The Royal Garden (Královská zahrada) at Prague Castle, Prague 1, once the site of the sovereigns' vineyards, was founded in 1534. Dotted with lemon trees and surrounded by 16th-, 17th-, and 18th-century buildings, the park is consciously and conservatively laid out with abundant shrubbery and fountains. Entered from U Prasného mostu Street, north of the castle complex, it's open daily from 10am to 6pm in the summer season.
The castle's Garden on the Ramparts (Zahrada na Valech) is on the city-side hill below the castle. Beyond beautifully groomed lawns and sparse shrubbery is a tranquil low-angle view of the castle above and the city below. Enter the garden from the south side of the castle complex, below Hradcanské námestí. The garden is open daily from 10am to 6pm in the summer season.
In 2000, Prince Charles himself was present when the Palace gardens (Palácové zahrady) under Prague Castle toward Malá Strana were reopened after years of cleaning and reconstruction. The Ledeburská, Malá and Velká Pálffyovská, Kolowratská, and Malá Fürstenberská gardens are accessible from Valdstejnské nám. 3 (Ledeburský palác), or from Valdstejnská street, or from Garden on the Ramparts, Prague 1 (tel. 257-010-401; www.palacovezahrady.cz). Admission is 79Kc for adults, 49Kc for students. Open April and October daily 10am to 6pm; May and September 9am to 7pm; June and July 9am to 9pm; and August 9am to 8pm.
Looming over Malá Strana, adjacent to Prague Castle, lush green Petrín Hill (Petrínské sady) is easily recognizable by the miniature replica of the Eiffel Tower that tops it. Gardens and orchards bloom in spring and summer. Throughout the myriad monuments and churches are a mirror maze and an observatory. The Hunger Wall, a decaying 6m-high (20-ft.) stone wall that runs up through Petrín to the grounds of Prague Castle, was commissioned by Charles IV in the 1360s as a medieval welfare project designed to provide jobs for Prague's starving poor. Take tram no. 12, 20, or 22 to Újezd and ride the funicular or start climbing.
On Petrín's steep slope, near Malostranské námestí, is located Vrtbovská zahrada. Its entrance is through Karmelitská 25, Prague 1 (tel. 272-088-350; www.vrtbovska.cz). This is often called the most beautiful terraced garden north of the Alps. It was built in the 18th century's baroque style by architect Kanka, and Matyas Braun provided some of his sculptures. This very special site was totally neglected during the old regime (it partially served as a playground for a local nursery). The garden is open daily April to October from 10am to 6pm. Admission is 55Kc adults, 35Kc students. Take tram no. 12, 20, or 22 to Malostranské námestí.
Near the foot of Charles Bridge in Malá Strana, Kampa Park (Na Kampe) was named by Spanish soldiers who set up camp here after the Roman Catholics won the Battle of White Mountain in 1620. The park as it is today wasn't formed until the Nazi occupation, when the private gardens of three noble families were joined. It's a fine place for an inner-city picnic, though the lawns are packed in high season.
Part of the excitement of Waldstein (Wallenstein) Gardens (Valdstejnská zahrada) at Letenská, Prague 1 (tel. 257-071-111) is its location, behind a 9m (30-ft.) wall on the back streets of Malá Strana. Inside, elegant gravel paths dotted with classical bronze statues and gurgling fountains fan out in every direction. Laid out in the 17th century, the baroque park was the garden of Gen. Albrecht Waldstein (or Wallenstein; 1581-1634), commander of the Roman Catholic armies during the Thirty Years' War. These gardens are the backyards of Waldstein's Palace -- Prague's largest -- which replaced 23 houses, three gardens, and the municipal brick kiln. It's now home to the Czech Senate. The gardens are open March to October, daily from 10am to 6pm.
Elsewhere in Prague
The plain on the hilltop across the Vltava north of Old Town is a densely tree-covered swath, maintained as a park since 1858. Letná Park (Letenské sady) is easy to spot from Parízská street in Old Town, just look north to see a giant metronome atop a hill. This spot once held the world's largest statue of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, which was pulled down with much difficulty in 1962. Today, the park is a great spot for strolling and jogging, and the far eastern stretch holds arguably the city's nicest beer garden, with a drop-dead-gorgeous view of Old Town below. The garden is connected to two restaurants in a recently renewed, 19th-century, neo-Renaissance château (Letenský zámecek), where you can get a pub-style meal or formal dinner. Take tram no. 1, 8, 25, or 26 from Hradcanská metro station.
Farther to the north is the massive nature reserve Stromovka (metro: Nádrazí Holesovice, then tram no. 5, 14, 15, or 17). Acres of densely tree-lined paths, mostly flat and paved, comprise a shaded set of corridors for long strolls, jogging, and even in-line skating.
Another favorite getaway is Vysehrad Park above the Vltava south of the city center. This 1,000-year-old citadel encloses a peaceful set of gardens, playgrounds, footpaths, and the national cemetery next to the twin-towered Church of Sts. Peter and Paul, reconstructed from 1885 to 1887. The park provides a fantastic wide-angle view of the whole city. Take metro line C to Vysehrad or tram no. 3 or 16 to Výton. The park is open at all times.
If you have the time and want to spend the whole day relaxing in a natural setting, take tram no. 26 or bus no. 119 from Dejvická metro stop toward the airport to Divoká Sárka natural park in Prague 6. In just 30 minutes you will find yourself in a forest full of paths, creeks, rocks, and waterfalls. Whether you like to just wander, jog, hike, or swim you will enjoy visiting this natural wonder, far off the tourist radar.