The High Points of Prague
Getting Your Bearings
Whenever we visit a new city, no matter how much we have read up and researched the area, I always like to find a high point to get a good overall view. Then I can get an idea of the general geography and location of the main points of interest. Whether it's the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the London Eye, most cities have their own high points. So it was in Prague. Seeing the city laid out before you, the tourist maps start to make sense.
Our Top 4 High Points
2. Observation Tower, Petrin Park.
3. Zizkov Hill.
4. Zizkov Television Tower.
It was from Vysehrad that we got our first view of Prague. The literal translation of Vysehrad is "High Castle". The rocky outcrop, located just over 3km southeast of Prague Castle, was the sight of fortified barracks, with evidence of building on the site going back to the 10th century. Legend had it that this was the place where Slav tribes first settled in Prague, but this theory has been disproved by archaeological evidence. From here we were able to see Prague Castle and Mala Strana as well as views away from the city to the south.
Vysehrad does not feature high on most tourist itineraries, because of its slightly out of town location and time constraints. We came here for two reasons. Firstly because it was within easy walking distance of our hotel, Holiday Inn Prague Congress Centre. Secondly because, having traveled in from the airport across Prague, we were looking for a quiet, relaxing location to slow down and unwind. Vysehrad turned out to be just the place.
Views From Vysehrad
After entering the fortress area, we headed along paths through the park towards the northwestern edge. From here we could see Prague Castle in the distance. As we walked further west, we saw the River Vltava with Mala Strana and Hradcany stretching out from the opposite bank. Rounding the fortress area, heading southeast we could see the River Vltava and views south of the city.
Points of Interest in Vysehrad
Described as the most beautiful Baroque Gate in Prague, the Leopold Gate was built 1653-1672. It was designed by an Italian architect, Carlo Lurago, as the castle gate. It certainly makes for an impressive entrance.
St. Martin's Rotunda
Shortly after passing through the gate, we came upon St. Martin's Rotunda, a small Romanesque church, dating from the 11th century and restored in 1878.
The Church of St. Peter and St. Paul
This church, which dominates the skyline of Vysehrad with its twin spires, has seen many changes since it was founded in the 11th century. It was enlarged in 1129 but burned down in the mid-13th century. Its replacement was an Early Gothic church. Following many restorations and redecorations, the Neo-Gothic church we see today dates from 1885, with the twin steeples added in 1902. There is a small charge for admission. Intent on exploring the outside areas on this occasion, we did not go in.
This is the most prestigious graveyard in Prague, the final resting place of famous artists and intellectuals since its founding in 1869. To the Czech people, there are many familiar names on the well-kept and ornate gravestones. The two most notable ones we noticed were for the Czech composers, Smetana and Dvorak. The first was in the main area and the second is under one of the arcades lining two sides of this very small cemetery.
If your eyes are drawn repeatedly to a high point on the skyline from miles around, the chances are that there will be great views from the top.
2. Observation Tower, Petrin Park
Some high points become a spectacle in themselves and can be easily spotted on the skyline from miles around. The Observation Tower, or mini version of the Eiffel Tower, in Petrin Park, falls into this category. Since its construction in 1891 for the Jubilee Exhibition, the Observation Tower has offered visitors a fascinating view over Prague. Although only a quarter of the height of the Eiffel Tower, at 60 meters (200 feet), what it lacks in height, it makes up for with its setting. Petrin Hill is 318 meters (960 feet) high, overlooking the city below.
An admission charge is payable, even if you are prepared to walk up the 299 steps to the top of the tower. A higher rate is charged for those who, like us, prefer to take the lift. Don't miss the exhibition showing how Petrin Hill has changed over the centuries.
Tip: Arrive early to avoid queues. Mid-morning we queued for 30 minutes to take the lift.
The Observation Tower is located in Mala Strana to the west of Prague. It is around 1.3 kilometers southwest of Prague Castle.
