Need a time-out in Prague? Try the Malá Strana’s bohemian chic
Neatly nestled alongside the busy districts of Prague lies a quiet, peaceful part of town called the Malá Strana, or the ‘Lesser Quarters’. Lined with modest cafes and traditional pubs, old churches, lavish hotels, bakeries and souvenir shops, this district largely caters to tourists. Not many locals can be spotted in the Lesser Quarters and the air carries the scent of cool water and fresh trees.
On first stepping into the area, I was taken aback by how quiet it was. Suddenly, the sound of traffic faded away and I could clearly hear the lapping of the river below. As I walked further on into the neighbourhood, the crowds started to thin out, getting more scattered, and the streets became emptier. I paused, and took a moment to breathe in the city’s ambience.
Little Side of The River
The Lesser Quarters stands across the Vltava river from the Old Town, just below Prague Castle. ‘Malá Strana’ literally translates to ‘Little Side (of the River)’ and is also known as the ‘Lesser Town’.
The district originated as a marketplace in the eighth century and is one of the oldest regions in Prague. While the tone of the area is set by its Renaissance architecture, it is also home to structures dating back to the twelfth century. Most of the older buildings were lost in the Great Fire of Prague of 1541 and replaced by the Baroque style. Every aspect of the district comes together in a labyrinth of cobblestone streets which converge at the Lesser Town Square or Malostranské námestí.
I was captivated by the calm atmosphere and warm, earthy colours of the district and its rather sparse footfall compared to the rest of the city. Despite being fewer in number, people I encountered were exploring this part of town with eager curiosity, whilst others seemed to have stumbled upon it by accident. I walked along, surrounded by the sounds of chatter in foreign tongues.
The Devil’s Canal – A Glimpse of Venice in Prague
Walking on the Charles Bridge eventually led me to a narrow canal cutting between the houses, flowing peacefully under the azure sky. This was the Certovka or ‘Devil’s Canal’ – a twelfth century artificial canal having its source in the Vltava river and ultimately forming the island of Kampa. It quietly passes through the Lesser Quarters and has a charming nickname – Little Prague Venice, and rightly so.
If you choose to walk alongside the canal, you will come across three medieval water mills – including the Grand Priory Mill or Velkoprevorský mlýn – for which the Certovka was built.
Not only does the Devil’s Canal serve a practical purpose, it also brings a hint of natural beauty among concrete buildings. You can even join cruises and boat tours which take you sightseeing off the beaten path to places of historical significance on the canal bank, usually with the captain as your local guide.
A Literary Touch At The Kafka Museum
The world-renowned Czech Modernist author Franz Kafka was born in Prague and lived here for most of his life, and the Kafka Museum is an ode to his relationship with his city, and how living in Prague played a role in his literary excellence.
The museum holds a two-part multimedia exhibition – the first called Kafka In Prague and the second, Prague In Kafka. It displays original manuscripts, drafts, diaries, letters and photographs as part of the exhibition, tracing the author’s life and journey of struggle. If you are in Prague to explore and appreciate its cultural history, the Kafka Museum makes a good addition to the itinerary.
But I was too keen to explore the streets of the Malá Strana and so decided to skip the exhibition. The district has many other charming spots to visit, and I wandered along without planning any particular route to allow myself the chance of spontaneous discoveries. And so, turning into a completely empty alleyway next to the French Embassy, I came across the Lennon Wall.
Love and Rebellion at the Lennon Wall
Dedicated to The Beatles lead singer John Lennon, this wall is a monument representing the struggle of the Czech citizenry against an authoritarian regime. It is the only public place in Prague where graffiti is legal. Throughout the decades, it has been a dynamic sight and has been decorated by hundreds of people in different ways.
I stood under a small canopy covering the wall and gazed at the mural in awe. It had been splashed with exuberant colours to paint song lyrics, excerpts from love poems and graffiti – all symbolizing love, peace and the freedom of the Czech identity. I could tell how important the sight had been in Prague’s history, as each layer of colour was overflowing with raw passion.
By the 1980s, the Lennon Wall had become an instrument of rebellion for the local populace. It was painted over by the authorities every day, and every night the people came back to restore it to its full glory. The involvement of music in the Czech uprising culminated in the Velvet Revolution (sametová revoluce) of 1989, in which a Czech rock ‘n’ roll band Plastic People of The Universe played a significant role.
Today, the Lennon Wall is treated like a monument and holds words in more languages than one. The deep appreciation Prague holds for the arts, especially music is reflected in the preservation of this wall.
The Baroque St. Nicholas Church
Rising above the orange rooftops of the Malá Strana, I spotted the teal copper dome of the quaint Baroque church of St. Nicholas. Dating back to 1703, this is one of three St. Nicholas churches in Prague and was constructed by the father-son duo Christoph and Kilian Ignaz Dientzenhofer. Next to the church, a belfry tower built by Anselmo Lurago in the Rococo style stands as high as the dome, offering a gorgeous view of Prague from its gallery.
