Golden Lane – A long row of small houses is one of the most picturesque places in Prague. A romantic legend connects the name of the street with alchemists at the court of Rudolf II, who never actually lived here. The picturesque environment has attracted many writers and artists, including writer Franz Kafka.
I have fond memories of Golden Lane as I used to work in number 16 when it was a shop with traditional Czech crafts and toys during my university years. I used to walk up the castle steps from Malostranska stop early in the morning to open up and it always felt special being there so early before the visitors started to come in.
I felt like I was part of history and thought how amazing it was that all the people who walked into my little shop were on holiday! Everyone was in a good mood, happy to talk and wanted to know what the houses looked like inside.
Is Golden Lane worth visiting?
Yes, I definitely think that Golden Lane is worth visiting, but I would never go there now during the busy daytime. To experience the history and get the feeling for the place a little, go in the evening or very early in the morning; when you see just a few people quietly walking around you might get the idea of how what the street looked like a few hundred years ago.
There is no other street in Prague quite like that, although the New World (tucked away on the top of the Prague Castle complex) is very pretty and definitely more authentic (as people still live there). You can visit the New World streets any time you like and even during busy times, there is hardly anyone there.
Why is the street called Golden Lane?
The oldest written records of them are from the 1560s when the alley was called “Zlatnická” (and only later “Zlatá” – Golden). Its inhabitants were perhaps small goldsmiths who fled here from the strict guild laws that were enforced in all Prague towns.
Legend has it that it acquired its name from the gold that the alchemists tried to produce here. In reality, the alchemists never lived in Zlata ulička and the origin of its name is not at all flattering – supposedly, the name originated from the colour of the street soiled by human waste. It’s no wonder, considering that there were only two primitive toilets for sixteen houses.
The imperial alchemists’ laboratory was probably located in Vikářská Street and in the Mihulka tower, which Rudolf’s brother Matthias later converted into a gunpowder magazine.
Interesting Facts about Golden Lane
I love history, I love facts and I also love putting things into perspective, so forgive me for being super realistic when I share with you this:
- Franz Kafka ‘lived’ in Golden Lane only for 3 months and 2 days and never actually slept there… I spent more days working in house number 16…
- The pretty house colours are based on the design of a Czech puppeteer and children’s book illustrator (not a historic architect)…
- The monthly rent for the average shop is 200 000 CZK (that is about £7000 or $9000)…
Is Golden Lane at Prague Castle free?
Yes and no!
If you want to visit during the day and see the ‘how people lived’ exhibitions in the 9 houses, you need to purchase a ticket for the Prague Castle complex (around 250 CZK full price with discounts for over 60s and children). There is no individual ticket to enter the Golden Lane only (there used to be one, but now it’s just a part of the castle ticket).
But the good news is that if you want to just look and walk around Golden Lane and visit the shops, you can do that for free after 5 pm each day! I visited Golden Lane this summer, just to double-check, because I couldn’t find a definitive answer anywhere (especially on the official Prague Castle website).
The whole castle complex is open until 10 pm every day and Golden Lane stays open until then. In the morning the castle complex opens at 6 am, but I’m not sure whether the Golden Lane is open for free until 9 am when the official Prague Castle rooms open. It’s certainly worth seeing the castle in the morning and if you are there at that time pop in to see if the Golden Lane is open too!
The history of Golden Lane
Zlata ulička was created after the construction of the northern fortifications of the Prague Castle.
Architect Benedikt Ried began building the northern rampart fortifications of the castle shortly after 1484, when the Bohemian King Vladislav Jagellonský decided to move from the Old Town Castle (next to the historic Powder Tower where you can now find the Municipal Palace) to the castle palace on the top of the hill.
The space of the northern rampart was used to build modest dwellings, which are now the last remnants of small buildings in Prague Castle. Three defensive towers were connected to the rampart wall, which was up to 320 cm thick: Pražská Tower (Mihulka) on the west side, Daliborka on the east side, and the White Tower between them.
Between Daliborka and the White Tower, the wall towards the rampart was reinforced with twelve identical arcades, which were about 120 cm deep and 600-660 cm wide. These partially constructed spaces led to the idea of simply enclosing them and using them as emergency primitive dwellings.
The next major modification of the northern rampart wall happened during the reign of Emperor Rudolf II, from 1591 to 1594.
