Prague is a city full of dark and sordid history. Myths, legends and ghost stories abound in Prague. As do more recent historical sites associated with tragedy and loss during times of war and occupation. But Prague has embraced this past. The Czech people are nothing if not resilient.
As dark tourists who love a bit of spooky history, we have put together a guide for what we believe to be the best dark tourism sites and historical macabre things to do in Prague. These suggestions can easily fill up or supplement any Prague visit. And if you’re planning a short break away full of dark tourism and potential terror, you really can’t go wrong with a weekend exploring the dark history of Prague.
While I recognise that not all dark tourists like spooky tourism and vice versa, there is a fair amount of crossover. So, in case you’re also wondering what to do in Prague that’s a bit spooky, we have included a few spooky tips for some of these spots.
If you prefer more spooky than dark, check our our ultimate spooky and macabre Prague holiday guide!
Generally, Prague is practically overflowing with macabre things to see and do. We’ve added our favourite of Prague’s dark tourism and macabre sites that we visited – and some that we missed, but wanted to see, and believe are worth seeing based on feedback from friends. However, we look forward to adding more to the list following future visits!
1. Prague’s Jewish Quarter
Like many Jewish areas in major European cities, the residents of the Jewish Quarter of Prague did not fare well during WWII.
But luckily, many of the buildings actually survived the war, including all six synagogues and the Old Jewish Cemetery. This makes the Jewish Quarter a great place to explore some of Prague’s darker history.
What to see and do in Prague’s Jewish Quarter
Formerly the site of Prague’s Jewish Ghetto, the Jewish Quarter (also called Josefov) today is completely surrounded by the Old Town. However, there are still many Jewish buildings and sites to visit.
Old-New Synagogue: Built in 1270, this is one of the oldest remaining European synagogues in the world. It is also purported to be the resting place of the Prague Golem.
Location: Maiselova 18, 110 01 Josefov, Praha 1
Cost: 200 Kč (≈ €7.8)
Opening Hours: November to March: Sunday – Friday from 9:00 to 17:00; April to October: Sunday – Friday from 9:00 to 18:00. Closed Saturdays.
Old Jewish Cemetery: As one of – if not the – oldest Jewish cemetery in Europe, this place is an incredibly important piece of Prague history.
Location: Široká, 110 00 Josefov, Praha 1
Cost: Included in the cost of the Prague Jewish Museum (350 Kč, approximately €13.8); it costs 50 Kč (≈ €2) for photos.
Opening Hours: November – March, Sunday – Friday: 09.00 – 16.30; April – October, Sunday – Friday: 09.00 – 18.00 (closed Saturdays and on Jewish holidays)
My understanding is that these others can no longer be visited separately, but must be seen as part of a tour. This costs 500 Kč (about €20) and includes the above sites, as well. Get Your Guide offers many tours of Prague’s Jewish Quarter, some of which include entrance fees, such as this one. Alternatively, you can purchase your tickets directly from The Jewish Museum.
Pinkas Synagogue: (1535) The Pinkas Synagogue is the second oldest in the city, after the Old-New Synagogue. From 1955-1960, the Pinkas Synagogue become the Memorial to the Victims of the Shoah from the Bohemian Lands, and was one of the first memorials of its kind. Today, it now houses several important historical and dark tourism themed collections: Children’s Drawings from the Terezín Ghetto, Journeys with No Return: The Deportation of Jews from the Czech Lands, 1939-1945, The Faces of the Victims of the Shoah.
Maisel Synagogue: (originally built in 1592, rebuilt in 1689 after a fire, and renovated in 1893-1905). This synagogue has a permanent exhibition called Jews in the Bohemian Lands, 10th-18th Century.
Klausen Synagogue: (1694) The Klausen Synagogue is the largest in Prague and houses the permanent collection Jewish Customs and Traditions, Part 1.
Ceremonial Hall: (1912) The Ceremonial Hall was built on mortuary grounds next to the Old Jewish Cemetery and originally used to wash the dead. This site houses Jewish Customs and Traditions, Part 2.
