Visitors guide to Vysehrad Castle in Prague for 2024, incl. Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul, Vyšehrad Cemetery and Rotunda of St. Martin.
Looking for a hidden gem in Prague? Well, you’ve come to the right place – let me introduce you to Vyšehrad! The remains of this historic fort are perched on a hill above the Vltava River and have breathtaking views of the city.
But Vyšehrad is more than just a scenic view. It’s a historic landmark that’s played a significant role in the cultural and political life of Prague.
Vysehrad is great to visit if you want to escape the crowds of central Prague, and you get some beautiful views of Prague from the top of the park. Whilst the original castle is long gone, you can still see the Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul, visit the Vyšehrad Cemetery, and see one of the oldest buildings in Prague – the Rotunda of St. Martin.
In this guide, I’ll take you on a journey through the history and highlights of Vyšehrad, so you can discover everything that this fascinating place has to offer.
Is Vysehrad worth visiting?
If you have more than one day to visit Prague, then I’d say that Vysehrad is definitely worth visiting. If you’ve visited Prague Castle and all the main attractions in the centre of Prague, then Vysehrad will complete the picture of how Prague has developed as a town.
Vysehrad is much less visited than the centre, so more often than not, you’ll have the place virtually to yourself and it’s a great way to escape the crowds in the centre of Prague.
On top of that, you will be able to see Prague from a different view and really get a sense of Prague’s geography.
What is Vysehrad famous for?
Vysehrad is the original ‘Prague Castle’ and the place where Prague was originally founded according to the old legends.
The castle is long gone, but you can see the beautiful basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul, the oldest building in Prague – the rotunda of St. Michael as well as the original statue of St. Wenceslas which was made for the old Wenceslas Square in the centre of Prague.
There are also amazing views of Prague and the park is great for walks, picnics and just enjoying the architecture. Vysehrad cemetery is the final resting place for many famous Czech people and is worth the visit to see the individually decorated graves by well-known sculptors.
Best time to visit Vysehrad
Vysehrad area is open all year round, so any time you visit Prague, you can visit Vysehrad too – there are no set opening times.
If you want to see the galleries, exhibitions and the basilica, then it’s best to come during day time 10-4 (Tuesday – Sunday) to make sure that everything is open.
If you want to join the service at the basilica or the rotunda, choose either the evening – Monday – Friday. The services alternate between the basilica and the rotunda, but they always start at 6 pm. The Sunday service at the basilica is at 9 am.
Last time I visited Vysehrad it was in the middle of winter and although it was a Saturday, there was hardly anyone there (it was quite cold!), so it was nice and peaceful.
History of Vysehrad
The first historical records mentioning Vyšehrad go back to the 10th century. At the time it was used as a royal residence and a military fortress that protected Prague from invaders.
During the 11th century, the Rotunda of St. Martin was built, which is the oldest building in the fort.
In the 11th century, it became the residence of the first Czech king, Vratislaus II, who built a basilica dedicated to St. Peter and St. Paul which later was re-built into the basilica.
During the 13th century, the fort was expanded and rebuilt, and it became a prominent cultural and religious centre. The Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul was re-built during this period and the cemetery next to it was established.
During the reign of Charles IV in the 14th century, Vyšehrad was abandoned as a royal seat in favour of the newly built Prague Castle. In the following centuries, the fortress was used for various purposes, including as a military garrison and a prison.
In the 17th century, the fort was damaged by the Swedish army and later rebuilt in the Baroque style. In 1883, the Vysehrad area was included in the city of Prague as its sixth quarter.
In the 19th century, Vyšehrad was transformed into a public park, and many of its historic buildings were restored. The fortress became a symbol of Czech nationalism and a place of pilgrimage for Czech patriots. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many Czech artists and intellectuals, including Antonín Dvořák and Alfons Mucha, were buried in the Vyšehrad Cemetery.
The legends of Vysehrad
According to legend, Vyšehrad was founded by Prince Krok when he was looking for a safer place to live than his current place in Budce. He sent out his people to find him a place where they could move to, and they found steep cliff above the Vltava River.
The prince ordered the forest to be cleared and a castle to be built there. When Krok died, his daughter Libuše, who was the oldest of his children, took over. However, the men did not want a woman to rule them, so Libuše said to the men to follow her horse who would find their new king for them.
The men followed the horse for two days and on the third day they arrived in the village of Stadice, where Přemysl was ploughing the field with a pair of oxen.
The horse stopped next to him and the men realized that he was their future ruler. Premysl was welcomed at Vyšehrad and he joined Libuse in ruling the kingdom. His nickname was Premysl Orac (the plougher) to remind people where he came from and he became the 4th Czech ruler.
