Prague from above

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

The skyline of Prague is dotted with spires and towers giving the Czech capital its fairy-tale appearance. Better than simply admiring these structures from the ground, some of them can be accessed for wonderful views on Prague, the hills of Bohemia and the Vltava River. Know which ones to climb and as a bonus, where to go to take it in in style!

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The Lesser Town Belfry

The Saint Nicholas tower seems to be part of the namesake church. If the current 18th century baroque tower was built by the Jesuits, it has always been a separate entity, managed by the city and used as a fire lookout tower and clock tower. The recreated flats and offices of the tower wardens are nice stops on the climb up and allow a look into the past of lower-class families.

All the way up, after conquering 215 steps, another surprise awaits: with such a view, it is easy to understand why the communist regime used the belfry as an observation post of the State Security to survey the nearby foreign embassies (e.g. of the USA, Germany, and Great Britain) of the Malá Strana picturesque district between 1964 and 1989.

The highlight is the 65-meter (213 ft) high gallery that offers wonderful views on the Lesser Town, the Pétrin Park and across the Vltava River in the distance.

Charles Bridge & the Bridge Towers

The construction of the towers and bridge began in the late 1360s, ordered by Czechia’s most beloved King Charles IV, and only completed under his son, Wenceslas IV. On each bank of the Vltava River, two great towers, the Lesser Town Bridge Tower and the Old Town Bridge Tower can be climbed, separated by hordes of tourists taking selfies between the statues dotting the bridge, ambulant vendors and street performers.

The Lesser Town Bridge Tower

Along the bank of the Vltava River on the Lesser Town side, The Lesser Town Bridge Tower is the youngest part of Charles Bridge dating back to 1464, even if its current appearance was given to it in the late 19th century.

Along with the smaller older tower, it protected the gate which functioned as the entrance to the Lesser Town.

If the tower with its steep slate roofdominates the bridge about 43 meters above ground, its gallery is only 26-meter high. It offers views on Charles Bridge where tourists and street entertainers have replaced traders and pilgrims. The castle and Saint Nicholas church with its belfry are unmissable.

The Old Town Bridge Tower

After crossing Charles Bridge, the sumptuous gothic Old Town Bridge Tower stands majestically on the Old Town riverbank. Ordered by Charles IV, 14th century Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia, it was more than a simple tower and gate: it was a triumphal royal arch under which Bohemian kings passed on their coronation procession to St. Vitus’ Cathedral by Prague’s Castle. Its precious sandstone ornaments depict the Coat of arms of the Old Town of Prague and provinces that existed upon building the tower as well as the statues of Charles IV, Saint Vitus and Wenceslas IV.

The tower that stands 57 meters above the water was nonetheless an efficient fortification to close the way between both banks of the Vltava River, between the Malá Strana district under the Prague Castle and the Staré Mesto area or Old Town.

A stone tower warden, looking half-drunk and syphilis ridden seems to be mocking us as we eventually arrive at the gallery level, 26 meters above the ground. From the defensive stone gallery with its turrets, the view on Charles Bridge and the Lesser Town on one side, and on the Old Town on the other are magnificent.

The Old Town Hall’s tower

Bombed by mistake by the Americans in 1945 (some 180 kilometres from the intended target of Dresden in Germany…), the Old Town Hall is barely half of itself. Its 14th century tower had to be reconstructed at great costs.

Up until 1886, watchmen were stationed at its top to monitor the area and warn the population in case of any sign of danger. Today, tourists take in the breath-taking panorama 42 meters above Prague. At its foot, hundreds of other gather every hour to marvel at the astronomical clock tower and the round of the apostles, oblivious of the underground world below their feet that may be even more noticeable… Visiting the clock tower not only gives a glimpse at the behind the scenes of the apostle round, but also grants a guided access to the largest underground medieval section in Prague.

The Powder Gate Tower

The 1475 powder tower used to be part of the Old Town fortifications when the king lived there and lost its function when the royal court was moved to Prague’s castle. Today, the walk from the Old Town city hall passes by sumptuous buildings decorated by statues and frescoes before arriving in front of the tower, renovated in the 19th century in the style of the Old Town Bridge Tower. If the gallery is higher than most towers, at 44 meters above the ground, the view is not as dramatic as from the more central towers.

The New Mill Tower

Past the former Jewish ghetto, the 1658 water tower was one of the many used to provide the town with water from the Vltava River and protect Prague from fire. A 33.5-meter-high tank used to water the 66 fountains of the new town of Prague. Heated by a stove, the system would also be functional in the winter.

The New Mill Tower at sunset, Prague

The Petrín Lookout Tower

It is normal if it looks familiar. The Petrin Lookout Tower, built for the 1891 Jubilee Exhibition is only two years younger but five times shorter than its inspiration, the Eiffel Tower! While its big sister is along the river bank, the Petrin Tower is built atop the namesake park on the Lesser Town side of Prague. The 58.5-meter (192.5 ft) tall iron tower is built 324 meters above sea level (making the hike up the park more demanding than climbing the tower), offering a wonderful bird’s eyes views on all of Prague and beyond.

Bonus: exclusive rooftop terrace!

A former printing house, the building has been converted into one of Prague’s most stylish hotels on the edge of the UNESCO listed 1720’s Vrtba Garden – to which guests enjoy a private access at specific times.

The rooftop terrace of the Aria Hotel Prague is wonderful to take in the panorama on the picturesque city a bit longer and in a more comfortable way, enjoying a drink at sunset or an excellent meal. Booking is essential!

Travel tips:

  • The Town Hall tower is the only medieval tower in Prague that is wheelchair accessible.
  • To stay in style, consider the music-themed Aria Hotel Prague. With a private access to the UNESCO Vrtba Garden and a wonderful rooftop terrace, this is the ideal location to explore the city.
  • The Vrtba Garden with the Aria Hotel Prague and the castle behind
  • Sculptures in the Vrtba Garden from Aria Hotel Prague
  • View from the Aria Hotel Prague suite
  • Author Marcella van Alphen in the living room of the Aria Hotel Prague suite
  • Check out this interactive map for the specific details to help you plan your trip and more articles and photos (zoom out) about the area (short tutorial)! The black pins will lead you to other articles:

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