds, consider visiting on the shoulder seasons – spring or fall – or be sure to get up early and do as much sightseeing as you can before people emerge from their accommodation for the day.
  6. Where possible, book tickets in advance to avoid waiting in line for major attractions.
  7. Remember that the Czech Republic’s currency is the koruna. You’ll have to use this currency when you shop, dine out, or buy tickets for sights and attractions.
  8. Be smart about your belongings and beware of tourist scams. Crowded streets in Prague attract pickpockets and con artists.
Monument to Jan Hus in Old Town Square surrounded by flowers
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The Best Time to Visit Stare Mesto

Many people visit Old Town Prague in the summer months of June, July, and August. This is when the streets will be most crowded and accommodation may be at its most expensive. If you like traveling during the high season, by all means, do it! You’ll have warm weather and blue skies, and restaurant terraces will be open for outdoor dining.

Spring and autumn are good times to visit Stare Mesto, too. You’ll have thinner crowds to contend with and the air will be cooler. Check events calendars for cultural and music festivals to round out your stay.

In winter, if you time your visit to coincide with Christmas in the Czech Republic, you’ll be able to enjoy a winter wonderland of decorative lights, Christmas trees, and markets. Cafes and restaurants become cozy escapes from the cold, and if snow is in the forecast, you’ll see historic buildings blanketed in a fresh coat of white.

Ways to Experience Prague’s Historic Center

One of the best ways to experience Old Town Prague is on foot at your own pace. You can see as many sights as you want in a day and stop for food and drink whenever you need. It’s most convenient if you’re staying in or near the Old Town so you can make your way back to your hotel or hostel easily no matter how tired you are or how late it is.

If you’re short on time, though, you may want to see Stare Mesto via a guided tour. Walking tours – some of them free – will familiarize you with the neighborhood’s highlights. A good guide will tell you stories about Prague you may not get elsewhere and offer a personalized touch and a unique perspective.

Taking a Jewish-themed tour of Josefov is a great way to zero in on this historically rich area.

You may also want to experience Prague’s Old Town through food. You can stick to restaurants serving Czech cuisine or work your way through by tasting Czech beer at various pubs. But Old Town Prague has a diverse range of restaurants serving various cuisines and catering to different dietary preferences.

Those who love shopping won’t be disappointed, either. You’ll find many shops selling garnet jewelry, Czech-made products and folk art, glass and crystal, or local design.

Last, it doesn’t hurt to schedule your trip to coincide with a major holiday such as Christmas or Easter. The markets on Old Town Square mean you’ll have things to see and do that you wouldn’t be able to experience any other time of year. You’ll also be able to purchase unique gifts and souvenirs and sample seasonal foods.

Old Town Prague is, undoubtedly, a memorable place to visit with many things to see and do, no matter the season, how much time you have, or what your tastes and interests are. Starting your exploration in the historic center will show you how nuanced, exciting, and attractive Prague is as a destination.

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