The Best Prague Gardens around the Castle to Check Out in the Spring
It’s May! The days are long, flowers are in bloom, bees are starting to buzz everywhere, and Prague is getting besieged by swarms of tourists. If you want to avoid the most crowded touristy spaces for a while and rest your eyes on some greenery (did you know that Prague is the 11th greenest city in the world? Meaning our percentage of greenery, not environmental friendliness, unfortunately), here are some gardens you might wanna check out. We limited our garden ode to the Prague Castle neighbourhood because otherwise we would have to create a post of such length and exhaustiveness nobody in their right mind would want to read it. Also, deadlines.
Prague Castle Garden Complex
When we said we were going to limit this to the Castle neighbourhood, you must have known this was coming. The Castle is literally surrounded by gardens. There is the Royal Garden and Stag Moat in the north, Garden on the Bastion in the west, St. Wenceslas Vineyard in the east and the South Gardens in the (you guessed it) south. All these are accessible for free from 6 am to 10 pm in the summer season. There are also the Gardens below the Prague Castle under the South Gardens, but those are theoretically not part of the PC complex and have a separate entrance and entrance fee. Each of these is completely different in character from the others and reflect various architectural and gardening styles.
The Royal Garden was founded in the 16th century and, for centuries, served only the royal family. It only became accessible to the public in 1990 with the end of communism and the new President Václav Havel’s more open and people-friendly attitude. Without burdening you with too much history, the garden was originally founded to grow exotic plants, as the first place of its kind. Its current look stems from its 19th century reconstruction in the English park style, but you can still find some traces of the original renaissance and later baroque style if you know where to look. A lot of buildings here served to entertain the nobility in the past, such as the Royal Summer Palace and the Ball Game Hall, but there is also the former presidential villa built in 1930s where our Presidents from Beneš to Václav Havel lived. Also, apparently, this garden was the first place IN THE WORLD to grow tulips in the 1560s. In your face, Netherlands!
The Stag Moat is a natural ravine running by the north wall of the PC complex. It is a quiet, cool, green place the purpose of which used to be to breed deer, hence the name. It has two parts, the Upper and Lower moat, connected via a tunnel in the first years of this century. Unfortunately, the Lower Moat is closed off this summer season – on the bright side, some of its elements are getting reconstructed, so come next year and see how it turned out. If what you’re looking for is cool, quiet and green, but you don’t want to travel anywhere far, this is the ideal place to take a stroll!
Saint Wenceslas Vineyard (yes, Wenceslas, the same guy that long square under the National Museum is named after) is, according to legend, the oldest vineyard in Bohemia. It was opened for public after a reconstruction in 2008. It’s a working vineyard but the site also houses Villa Richter and its 3 luxury restaurants. The vineyard is open to visitors free of charge, unless an event is taking place – these could be wine- or gastronomy-related, or just private. The biggest reason to visit are the breath-taking views over Malá Strana and Letná the vineyard offers.
The South Gardens, accessible from Third Courtyard of PC or from the vicinity of the eastern gate of the Castle complex (the gate leading to Hradčany courtyard is only an exit), is actually a 500m-long succession of three smaller gardens: the Paradise Garden, Garden on the Ramparts and Hartig Garden (smallest and not open to the public). The gardens have a long history, their current look was shaped by a Slovenian architect Josip Plečnik who helmed the big reconstruction of the gardens in the Mediterranean style in the 1920s – he didn’t force that aesthetic on the gardens as a whole but there is a consistent tendency – he left some centuries old trees and such. There are also, as at this point shouldn’t surprise anyone, beautiful views of Prague with the river, bridges, spires and all that jazz.
Gardens below the Prague Castle are not accessible from PC or the South Gardens but from below from Valdštejnská street about 200 metres from the Malostranská metro, open every day from 10 am to 7 pm. You also must pay an entrance fee – full price is 130 CZK but there are various discounts, see the website linked to above. These gardens (Ledebour, Pálffy, Kolowrat, Small Fürstenberg) are situated on a series of terraces under the South Gardens and originally belonged to various noble houses with adjacent palaces. Again, all of them have a rich history proven by archaeological findings but retain their ornamental look from the baroque era. The terraces are full of statues, gazebos, romantic nooks and all those unforgettably scenic viewpoints we keep mentioning.
There is also the Great Fürstenberg Garden, which is a separate entity as well and is adjacent to the Small Fürstenberg garden (as the name suggests, they used to belong to the same estate) but much, much larger. The garden is open between 10 am and 7 pm, but this will extend to 9 – 9 in June and July, entrance fee is 50 CZK. With the risk of repeating myself ad nauseam, it’s beautiful and a part of it consists of beautifully done terraces with views of Prague. It’s not done in the baroque style we’ve come to expect but in the style of Italian rococo, which is, you know, a big difference. The Great Fürstenberg Garden is not connected to the rest of the gardens and needs to be accessed (and paid for) separately. Unfortunately, part of the garden is not accessible to the public at all as it belongs to the Polish Embassy premises. On the plus side, this garden offers more than just a chance to relax and feast your eyes – they grow quinces here and make their own quince jam a jar of which you can purchase right there for only CZK 120, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Petřín Hill Gardens
You know that hill right next to the Castle, the one with the miniature Eiffel Tower on it? That’s the Petřín Hill. There is a funicular running to the top, it’s green all over and yes, on and around the hill there are some gardens there for you to set your eyes and noses on. On the very top of the hill, as you exit the funicular, there is the Rosarium – as its name suggests, it’s a rose garden, so the best time to visit is mid-June, for obvious reasons. Adjacent to this one is a small perennial flower garden which is also very worth visiting for its colourful, secluded atmosphere.
If you don’t feel like climbing to the top of the hill, there is a good one at the very bottom – the Vrtba Garden, accessible from Karmelitská street, is situated on the north-easternmost corner of the Petřín area. This is the only one of the Petřín gardens we’re mentioning where you need to pay a fee (120 CZK) and there are limited opening hours (9 am – 7 pm). Picturesque and full of terraces, it’s said (not sure by whom) to be one of the most beautiful baroque gardens north of the Alps. We’re willing to agree, but you should make up your own mind.
Another Petřín-related garden and my personal favourite is the Kinský garden. It’s situated on the south-eastern side of the hill so it’s a bit further away from the rest of the plant-based awesomeness we mentioned today and was set up in the mid-1800s in the romantic style. There is a small summer palace, two decorative ponds with a waterfall, a new playground for children and an impressive array of greenery of all kinds. It is directly accessible from the Petřín hilltop through the Hunger Wall (Have we told you about the Hunger Wall yet? We will!) but also from náměstí Kinských on the bottom (closest tram stop is Švandovo divadlo). This park is never overcrowded, accessible for free and provides a perfect blend of inconspicuousness and spectacularity (yes, I know how it sounds, but you’ll see). Buy an ice cream or a sandwich and eat sitting on a bench here, absorbing the calm.
What to do after?
Well, now you’re all calm and fed up with greenery, you can either head off to any of the many, many beer gardens in the vicinity for a pint of what Czechs make best or, if you’re not a beer enthusiast and would rather stick to other warm weather refreshments, try the brilliant ice-cream at Angelato at the Újezd tram stop. There tend to be lines in the summer season, but the wait is worth it!
You’ll find all the places mentioned in this blog post in this map.
May 4, 2022