If you’re going to visit only one museum while in Prague, this is the one. Founded in 1818, the National Museum is home to a vast collection of over 14 million items. It has six major departments, including the Department of Old Czech History, where you can learn about the fight for the independence of Czechoslovakia (which eventually happened in 1918), 15th-century weapons used in the Hussite wars, fine Bohemian crystal from the 18th century and many church-related items from the Middle Ages.
Please note, the 19th-century Main Building is currently under reconstruction, however the collections are currently being stored in the impressive New Building, which has a café and hosts a number of exhibitions. Additional buildings in the complex—including the fascinating collection of puppets at the Museum of Czech Puppets and Circus Acts, in Prachatice, South Bohemia—remain open, and are worth a visit.
The museum is free the first Monday of every month. If you want to save money, go then, but if you want to avoid large crowds, go any other day. There’s also a family ticket (allowing entrance to two adults and two children) that’s only slightly more expensive than the normal day ticket. This is one of few museums in the world where photos are allowed, but remember to buy a special ‘photo/recording authorisation sticker’ when you get your ticket, or you’ll get into trouble with the guards.
Alfons Mucha Museum
You might catch a glimpse of Mucha’s work when you visit the National Museum, but to truly understand his art, you should head here. Czech painter Alfons Mucha is best known for his decorative panels, which mostly depict beautiful women in the Art Nouveau style. A visit here is also the only way to catch a glimpse of his three-dimensional works and the pages taken from his Parisian sketchbook. One of the highlights of visiting is the chance to see Mucha’s Parisian studio, which has been reproduced here using some of the original furniture, personal objects and photographs.
If you plan on visiting the Kafka Museum, come here first. Thanks to a partnership, you can get half-price tickets for it if you buy them at the same time you buy your entrance to the Mucha Museum.
Museum of Decorative Arts
An unusual museum dedicated to the history of design, but mostly focused on the 20th century. This is the place to visit if you want to explore unique furniture, poster design and jewellery. And definitely the place to see if you’re after more unusual craftmanship, including goldsmithery, wicker objects, weaving and even the unique art of bell founding. The museum is also home to the ‘Karlštejn treasure‘, a collection of almost 400 objects recovered from inside the Karlštejn Castle during renovation work.
The museum is closed on Mondays. The museum café, popular with local artists and located near Charles Bridge, has better prices than most nearby cafés and bars.
Artsy cafés and restaurants
Founded in 1911, this is a relatively new café by Prague standards. Still, it has one of the richest histories in the city, as it was a favourite of everybody from Kafka to Max Brod. Brod was a very close friend of Kafka and had instructions to burn every single manuscript Kafka had ever written upon his death. Brod broke his promise and published them instead, making Kafka into the legend he is today. Tucked away in an unassuming street in Old Town, the café was restored to its original glory in the 1990s using furniture, photographs and artistic details from the time.
Café Slavia is a perfect example of what is known locally as a “Prague grand café”, technically, an Art Deco space with glass windows, imposing crystal chandeliers and lots of mirrors. Slavia used to be the meeting place for anti-communist dissidents several decades ago (Czechia’s current president was a regular here as well). Because of its location right across the street from the National Theater, this cafe is now popular not only with theatre-goers, but also with the artists that perform there. There are great views of the river if you get the right table.
Art & Food
This special restaurant is a somewhat strange mix of fine dining and art gallery that, actually, makes perfect sense once you step into the building. Offering dishes based on traditional Czech recipes (modernised to look like small pieces of art on the plate), Art & Food also houses an extensive collection of paintings by Czech artists. From 7–10pm every night of the week, you can catch live performances by local musicians.
The country’s largest art gallery holds works from the past three centuries, including major paintings and sculptures by artists such as Monet, Van Gogh, Miró and Renoir. Stop by the Picasso room to check out his two self-portraits, and don’t miss the works by Slovak and Czech artists such as Alfons Mucha, František Kupka and Rudolf Fila. Even if you’re not into religious art, the gallery’s collection is still worth a look, especially Lucas Cranach the Elder’s Adam and Eve from 1538.
Housed in a former warehouse (that still looks like one), MeetFactory is an art space that offers exhibition rooms, a theater, a concert space and an artists-in-residence programme. This is the place to visit for alternative art, weird artistic exhibits that combine several genres, and the best alternative theatre the city has to offer.
When it comes to street art, Prague is one of the most exciting cities in Europe. Part of that is thanks to the work of Czech sculptor David Černý. Černý is well known for his tongue-in-cheek giant art which you’ll be able to find all around Prague.
One famous example is the statue of St Wenceslas riding an upside-down (dead) horse. Found inside the Lucerna shopping passage, the statue is a joke based on the other famous St Wenceslas statue standing in front of the National Museum.
Cerny is also famous for his statues of giant crawling babies, which can be found at Kampa Park and crawling up the TV tower in the Žižkov neighbourhood, and the animated sculpture of a giant head inspired by Kafka’s The Metamorphosis.
When walking around Prague, look up. There are many works of art hanging from buildings, power lines and bridges.