Architecture in Prague for the Casual Traveler

Like Disneyland, But Real

Close-up view of St. Vitus cathedral reveals two window eyes and a row of arched doorway teeth
Monster face of St. Vitus cathedral in Prague, Czech Republic. Photo by Imagno/Hulton Archive Collection/Getty Images

This page is your introduction to the Medieval, Baroque, and Renaissance buildings you will see when you travel to Prague. Known as the "golden city of spires," Prague in the Czech Republic has architectural splendors that span a thousand years. It is also a bewildering, even haunting city.

Wandering through courtyards and back alleys of Old Prague, I made the startling discovery that even the floor plans and house layouts are strange and disorienting. Public and private spaces combine in passageways which run through houses from one street to another. Apartments are rarely divided up by corridors. Instead, one room opens directly to another—much like the rooms described in Metamorphosis, Czech author Franz Kafka's nightmarish tale of a man transformed into a cockroach.

But don't let Kafka's creepy stories discourage you. When the sun shines on the river Vltava, golden buildings take on a cheerful glow. Even the somber surrealist writer would be pleased to spend eternity here.

Must See Buildings in Prague:

  • Prague Castle (Hradcany)
    Prague Castle, also called Hradcany Castle or Pratske Hrad, is part of a vast royal complex. The castle that appears so foreboding in the Tom Cruise film, Mission Impossible has towered over the River Vltava for a thousand years. It's a part of the Hradcany royal complex, where Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, and Rococo facades form startling juxtapositions.
  • Astronomical Clock
    Be sure to linger in the Old Town Square to watch the celebrated clock when it strikes the hour.
  • Archbishop's Palace
    Reconstructed many times, this Baroque Palace is like a course in architectural history.
  • St. Vitus Cathedral
    You don't have to believe in ghosts to be haunted by architecture. Just take a quick look at St. Vitus Cathedral (shown on this page) and you'll be terrorized by the wide window eyes and shrieking triple doorways—like Munch's The Scream. Nearly 600 years went into the construction of this famous Prague landmark.
  • Altneuschul
    Europe's oldest synagogue.

Walking Tours in Prague:

Architectural Styles in Prague:

Kafka in Prague:

  • "Prague never lets you go... this dear little mother has sharp claws." -Franz Kafka

At the turn of the century, Prague was home to Franz Kafka. The city's convoluted streets and unpredictable architecture are reflected in his bizarre, disturbing stories.

During the winter of 1916, Franz Kafka wrote many of his stories while living with his sister on 22 Zlata ulicka (Golden Lane). The unsettling effect of this strange geography is reflected in Kafka's chilling, surrealistic novel, The Castle. Beyond the castle complex, cobbled roads plunge steeply down to Lesser Town and the famous Charles Bridge, where rows of Baroque statues form an elaborate display.

Kafka spent his formative years in the nearby Staromestska namesti, the Old Town Square. The charming, eclectic homes which surround the square don't strike me as especially Kafkaesque... but it is unsettling to reflect that ancient Roman ruins hide behind the Gothic and Baroque facades.

Much of the oppressive architecture of Kafka's novels comes from Josefov, the Jewish ghetto north of the town square. Urban renewal efforts have swept away many of the original buildings, but the Old Jewish Cemetery remains.

The architecture of the golden city is reflected in Kafka's writings, including his Parables:

  • The Tower of Babel and The Pit of Babel
  • The Building of the Temple
  • The Building of a City
  • The City Coat of Arms

Learn More:

  • Kafka: The Complete Stories and Parables
  • Kafka's Prague: A Travel Reader by Klaus Wagenbach
  • Franz Kafka of Prague by Jiri Grusa
  • Traveling in the Czech Republic
  • Photo Galleries of Prague and the Czech Republic
    From Eastern Europe Travel Expert
  • The Official Tourist Website for Prague