Sunday, 29 December 2013

Prague Old-Town/New-Town Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 6.8 km (4.2 miles), terrain: flat

Pictures courtesy of the creative folks at Flickr Creative Commons. Thanks!

Prague Running Routes:
Old-Town / New-Town Run
Petrin Hill Run
For more running routes, see Route List.

Prague, Europe's most beautiful medieval city (in my opinion, anyway) has all kinds of interesting neighborhoods and sights. This one combines parts of the old town and the new town (the area surrounding the old medieval core), with a long, scenic stretch along the Vltava River.

Of course, the most fascinating sights are in the old town areas on both sides of the river. But since the end of the Cold War brought a flood of western tourists, there is nothing left in the old town of real Czech culture, where local people themselves go to shop and eat. Everything has been transformed into souvenir shops, hotels and tourist restaurants. So that's why I included some of the new town in this route: to experience a few neighborhoods full of local people and normal Czech life.
Wenceslas Square, photo by Clyde Bentley
We'll begin the run in one of the most important historic sites in town: on Wenceslas Square, in front of the imposing National Museum. This site, at the statue of King Wenceslas, is where the Prague Spring rebellion against Soviet rule began in 1968.

Wenceslas Square is more a wide boulevard than a square. It itself is in the new town, with buildings from the Victorian age to art-deco to more modern ones lining the street. Turn your back on the statue and run downhill (northwest) through the narrow park for three blocks until you come to where the tram tracks cross, at Vodičkova, where you turn left.

This street isn't especially scenic, with lots of offices, restaurants and shops along the way, but you're already away from the tourists. When the tram tracks turn to follow the street to the right, keep going straight on Vodičkova towards the ancient gothic tower, a block ahead.
Charles Square, photo by Martin Laver
The tower is from the town hall of the new town, at Charles Square. The square forms the center of the new town, and it used to be an ancient market square, beginning as a slave market outside the city. Now it's just a nice park for the local people who live in the many apartment houses in the neighborhood.

Run south through the square, which is bisected by two cross-streets, to the southern end. Turn right here to run westwards along Na Moráni. In four short blocks you'll come to the Vltava River.

We'll now cross the river over the Palackého Most (bridge). The riverside is quieter on the other side.
Dam along the Vltava, photo by Ben Jeffrey
When you cross the bridge, take the steps down to the riverside street below, Nábřežní, and begin running north. You can run right down at the water's edge here, until the cobblestoned parking lot joins up with Nábřežní again.

Run under the next bridge and then, just past the white tower at the water, there's an interesting spot to get out into the river and experience it from much closer. Take the path that goes over the arched bridge to Detsky Island. You can view the water cascading over the dam across the river, which diverted much of the water to watermills along each shore.
Vltava swans, photo by Peter Mulligan
Now head north again along the river road, running under the next bridge, Most Legií.

Just 100 meters after the bridge, you'll come into a riverside park, on Kampa island. You'll have to run around the Kampa Museum (ex watermill) and you'll exit the park onto Na Kampě, a pleasant little tree-lined square between old houses.

NOTE: This part of the run overlaps with the other Prague route, the Petrin Hill Run.
Na Kampě square, photo by Cedricounet
In just 100 meters, you'll come to the ancient Charles Bridge, which crosses the street above you. Just run straight through the archway under the bridge and continue until the street ends at the house right in front of you. The castle and numerous smaller palaces crown the hill going up to the left.

Now turn right onto U Lužického Semináře, and follow it to a little triangular square just 200 meters ahead. You'll see a cobblestoned street going down to the water to the right, with a little park next to it. Turn right into the park and then follow the path up to the next bridge, Mánesův Most.

Now cross over to the east side of town again.

Just as you reach the far end of the bridge, at Jan Palach Square, turn left to run along the water past the beautiful Czech Philharmonic Orchestra building and then past next big building.

Now turn right onto Břehová to run past the back end of the Jewish cemetery, in the old ghetto. The cemetery is raised much higher than the rest of the surrounding streets, because the restricted space forced people to bury the dead above each other.
New-Old Synagogue and Jewish Town Hall, photo by cojs images
After two blocks you come to a little green square, where you turn right onto Maiselova, where you run past the gothic-style Old-New Synagogue, and then the Renaissance-style Jewish Quarter town hall. Look for the clock with the Hebrew numbers: it turns backwards!

Most of the rest of the old ghetto was torn down 100 years ago in an urban-renewal project, and replaced with houses of that era.

Following Maiselova southwards, you'll pass another old synagogue and then come to a big baroque church, St. Nicholas, on the left side, with a small passageway leading to the Old Town Square. You'll see the fascinating gothic towers of the Tyn Church across the square.
The main square and the Tyn Church, photo by Reuben Bluff
Take a loop around this square, forming the heart of the old town, going around the Jan Hus fountain, and past the Tyn Church. The Tyn Church marks the beginning of the Tyn neighborhood behind it. The Tyn quarter was a fenced-in area where foreign merchants (mainly Germans) could set up their warehouses and stalls and sell imported goods.

Now circle around the gothic town hall, past its amazing astronomical clock, a work of unrivaled medieval workmanship.
Astronomical clock at the town hall, photo by Sarah S.
Turn your back to the clock, and now take the narrow lane, Melantrichova, heading southeast back towards Wenceslas Square. You'll pass the Haveleska market stands and then exit onto the northwest end of Wenceslas Square.

Now just run straight down the street, back to the statue of King Wenceslas.

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