Spanish Synagogue (TEMPORARILY CLOSED): (1868) This site is very impressive and unique in Prague due to its Moorish architecture and design. The synagogue is closed from June 2019 for renovations, but usually houses the following collections: The History of the Jews in Bohemia and Moravia, Part 2, Synagogue Silver from Bohemia and Moravia.
There is also the High Synagogue (1577), which was used during the War and the communist rule to house Hebrew books. However, this is not open to tourists.
There are around 30 cemeteries within Prague’s city limits (some sources say 29, but most seem confident it’s 30, so I’ll join their ranks).
The cemeteries in Prague are beautiful and peaceful – as are most European cemeteries. And while you should always remain respectful, walking around them for appreciation is not considered bad form.
The city’s three most important cemeteries are the Old Jewish Cemetery in the Jewish quarter (there are three), which is the oldest surviving cemetery in the city; Olšany Cemetery, which is the largest public cemetery; and Vyšehrad cemetery, attached to the Vyšehrad complex, and the final resting place of many famous Czechs.
Other important noteworthy Prague cemeteries include the Old Jewish Cemetery in Žižkov and the New Jewish Cemetery (final resting place of perhaps the city’s most renowned resident, Franz Kafka). The New Jewish cemetery is technically part of Olšany, but is slightly disconnected from the main cemetery.
If you’re looking for spooky, take a nighttime ghost tour of Bohnicky Cemetery of Fools, supposedly the most haunted place in the Czech Republic. Or, try to find Prague’s only vampire, Bloody Knee, at Olšany Cemetery (spoiler: he isn’t particularly scary).
3. St. Valentine’s Shoulder Blade
On display in the Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul at Vyšehrad (yes, the one next to the cemetery mentioned above) is a relic believed to be the shoulder of St Valentine. And while for many this is a holy relic, the fact that someone’s shoulder blade is on display is creepy as fuck to me.
The relic is relatively new, having been discovered in the basilica’s vaults in 2002. However, it’s likely that during the communist era it was hidden away, as many religious relics and artifacts were.
For those who live under a rock, St Valentine is the patron saint of couples and love and all that jazz. Also, for some reason, the plague. Supposedly it’s him we’re celebrating during Valentine’s Day (are we, though?).
But Valentine’s Day, as you may or may not know, has its own sinister origins. For example, from February 13-15, the ancient Romans used to celebrate the Pagan holiday of Lupercalia by sacrificing animals and then beating women with their hides. So freaking romantic, amirite?
Location: Karlovo nám. 10, 120 00 Praha 2-Vyšehrad
Cost: 50 Kč
Opening Hours: November to March: Monday through Saturday: 10:00 – 17:00, Sunday: 10:30 – 17:00; April to October: Monday to Wednesday, Friday & Saturday: 10:00 – 18:00, Thursday: 10:00 – 17:30; Sunday: 10:30 – 18:00. No tourist may enter the Basilica during Mass.
Related: Alternative things do in Prague
4. Defenestration Towers
As we mentioned in our Golem article and mini Prague history lesson, Prague has had two [official] defenestrations (technically it’s had more, but there are only two official defenestrations of Prague). Both of these had a huge impact on history.
FYI: In case you don’t know and don’t want to google (fair), defenestration is when one is thrown out of a window.
The 1st Defenestration of Prague: Seven members of the Prague city council were defenestrated by a crowd of Czech Hussites in 1419. This event triggered the Hussite Wars (also called the Bohemian Wars and the Hussite Revolution). The Hussites were a pre-Protestant Christian group who were not pleased with the way the Catholics were running things. Following the defenestration, war broke out on 30 July 1419 and lasted until 1436.
Location: The New Town Hall, Karlovo nám. 1/23, 120 00 Nové Město, Praha 2
Cost: Free! (Cause you can’t go in, sorry)
Opening Hours: Can’t really go in, but you can see it from the outside at all times.
