The place is fairly small, but they pack a lot in. When you first walk in, you enter at the bar level. The bartender will greet you and give you the lay of the land. For a few pounds, you can pay admission to the museum, which is located on the lower lever down a precarious spiral staircase. You’re allowed to take beer or wine with you down into the gallery (cocktails are only allowed upstairs in the bar area, however). The admission price includes a little souvenir book, so my advice is to hit the gallery first, then pull up a table in the cocktail lounge and read all about the weirdness you just saw, like the gold-plated hippo skull that was owned by Pablo Escobar, Fiji mermaid or a taxidermied goat with wings.
The museum/bar hosts a lot of unique events, from literary readings to taxidermy classes, so make sure to check the calendar if you’re planning a visit. When I visited recently, they were hosting a temporary exhibition of witchcraft art and artifacts on loan from Cornwall’s Museum of Witchcraft. (Note to self: plan a future trip to Cornwall.)
If you’ve never been to Prague, I’ll start by saying this: Prague is easily the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen. (Sorry, Paris!) Every inch of the city feels like being inside a castle, and that’s well before you ever even step behind the literal castle walls! But beyond it’s beauty, Prague is also chock full of dark, creepy sites. I only had three days to spend there, which I realized almost immediately would be far too short of a stay (spoiler: I was right). However, in those three days, I managed to pack in as much as possible, so here are my picks for some of Prague’s best dark sites.
St. Vitus Cathedral
St. Vitus Cathedral is located within the castle walls, so here is where my first Prague travel tip comes in: do not plan your visit for a Saturday morning. Even on a rainy morning, the line of visitors waiting to get inside the gates wrapped all around the square, and it took us nearly an hour of standing in line to even get to the security checkpoint. However, I will say that even with the super long line, it was totally worth visiting. The castle compound actually houses several major historical sites, in addition to the cathedral. There are various ticket options, and different tickets get you into different areas, which leads me to tip #2: do a bit of research on what spots you specifically want to see before you go, so you know which class of ticket you want to buy before you get there.
If you are at all interested in gothic architecture and dark design elements, you will fall head over heels for St. Vitus Cathedral. While the overall impact of the building is quite something, it was the little details I found throughout that really captivated me, particularly the many gargoyles and grotesque figures serving as rain spouts on the exterior.
Another popular site within the castle grounds is Golden Lane, a perfectly preserved 16th century street with artifacts and displays of life as a castle inhabitant. One of the buildings contains an excellent display of various armor and weapons which make it worth a visit.
I had seen photos of this remarkable spot and was determined to pay it a visit, but locating it proved more difficult that I thought. Though it was clearly marked on all the maps I checked, the garden is behind very tall walls, and finding which street will lead behind those walls wasn’t easy. My advice: follow the signs and directions for the Senate building. The gardens surround the Senate and are filled with bizarre surprises, like a habitat with several huge and intimidating-looking eagle owls. There are also supposedly peacocks that roam the grounds, though I didn’t see any. The most impressive feature, however, is the wall known as The Grotto. From far away, the wall appears to be made of stalactites, but when you get closer, you see there are hidden faces and figures everywhere. Some are subtle suggestions of faces, others are literal figures of cats and dragons and all sorts of other creatures. There are rumors of secret doors within the wall, though no one has every proven their existence.
Prague travel tip #3: Make sure you verify that sites are open before heading out. Prague has a rich history when it comes to alchemy, and I was super excited to check out the Museum of Alchemists and Magicians of Old Prague…and super disappointed when I found the sign posted that the museum was closed for renovation! This discovery sent me to the internet for some last minute research, which is how I discovered Speculum Alchemiae.
I had read that the museum mostly contained recreations of artifacts, which sounded a little lame, but I decided to check it out anyway, and I am so glad I did! It’s not so much a museum as it is a guided tour through a historic home and underground tunnels and caves that made up an alchemy laboratory. Our guide was terrific and shared so much information about religion, history and science in Medieval Prague that I was captivated the whole time. And while some of the artifacts are recreations, they are very well done, and several original artifacts from the lab do remain. If you are in Prague, this spot is a must-visit!
There was one more site that I had hoped to see while in Prague, which my poor planning prevented me from seeing: the Old Jewish Cemetery. Of course, when you’re on vacation, you can start to lose track of what day of the week it is, and I went to visit the cemetery on a Saturday…also known as the Sabbath, and naturally the cemetery was closed. Oh well, I guess I have at least one reason to return to Prague!