Malá Strana may mean ‘lesser town’ in Czech, but there is nothing insignificant about this beautiful and historic part of Prague. Located between the Vltava river and Prague castle, the area is one of Prague’s oldest neighbourhoods and is renowned for its exquisite baroque architecture, charming cobbled streets and easy access to Petřín park.
Founded by King Ottokar II of Bohemia in 1257, Malá Strana has had a tumultuous history. The area was devastated by fire twice and had to be completely rebuilt after the last blaze in 1514. The baroque architecture that gives the area its signature charm dates back to the 17th and 18th centuries, and comprises a host of historic townhouses, quaint shops, restaurants, grand palaces and its best-known landmark, the Church of Saint Nicholas. The church dominates Malá Strana’s main square, Malostranské náměstí, which is at the very heart of the district. The square is lined by an array of business and residential properties, many of them extremely grand, such as the Smiřický palace.
The area is easily explored on foot, but some of the most striking views require a steep climb. The Old Castle Steps, which start from close to Malostranská metro station, were created in the 16th century and are one of the most popular ways to reach the castle. Be sure to take your time as you climb to revel in the spectacular views across the city’s red-tiled rooftops.
The panoramic views from Petřín park, and particularly from the distinctive lookout tower inside the park, are equally impressive. Prague’s version of the Eiffel Tower was built in 1891 and is 63.5m high; there are 299 steps to climb to reach the top, but there’s also a viewing gallery halfway up, and the views from both are impressive. The tower is open 22 hours a day from May to September, so it’s the perfect spot to catch the sunset, or even the sunrise. To reach the park, take the Petřín funicular, a cable railway that starts at the park’s lower entrance.
As one might expect, traditional Czech cuisine is something of a speciality in Malá Strana. To satisfy a sweet tooth, stop at Cukrkávalimonáda restaurant and patisserie. Try the flammkuchen, a savoury pastry, or indulge in a slice of sweet cherry cake with a cup of its ever-popular hot chocolate. For something a little more substantial head to Kampa Park restaurant, overlooking the river. A favourite of Hillary Clinton, the restaurant serves a selection of traditional seafood and meat dishes matched with an extensive wine list. With spectacular views of the Charles Bridge available from its terrace, Kampa Park is the ideal spot for a special occasion.
Art enthusiasts will find much to excite their interest at Coda, where the dining room is filled with works by the likes of Dalí, Chagall and Picasso. Italian architects Rocco Magnoli and Lorenzo Carmellini designed the restaurant, and its head chef David Šašek uses only fresh, seasonal and local produce in his kitchen. Every dish is cooked using the sous vide method, ensuring that dishes such as a crispy oven-roasted duck are cooked to perfection.
Malá Strana’s shopping options are similarly varied. Marionety Truhlář, for instance, stocks exquisitely made puppets made by one of its 50 specially trained marionette makers. Regularly held workshops allow visitors to try this traditional craft for themselves or, if you are very lucky, you may be able to catch one of its touring exhibitions or theatrical productions.
American expat Karen Feldman offers some of the city’s most covetable crystal glassware at each of her three Artěl stores, one of which is in Malá Strana. Feldman launched Artěl in 1998; today, her stores offer pieces that marry centuries-old production techniques with more modern motifs, including bold geometrics and soft floral patterns. The Glacier Vodka glassware in amber and the faceted highball glasses are two highlights. Feldman has also created custom designs for brands such as Gucci, Burberry and Rolls-Royce and has written her own insider guide to Prague, Artěl Style.
With its spectacular city views, beautiful glassware and tempting desserts, there is sure to be something to satisfy all the senses in Prague’s historic Malá Strana.