The 2nd Defenestration of Prague: Although I covered this in our Golem article, I will give a brief overview here (sorry if you’ve already read the other one).
Quick background: During the 16th century, Prague’s ruler, Rudolf II, the Holy Roman Emperor was a fairly fanatical Christian. His goal was to create a unified Christian Europe. And in 1609 he wrote the Letter of Majesty. This effectively gave unprecedented religious rights to the Bohemian Protestants.
Later, Rudolf II was overthrown by his younger brother Archduke Matthias, who had no heirs. As a result, he named their cousin Ferdinand of Styria his successor.
Ferdinand, less keen on the Protestants, ignored the Letter of Majesty and the Protestants lost a lot of the religious freedoms they had become accustomed to.
In protest the Protestants threw several Catholic regents out of a window on 23 May 1618. Although they apparently all survived, this act started the Thirty Years War.
Location: Třetí nádvoří Pražského hradu 48/2, 119 00 Praha 1-Hradčany (Czech Office, Old Royal Palace, part of the Prague Castle)
Cost: Depends on the circuit you’re doing. Check out the website for more information.
Opening Hours: The defenestration tower is viewable from the outside at all times. However, if wanting to visit the castle, anyway, you can also see the defenestration tower as part of circuits A & B: November to March: 9:00 – 16:00 (daily); April to October: 9:00 – 17:00 (daily).
Bonus: When viewing the tower on the A or B circuit, you can also visit the Dalibor Tower, which was used as a prison for many years and has a fairly gruesome history.
5. Old Town Square Execution Memorial
In Prague’s famous old town square, around the corner from the even more famous astronomical clock, rests a memorial that almost no one ever notices. But thousands walk across it everyday.
Next time you walk across Prague’s old town square, look down.
On 21 June 1621, 27 Czech Protestants were executed for their role in the Bohemian Revolt, and as a warning to others. The revolt was predominantly driven by religious differences, although there was discontent over power disparities, as well.
Of the 27 men executed at the old town square, there were three lords, seven knights and 17 townsmen; 22 were Czechs and 5 were Germans. Some were beheaded with swords, including the three noblemen. A few had their right hands severed prior. One of the men, Jan Jesenius, who was responsible for convincing Hungary to split from the emperor, had his tongue cut off prior to his beheading. The three who were members of the Unity of Brethren (a Czech Protestant movement that dates back to the 1400s) were hanged, as this was considered more disgraceful for them.
Afterwards, most of the headless bodies were returned to the families. However, the heads of the 12 men considered the most influential were placed in iron baskets and hung from the Old Town Bridge Tower, where 11 of them remained until 1631 when the Saxon Army invaded. The twelfth was returned to the widow who begged to have her husband’s head returned.
Today, there are 27 white crosses and a plaque with the names of those executed outside of Prague’s Old Town Hall and astronomical clock. So as you flock to see the clock show (it’s underwhelming for anyone above the age of 10, FYI), remember to take a moment and pay your respects.
Supposedly, the headless ghosts can still be seen each year on 21 June, walking in a procession from the Charles Bridge back to the old town square.
Location: Staroměstské nám., 110 00 Josefov, Praha 1
Opening Hours: 24/7 (Best to see it on the hour when everyone else is in front of the astronomical clock, or early in the morning when there are less people about)
6. Charles Bridge
Ostensibly Prague’s most famous bridge, Charles Bridge was built over a period of some decades in the 14th century, beginning in 1357. At over 2,000 feet long and guarded by three separate bridge towers, it was the main and most important connection between the Old Town district and the city’s castle.
Over the course of its seven hundred and sixty-odd years of existence, the bridge has seen its fair share of embellishments, catastrophes and historical events. In the late 17th century, Charles Bridge was adorned with 30 Baroque statues that populate the pillars to this day (though almost all are now replicas of the originals).
The people depicted are exclusively saints and other religious figures – one of whom met a particularly ghastly fate on Charles Bridge itself.