At that time, the upper arcade was reinforced and widened, which created twenty-one arches between the White Tower and Daliborka, with a width of 400 cm and a depth of around 220 cm.
Above them, a brick defensive walkway with a wooden ceiling was built. The previous houses were probably demolished at that time, and their remains disappeared in the raised part of the rampart.
In 1597, the soldiers who were protecting the gates of the Prague Castle asked Emperor Rudolf II for permission to brick up the arches in the newly repaired wall and create temporary rooms or chambers for them to live in.
In a written script dated September 16, 1597, Rudolf granted them permission to create the chambers but only to the depth of the actual recesses and not bigger.
But, the “Red Shooters,” as the soldiers were nicknamed due to the colour of their uniforms, did not receive the new dwellings as a gift. They had to build them at their own expense and also sold and bought them, first among themselves and later to other people who did not belong to their group.
At first, the new owners were various employees of the Castle – gatekeepers, guards, bell-ringers, etc., and later also people who did not live in Golden Lane themselves and rented out the houses.
Soon, the houses began to expand into the alley with various extensions, chimneys and outdoor buildings.
New make-shift buildings were also created on the opposite side of the lane, where the Romanesque wall is and the wall of the castle purveyor’s office. The space in the alley was eventually so cramped that, in some places, it did not even reach a width of one metre.
During the clearance in 1864, these extensions, outer buildings, and wooden sheds were removed, leaving only the houses along the northern wall.
The originally defensive White Tower served as a prison from 1586. The convicts who served their sentences here were mainly offenders from the noble class – primarily debtors and troublemakers. The shooters from Golden Lane served not only as guards but also as servants, cooks, stokers, or caretakers. The last prisoner left the White Tower in 1743.
Famous people living at Golden Lane
Writer Franz Kafka lived in house No. 22 from 1916-17. He was renting the house from his sister and stayed there for a grand total of 3 months.
Just saying…when you are proudly taking a photo in front of Kafka House, he didn’t really live there for that long… There is a shop there now with all things Kafka – books, guidebooks and souvenirs.
Golden Lane in modern times
In 1952 Prague Castle purchased all the houses from the owners as the tourist trade was picking up and they realised that Golden Lane could be part of the castle tour.
To make the houses more presentable, they asked the artist and illustrator Jiří Trnka to re-decorate the street. Until then, the houses were painted in dull grey or off-white, but now they have pastel colours to look more attractive.
What to see and do at Golden Lane
There are currently nine little houses opened as part of an exhibition about how people lived in the street over the centuries from the 17th century until 1953, when the last residents moved out.
In the first house, number 12 near Daliborka Tower, you can see what the castle looked like in the short films from the beginning of the 20th century. In the next yellow house, you can peek into the dwellings of the defenders of the walls during Rudolf II’s reign. This house may be the smallest residential building in all of Prague – it is a bricked-up recess of the original wall.
The blue house with number 14 represents the household of the famous Prague fortune teller Matylda Průšová. She lived in the house before World War II, but sadly died during a Gestapo interrogation.
Next door, you can find an exhibition of a goldsmith’s workshop.
House number 16 houses a tavern with a black kitchen. That’s the house I used to work in when it was opened as a traditional Czech art and crafts souvenir shop and the old toilet room was our store room. I remember that there was a good view of the Deer or Stag Moat underneath (Jeleni Prikop) and the Daliborka Tower.
In houses 24 and 25, the exhibition will bring you closer to the history and life of the last residents in the 1950s, when there was only one toilet for all residents in the street.
The last red house near the White Tower shows an exhibition of a healer’s dwelling. You can also see the defensive passages through the walls and the former prison for nobles, in which the famous alchemist Robert Kelley was imprisoned.
The staircase in house No. 12 leads to a terrace in front of Daliborka Tower. The cylindrical artillery tower was part of the Jagellonian fortifications, and its lower floors were used as a prison from the beginning.
The first and most famous prisoner was the knight Dalibor of Kozojedy in 1498. In his spare time, he learned to play the violin beautifully. People would come to the tower, wait, and then listen to his music, but one day they did not hear it anymore. Bedřich Smetana, a 19th-century composer, composed his opera Dalibor based on this story.
