At the beginning of the 20th century Art Nouveau was sweeping Europe, and it enveloped Prague in its path. Because the city was left almost untouched by World War II you can still see the flowing, natural designs of Art Nouveau everywhere, as if Mucha himself had painted the buildings beside the river.
There are a few well-known buildings like the Hotel Europa, the Central train station, and the Municipal House, but the best way to see it all is just by looking up as you walk anywhere. The entire city is a museum of 1920’s and 30’s style, the creamy pastel rows of buildings the color of an old ice cream parlor. You’ll see details on doorways, windows, railings, roofs, and lightposts.
Inside the delicate doorways is even more beauty, and the best way to peek in is to head to a cafe. Prague’s cafe scene is as important to the city’s history as Paris’, and they pride themselves on excellent coffee (kava), and delicious cakes and pastries. Three of the best cafes to try, both for the architecture and the food, are these ones:
Grand Cafe Slavia
Known for being a hang-out for hip historicals like Milan Kundera, Franz Kafka, and Vaclav Havel, it has a gorgeous Art Deco interior, luxurious coffees and a great location across from the National Theater. Sit by the window to enjoy a perfect view of trams trundling down Národní Street on their way to the castle. We didn’t hatch any revolutionary plans like Havel, but we did share this delicious crepe with real whipped cream and honey on top. To die for.
Kavárna Obecní dům
The most well-known Art Nouveau building is the Municipal House (Obecní dům) at Náměstí Republiky in the center of town. You can take an official tour of the building, catch a Dvořák symphony, or just walk inside to see the lobby and the cafe. Sip your kava in style while taking in the high windows, crystal chandeliers, mirrors, and artistic decorations.
House of the Black Madonna
If all those natural leaves and vines are too much to look at, get a change of pace with some Czech Cubism at the House of the Black Madonna (named for a statue on the outside of the building). While there’s a great museum there, there’s also the beautiful Grand Cafe Orient on the 3rd floor.
Whoops, I didn’t take any photos. I borrowed this one from the cafe’s website–there are plenty more to see there, too!
Somehow we always managed to find time to squeeze a cafe break into our days in Prague. Try the honey cake, medovik. It’s the perfect ending note on any Art Nouveau tour.