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© František Ortman and Letní Letná festival

Prague A small corner of a big world

If you want to know how Praguers have a good time, we recommend that you leave the historic centre and head to some of its outlying neighbourhoods on the adjacent hills. Only here will you experience that unbearable lightness of being first hand and understand the true bohemian tradition which the inhabitants of this ancient city have developed with gusto and passion over the centuries.

One of Prague’s most famous quarters is Žižkov, situated at the foot of Vítkov Hill. Atop the hill is a giant monument with one of the biggest equestrian statues in the world. The larger-than-life horseman is Jan Žižka of Trocnov, the undefeated commander of the Hussites, who gave his name to the sprawling district below. Also helping with orientation here is the tallest structure in Prague, the Žižkov TV Tower – which, according to some journalists who have probably never even been here, is said to be one of the ugliest buildings in the world.

Žižkov underground

Žižkov, a bohemian quarter full of nightlife, cafés, bars and artists, is sometimes called the Montmartre of Prague, and it really does have a lot in common with that famous district of Paris. Just as it is located at the foot of a hill consecrated to warriors and martyrs of war and there was once a vineyard here, it has also always been a magnet for artists of all kinds.

Fans of alternative culture will find Žižkov to be heaven on earth. At every step, you will find a club or a pub full of interesting people. To anyone coming here for the first time, we recommend starting at the very heart of the local scene – Palace Akropolis, directly under the Žižkov TV Tower. It has a café, a bar, and two performance spaces, where every day there is a concert or one of the local DJs. The distinctive interior decoration is as offbeat as the fate of this place itself: At one time it was owned by a company for burying the cremated, which rented it to the Comedy Theatre (Divadlo Komedie). Today, in addition to housing the club and cafés it is also the headquarters of the Prague Fresh Film Fest, featuring films by students and emerging filmmakers. During the festival, films are screened at various locations throughout the city. One of the most interesting locations is the nearby Rieger Gardens (Riegrovy sady), where you can watch films on a big screen with a marvellous vista in the background of the evening skyline with the silhouette of Prague Castle. 

A place in the sun

In-the-know would certainly agree that one of the most beautiful views of the Prague panorama with the river Vltava and its bridges is from the Letná beer garden and the adjacent park. From the same place, the gloomy Emperor Sigismund once watched the decimation of his crusade expedition on the nearby Vítkov Hill. And just a few steps from here, one of the biggest stone sculptures in the world – the Stalin Monument – once looked down upon the city. Today you can identify this spot by the giant metronome and groups of young skateboarders.

The Letná Plain has always been an ideal place for gatherings of all kinds. The vast Letná Plain, which at one time was the planned site for a complex of government buildings, was at different times a big military encampment, the place of the communist Labour Day celebrations, and the scene of revolutionary demonstrations in 1989, when three-quarters of a million demonstrators crammed together to express their opposition to the governance by the masters of the nearby Prague Castle. In the 1990s, Praguers were blessed by Pope John Paul II here. And this is where the Rolling Stones and Michael Jackson put on their spectacular shows.

Letná means “sunny hill” and also “place in the sun”, and you would certainly do well to go here on a summer day. If you head off in the morning, along the way you can visit several museums located in architecturally significant buildings. It is best to start at Veletržní Palace (Trade Fair Palace), the seat of the National Gallery’s Collection of Modern and Contemporary Art, and then continue to the National Technical Museum. If you have some time left, wander through the adjacent streets full of small bistros and private galleries. Your joy of discovery will know no bounds. If the nearby Žižkov is like Montmartre, then Letná certainly could be compared with the Montparnasse district of Paris. The area belongs to young people, bohemian spirits, and students from the nearby Academy of Fine Arts.

You will certainly want to end your trip in the garden of the Letenský zameček restaurant. You can sit in the shade of chestnut trees, which hum like a bee hive at night, and with beer in hand enjoy a unique view of the city at sunset, when the charm of the hundred-spired city is at its strongest.

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