Prague Old Town: History and Things to Do

Prague Old Town is the place where the most iconic landmarks of Prague are located. The Old Town Square, which is surrounded by the Astronomical Clock, the Church of Our Lady before Tyn and St. Nicolas church, is known as "the heart of Prague".

 

A Brief History of Prague Old Town

Located on the right side of the Vltava river, the Old Town Area is one of the most valuable districts protected by the UNESCO World Heritage Organization in Prague. The history of the Old Town goes back to the 9th century when it was inhabited by merchants and craftsmen, who served the Bohemian duke that lived in Prague Castle. The famous Old Town Square was used for the markets, executions, and gatherings of the army before they would embark on military campaigns. In the 1230s, the defense wall and moat was built to protect the Old Town from the Mongolian threat (yes, they almost made it to Prague!)

In September 1338, John of Luxembourg helped to establish the Old Town Hall, which gave Prague the official city title. During the reign of Charles IV, the first Prague University was established on the 7th of April, 1348. The turbulent 15th century brought the Hussite War (1419-1435) and two Prague defenestrations in 1419 and 1483. After approximately 100 years of social serenity, Old Town was struck by another military conflict - the Thirty Years War. On the 21st of June 162, 27 members of the Czech uprising against the Habsburg rule were executed on the Old Town Square. Even though the war finished with a victory of Czechs, their religious freedom was suppressed and the Bohemian kingdom became fully Catholic.

Czechs were able to break from the Habsburg rule only at the end of WW1 when the first Czechoslovakian president, Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, established the country's independence. It was announced on the border of the Old Town, in the famous Municipal House. During WW2, the Old town was again at the epicenter of the fight. Prague National Uprising against Nazis left a lot of buildings and monuments damaged, like the Old Town Hall and the Astronomical Clock. Nowadays, millions of tourists travel to Prague annually, and none of their visits goes by without walking through the maze of the Old Town streets.

Things to do in Old Town Prague

  • Start exploring from the Powder Towera Gothic gate to the city. You can even climb the tower for an unusual view of Prague!
  • Check out the oldest university to the North of the Alps - Charles University. They often have some cool exhibitions in the historical spaces of the building. 
  • Go to the opera in the Estate Theatre that became famous worldwide thanks to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. 
  • Visit one of the biggest churches in Prague, Tyn church, located right on the Old Town Square. The entrance might seem hidden, but all you need to do is to go through the arch between two restaurants!
  • Take many photos of the Old Town Square. It is the most iconic landmark in Prague, so everyone has to pose fr at least one picture here!
  • Stop by for the Astronomical clock show. It runs every hour sharp from 9 AM till 11 PM. The show is rather short, so make sure to be in front of the clock at least 5 min before not to miss it. 
  • Climb the Clock Tower and join a tour in the Old Town Hall. It costs 10 euro and even includes a tour of the Prague Underground. Find out more on the Old Town Hall's official website
  • Find a strange Franz Kafka monument next to the Spanish Synagog. 
  • Stroll through the former Jewish Ghetto, where Oldnew Synagogue and the Old Jewish Cemetery are located.
  • Visit the Clementinum complex famous for its beautiful library, Mirror Chapel, and Astronomical Tower.
  • Cross Charles Bridge and find yourself in a new part of Prague to explore!

The best idea, though, is to get lost in the Old Town's narrow winding lanes for a while and enjoy its cobbled streets and beautiful architecture!

 

Our Local Guide Tip

  • Wake up early and make it to the first Astronomical Clock show of the day at 9 AM. There will not be crowds of people and you can have an almost private experience of watching the figures of the clock doing their centuries-old routine. 
  • Climb one of the towers of the Charles Bridge for one of the best views in Prague.
  • Explore Romanesque and Gothic underground for free by going to the basements of popular restaurants such as U Pavouka or U Dvou Kocek. 

See more of our Prague Travel Tips.