Saint John of Nepomuk (also known locally as Jan Nepomuky) was a priest during the time of King Wenceslas IV in the 14th century. The story goes that, after taking confession from the Queen of Bohemia (King Wenceslas’ wife), Wenceslas asked him what she said, as he suspected her of infidelity.
When Nepomuk refused to break the confidentiality of the confession, the king ordered him to be tortured, locked in a casket and thrown from the bridge, where he drowned.
According to witnesses, five stars were seen floating just above the water where his casket sank, and these are depicted in gold on his statue on Charles Bridge.
In addition to Saint John of Nepomuk, dozens of others who displeased the King were murdered in the same way.
Location: Karlův most, 110 00 Praha 1
Opening Hours: 24/7
7. Heydrich Terror Memorial
Reinhard Heydrich was one of the Nazi party’s highest ranking officials. And he earned that rank by being heartless. The Czechs often referred to him as The Butcher of Prague; Hitler called him The Man With the Iron Heart. A really nice guy, clearly.
On May 27 1942, Heydrich’s car was attacked on his way to work. The attackers were two men, Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš, members of a Czech resistance group called Operation Anthropoid. Although initially planning to shoot him, the gun jammed and Kubiš was forced to throw a grenade into the car.
Heydrich was fatally wounded and died eight days later in a Prague hospital.
In retaliation, Hitler ordered thousands of Czechs be rounded up, interrogated and executed. The towns of Lidice (listed further down) and Ležáky were wiped off the map.
But no one knew that seven members of Operation Anthropoid were in hiding at the Cathedral of Saints Cyril and Methodius. Until, that is, they were betrayed by one of their own; Karel Čurda.
Today, the National Monument to the Heroes of the Heydrich Terror is in the crypt of the church where they hid, and died. It is a powerful monument and an important reminder of all that the Czech resistance did for their people.
Location: Resslova 9a, 120 00 Nové Město, Prague
Opening Hours: It is open year round, Tuesday – Sunday 9:00 – 17:00.
Bonus: There is also the Operation Anthropoid Memorial at the spot where Heydrich was initially attacked by Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš on the corner of Zenklova and V Holešovičkách. The memorial is of three men with outstretched arms atop a large triangular pillar.
Related: Understanding the Heydrich Terror: Read more about the site, the retaliations and Karel Čurda’s motivations
8. KBG Museum
We were unable to to visit the Prague KGB Museum, which I kind of regret, as I’ve heard excellent things (next time, right?).
However, the reason we didn’t visit is because, much like the nuclear bunkers, it was a little out of our price range at €14 – €18 per person for a tour. Oh, also, I was sick and Prague was overcrowded for the Christmas season and I just wasn’t in the mood for tours or people, really.
So, this is what I know: the museum is a collection of communism era memorabilia including weapons, propaganda posters and clothing. It is run, I believe, by one man who is, I think, the owner of all the material within. Also, apparently he is very animated and theatrical and good fun to hang out with.
It’s certainly top of our list next time we visit. We just hope it can live up to our visit to the Hotel Viru KGB Musem in Tallinn – which also included one of our favourite guides ever, Pawel.
9. Museum of Communism
I actually fell in love with this little museum when I first visited in 2007. It was my first real education in the effects of communism, and it was super quirky. So I was a little disappointed to find out that the Prague Museum of Communism, once a small operation humourously advertised as being located above a McDonalds, was now a rather large, hulking museum in the general vicinity of a McDonalds.
Now don’t get me wrong, it’s one of the most comprehensive museums on the communism regime you can find. And despite having been before, I still learned a lot. But it is huge, and in becoming so, I believe lost a lot of its charm.
Nevertheless, if you’re looking to learn about communism in Prague (and Czechoslovakia in general), I still believe this museum is worth the visit. I’ve just learned that I, personally, tend not to be the biggest fan of big museums.
Location: V Celnici 1031/4, 118 00 Nové Město, Praha 1
Cost: 290 Kč (≈ €11). Check their website for up to date prices and deals.
Opening Hours: Open daily from 9:00 to 20:00.
