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Insight Cities among 10 of the best architecture tours
The influence of art nouveau, which emerged at the end of the 19th century, is seen in landmark buildings across Prague. On this three-hour guided walk you’ll visit hotels, bars, restaurants, and train stations notable for their elaborate facades, carved with ginkgo Biloba leaves, and elegant light fittings – including the Lucerna bar and the Grand Hotel Europa, even as you discover the dramatic social and political history of Prague in the 20th century.
Insight Cities One of 5 Best Architecture Tours in Europe
Insight Cities’ tour, ‘Art Nouveau and Cubist Architecture – Prague after 1900’, could easily be mistaken for a slightly daunting academic tour. Instead, it helps make sense of a place that only emerged from behind the Iron Curtain in 1991, nicknamed ‘the City of a Hundred Spires’ and widely agreed to be as beautiful as Paris. It takes in the defining features of Art Nouveau (including ginkgo Biloba leaves on facades) and includes a visit to the Lucerna bar, once owned by Vaclav Havel’s family and the building which housed the Grand Hotel Europa, which signified the Czech Republic’s willingness to join Europe. The Cubist aspect of the city is explored via the House of the Black Madonna.
Vadim Erent runs Insight Cities, a tour company that promises to give visitors a deeper perspective on the cultural and political histories of more than half a dozen cities, including Berlin and New York. The firm began here in Prague, where the Russian-born US citizen has been living for the last 11 years. And our tour of “Vadim Erent’s Prague” begins near his Letná home, specifically on a bench overlooking Stromovka Park by the Místodržitelský letohrádek, or Governor’s Summer Palace.
The question: I don’t want to be just another tourist in Prague. Any suggestions for getting off the beaten path? The answer: The cobbled Czech capital rapidly became the former Soviet Bloc’s most popular vacation destination in the 1990s, and its charming Old Town streets were soon crammed with great opportunities to buy Charles Bridge T-shirts and Astronomical Clock fridge magnets.
But there are still ways to encounter the City of a Hundred Spires without feeling like a walking wallet or a backpacker ticking the boxes on a Europe-wide jaunt. To prove it, I’ve pried some personal tips from Prague-based Mark Baker, co-author of Lonely Planet’s Prague and the Czech Republic guidebook.
He suggests starting with a tour that delves beneath the city’s surface. “Insight Prague (insightprague.com) is kind of high-brow but they employ university lecturers as their guides. They really explain the city and its history in an informed way,” he says, mentioning the operator’s Beer and Baroque and totalitarian-themed tour options.
Insight Cities got a nice mention (albeit in a big list!) in the HuffPost Travel Section: “Insight Prague guides come with impressive academic credentials and extensive knowledge in their areas of expertise. The company promises ‘truly informed tours for travelers who like to learn.’ Feel free to ask detailed questions during these masterclasses in subjects like Art Nouveau and Cubist Architecture, Stories of Jewish Prague or a detailed look at the history of the Prague Castle.”
People Magazine’s Music Editor Reflects on Insight Cities Bowie in Berlin Tour
People Magazine’s Music Editor, Jordan Runtagh, reflects on our David Bowie at the End of the World Tour with Berlin historian and Insight Cities guide, Dan Borden:
“David Bowie and Iggy Pop fell into an easy routine, often holding court over breakfast at Anderes Ufer (“The Other Side”), a gay-friendly establishment a few doors down from their apartment. At a time when most homosexual bars were essentially speakeasies hidden from view of the general public, Anderes Ufer had achieved a degree of local infamy as the first gay bar with windows open to the street. “Visibility was a big deal in the ‘70s” says Dan Borden, whose tour for Insight Cities Berlin includes a drink at the historic locale, since renamed Neues Ufer (“The New Side”). Dan describes a night when vandals threw a brick through the front window. Within minutes, Bowie arrived to help them clean up, and paid in cash to have the damage repaired.”
National Geographic’s Neighborhood Guide to Prague
We are thrilled to be quoted in one of our favorite magazines of all time, National Geographic!:
“Prague is an encyclopedia of European architectural styles, even through to the 1970s brutalist hotels,” says Bonita Rhoads, co-owner of the Insight Cities tour company, “and this district proves this. Click here for the full article.(opens in a new tab)
Czeching out in style
At the Municipal House, a palatial concert hall that opened in 1912, I join Dr. Bonita Rhoads, a bubbly New Yorker and founder of Insight Cities, a company specialising in architectural tours in Central European and American cities. “The building illustrates a revolution in society,” she explains, “rapid industrialisation and the growth of the bourgeoisie freed architecture from its classical constraints and allowed architects to experiment with new artistic forms and technologies.”
Winterlude in Prague & Finding Vienna in the Habsurgs
Insight Cities is featured in these two elegant blog posts by Patricia Zohn, a culture columnist whose blog, CultureZohn, is published by the Huffington Post. It was a pleasure to arrange some of Patricia’s research touring in Prague and Vienna with 2 members of our network of over 70 brilliant historian guides in Central Europe, architecture experts like Prague’s Alex Went, who curates the most comprehensive on-line encyclopedia on this city’s iconic buildings, Prague Vitruvius, and Felicitas Konecny, an expert historian who leads cutting edge tours of Vienna’s modernist and post-modernist architecture and is one of the world’s two “Guiding Architects” for Vienna.
