When we explore a city, there is so much to pack in to just a few days that sometimes we forget to just take a moment to breathe. Strolling around Prague, you will find the tired taking a moment to rest their feet on the floor beneath some of the city’s greatest monuments. They may find an empty spot on the pavement underneath the Astronomical Clock, they may be lucky enough to find a seat on a well placed bench, a few will find a wall within Prague Castle to rest their weary feet and some just plonk themselves down on the ground on Old Town Square.
Hidden Doorways to Hidden Gardens
The one thing you tend to miss as you explore Prague is the many hidden gardens which create an oasis of peace and tranquility within this busy city. Most of these well manicured retreats are right beneath your noses as you walk the streets of the city but are easily missed if you’re not looking for them. If you are planning to travel to Prague, you should make a note of some of these stunning hideaways, just in case you need a moment to reflect.
The Wallenstein Garden
Located just behind the Malostranska metro line stop you will find what looks like quite a beautiful, but standard baroque garden. It takes a little effort to find and is not signed, but trust your instincts and walk around the building that commuters are exiting and take the windy path which I promise you, will open up into a stunning walled garden. You will find surprisingly few people walking quietly around the floral arrangements and most of them will be locals eating their lunch or taking a shortcut to the station. the Wallenstein Garden could well be Prague’s best kept secret!
The View From the Wallenstein Garden to Prague Castle
The garden is part of the Wallenstein Palace, which is now the seat of the Senate of the Czech Republic. The greenery is well placed and beautifully maintained, with a well placed artificial pond sporting an unusual statue at the centre of it. As you wind your way around the paths, you will probably be greeted by one of the garden’s many peacocks, one of them as white as snow. Be sure to walk the entire area of the garden, through the little maze and the replica figures from Greek mythology, and feast your eyes on the most distinctive wall, built with artificial stalactites, which imitate a limestone grotto.
The Artificial Pond of the Wallenstein Garden
The Wallenstein Garden is the perfect place to explore after visiting Prague Castle. If the sun is shining, buy your lunch from the café at Malostranska station and enjoy your lunch surrounded by baroque history.
Just a few hundred metres from Wallenstein Palace is Prague’s oldest garden, Vojanovy Sady. The small park only has one entrance and is completely surrounded by walls; blink and you’ll miss it. Once part of a medieval orchard established in 1248, it was later enclosed by a monastery and then opened to the public in 1954. On the small road that leads from Malostranska metro up to the Kafka museum, a small archway in a wall leads you to a wilderness that creates a country feel in the middle of a capital city. Visit and you will only come across locals who want to escape the summer heat or the bustling streets.
The Archway Entrance to Vojanovy Sady
While the grass is maintained, but the many trees lining the paths give the garden an unkempt and natural feel. Many ornate benches line the path and young adults meeting their friends sit in circles on the grass by the pond. Children laugh as they use the small playground and you may hear a peacock squark every now and then, but otherwise, there is only peace and quiet to enjoy.
Art in the Pond
Vrtbovska Zahrada (Vrtba Garden)
One of the most attractive and precious Baroque gardens in the world, Vrtbovska Zahrada dates back to approximately 1720 and it has been beautifully preserved. The garden is officially a UNESCO monument and sits on the slope of Petrin Hill, with a stunning view of the church of St Nicholas. Find the hidden gate and you will be one of few who manage to enjoy the delights that this incredibly kept garden has to offer. The garden was designed by Frantisek Maxmillian Kanka and is decorated with graceful staircases and tasteful banisters, manicured terraces and colourful flowerbeds, all artfully highlighted by Baroque sculptures by artist Matyas Bernard Braun.
If you are fortunate enough to stay at the nearby Aria hotel, your room may well overlook the stunning garden, and you’ll have unlimited access too!
Charles University Botanical Garden
Originally located in the Smichov district of Prague, the garden was moved across the river to New Town in 1998, due to the flooding of the Vltava River. It is the oldest botanical garden in the Czech Republic and currently features about 3,000 plant species, including a Methuselah tree, the oldest living organism in the world.
The Charles University Botanical Garden
The outside area is calm and relaxing, with winding paths, ponds and nooks while the old glass house is full of exotic plant life such as orchids, coffee bushes, cacti and 130 year old cycads. Twice a week you can find guided tours of the outside area, sometimes there are temporary exhibitions and occasionally the garden becomes a venue for classical music concerts.
The Franciscan Garden
In my own very humble opinion, I am leaving the best till last. The Franciscan Garden is literally hidden away amongst the backstreets behind Wenceslas Square. It took me a while to find it and I was looking for it! In fact, I walked through what felt like a medical centre delivery depot, a place I probably shouldn’t have been. I did exit the garden a different way however, through what appeared to be a small shopping centre which opened up onto Wenceslas Square. This may be your best route in!
The Franciscan Garden of Prague
The garden is small; really small. In fact compared to Vrtbovska or Wallenstein, it really is tiny, but I absolutely adored it. It has a stunning view of the Church of Our Lady of the Snow, Prague’s highest church and just a moment taken to rest ones feet will almost take you back to 1348 when the garden was created. The Franciscans took over the garden in 1604 and grew flowers, trees and spices there before the Communists threw them out in 1950. The Franciscans were eventually given their garden back after the Velvet Revolution in 1989.
The Wild Girls of the Franciscan Garden
Even though the space is small, there are a few points of interest aside from the obvious need to sit on one of the ornate benches and soak up the atmosphere. Various pieces of art are displayed around the garden, which are interesting to gaze upon. There is no information in English and it was difficult to find out anything about them after I left too, but you can read about the strange sculptures in one of my other articles, ‘The Art of Prague’.
There are many green spaces in Prague, more than you would be able to count, but most of them are expansive and easy to come across. Letna Park looms above the Vltava River and has one of the most popular beer gardens of Prague with fantastic views over the city. Prague Castle also has a collection of beautiful gardens, the South Gardens; Paradise Garden, Garden on Ramparts and Hartig Garden. You can even escape the tourist spots and venture a little way out of the centre and enjoy an afternoon at Stromovka Park, ideal for walking, skating, cycling and jogging. A little further still and you can explore the Divoka Sarka, a beautiful valley on the edge of the city which even has a fresh water, public swimming pool; the perfect spot for a summer afternoon getaway.
The Peacocks of the Wallenstein Garden
There is something magical about finding a place that few other people know about though. These five magical hideouts are the perfect places for escaping the tourist rat race. When you have finally had enough of the crowds at Prague Castle or Wenceslas Square, find your inner peace at one of these special spots; just don’t tell too many people about them!