10. Jan Palach and Jan Zajíc Memorial
For some reason, I always find myself stumbling over this in the dark and forgetting to take a photo. But I blame that entirely on the fact that Wenceslas Square is normally busier than I’d like whenever I’m there.
However, this is an important and powerful memorial; and a reminder of Prague’s rich history of resistance.
Although Czechoslovakia was still officially under Soviet rule, the election of reformist Alexander Dubček to First Secretary of the Communist party on 5 January 1968 led to what became known as the Prague Spring. Dubček was determined to reform the Communist Party. One of these reforms was the lifting of bans on media censorship. This led to the movement of New Wave filmography, as well as mass protests against the Soviet regime.
Fast-forward to August 1968: the Soviets are not amused with the way things are going politically in Czechoslovakia. Cue the Warsaw Pact Invasion – also known as Operation Danube – when approximately 250,000 troops from the remaining Warsaw Pact countries of Bulgaria, East Germany, Hungary, Poland and the Soviet Union invaded Prague overnight on 20 August 1968.
On 16 January 1969, 20 year old Jan Palach walked into Wenceslas Square and set himself on fire. Jaroslava Moserová, one of the burn unit specialists looking after Palach, said that he was protesting “not so much in opposition to the Soviet occupation, but the demoralization which was setting in, that people were not only giving up, but giving in.”
Jan Palach died three days later on 19 January 1969. His funeral became the start of mass protests against the occupation; leading to the self-immolation of another student, Jan Zajíc, on 25 February 1969. Zajíc was at Wenceslas Square participating in a hunger strike to commemorate Jan Palach.
Although the memorial at Wenceslas square only commemorates Jan Palach and Jan Zajíc in name, they were not the only Czechoslovakians to protest in this way. Nor were they first of the Warsaw Pact Countries to protest against the regime by self-immolation. Polish resistance fighter Ryszard Siwiec had set himself on fire in Warsaw several months prior.
Location: Vinohradská, 110 00 Nové Město, Praha 1
Opening Hours: 24/7
Bonus: There is also another Jan Palach memorial titled the Jan Palach Memorial: The House of Suicide and the House of the Mother of Suicide. Which feels a tad extra. Much like the Memorial to the Victims of Communism sculpture mentioned below, this one made us think (which one is which? There are arguments both ways!).
Location: Alšovo nábř., 110 00 Staré Město, Prague
Opening Hours: 24/7
11. Velvet Revolution Plaque (17.11.1989)
17 November is a considerably important date in Czech, and particularly Prague, history. It first gained significance in 1939 when the Nazi party quashed student anti-German occupation demonstrations and attacked the University of Prague.
Less than a month before, on 28 October 1939, the Nazis broke up another anti-Nazi demonstration during an Independence rally at Prague’s Charles University. This had resulted in the deaths of student Jan Opletal and worker Václav Sedláček.
Following the second demonstration on 17 November 1939, the Nazis rounded up over 1200 students and sent them to nearby concentration camps (most were sent to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, just outside of Berlin). In addition, they executed nine of the students without trial and closed down all of the Czech universities (at the time Czechoslovakia did not exist, as it had become the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia and the Slovak Republic).
This day became known as International Students’ Day in the Czech Republic. Although it was initially created to honour those who lost their lives in the 1939 protests, it is today celebrated at universities (sometimes on a different day) in order to celebrate the multiculturalism of their students.
50 years later, on 17 November 1989, an officially-sanctioned march was held to honour Jan Opletal and those who lost their lives following the 1939 protests. However, police tried to repress the crowds. This incited the crowd and the march soon became an anti-communist, anti-government protest, in which those involved called for the resignation of all party leaders. By 20 November, the number of protestors had more than doubled and over 500,000 Czechs had joined their ranks.
On 24 November, the entirety of the top-tier communist party leaders resigned.
A new, non-communist party was temporarily installed on 10 December 1989, and in June 1990, Czechoslovakia was able to hold its first democratic elections since 1946. 2.5 years later on 1 January 1993, Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic (or Czechia) and Slovakia.
