There’s certainly enough art, architecture, and history to stumble upon while wandering through the streets of Prague. But the city’s museums provided a context for Czech culture that visitors won’t find anywhere else. Since historic and artistic preservation is important to locals, most of the famous buildings in Prague contain some kind of exhibition. It’s not uncommon to find tiny galleries even in pubs, restaurants, and cafes.
Contemporary art centers, museums dedicated to some of the Czech Republic’s most prominent authors, and more, these museums in Prague are sure to enhance any trip to the City of a Hundred Spires.
The National Museum
The National Museum in Prague holds an important place in the city’s history, not only because of the national artifacts housed inside, but also because of the role it played as a gathering spot for protestors during the Prague Spring in 1968, a brief period of time in which the country’s leader, Alexander Dubček, enacted more democratic policies before ultimately the Soviet Union displaced him. Today, the museum is undergoing a series of renovations to restore its outer facade and inner decor to match its original neo-Renaissance design and architecture, and hosts a small permanent collection as well as occasional special exhibits. Visitors are treated to historic art and artifacts from the Czech Republic and around the world, including a full-scale whale skeleton, medieval tapestries, and a selection of coins dating back to ancient Rome, but design lovers will especially want to admire the Main Hall and Dome Hall. The dome is accessible with a timed ticket; it is worth acquiring one for the panoramic views of Wenceslas Square and beyond.
The Jewish Museum
Made up of several historic synagogues and sites of significance, the Jewish Museum is one of the most visited museums in Prague. One admission price gives you access to the Maisel Synagogue, Pinkas Synagogue, Old Jewish Cemetery, Klausen Synagogue, Ceremonial Hall, temporary exhibitions in the Robert Guttmann gallery, and entrance to the Old-New Synagogue, which is still used for religious services today. Families will be able to educate younger travelers with Friedl’s Cabinet, an interactive branch of the museum featuring the world’s largest collection of children’s art from the Shoah (including artwork from children who lived in Terezín, the Czech Republic’s propaganda ghetto). Guided tours through the sites are also available, for a more curated take on the history and culture that has been an important part of Prague’s history for centuries.
For an intimate look at Modern Czech art history, find your way to Museum Kampa, located on Kampa Island in Malá Strana. The permanent collection was built up by Jan and Meda Mládek, and places a special focus on František Kupka, a 20th-century artist who helped develop the modern abstract painting genre. Throughout the museum, work by Czech and Slovak non-conforming artists provides an important perspective on art that was controversial and often persecuted under the communist government. The island itself is worth a visit afterwards; the greenspace provides a shady area for picnics and lounging along the Vltava riverfront. Due to the museum’s size and more obscure subject matter, it’s never very crowded, but to feel as though you have the museum all to yourself, visit closer to 5 p.m. (The museum closes at 6 p.m. every day.)
National Technical Museum
Science, technology, and communication fans will enjoy the mix of exhibits at Prague’s National Technical Museum, located in Letná. Throughout the museum, visitors will learn about the Czech Republic’s contribution to more STEM advancements. The Transportation area showcases gliders and a hot air balloon basket suspended from the ceiling, and a fully-functioning television studio is also found inside the space. An exhibition on sugar and chocolate connects visitors with the museum’s “sweeter” history (the museum was partially funded by sugar magnates in 1908), and there are exhibitions on mining, astrology, and more. It’s definitely a good location to visit for those seeking more insight on the often lesser known aspects of Czech history.
Museum of Decorative Arts
Czech design is often associated with folk arts, but its modern history and aesthetic significance is truly underappreciated. A day spent at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Old Town helps educate visitors on the many facets of this country’s design history through an extensive permanent collection and temporary exhibits that display the world of decorative arts in innovative ways. More than 50,000 objects are showcased here (about one-fifth of the collection), with galleries dedicated to furniture and interior design, ceramics, fashion and jewelry, toys, glass, metalwork, and more. For unique gifts from Prague, stop by the museum’s shop, where visitors can pick up a catalog, stationary, scarves and more, all designed within the Czech Republic.
Museum of Alchemy
Part museum, part entertainment attraction, the Museum of Alchemy provides a look into Prague’s historic association with magic, herbology, and mineralogy experimentation. Located in the Jewish Quarter, the building itself is one of the oldest in the city and was deemed an official alchemy lab by Emperor Rudolf II of Austria in the 16th century. The objects inside represent what the lab would have looked like while in use with information covering botany over the years and legends associated with the alchemists. Those with a piqued interest can take the Magical Triangle Tour, which stops at the House of Rabbi Loew, Vyšehrad, and Prague Castle (allegedly linked together according to Pagan rituals), and visitors can also purchase “elixirs and potions” to bring their experience back home.
Although he wrote most of his works in German, Franz Kafka is perhaps one of the most celebrated Czech authors. A majority of his work was published at the beginning of the 20th century, but the Kafka Museum provides a modern exhibition dedicated to his life and contributions to modern literature. Here, visitors can see first editions of such books as “The Metamorphosis” and “The Trial,” both of which were made famous after his death. Through photographs, letters, and more, the Kafka Museum aims to immerse visitors in the author’s world, with a special focus on how much the city of Prague influenced most (if not all) of his masterpieces.
Bedřich Smetana Museum
One of the country’s most famous composers, Bedřich Smetana, is brought back to life within his namesake museum. His work was primarily created in the 19th century and is often associated with the Czech Nationalist Movement; famous pieces include “Vltava,” named after the river that runs through the city of Prague, and the comic opera, “The Bartered Bride.” Visitors will learn about this important composer’s life through the exhibition galleries, including his personal effects (such as his piano and compositions). Audio clips are also available throughout the museum to provide a truly sensory experience. It’s a good place to get acquainted with classical music, especially for visitors looking to attend one of the many concerts Prague offers throughout the city.
The Art Nouveau movement wouldn’t be the same without works by Czech artist Alphonse Mucha. Many have seen his poster and design work, but few know much about his life and history. The Mucha Museum, near Wenceslas Square, provides one of the best overviews and collections of his work in the world. It is divided into several sections: panelwork, such as “The Four Flowers,” theatrical posters for performances abroad (including many especially featuring the actress Sarah Bernhardt), documents and sketches, Czech posters, paintings, photographs, and sculptures. Visitors looking to take a piece of art home with them should stop at the museum’s shop, which provides many beautiful items inspired by or featuring replicas of his work.
DOX Centre for Contemporary Art
Head north to the vibrant, youthful neighborhood of Holešovice where up-and-coming artists have reclaimed abandoned spaces as galleries for their work. It’s all thanks to the DOX Centre for Contemporary Art, which paved the way for different worlds and mediums to come under one roof in the name of artistic expression. Part exhibition space, part public forum, DOX truly marries art and life through its focus on showcasing contemporary art in contemporary ways. With fashion shows, lectures, film screenings, and more, visitors become familiar with how Czechs are transforming the current art scene. Be sure to explore the Airship, a 138-foot vessel that rests above the building as a space for reading and reflecting.
Karel Zeman Museum
Located just over the western side of Charles Bridge, families will especially appreciate a trip to the Karel Zeman Museum, where photographing of the exhibitions and interactive sites are highly encouraged. A 20th-century filmmaker, Zeman was a pioneer in the Czech film industry, known for creating optical illusions and visual effects that were very advanced for his time. Today, visitors can see replicas from some of his film sets, like The Fabulous World of Jules Verne, and recreate their own favorite moments onsite. It’s also possible to view some of his films while there through an ongoing restoration and digitization project the museum has with the Czech Film Foundation and Czech Television.