Another Vysehrad legend talks about a knight named Horymír, who was imprisoned in Vyšehrad by Prince Křesomysl because he was destroying silver mines. As his last wish, he wanted to ride on his faithful horse Šemík for the last time. Křesomysl ordered for all gates to be firmly closed, but that didn’t stop Horymir. The brave horse Šemík jumped over the walls with Horymír straight into the Vltava River. Horymír was saved, but unfortunately, Šemík died. His tombstone is in Neumětely, which is the direction Horymir was heading to.
There is also a legend similar to the legend of the Blaník Knights: the Vyšehrad hill contains a secret cellar where a golden treasure is hidden. An old Czech lion with twelve lion cubs watches over the treasures. The lion comes out several times a year at midnight and searches to see if there is any danger to the Czech land. When he finds out that everything is okay, he returns to the cellar. However, if there is a danger to the Czech land, the lion will roar so powerfully that the Vyšehrad rock will split and the lion cubs then become powerful lions who will tear apart all enemies.
Make sure you don’t miss
I really like the quirky bits of the history, so my recommendation is to see the Rotunda of St. Martin (the oldest building in the whole of Prague), the Slavin Tomb in the Vysehrad cemetery (that basically reads like a ‘who’s who’ encyclopedia of well known Czech people), the original statue of St. Wenceslas from Wenceslas Square and the steps that lead down to the river Vltava (a great spot for a photo).
Best things to see and do at Vysehrad
Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul
The Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul, also known as the Vyšehrad Basilica, was founded by the Czech King Vratislav II in 1070-1080 as a Romanesque basilica, but it suffered a fire in 1249 and was later rebuilt in Gothic and then neo-Gothic style. The basilica has two towers that are 58 meters tall, making it one of the most significant landmarks in Prague.
The interior of the basilica is very colourful and decorated with beautiful frescoes, stained glass windows, and sculptures.
The Vyšehrad Cemetery is right next to the Basilica of St Paul and St. Peter. It was properly established in 1869 and is the final resting place of many important Czech people, including writers, artists, composers, scientists, politicians, and other prominent figures.
The cemetery was built on the site of an older cemetery that had been in use since the 13th century. The new cemetery was designed by Antonín Wiehl and Josef Mocker in the neo-Gothic style, and it quickly became the most prestigious cemetery in Prague, where many of the city’s elite were buried.
The cemetery has over 600 graves, including those of famous Czech figures such as Antonín Dvořák (composer), Bedřich Smetana (composer), Karel Čapek (writer), Karel Hynek Macha (Writer), Jan Neruda (Writer), Mikolas Ales (painter), Ema Destinnova (opera singer), Antonin B. Svojsik (founder of Czech Scouts), Waldemar Matuska (popular singer of 60 & 70s ), Josef Gocar (architect) and Alphonse Mucha (painter). The graves are arranged in a park-like setting, with paths winding through the trees and around the graves.
When you visit, don’t miss the Slavín tomb, which is a large, imposing tomb built in 1893 to honour Czech cultural figures. The tomb is located at the highest point in the cemetery and is accessible by a grand staircase. The tomb is a group resting place of many important Czech figures, including the composer Bedřich Smetana and the writer Karel Čapek.
Rotunda of St. Martin
The Rotunda of St. Martin is a Romanesque building located in the eastern part of Vysehrad park and you can’t miss it if you walk through the Leopold Gate from the Vysehrad underground station.
It was built around 1100 and is the only completely preserved Romanesque building in Vyšehrad and one of the oldest in Prague.
The rotunda was damaged and nearly taken down during the 30 years war against the Prussians during the mid 18 century. During the wars the building was used for storing a gun powder and afterwards as a storage place, workshop or an accommodation for the local poor people. If you look closely, you can still see a bricked in gun ball that was left in the rotunda to commemorate the Prussian siege of Prague in 1757.
The rotunda is normally closed to the public, but you are welcome to join a service, which is usually at 6 pm on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.
The Vysehrad Gates – Taborska, Leopold & Cihelna
There are three main gates to Vysehrad Park, which were built to protect the castle and later the fortress.
The Leopold gate is the most decorated one (built in a baroque style) and originally guarded the entry to the inner Vyšehrad complex. It was built between 1653-1672 based on a design of the famous architect Carlo Lurago. The gate has a central passage for vehicles and two smaller side passages for pedestrians. It served both a ceremonial and military function, and it was named after the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I.
In the mid-1800s, the gate was reconstructed in the Empire style, and a wooden bridge over the moat was replaced by an embankment.
The Tabor or Taborska Gate (named after the Tabor town in South Bohemia, which also means ‘encampment’) was built in a Renaissance style around 1640. It was part of the advanced fortifications of Vyšehrad, which served to protect the city of Prague from invaders. The gate is located in the southeastern part of the Vyšehrad complex and is one of the official entrances to the fort (you will walk through it first if you are coming from the Vysehrad underground station).
