Prague was originally developed as four adjacent self-governing boroughs, plus a walled Jewish ghetto. Central Prague's neighborhoods have maintained their individual identities along with their medieval street plans.
Hradcany (Castle District) -- The Castle District dominates the hilltop above Malá Strana. Here you'll find not only the fortress that remains the presidential palace and national seat of power, but also the seat of religious authority in the country, St. Vitus Cathedral, as well as the Loreto Church, Strahov Monastery, and the European masters branch of the national art gallery. You can take a scenic walk down the hill via Nerudova or through the lush Petrín Hill gardens.
Malá Strana (Lesser Town) -- Prague's storybook Lesser Town was founded in 1257 by Germanic merchants who set up shop at the base of the castle. Nestled between the bastion and the river Vltava, Malá Strana is laced with narrow, winding lanes boasting palaces, and red-roofed town houses. The parliament and government and several embassies reside in palaces here. Kampa Park, on the riverbank just south of Charles Bridge, forms the southeastern edge of Lesser Town. Nerudova is the steep, shop-lined alley leading from the town square to the castle. Alternate castle routes for the strong of heart are the New Castle Stairs (Nové zámecké schody), 1 block north of Nerudova, and the Old Castle Stairs (Staré zámecké schody), just northwest from the Malostranská metro station. Tram no. 22 will take you up the hill if you don't want to make the heart-pounding hike.
Staré Mesto (Old Town) -- Staré Mesto was chartered in 1234, as Prague became a stop on important trade routes. Its meandering streets, radiating from Staromestské námestí (Old Town Sq.), are still big visitor draws. Old Town is compact, bordered by the Vltava on the north and west and Revolucní and Národní streets on the east and south. You can wander safely without having to worry about straying into danger. Once here, stick to the cobblestone streets and don't cross any bridges, any streets containing tram tracks, or any rivers, and you'll know that you're still in Old Town. You'll stumble across beautiful Gothic, Renaissance, and baroque architecture and find some wonderful restaurants, shops, bars, cafes, and pubs.
Josefov -- Prague's Jewish ghetto, entirely within Staré Mesto, was surrounded by a wall before almost being completely destroyed to make way for more modern 19th-century apartment buildings. The Old-New Synagogue is in the geographical center of Josefov, and the surrounding streets are wonderful for strolling. Prague is one of Europe's great historic Jewish cities, and exploring this remarkable area will make it clear why.
Nové Mesto (New Town) -- Draped like a crescent around Staré Mesto, Nové Mesto is where you'll find Václavské námestí (Wenceslas Square), the National Theater, and the central business district. When it was founded by Charles IV in 1348, Nové Mesto was Europe's largest wholly planned municipal development. The street layout has remained largely unchanged, but many of Nové Mesto's structures were razed in the late 19th century and replaced with the offices and apartment buildings you see today. New Town lacks the classical allure of Old Town and Malá Strana, but if you venture beyond Wenceslas Square into Vinohrady you'll find restaurants, interesting shops, and a part of Prague that feels more like a normal city instead of a tourist attraction.