Hidden Gems

Because Prague is such a beautiful city, it's easy to miss its hidden delights. Behind the glittering facade, there are secret gardens, architectural treasures and divine revelations waiting to be discovered.

Artful Galleries
Art galleries abound in Prague, but two stand out for offering spaces as interesting as their high-quality contemporary art. DOX, a refurbished metal factory in Holešovice, is so big that you can get lost wandering its enormous hallways and exhibition rooms. Galerie Rudolfinum, like the neighbouring concert hall, embodies 19th-century neo-classical elegance. DOX: Metro C line (red) to Vltavská, tram 5 to Ortenovo námestí, walk one block south to Poupetova. Rudolfinum: Metro A (green) line to Staromestská.

Riding High
Don't miss the opportunity to take a ride on a paternoster, an early form of passenger elevator still found in central Prague. A continuous chain of open compartments runs nonstop along a vertical conveyor belt, requiring riders to literally jump in and out. It's high-flying, low-tech fun. You will find working examples at the YMCA (Na Porici 12, on the left past the reception desk) and in the Magistrát Hlavního Mesta Prahy offices (Jungmannova 29, to the right of the stairwell in the main lobby).

Urban Oasis
The secluded Franciscan Garden adjacent to Our Lady of the Snows Church offers a calm respite from the bustle of the city centre. In the summer, the rose trellises and perennial and herb gardens are awash in bright colours; in the winter, the benches and sculptures are perfect for a meditative retreat. Access the garden from the Kino Svetozor entrance on Vodickova near Wenceslas Square (past the Tesla window, look for the embossed metal doors), or Jungmannovo namesti  (look for the wooden doors in the southeast corner).

High-Class Finance
Prague wears its architectural jewels proudly, but many remain hidden. Case in point: The UniCredit Bank building at Na Prikope 20, a Neo-Renaissance masterpiece with a museum-quality Art Nouveau interior. Take the marble stairs guarded by two bronze knights up to the skylit central hall, which is filled with stately columns, gilded arches and rich decorative elements. Up another two flights, expansive murals honour Bohemian workers. A detailed brochure is available at the ground-floor information desk.

Celebrity Cemetery
Vyšehrad, a green redoubt atop a cliff overlooking the Vltava River, is the legendary founding place of the Czech nation. Next to the towering double spires of Sts. Peter and Paul basilica, cultural heroes like composer Antonín Dvorák and writer Karel Capek are interred in a cemetery filled with dazzling sculptures and tile mosaics. It's an aesthetic and spiritual delight. Take the Metro C (red) line to the Vyšehrad stop, and follow the lower asphalt walk to Na Bucance, which leads to the park entrance.

Gracious Greenery
It's easy to miss Wallenstein Garden (Valdštejnská zahrada) in Malá Strana, as it's completely enclosed by a large wall and open only April 1 – Oct. 31. But you will be missing something special if you don't stroll through its formal geometry, pond and fountains and sleek mythical statuary. The enormous sala terrena hosts concerts during the summer, and the adjoining aviary and creepy dripstone wall are sure to invoke a shudder. Take the Metro A (green) line or tram 22 or 18 to Malostranská, and enter around the corner on Letenská.

Harrowing History
Arguably the most significant event of World War II in Prague was the assassination of Reichsprotektor Reinhard Heydrich by Czech commandos. They fled to the Orthodox cathedral of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, where you can relive their final, spine-tingling hours with a fine exhibit that recounts the Allied planning for the mission, Heydrich's assassination and its horrific aftermath. Take the Metro B (yellow) line or tram 3, 6 or 22 to Karlovo námestí, and walk one block west on Resslova to Na Zderaze street.

Mondo Rondo
Prague is noted for its Cubist architecture, but even rarer is Rondo Cubism, a decorative Czech hybrid developed during the 1920s. You can see two outstanding examples of it in the city centre: the Legiobanka building (now called Palác Archa, Na Porici 24), designed by Josef Gocár, with a stunning frieze by Otto Gutfreund depicting the Czech Foreign Legion's travails in Siberia; and Palác Adria (Národní 40, at Jungmannovo námestí) by Pavel Janák and Josef Zasch, with its Italian Renaissance references and elaborate statuary.

Spiritual Retreat
The finest example of Gothic restoration in the country, the Convent of St. Agnes. Built-in the 13th century to accommodate the Order of Poor Clares, it now houses the National Gallery's medieval art collection. But you do not have to buy a ticket to explore the ground-floor complex of halls and chapels, which retain their serene, sacred atmosphere.


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