As you cross the iconic Charles Bridge, you arrive in Malá Strana or “Lesser Town, a charming, picturesque part of Prague that peacefully lies beneath the Prague Castle and is known for its delightful winding cobblestone streets, its array of lovely restaurants, shops and cafes, its beautiful buildings and homes, and best of all, its lack of crowds giving this part of town a quieter, peaceful feeling.
Despite it’s name “Lesser Town” (Malá Strana is also referred to as the Little Quarter), Lesser Town is by no means a less beautiful or fascinating place to explore. In fact, it got its name because it was originally the smaller part of town where the king lived which in those days was away from the hustle and bustle of the Old Town markets and square.
After you cross the Charles Bridge, slowly the crowds dissipate and you can wander the charming eighteenth century cobblestone streets – many of them tucked behind gorgeous buildings and jetting uphill – in lovely solitude. In many ways, you will find Lesser Town to be Prague’s most enchanting part of town. Despite its intimate size of only 600 square meters, it is easy to get lost within its narrow streets and loose the hordes of people in Old Town. Home to such gems as the Church of St. Nicholas, the Little Quarter Square, the Kafka Museum, Petrin Park, and the Wallenstein Palace and Garden (which sadly was closed when we were there for a private event), you could easily spend a late afternoon or evening enjoying this intimate neighborhood.
We only had a short amount of time as we strolled up to visit the Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral before the crowds arrived. Yet I was still able to capture a feel for Lesser Town’s eternal beauty of rich Baroque architecture, red tiled rooftops and exquisite grand homes and of course I easily fell in love with it.
According to Rough Guides Prague, the first people to settle in Lesser Town were people of Jewish descent, merchants and monks who flocked to the beautiful, steep landscape below the Prague Castle. The district of Lesser Town was founded in 1257 by a German community under the rule of King Otakar II who was a member of the Přemyslid dynasty and reigned as King of Bohemia from 1253 until 1278.
Like other parts of Prague that often suffered from terrible floods, Lesser Town had its own set of issues and a huge part of the area was destroyed by a massive fire in 1541. After the Protestants were pushed out of the area in the early 1600s, a powerful group of Catholic nobility took over and began building the exquisite grand palaces and homes you can still see today. In fact, hardly any new building has occurred in Lesser Town since the late 18th century making this part a highly, sought-after place to live. Many of the old mansions have turned into embassies and flats.
Lesser Town is filled with statues, fountains and beautiful decorations on the windows, buildings and doors many of which I didn’t know the name of but wish I did. I am certain that each building had its own story from the past.
The lovely Nerudova Street is a place that cannot be missed in Lesser Town for viewing its elaborate array of house signs. Named after the famous Czech poet Jan Neruda who lived at the house called “At the Two Suns” (number 47), Nerudova Street has perhaps the most fascinating decorative house signs in all of Prague. House signs were used until 1770 when a new way of house numbering was introduced in the city. However, many house signs remain as part of the beautiful decor today like this one below named “The Three Fiddles”.
St. Nicholas’ Church is the centerpiece of Little Quarter Square and is an incredible example of Baroque architecture. It was build between 1704 and 1755 on the site where a 13th century Gothic church stood. Its cupola and bell tower are dominant landmarks in this area and can be seen from many streets in Lesser Town.
We didn’t have time to go inside the church of St. Nicholas but apparently it is definitely worth the visit with its extraordinary frescoes, paintings and sacred statues. It took 100 years and three architects to complete the masterpiece.
If you continue on towards the hill up to the Prague Castle, you pass one beautiful set of buildings after another. You could spend hours just admiring the architecture and lively colors of the homes. I was constantly looking up to catch it all on film. By the end of the trip, my neck was incredibly stiff but it was worth the effort.
Soon it was time to head up to the Prague Castle. It was nearing 11 o’clock and if we hurried we could tour the St. Vitus Cathedral and catch the changing of the guards. I wish we had more time to walk and linger in Lesser Town for it was my favorite part of Prague. Yet, I took one look at the enchanting stairs leading up to the Prague Castle and knew what kind of amazing views of the city I had in store for me. It wasn’t long until I was racing up them to capture a panoramic view of this incredible place.
Stay tuned….stunning views of Prague, a tour of St. Vitus Cathedral and the Prague Castle are coming next. In case you missed it, I have written several posts on Prague including different walks. To view all, click here.
Here are some excellent guidebooks and resources I used to help research this post:
Rough Guides to Prague, 2015 edition, written by Marc Di Duca
DK Eyewitness Travel 2016 Prague, Vladimir Soukup
Discover Prague Guide – provided by most hotels in Prague
To view this post in GPSMyCity, an online GPS enhanced walking guide app, click here.