Another well-known prisoner, the East Bohemian Baron František Antonín Špork, was a lover and patron of the arts in the 18th century.
Where is Golden Lane
Golden Lane is tucked away in the Prague Castle Complex close to the Black Tower entrance to the castle from the Malostranska Tram stop or Underground.
How to get to Golden Lane from the centre of Prague
The shortest way to get to Golden Lane at Prague Castle from the centre of Prague is to take tram No. 22 to the stop “Malostranská” and walk up the old castle stairs. The entrance to the Golden Lane is from the bottom of the castle complex opposite the Lobcowicz Palace and Art Gallery.
If you don’t fancy the steep steps, you can also take the same tram no. 22 to the stop “Pražský hrad” (Prague Castle). From there, you can enter the castle complex and follow the signs to Golden Lane. It’s a longer walk, but it’s level (or slightly down the hill) and it will take you through the main Prague Castle Complex.
You can also get to Malostranska stop by walking from the Old Town Square towards the river and crossing the Vltava river over Manes Bridge (one of the many beautiful bridges in Prague).
This is the shortest way from the Old Town Square, but if you want to have a little detour, you can also walk from the centre of Prague across the historic Charles Bridge and then through the charming Kampa Island, passing the Kafka Museum and the Vojanovy Gardens on the way to Malostranska stop.
250 CZK (concessions available) as part of the Prague Castle Complex Ticket or FREE after 5 pm every day until 10 pm (or from 6- 9 am every day) – exhibitions and some shops will be closed at that time.
You can’t buy a separate ticket to enter just Golden Lane, which used to be the case many years ago.
How to buy tickets
Tickets to the castle complex can be bought in the ticket office just outside Golden Lane. The ticket is valid for all the palaces, rooms, Golden Lane and the cathedral, but not for the private art galleries or toy museum.
You can book online, but you can also buy the ticket when you get there.
How much time do I need to visit golden lane
If you are visiting during the exhibition opening hours (9 am – 5 pm) I would suggest 2 hrs to look around the exhibitions, the shops and to walk through the street. If you want to take photos, you might need to wait around a little as there are always people wanting to take pictures in front of the most colourful houses.
Other times (when the shops and exhibitions are closed) you can walk through the lane within 10-15 minutes (the lower part where the Daliborka tower is, is closed when the exhibitions close at 5 pm).
Opening times & When to visit
9-5 pm every day – to see the historic exhibitions and visit the shops
6-9 am – to walk around and take photos in a relatively empty street
5-9 pm – to visit the shops, take photos etc (shops usually close between 6 to 7 pm in the summer and a bit earlier in the winter).
Where to eat in Golden Lane
There is one little cafe at the Golden Lane (the White Tower end), but it seems to get very bad reviews. As you leave there are two more cafes in the Prague Castle Complex, but expect them to be quite pricey. I usually take a packed lunch and drink when I’m exploring the centre of Prague, because I’m not particularly happy to pay the tourist prices.
But if you want to visit a more sophisticated place with a great view of Prague, good coffee and lovely cakes, then I definitely recommend the cafe at the Lobcowicz Palace (sort of opposite the Golden Lane). It’s the only private house not in the ownership of the state, so at least I have a good feeling of contributing directly to the people who own it – the Lobcowicz familly.
There are no facilities as such, the nearest toilets are outside Golden Lane in the Prague Castle Complex.
There are still a few shops left that haven’t been converted into exhibitions, including the Kafka Book & Souvenir Shop, Children’s Toy Shop and Prague souvenirs.
How to avoid crowds in Golden Lane
That’s a really tough one! But if you visit off-season and after 5 pm (or before 9 am) you are more likely to see the street empty or with just a few people. During the day, the street, which is quite narrow and not very long, is very busy and it’s practically impossible to take a photo without any people.
The last time I visited it was mid-summer on Monday evening and there were still quite a lot of people. Everyone was quite happy to let others take photos and people were waiting to pass when they saw somebody posing. I doubt that would happen during the day.
What else you can see and do nearby
You will be in the heart of the Prague Castle complex with St.Vitus Cathedral, historic palaces, art galleries and other churches all around you. There is also a private toy museum next to Golden Lane and the art gallery at the Lobcowicz Palace.
This blog post was originally written on 18 September 2023 and last updated on 18 September 2023
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