We crossed the River Vltava by tram and alighted at the public transport stop on Ujezd. The base of Petrin Park runs parallel to the west of Ujezd. You can either follow the path north to the funicular railway and take the easy way up, as we did, or you can walk up the hill for the more strenuous route. We opted to walk back down from Petrin Park, taking a path to Strahov Monastery
Tip: Public transport tickets are valid on the funicular.
Petrin Park is the largest area of green space in Prague. If you are looking for somewhere to get away from the crowds with pleasant woodland walks this might be the place for you. The Observation Tower is undoubtedly the main attraction, but you can also find parts of the Hunger Wall (Prague's southern boundary dating from the 14th century), Stefanik's Observatory (containing a small astronomical exhibition), a mini neo-Gothic castle containing a mirror maze and historical diorama, the Church of St. Lawrence and a rose garden.
On a clear day, it is said that you can see not only the whole of Prague from here but also most of Bohemia. The 360-degree viewing gallery at the top of the Observation Tower is fully enclosed. It's not the largest of spaces, but we were able to admire the view and take photos without feeling rushed. Our focus was on the city to the north and east of us. We were able to spot the different areas laid out below us, with views of Mala Strana, Hradcany and Prague Castle to the north, Prague's Old Town and New Town to the east as well as plotting the course of the River Vltava. In spite of the grey day, we got a good aerial view over Prague.
3. Zizkov Hill
Zizkov Hill is located around 2.4 km east of Old Town Square, Prague. The thin wedge of greenery separates the area of Zizkov from the neighboring area of Karlin, to the north. Formerly known as Vitkov Hill, it was renamed Zizkov in 1877 after the one-eyed Hussite general, Jan Zizka, who had led a small force of Hussites here in a victory against several thousand well-armed crusaders in 1420. Around the time of the renaming, a plan was made for a monument, but work did not start until 1928. The planned inauguration ceremony in 1938 was postponed due to the Munich Agreement and the outbreak of World War II. It was the 1950s before the bronze equestrian statue of Zizka was complete. Standing around 9 meters (30 feet) high, it is one of the largest equestrian statues in the world.
The National Memorial was also built on this site 1928-38. The Nazis used it as an arsenal and it later became a Communist mausoleum. After the Velvet Revolution, the Communists were quietly cremated and reinterred in Olsany cemetery. There is now an interesting museum on the country's 20th-century history, as well as a Communist monument to those who died in World War II and a cafe on the top. There is also a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on the site.
Four reasons prompted our visit. We had read of the monument in guides to Prague, we had noticed the statue from afar, the museum sounded interesting and, after a week in Prague, we were looking at sites further out from the center.
Despite its prominent position on Prague's skyline, we did not find it easy getting to the National Memorial. The nearest metro at Florenc is 1.3km from the memorial. Signage was not great, but we eventually made it via the meandering paths which wind their way up the hill. Views of the surrounding area and across to the nearby Zizkov TV mast were good, but views to the west over central Prague were hindered by the trees.
We visited on a Tuesday afternoon and I was surprised to find so few people up there. We found the reason why when we went to enter the museum. It was closed, which was a great disappointment. We only had ourselves to blame, as we later found the opening times in a guidebook.
Tip: When planning your tour itinerary check the days and times of opening for the places you plan to visit.
I think our assumption was based on the fact that this was a national memorial. We, therefore, assumed that the museum up here would be open most of the time. It was closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. On our list for a future visit to Prague is a visit to the museum and its rooftop cafe for the view.
Fixing our gaze on the Zizkov Television Mast, we decided to cut our losses and, having checked it was open, we went off in search of another view.
4. Zizkov Television Tower
From day one in Prague, we had noticed the unusual shape of the Zizkov Television Tower on the skyline and our eyes had been drawn to it. Located around 2.7 kilometers to the east and slightly south of Prague Old Town Square, the tower was a little distance from the main tourist areas of the city. For this reason, our visit took place during the second week of our stay in Prague, after we had covered the main central sites.
