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Prague's Mala Strana, Exploring the Little Quarter

Having spent twelve days in Prague, Liz and her husband are keen to share their experience and help others planning a visit to the city.

Mala Strana, Prague.

Mala Strana, Prague.

Many visitors to Prague walk through Mala Strana, Prague's Little Quarter, on their way from Charles Bridge up to Prague Castle. They might appreciate the unspoiled nature of the area as they pass by and climb the hill, but a lot of people do not have time to explore further.

Mala Strana was founded in 1257 on the slopes below Castle hill. It was damaged by fire in the 15th and 16th centuries, and much of it was rebuilt in the Renaissance style. The Little Quarter has changed little since Mozart visited the city in the late 1700s and has much to offer the interested explorer.

Spot Mala Strana between Prague Castle and the River Vltava.

Spot Mala Strana between Prague Castle and the River Vltava.

10 Sights Worth Seeing in Mala Strana

Here are 10 of the sights we visited in Mala Strana, as well as a few we missed and a handy restaurant.

  1. Little Quarter Square
  2. Church of St. Nicholas
  3. Nerudova
  4. Wallenstein Palace
  5. Furstenberg Garden
  6. Maltese Square
  7. John Lennon Wall
  8. Memorial to the Victims of Communism
  9. Observation Tower, Petrin Hill
  10. Vrtba Garden

1. Little Quarter Square

After crossing Charles Bridge from Prague Old Town into Mala Strana, you will soon find yourself on Mostecka, which feeds into Malostranske Namesti, the Little Quarter Square. This square was originally a marketplace in the outer bailey of Prague Castle. It has since been split in half by the buildings in the middle; dominated by the church of St. Nicholas and the building next to it, a former Jesuit college.

Although most houses were rebuilt in Renaissance and Baroque times, many around the square still have a medieval core. Opposite the Baroque church of St. Nicholas on the upper square stands the Lichtenstein Palace with its Neo-Classical facade. Visitors can buy tickets to listen to classical concerts here. A column in honor of the Holy Trinity stands in the square outside to mark the end of a plague in 1713.

The lower part of the square has its fair share of impressive buildings with the Little Quarter Town Hall. There are also three palaces; the Sternberg (not to be confused with its larger namesake, an art gallery in Hradcany), Smiricky, and Kaiserstein. The perpetrators of the second defenestration of Prague are said to have met in the Smiricky Palace. In 1618 a group of Protestant Bohemian noblemen made their plans here to throw Catholic councilors out of the Old Palace window.

2. Church of St. Nicholas

Not to be confused with its namesake in the Old Town, the Church of St. Nicholas in Mala Strana not only dominates Little Quarter Square but its dome and tower also stand out on the Mala Strana skyline. Entry is inexpensive and access is gained from the upper square side. Although renovations were taking place when we visited, these have now finished.

Regarded as the most beautiful and famous Baroque church in Prague, the Church of St. Nicholas was built by the Jesuits between 1703 and 1761. The architects were Christoph and Kilian Ignaz Dientzenhofer, the father and son team responsible for the design of many other buildings across Prague, including the Loreto, Church of St. Nicholas in the Old Town, and the Kinsky Palace. The Church of St. Nicholas in Mala Strana is their masterpiece. Neither lived to see its completion and the church was finished by Anselmo Lurago, Kilian's son-in-law.

The west facade is relatively plain compared with the High Baroque interior. The following sights are worth noting as you marvel at the ornate interior.

Dome Fresco

The dome or cupola of the church is 70 meters high. It is filled with "The Celebration of the Holy Trinity" by Frantisek Palko, which dates from 1753–1754.

Paintings

In addition to the frescoes, there are also paintings in the church by leading artists of the time.

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Statues

There are many statues of interest, including those of the four Church Fathers at the corners of the transept. These great teachers were created by Ignaz Platzer.

The Organ

The Baroque organ was built in 1746 and played by Mozart in 1787. Above it, there is a fresco of St. Cecilia (patron saint of music). Concerts take place regularly in the Church of St. Nicholas.

The Pulpit

Adorned with golden cherubs, the pulpit was completed in 1765 by Richard and Peter Prachner.

The Belfry

If ornate church interiors are not really your thing, then the museum of musical instruments in the tower might be of interest. Certainly, the view from here over Mala Strana and Charles Bridge should be a good reward for the climb. I regret that we were not able to access this when we visited.

3. Nerudova

If you follow the royal procession route, as many tourists do, from Charles Bridge to Prague Castle, you will find yourself walking up the cobbled street of Nerudova. The shops and restaurants along this narrow street are now aimed at the passing tourist trade. In the past, Nerudova was home to craftsmen, artisans, and artists. The street name comes from a famous Czech poet, Jan Neruda, who lived at number 47 (At the Two Suns) from 1845 to 1857.

House numbers were not introduced in Prague until 1770. Many houses on Nerudova Street still have the signs that distinguished them prior to this time. There is an impressive selection of heraldic beasts and emblems in these pictorial house signs. Notable amongst them are the Red Eagle (number 6), Three Fiddles (number 12), the Golden Horseshoe (number 34), the Green Lobster (number 43), and the White Swan (number 49).

Some former palaces on Nerudova are now foreign embassies. At number 5, the Morzin Palace is the Romanian Embassy. The Thun-Hohenstein Palace (number 20) houses the Italian Embassy.

4. Wallenstein Palace

Prague Castle and Hradcany do not have a monopoly on palaces in Prague. There are plenty scattered through Mala Strana along with some picturesque gardens as well. A little off the beaten track between the Old Town and Prague Castle, but not to be missed, Wallenstein Palace was one of the first and largest Baroque palaces to be built in Prague.

The Original Owner

Wallenstein Palace owes its construction to an over-ambitious military commander, Albrecht von Wallenstein (1581–1634). He made himself indispensable to Emperor Ferdinand II, with a string of victories in the 30 Years' War. Following this, Wallenstein, not content with the titles already bestowed upon him, began to eye up the crown of Bohemia itself. The Emperor had him killed when he discovered that Wallenstein was negotiating with his enemies.

Wallenstein Palace was built between 1624–1630. Wallenstein intended it to put Prague Palace in the shade. He bought 23 houses, three gardens, and a brick kiln on a site in Mala Strana below Prague Palace. The two-floor high main hall has a ceiling fresco with Wallenstein, as Mars, the god of war, in a triumphal chariot. Having traveled in Italy Wallenstein employed many Italians to work on his ambitious palace project.

Wallenstein Palace After the Death of Its Owner

Wallenstein's widow sold the palace to his nephew. The family kept it until 1945 when it became the property of Czechoslovakia. It was used for government offices and the Senate of the Czech Republic is now based here. The palace and gardens have been renovated.