Home to an organ played by Mozart in 1787, the church is a repository of sculptures, frescoes and paintings by artists such as František Ignác Platzer and Jan Lukas Kracker. The interior is adorned by the most luminous colours. Since it was a sunny day, they glistened under the natural light from the dome. Upon entering, the fresco titled Celebration of the Holy Trinity by Franz Palko dominated the central nave, creating a dramatic effect.
Many churches in Prague are popular venues for musical evenings and concerts, including the St. Nicholas Church. Most of these events take place throughout the year and are an incredible way to make the most of the city’s musical heritage.
A Summer Repose In Prague
The Malá Strana provides a much-appreciated respite for weary tourists and is an ideal spot to take a pause. In summer, the Prague heat can often become excruciating (more so in the past few years) – especially due to plenty of open spaces and clear blue skies, but here you can enjoy the freshness of quiet waters and grab a cold Czech beer from one of the older pubs.
A good spot for a romantic getaway
This area also makes a good spot for a romantic getaway with its awe-inspiring views and winding alleyways. Because of its old-timey, Bohemian aesthetic, the Malá Strana has also been a part of numerous film and commercial shoots. It takes on a distinctive charm after dark as you can eavesdrop on the happening nightlife of the Old Town while enjoying a tranquil walk. Prague has been designed for walking and it is quite convenient to explore different parts of the city on foot (it is always advisable to wear practical shoes when heading out).
The Malá Strana perfectly captures the essence of Bohemia. Strolling in the district allows a sense of privacy in an urban setting. It lets one connect with the city intimately. Going off-route and turning into a narrow, inconspicuous street of the Lesser Quarters is always a good idea, because…
…you never know what you may find!
Useful information about the Malá Strana district
How to get to the Malá Strana
The nearest airport to the Malá Strana is the Václav Havel Airport Prague. The journey from the airport is about 25 minutes by car and 40 minutes by bus or metro. For more information see:
By Train and Metro:
The nearest train station to the Malá Strana is Praha hl.n. which is a journey of 15 minutes by car and 40 minutes by metro or bus. The local metro stop in the area is called Malostranské námestí. For more information see:
The nearest tram station to Malá Strana is Malostranské námestí located in the Lesser Town Square, in the middle of Malá Strana. For more information see:
A new tourist Tram line 42 operates in Prague throughout the year. Tram line 42 was a pilot launched in September 2021. It was very popular with tourists and so Prague Tourism have decided to make the line permanent. The hop-on hop-off tram route covers Prague’s popular heritage sites. In addition, those interested can get the relevant tourist and historical information from staff aboard the tram.
Prague’s main bus terminal is Florenc which is a fifteen minute drive from the Lesser Quarters. The local bus stop nearest to the Malá Strana is Malostranské námestí. For more information see:
Where to eat and drink
+420 251 512 063
Surround yourself with modern art while tasting artistically-plated cuisine at this restaurant. They are open until late night and offer an extensive menu including vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options.
Restaurant Pod Vezi
+420 257 532 041
With a cozy atmosphere, this restaurant is situated near the Charles Bridge and is a great place to enjoy a brunch or evening drinks.
+420 724 151 795
This endearing cafe is an ideal spot for a cup of coffee, a quiet breakfast or to take a pause during a long day of exploring the city.
+420 225 334 761
Works by Picasso and Dali adorn the walls of this restaurant to fully immerse you into a cultural dining experience. If you visit in Spring or Autumn, take your meal to the terrace to enjoy a view of the city.
ROESEL – craft beer & food
+420 212 241 552
As the name suggests, this restaurant is known for their craft beers. It is located in a charming courtyard near the Charles Bridge and is a great place to grab a coffee and a homemade snack, including vegan options.
+420 266 112 282
This restaurant offers a fine dining experience inside a former monastery. The atmosphere is quiet and serene and ideal for a romantic dinner.
Where to stay
Hotel Bishop’s House
Dražického námestí 6/62, Praha 1, 118 00
+420 257 532 320
This delightful hotel was constructed in the 16th century and used to be the seat of the Bishop. It is located close to sights such as the island of Kampa and St. Nicholas Church.
Archibald At The Charles Bridge
15, Na Kampe 508, Malá Strana, 118 00 Praha
+420 257 531 430
With rustic rooms, this hotel is located right next to the Charles Bridge and also has rooms with a view of the river.
Augustine, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Prague
Letenská 12/33, Prague 118 00
+420 266 112 233
This historical luxury hotel comprises a 13th century monastery and the St. Thomas Church within its premises and is situated at a walking distance from most tourist sights.
All photos copyright Stuti Verma except those otherwise marked.