Viewing the Zizkov Television Tower at what appeared like a short distance away from Zizkov Hill and sharing the same area name, it made sense to combine the two. Views and distances can be deceptive. Although our route was downhill, it was around 1.6 kilometers between these two high points. It should have taken around 22 minutes to walk, but surprisingly, with a tower of this size to aim for, we took a few wrong turnings along the way, as it was not obvious how best to approach it.
The effort was well worth it though, as we found the spectacle of the tower, viewed from below just as interesting as the views from above. At 216 meters (709 feet) Zizkov Television Tower is the tallest building in Prague. The eye-catching giant sculptures of babies crawling on the tower were created by David Cerny, a leading Czech artist. They certainly make for an eye-catching spectacle silhouetted against the sky.
Viewed from AfarClick thumbnail to view full-size
It has been said that the idea for the Zizkov Television Tower was conceived in the 1970s to jam West German television signals. Its construction began in1985 and was finished in 1992. The tower courted controversy from the outset, as it was built on the location of an old Jewish cemetery. Burials stopped here in 1890 and it became Mahler's park in 1960. Officially the cemetery was moved years before construction.
The tower has not been universally appreciated. Local inhabitants resented its stark design in their neighborhood. Its futuristic design can appear harsh and intimidating when viewed close up.
The tower's basis is triangular, with three concrete-filled steel tubes rising from each corner. One of the tubes rises high above the other two. Nine pods and three decks are supported by the tubes. Three pods are used for equipment, but the other six are accessible to the public. There's an observatory at 93 meters, a one-room hotel at 70 meters and a restaurant at 66 meters.
We assumed that the giant baby sculptures on the tower had always been there. In fact, they were a temporary addition out of fiberglass by David Cerny, attached to the pillars in 2000. Admired by many, the babies were returned as a permanent fixture in 2001. In March 2019 duplicates were installed after the originals were removed for cleaning and structural inspection.
As we left the streets behind us and approached the base of the tower, we were overawed by the large structure above us. The 'babies. silhouetted from a distance were even more striking when viewed close up. We were surprised to find the area remarkably quiet on a Tuesday afternoon and encountered only a handful of other tourists during our visit. For a reasonable fee, we purchased tickets to the observatory and headed up there in the lift.
The floor to ceiling windows in each of the three pods offered 360-degree views over the city below. Each pod had its own topic. One was about the World Federation of Towers, of which the Zizkov Television Tower is a proud member, another had bubble chairs for visitors to sit in and another hosted temporary exhibitions.
This is the highest viewing platform in the Czech Republic and the views over the immediate area below were stunning. It was a little grey on the day we visited, so we did not get the 100-kilometer view that the tower is said to have on a clear day. We could pick out some of the historic sites in central Prague in the distance. With so few people around, we appreciated the opportunity to view Prague from above without jostling with others for the best views. It made for a calm and relaxing experience.
If time is short, you are probably best to focus on the main tourist sites in central Prague. But, if you have time to spare, I would recommend a visit to the Zizkov Television Tower.
The High Points of Prague
Which is your favorite?
We were very fortunate to have the time to visit these four high points in Prague, spanning a thousand years, from the 10th-century settlement at Vysehrad to the 20th-century structures in Zizkov. Each of them was remarkable in itself and each offered a different perspective on the Czech capital.
Many visitors to Prague have stricter time constraints and need to focus on the main, central sites of the city to make the most of their time. Within the central areas, there are still great viewpoints to be found at slightly lower levels from the towers that dot the horizon and especially from Prague Castle, as it looms over the city on its hill.
If you only have time for one high point from this article, I would recommend the Observation Tower, Petrin Park, as it offers great views over the city, is relatively easy to get to and is reasonably near other tourist sites. But get there early to avoid the queues.
Prague is a remarkable city. Relatively unspoiled from wars and the communist era, it has emerged as a delightfully well-preserved, colorful and scenic city. It was highly recommended to us and it exceeded expectations.
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© 2019 Liz Westwood