The Cihelna Gate (Brick Gate), is an Empire-style gate located in the southwestern part of the Vyšehrad complex. You will walk through the gate if you enter Vysehrad park from the Vyton tram stop and follow the road up to the hill.
The gate was built in 1841 as part of a new road that was connecting Pankrac and Nove Mesto (New Town in Prague) through Vyšehrad on the initiative of Karel Chotek, the governor of Prague at the time. The gate is cut through the fortress walls as previously there was no access through there.
Cihelna Gate is fairly large and has enough space for wide road and pedestrian access on both sides.
You will find the entrance to the Casemates there and also the Vysehrad Tourist Information centre.
The fortress walls
You can walk around the Vysehrad fortress following most of the outer walls which were built over the years to strengthen the Vysehrad’s chances against any attacks.
The views down to the valley with Petrin Hill and the Lookout Tower are spectacular but don’t miss the views to the back of Vysehrad, where you can see the Mother & Child hospital (straight under the walls), Podoli and island on the Vltava River.
Park & the amazing views of Prague
Vysehrad as a castle and a park might be overlooked as it’s not in the centre of Prague, but because of that, it’s actually much more peaceful and quiet there. You also get some lovely views of Prague and Prague Castle in the distance as the park is set on the top of a hill.
My favourite statue in the park has to be the original St Wenceslas Statue from the Wenceslas Square in the centre of Prague which in comparison to the new one is much smaller; Wenceslas looks a bit older and sort of like a normal person!
The story goes, that when Wenceslas Square was being re-modelled the old statue was not deemed to be good enough in keeping with the new shiny look and a much bigger (and younger and more masculine) version of Wenceslas was commissioned! The old statue was first put into storage and much later displayed in the park at Vysehrad.
The large statues in the park at Vyšehrad were moved there from the Palacký Bridge in Prague in the aftermath of World War II.
I also love the story behind the other four large, more modern statues in the park. These were removed from the entrances to Palacky Bridge (one of the main bridges in Prague) because they were too big and motorists couldn’t see when they were turning from the bridge!
The bridge was built when there were very few cars around, but by the middle of the 20th century it was starting to cause serious problems. After the Second World War, the statues were damaged a bit too, so it was decided to remove them altogether.
The statues were originally designed by Czech sculptors Josef Václav Myslbek and Bohuslav Schnirch in the late 19th century and were first added to the bridge in 1901.
The statues include figures such as the legendary Czech princess Libuše, the warrior Šemík, and the mythical hero Bruncvík, among others. And in case you are wondering how people couldn’t see through the statues, they originally stood on huge (and tall) pedestals which were in the view of the motorists.
Art Gallery at the Vysehrad
There is a small art gallery in the old watch tower facing the Vltava river. The exhibitions vary throughout the year and there is a small charge to enter.
Exhibitions at the Gothic Cellar
The gothic cellar is one large room, where you can find a small exposition of archaeological excavations and displays explaining the history of the Vysehrad. The entry fee is 70 CZK.
The Vyšehrad Casemates are a series of underground tunnels and chambers under the Vyšehrad fortress. The casemates were built in the 17th century as part of the fortress’s defences and were used for storing weapons, ammunition, and supplies. They were also used as a prison for political and military prisoners.
Today, the casemates are open to the public and you can visit them as a part of a guided tour. The casemates are also used for cultural events, such as concerts and exhibitions.
The casemates are divided into several sections, including the Brick Gate, the Gorlice Hall, St. Martin’s Casemates, and Podolí Casemates. The Gorlice Hall is the largest and most impressive section of the casemates, with a vaulted ceiling and a series of interconnected chambers. You can also find the original statues from Charles Bridge displayed here.
The Brick Gate is the entrance to the casemates and features a drawbridge and portcullis.
Open air theatre
Hidden slightly below the fortification walls, you can find a modern open air theatre. The theatre is used for various events, including theatre plays, concerts or presentations of sword fighting during an annual knights’ festival usually held in mid May.
The Old Administrative Building (Stare Purkrabstvi)
This building was the only one that survived the plundering of Hussite troops in 1420, probably because it was the seat of the economic administrator of Vyšehrad.
The current appearance of the building dates back to the 18th century and it’s in a baroque style. The building was fully renovated between 2003-2005 and now it’s used as an event venue and a cosy café. Last time when I visited during a very cold Prague winter weather, the Ginger Tea with honey and lemon was delicious!
V Pevnosti 159/5b, Vyšehrad, 128 00 Prague
How to get to Vysehrad
Since Vysehrad is on the hill, there are no direct bus, tram or underground stops right next to it, but the fortress is accessible from various sides depending on where you are travelling from.