Prague – A Short Break to a City With a Long History
If the history of post-Second World War Prague is fascinating, that of Prague during the Enlightenment is every bit as amazing. I was fortunate to spend a morning with Bonita Rhoads, an academic historian turned tour guide and founder of Insight Cities running tours in Prague and across a portfolio of cities in Europe and America. Their ethos is to provide living history and insight into some of the lesser-known parts of the cities where they operate. The Four Gardens tour started at the Vrtba Garden, which dates back to 1720. With an entrance in Mala Strana, it’s a terraced Baroque walled garden that was built for Jan Joseph, the earl of Vrtba and chancellor of Prague castle. Bonita explained that each of the gardens we visited was essentially political statements in their time.
Tomas Silberberg Samples Prague’s Breathtaking Architecture on an Insight Cities Tour
You only have to stop and look around you in Prague to get a striking sense of the city’s personality and creativity. It can be found while looking at its breathtaking architecture, and a tour by Bonita of Insight Cities Tours brought to life its Cubist and Art Nouveau locations. It was an altogether fascinating tour delivered professionally with great confidence and insight.
The Municipal House, with its embellished exterior wrought with golden leaves stands as a testament to the tastes of the early 20th century. Inside, cafes and restaurants provide excellent examples of Art Nouveau interiors, designed by craftsmen and artists such as Alfons Mucha, Jan Preisler, Ladislav Šaloun, and others.
We were happy to collaborate on this Expats.cz article marking the 160th anniversary of the birth of Alfons Mucha, the great art nouveau practitioner, Czech patriot, and the favorite poster maker for the legendary Sarah Bernhardt. Mucha’s life and work feature on our Prague Art Nouveau and Cubist Architecture tour.
“”His gargantuan cycle, the Slav Epic, was a labor of love but also a way to overcome his early start in chocolate and champagne advertisements,” art historian Bonita Rhoads, co-founder of tour company Insight Cities, told Expats.cz.”
The company specializes in guided walks – some in-depth tours of the city’s classical sites, such as the Jewish Quarter or the fortress of Prague, and other thematic tours such as a tour of the cities breweries, a tour dedicated to the avant-garde movement in Prague, a tour following the Cold War, and more. One of the recommended tours dedicated to Art Nouveau architecture which shaped the face of the city in the early 20th century, and passes some of the most representative buildings of its time, such as the Grand Hotel Europe Weber Lucerne, along with some interesting Cubist buildings in the city.
Prague: Where to go and What to do in the Czech Capital
Take a stroll: Insight Cities offers an Art Nouveau tour as one of several small-group walks in the city, from £50pp, which takes in the Municipal House, where independence was declared in 1918, the world’s only Cubist lamppost, and Wenceslas Square, epicentre of the 1989 Velvet Revolution.
Ask a local: Bonita Rhoads, Co-founder, Insight Cities, “The Svandovo Theatre has English supertitles for every fourth performance. Prague has more theatres per person than any other European capital; sampling a production will give you a real taste of the Czech character.”
TRAVEL WEEKLY ventures beyond the Charles Bridge to see what really makes the City of a Hundred Spires tick
Perhaps the most interesting quarter of Stare Mesto is Josefov, the former Jewish ghetto. Many historic buildings have been preserved and brought together under the banner of the Jewish Museum (jewishmuseum.cz). These include four richly decorated synagogues, a Ceremonial Hall and the old cemetery. Most have exhibitions inside, and guided tours are available through Insight Cities (insightcities.com), which charges about £52 for a three-hour, scholar-led walk.
With the one hour time difference, our 8.15 am rendezvous with Bonita Rhoads of Insight Cities might seem inhumane after the Pilsner and porcine excess of the night before, but the Charles Bridge Palace is peaceful, its beds firm and roomy and the breakfast kingly, so we’re in fine fettle for the forthcoming tour.
Bonita, it turns out, is the founder of Insight Cities, providing discursive and personalized city tours. She hails from a New York family of intellectuals: ‘If you couldn’t talk about world politics at the dinner table at age ten,’ she chuckles, ‘you were nothing.’ She’s a passionate host too, it turns out, deeply in tune with history’s romance.
Tour Prague with local experts from Insight Cities. If you are the type of traveler who longs for educational tours of a city where you can really learn and take away something specific from a destination, then tours by Insight Cities are just for you. Insight Cities offers special tours in select cities of Europe and the United States; tours are led by professors, historians, doctoral students, journalists, art critics, and published authors. These special tours are perfect if you are looking for a more in-depth tour of the beautiful city of Prague – or Vienna, Budapest, and Berlin for that matter.
100 Years Since the Foundation of an Independent Czechoslovakia
There’s more as we explore Prague with Guide Bonita Rhoads, who delivers an expert, educational commentary. As we celebrate our first visit, the Czech Republic gears up to celebrate its 100th year of the foundation of independent Czechoslovakia, on October 28, 2018. After passing the Estates Theatre, one of the remaining theaters where Mozart actually performed, Bonita enthuses: “Prague is an astonishing city for enjoying inexpensive and quality opera, dance, and theatre.”
Un’idea brillante può essere quella di farsi accompagnare da qualcuno di Insight Cities, organizzazione che propone guide alternative alle tradizionali, come studiosi, universitari e letterati, persone preparatissime che descrivono la città attraverso punti di vista meno scontati.
Translation: It’s a brilliant idea to be accompanied by an expert from Insight Cities, an organization that offers alternative guides to traditional ones, including scholars, academics and writers, highly trained people who describe the city through less obvious points of view.