The name Nové Mesto, which means New Town, could be confusing because it suggests that the neighbourhood is actually new. In fact, this area of the Czech capital around the walls of the Old Town dates from 1348; it was part of an ambitious urban project by Charles IV who decided to establish an important trading hub in this sector of the city.
The monarch envisaged several areas for expansion and Wenceslas Square, the heart of the district, is a particular highlight. Despite being called a ‘square’, it’s long and rectangular so it looks more like an avenue than a square. Either way, it’s home to numerous restaurants, cafés, hotels and shops and makes a lovely place to go for a stroll whenever the weather permits. At its highest end the square is presided over by the sculpture of Saint Wenceslas, and the Neo-Renaissance façade of the National Museum stands like a backdrop behind it. You can still see holes in the museum’s façade that were made by tank fire when troops occupied the city during the Warsaw Pact invasion.
The State Opera is just 200 m from the National Museum; its construction was financed by Prague’s resident German community and it was originally called the New German Theatre. The opera house has a typically Viennese design (in fact it was built by Austrian architects) and its auditorium is so spectacular that it’s definitely worth finding out what’s on and buying a ticket, even if it’s just to spend a couple of hours among its elegant boxes. If the opera doesn’t appeal, a show at the National Theatre, on the bank of the Vltava River is another attractive option.
Continuing with the neighbourhood’s cultural institutions, Prague New Town is home to fascinating centres such as the Communism Museum; its collection lets you imagine what daily life was like in old Czechoslovakia between 1948 and 1989, the years of the Communist regime. The Mucha Museum focuses on artist Alphonse Mucha whose work was the high point of the Czech Art Nouveau movement. If you visit this small museum, you’ll enjoy a captivating exhibition that includes everything from oil paintings and personal possessions belonging to the artist to his famous advertising posters.
Finally, don’t forget to take a stroll down Resslova Street to visit the Baroque cathedral of Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius. In May 1942 the cathedral was the site of a last stand by the seven Czech agents who assassinated high-ranking Nazi Reinhard Heydrich. And you’ll find one of the most original and controversial buildings just 200 metres from the cathedral. The Dancing House was built by architects Frank Gehry and Vlado Milunic between 1994 and 1996. Despite its ground-breaking appearance, bearing in mind its urban context (the reason it was heavily criticised at the time), today it’s considered to be one the most important deconstructivist buildings in the world.
Wenceslas Square has borne witness to Prague’s historical evolution and key moments such as the Velvet Revolution. It is a must-visit.
The Museum of Communism guides visitors through the regime’s history, from its establishment to the Velvet Revolution.
The Dancing House, a modern building designed by Frank Gehry, is a mesmerising sight on the banks of the River Vltava. Its towers, Fred and Ginger, are partners joined in a dance without end.