Vyšehrad Underground Station is the nearest metro stop and it’s two stops from Museum Underground Station on the line C. The entrance to Vysehrad park is only about 10 minutes walk from the underground station.
If you travel by tram, take the number 17 from the Staromestska Stop (the nearest stop to Old Town Square) or Karlovy Lazne (close to the Charles Bridge) centre and get off at the ‘Vyton’ tram stop. Trams number 2,3,5 and 7 also stop at Vyton tram stop.
From Vyton, you can walk up to the top of the hill via Vratislavova street or walk towards the Cubist houses on Rasinovo Nabrezi and then turn left and take the steps up to Vysehrad. This is quite a steep climb, but the views from the steps are great. A lot of people take photos there, especially in the early morning or just before the sun sets in the evening.
READ MORE ON HOW TO TRAVEL AROUND PRAGUE
- Using public transport in Prague – buying tickets, prices, routes >>
- The full guide to tram network in Prague >>
- Prague underground (Metro) – route, tickets, prices & tips >>
How to get around once you are at Vysehrad
Once you arrive at Vysehrad park, most attractions are fairly level and the paths are easy to walk on. There is normally no access to cars and most of the park is pedestrianised.
Opening Times Opening Hours
The whole Vysehrad area is open all year round, every day and all hours. There are no restrictions and the gates don’t close.
The exhibitions, galleries and the basilica have opening hours, which are usually 10-4 in winter and 9- 5 or 6 pm in the summer. Mondays are usually closed.
The restaurants, cafe places and refreshments are open throughout the whole year. There are definitely more places open in the summer than in the winter as there are more visitors.
Entrance Fee & Tickets
Vysehrad park area is free to enter and you are welcome to walk around as much as you like.
The galleries, exhibitions and the basilica is only accessible with a valid ticket, which you can buy at each entrance. The cost varies from 50 CZK to 130 CZK (the basilica), but in comparison to other attractions in Prague, the entrance fee is much lower.
You don’t need to book anything in advance or buy the tickets online, just turn up and visit the attraction you like.
If you want to see the inside the basilica without a ticket, you can always join the service at 6 pm on Thursdays or Fridays or at 9 am on Sundays. During this time the basilica is open for church attendees only, but it’s a great opportunity for reflection and quiet time whether you are religious or not.
How much time do I need to visit Vysehrad
It really depends on how much you want to see and whether you want to just look around or go and visit some of the exhibitions, galleries and the basilicas.
1 hr visit
If you have just one hour, walk around the area and have a look at the views from the fortress walls and perhaps briefly visit the cemetery. If you walk from the Vysehrad underground station, the walk is fairly level and you can come down the steps on the other side (great opportunity for a photo) and end up at the Vyton tram stop (any tram will take you back to the centre).
2 hrs visit
If you have a little longer, visit the basilica or one of the exhibitions about Vysehrad to give you more of an idea about the history.
3-4 hrs visit
You will have plenty of time to see everything and visit the exhibitions too, plus time to sit in the restaurant for a meal or choose the cafe place in the old abbey building at the far end of the park.
What to pack for Your visit to Vysehrad
Unless you intend to eat or have a drink in a cafe or restaurant, make sure that you bring your own drink, snacks or sandwiches with you to Vysehrad park. There are no food shops, supermarkets or food stalls on the top or as you are walking from the underground station or tram stop.
Refreshments & Eating out
- Rio’s Vysehrad – restaurant and cafe
- Cafe at the Stare Purkrabstvi – large seating areas inside the baroque building
- Bystro Cafe
- Obcerstveni U Okenka – quick snacks, drinks & food take out
- Na Hradbach – beer garden & simple food
- U Vratislava – great coffee shop with simple snacks
- Okenko Vysehrad – small take-out window with coffee, chai latte, drinks, snacks (including pancakes!) and pretty outdoor seating and decorations
Prices for food and drinks at Vysehrad are about the same as average prices in Prague centre although you might find the takeaway places slightly cheaper.
There are (payable) toilets opposite the basilica and outside the Tabor Gate. The restaurant opposite the basilica and the cafe at the old baroque building (Stare Purkrabstvi) also have toilets for their customers.
There are no shops inside the Vysehrad area.
Can I visit Vysehrad independently or do I need a guided tour to visit?
The whole Vysehrad area is free to enter and you can absolutely visit it on your own, even during late afternoons and evenings (or early in the morning if you wish). The inside exhibitions and the basilica is open during day time (see above for times) and you can buy individual tickets at each entrance – there is no need to pre-book the tickets, just pay at the door.
I always found Vysehrad to be safe to walk around, there is always somebody around as most locals use the park to walk their dogs, take the children to the playground or just come to sit in the beer garden or admire the views.
This blog post was originally written on 8 June 2023 and last updated on 8 June 2023