Also, this plaque is kind of creepy and I love it.
Location: Národní třída, Nové Město, Prague
Opening Hours: 24/7
12. The Memorial to the Victims of Communism
The Memorial to the Victims of Communism was unveiled to the public on 22 May 2002. This haunting memorial pays tribute to those whose lives were lost or impacted by the brutal Soviet communist regime between 1948 – 1989.
A nearby plaque reads: “The memorial to the victims of communism is dedicated to all victims, not only those who were jailed or executed but also those whose lives were ruined by totalitarian despotism”.
If you look closely, you’ll see a metal strip running through the length of the memorial. This strip indicates estimated figures of the victims of communism by category:
- 205,486 arrested
- 170,938 forced into exile
- 4,500 died in prison
- 327 shot trying to escape
- 248 executed
Although there have been several controversies around the memorial in its short lifespan, including the fact that no women are depicted, I personally found it very affecting.
Speaking of controversy, it actually sparked a bit of a debate between Jeremy and I over the meaning. Jeremy feels that the figure is moving forward, rebuilding and healing as he moves away from communism. I thought it looked as though the man was being dragged backwards, fracturing and losing pieces of himself as the communist regime took hold.
And that’s kind of the beauty of this piece; it made us feel and discuss.
Location: Újezd 420, 118 00 Malá Strana, Prague
Opening Hours: 24/7. Although you can see the sculptures better during the day, the night time lighting is quite unsettling.
Related: The Weird and Wonderful Statues of Prague
13. Nuclear Bunker Tours
Prague has a handful of bunkers which were built at various points throughout the 20th century in preparation for a nuclear fallout. For the Czech Republic, which fell behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War, this was certainly a very real fear. Then again, I think it was for most people at the time.
Luckily, the bunkers were never needed. Today, Prague’s primary tourist bunker is just outside of the Žižkov neighborhood, near Olšany cemetery. It has been converted into a museum of sorts and is called the Nuclear Bunker Exposition. It is open daily, but can only be visited via tour.
Sadly, this was the only bunker I was aware of when we visited Prague and was a little too pricey for us at around €28 per person.
Of course, as soon as we left, I found out about the Folimanka bunker (in Folimanka park) which does public tours one Saturday a month for free. Ironically, we have a photo of one of the ventilation shafts of this bunker as it has been painted to look like R2D2 (and now you understand the above photo…)
– The Nuclear Bunker Exposition: This will depend on the tour you take and their set meeting point as you typically meet away from the bunker
– Folimanka Bunker: 4 1325, Vinohrady, Pod Karlovem, 120 00 Praha 2
– The Nuclear Bunker Exposition: Around €28 per person for a tour.
– Folimanka Bunker: Free!
– The Nuclear Bunker Exposition: Open daily, but visiting times will depend on the tour that you pick. The top rated Communism Bunker Tour is available daily at 10:30 and 14:30 and leaves from Male Namesti 459/11, Praha 1. Alternatively, if you would like a slightly longer tour (which includes a discount to the Communism Museum), that one is available on Mondays and Saturdays at 11AM, leaving from Powder Tower at Náměstí Republiky. Book ahead for either to avoid disappointment!
– Folimanka Bunker: One Saturday per month, typically towards the middle of the month. Check out the Folimanka bunker website for upcoming tour dates.
Bonus: Dark Tourism Day trips from Prague
Terezín Ghetto & Concentration Camp: A Nazi propaganda trip about 45 minutes by bus from Prague.
Lidice: A village just outside of Prague that was wiped off the map by the Nazis during WWII.
Sedlec Ossuary: A famous bone church about 45 minutes by train from Prague where the remains of 40,000+ people have been integrated into the church’s interior.
Have you been to any of these macabre sites? Any you’re hoping to Czech out (sorry) on your next visit to Prague? Did we miss any macabre sites integral to understanding the history of Prague? Let us know in the comments!