Prague is surely the prettiest and most photogenic city in the world. But when you’ve seen enough historic architecture, the tallest (and ugliest) building in town is well worth a visit
The suburb of Zizkov is a good half-hour walk to the east of Prague’s city centre, and few tourists venture there – unsurprising as the area’s dilapidated tenement blocks could have rivalled Edinburgh’s housing schemes as the setting for the film Trainspotting. However, there is one good reason to travel this far out – the Zizkov TV Tower (www.tower.cz). The tallest building in Prague, it’s visible from all over the city, and there’s a good chance it will intrude in any photos taken of the more mainstream attractions such as the Old Town square or the bridges spanning the River Vltava.
Unlike most of Prague’s tourist sites, there is no queue to get in the TV Tower. For a fee of 150 korunas (about £6), you get entrance to the 8th floor observation deck and the 5th floor bar and restaurant. You even get your own “free” gift, a miniature ceramic mug emblazoned with a logo of the tower – the ideal vessel from which to down the absinthe you’ll inevitably buy before leaving the Czech Republic. Thankfully, there’s no staircase. A lift takes you up with an ever-changing display showing how many metres you’ve climbed of the total of 216.
The views from the three observation pods are awesome – on a clear day you can see for 100km. You may be grateful for the signs that indicate where Prague’s famous monuments are – at such a height it is difficult to make out what is what, otherwise. A series of photographs show the construction of the tower – a hugely controversial project led by the communists in the 1980s. As well as objecting to its unsightly appearance, locals were suspicious of the motives behind the construction, some believing it was an attempt to block TV transmissions from the West, while others were worried about the health risks of living so close to such a monstrosity.
The bar and restaurant level is slightly lower but still affords great views while you sit with a beer or a meal such as Tower Stew or Zizkov Beef Needle. From here, the tightly-packed flats which surround it look almost within touching distance of the base.
From a distance the tower looks pretty futuristic, but up close it just looks bizarre! For crawling up the tower are a number of giant grey babies – another image straight out of Trainspotting. “Babies” was a temporary sculpture put in place in 2000 by the Czech artist David Cerny, but was so popular it returned in 2001 and is here to stay. I’m not sure of their relevance, but the babies somehow suit this fantastically eccentric building.
If you walk to the tower, you might want to save some shoe-leather by taking the metro back to the city centre. Jiriho z Podebrad station on the green line will take you back to the Old Town square in four stops. But before leaving Zizkov, why not sample one of the area’s traditional pubs (pivnices). U Sadu (the garden) is located halfway between the tower and the metro station at Skroupovo (Namesti 5, www.usadu.cz), and is one of the few places outside of a Wetherspoons pub that sells the excellent Kozel, at just 26 korunas for a half-litre. It’s a great place to get your land legs back and take some photos of the Zizkov TV Tower before returning to conventional tourist Prague.
It may be ugly. It may be weird. But your photos will complement those of Charles Bridge and the castle, and remind you that there’s more to Prague than the celebrated architecture of the centre.
Where to stay
Prague may be a cheap city for beer-lovers, but finding decent, cheap accommodation can be a problem. Residence Bene is in the heart of the Old Town at Dlouha 48, and has double rooms including breakfast from £50. Prague Apartments (www.my-prague-apartments.com) has a variety of central apartments to suit all budgets – try the romantic Nerudova in the pretty Mala Strana district at Nerudova 32 for £55. Or for those who want to be near the tower, try the four-star Aramis Hotel in Zizkov itself. Doubles with breakfast booked online start at just £32.