Take a stroll
Strolling along the river downtown is an experience in itself and it’s not easy to choose which of the Vltava riverbanks is more attractive to visit. From the left bank you can admire the majestic Rudolfinum, Národní divadlo (The National Theatre), ‘Vyšehrad’ Castle or Anežský klášter (St Agnes Convent); from the right bank you can enjoy the view of ‘Hradčany’ Prague Castle, Malá Strana (Lesser Town) or Petřínské sady (Petřín Gardens park). If you care to spice up your walk with a more lively programme or some offbeat eating, try one of Prague’s waterfronts. The Vltava riversides become quite the hub of summer cultural events, leisure activities, farmers’ markets or food festivals. As a hot novelty there are the local renovated dungeons, which are hollowed out premises in the embankment wall with giant round glass windows, giving the waterfronts much-needed new facilities for visitors. In total, twenty of these ‘hobbit-hole’ dungeons have opened on Rašínovo nábřeží (Rašín embankment) and across the water on Hořejší nábřeží(Upper embankment). Three are restrooms, another three serve as galleries, five house workshops and art studios, one hosts a branch of Městská knihovna (Municipal Library) and the rest are cafés. Since the end of May, the theatre ‘Loď Tajemství’ (Ship of Mysteries), the original floating stage of the Forman brothers, is anchored at Rašín embankment. For more information, visit the prazskenaplavky.cz website.
To the islands
The islands along the Vltava greatly complement Prague’s overall composition, being at the same time tourist-friendly, lively areas, cultural, sports and relaxation zones, and blossoming into a kind of open-air community scene in the summer. Among the most popular is Kampa, between the Vltava river and its millstream arm, the Čertovka. Overall, it is one of the most picturesque places in the metropolis and ranks among the most impressive urban islands in Europe. This comes down to not just its attractive location on the Lesser Quarter shoreline, but also to the quaint, almost fairytale atmosphere that seems to emanate from every wall of its ancient houses, mills and palaces. The unique image of Kampa is completed by the arches of Karlův most (Charles Bridge), which romantically straddle the island to the north. The south lawns are widely used for cultural and social events of all kinds, for picnics or just relaxing. No art-lover would pass up the highly regarded Museum Kampa, in the former Sovovy mlýny (Sova’s Mills) (with a collection of works by the pioneer of abstract art, František Kupka and more); or the much-lauded Werichova vila (Werich Villa) with its fascinating exhibition on the life and work of this star of stage and film.
When taking a stroll, why not head to Střelecký ostrov (Shooters Island), just like those ‘in the know’. This quiet location in the heart of the city, shaded from direct sun by ancient trees, is known for its relaxed atmosphere and unconventional views of Prague. In the southern part of the island you’ll find an architecturally notable restaurant building and publicly accessible sports facilities. The northern half serves as a public park with several playgrounds. From time to time there are festivals, concerts or open-air festivals, of which the most famous is the Letňák – summer event for Praguers.
Since its overhaul two years ago, the Dětský ostrov (Children’s Island) over on the left bank by Smíchov has found renewed popularity with (as its Childrens’ Island name suggests) younger visitors in particular. In addition to a modern playground complex divided into age-groups, its great attraction is to watch large steamers sailing from the adjacent river lock, best viewed from the arched bridge. Worth noting is that the island is one of the first places in Prague to offer attractions fit for handicapped children to enjoy.
Just a few dozen yards from Shooters Island and majestically looked upon by the National Theatre, the Vltava River bathes the banks of Slovanský ostrov (Slavonic Island). Its centrepiece is palác Žofín (the Žofín Palace), a neo-Renaissance building built in the 1930s, named after the Austrian Archduchess Žofie, mother of Emperor Franz Joseph I. Another couple of architecturally impressive buildings stand at the island’s southern end – the Renaissance dated Šítkovská vodárenská věž (Šítkovská water tower) and the Functionalist building of the Mánes Association of Fine Artists.
Rental boats and pedalos
Like other similar locations, Slavonic Island is a popular destination for family outings and recreational treats. Among the most popular are river-rides on small rowing boats and pedalos. You’ll find no less than three rental firms on the island for these alternative modes of transport. If you should be unlucky and find yourself at the back of a queue, you can head to another pedalo rental on Smetanovo nábřeží(Smetana embankment). If you feel the ‘need for speed’ of a motorboat, or fancy a cruise raft with a barbecue, visit the branch office of this company, headquartered on the Smíchov bank on Strakonická street near the Lihovar bus stop.
Romantic sightseeing cruises are inherently part of the colourful mix of most major European cities. Prague has no shortage in that regard. The views you get from the deck are truly magnificent; unforgettable vistas of the historic heart of the city and its wider surroundings. Particularly popular are late afternoon and evening cruises; romantic couples will definitely enjoy a sightseeing cruise in a Venetian gondola or the historical saloon boat of the ‘Prague Venice’ company Pražské Benátky. There are guided cruises on the Vltava with live music and dining on offer from Prague Boats and Parníky Praha. If you’d care to venture further out to explore the city’s wider surroundings you can board the historical paddle steamers or modern air-conditioned boats of the Prague Steamboat Company, Pražská paroplavební společnost, for a cruise to e.g. Prague zoo, Slapy dam or the Vltava-Elbe confluence city of Mělník downstream.
Spa & Canal
There are two sports and recreation sites – Žluté lázně in Podolí and Vodácký areál rafting arena in Troja – that merit a separate section when it comes to describing Prague’s aquatic antics. The first of these offers rental kayaks, canoes, paddleboards and megaboards, pedalos and motor boats, as well as many ‘landlubber’ activities. Your little ones can have fun in the complex of kiddie pools and paddling pools. All this with a rich choice of local eateries.
For a bigger dose of adrenaline, you need to go to the opposite end of town, to the man-made rapids of the Troja Slalom Canal. This training centre for (not only) the Czech national watersports team regularly hosts prestigious races in water slalom or rafting, including European and World championships. During the season amateur enthusiasts can try out the adrenalin-pumping channel, under professional guidance.
One attraction and a reminder of the ‘good old days’ comes in the form of ferryboats between the right and left banks of the Vltava. There are six ferry crossings in Prague, accessible with just regular Prague Public Transport tickets; bicycles are taken across at no extra charge. For more information about transport terms and conditions and the respective routes and timetables see the dpp.cz website.