Prague is a hybrid city; it’s almost as if London and Moscow got together to have a baby! Prague has been described as “the Venice of the east” and “the city of 100 spires.” To me, an Australian, who has been living here for the past four years, talking to locals, expats and just about anybody who visits the Czech capital, it’s my home!
And Prague is becoming increasingly popular as a short break destination, and it’s not heard to see why…
You should start from the castle and work your way down the hill into the city. Prague’s castle is easily accessible by tram from most inner city locations and if you start there, you avoid having to walk up staircases all day, and instead enjoy a down-hill stroll. There are some good tours available, I’d recommend the walking tour to hear some of the history of the castle through the years. You’ll also get to hear some of the legends surrounding the castle and its great kings! My personal favourite is the story of King Rudolf II and his obsession with animals and alchemy.
From the castle, you can walk down into Malá Strana, the weird and wonderful area surrounding the castle, and leading on to Charles’ Bridge, another major tourist attraction. If you want to avoid the crowds, visit the bridge early in the morning, and bring your camera to capture the best sunrise in the city.
From Charles Bridge you can get into Staré Město; the old town. You’ll need a map to navigate this mass of tiny streets, it’s the only way you’re going to find the old town square and the astronomical clock. It’s well worth a visit, you won’t find anywhere quite like it.
A short walk from old town, you’ll find the Main Street, Václavské náměstí, or Wenceslas Square. Prague’s National Museum is at the top of the square, you can learn about the Velvet Revolution, which took place there and marked the end of communism for Czechoslovakia. The area is now populated by casinos and street food vendors, which I’d advise you to steer clear of.
Vyšehrad Park is a short metro ride from the centre of Prague. It overlooks the city and makes for an excellent photo-op, showing off both the cathedral and cemetery. The whole park is almost completely ignored by the vast majority of tourists, and you can take the time to partake in a quiet Czech beer or ‘pivo’ while you sit and enjoy the view over the river Vltava and Prague castle.
The central areas; Vinohrady and Žižkov, are perfect for anyone looking for a coffee and to relax, and there are some stupendous restaurants around. This part of the city is home to some superb examples of architecture, and it attracts laid-back populations of expats and young Czech families. In Náměstí Jiřího z Poděbrad on a Saturday morning, you’ll find the farmers’ markets; take the opportunity to eat fresh food and enjoy the atmosphere. There’s often a festival of some description underway in the square; the Czechs love a good party!
Art and Culture
Prague is recognised as an historic hub for classical music. From Bedřich Smetana to Antonín Dvořák, many composers have called the city their home. Municipal House or Obecní Dům usually hosts Czech orchestras which you can see almost every day. Towards the river you’ll find the National Theatre or Národní Divadlo, even if opera isn’t your cup of tea, pop inside to see the building’s golden interior. It’s an impressive sight.
If you’re a culture vulture with a taste for art, make your way to the National Gallery, or if you’re in the mood for something more provocative, you can visit DOX, a modern art gallery in Holešovice.
Artists and writers have also seemed drawn to Prague throughout the years. Some famous names include artist Alfons Mucha and writer Franz Kafka. Cafe Louvre on Národní Street was an old hangout for Kafka and even Albert Einstein (but they’re worth a visit just for the excellent breakfasts)!
Food and Beer
There’s no other way of saying this: Czech food is delicious! But expect to be well fed! The portion sizes are huge, and (like a lot of central and Eastern European cuisine) it’s mainly hearty dishes of meat and vegetables. Try svíčková, a typical meal consisting of beef marinated in a light brown sauce with some cream and cranberry jam on the side. Soak it all up with a few bread dumplings! Feeling full yet?
There are many Czech restaurants throughout the city, so you’ll be spoiled for choice. My recommendation is to make your way to any of the ‘Lokal’ restaurants, which all seem to have an excellent range of Czech beers, and a seasonal menu of local food. My personal favourite is ‘U Houdku’ on Bořivojova Street. A lot of Prague residents eat here, so you know you’re on to a good thing! The portions are ridiculously large and wonderfully tasty. If the weather permits, grab a table out in the beer garden.
Czech Republic is home to a significant Vietnamese community. Pho restaurants are springing up all over Prague. My personal recommendation is to head to the one in Náměstí Jiřího z Poděbrad near the farmers’ markets.
Prague is one of the best shopping cities in Europe. There’s a huge variety of traditional European shops, but if you want to really experience Czech culture there’s plenty of local shops as well. If you’re looking for something authentic you can find it in ‘Manufaktura’ where the handmade souvenirs and skin products are all made in the Czech Republic. It would be well worth your time to visit the ‘antikvariat’ shop which is just around the corner from the national theatre. You’ll really get a feel for Czech style here with a huge collection of communist trinkets, furniture, art, old records and books.
If you’d rather shop at some mainstream European stores, then head over to the Palladium shopping centre in Náměstí Republiky where you’ll find everything under one roof. If you’re into handmade things ‘DeafMessenger’ provides diaries, notebooks and unique stencil art and other clippings all available in ‘Luxor’ bookstore.
The City offers some stylish fashion shops for both men and women. The fashion design studio at ‘Chatty’ has some custom denim and fashion designs. The label has an authentically Czech style and has had a lot of success.
A trip to Prague wouldn’t be complete without sampling some of the local beer. Pilsner Urquel is the most popular but there are a lot of smaller breweries that are better. Svijany and Bernard are both great local beers and you can find these in most bars and Pubs around the centre of town.
There is more to Prague than just the beer though and you can find a great cocktails list in some bars. ‘Anonymous bar’ offers some of the best cocktails in town. This classy bar is a fascinating place and is based around the hacker group and the book/film V for Vendetta.
After having a few drinks there are some lively clubs you can move onto. Head down to Dlouha Street in the heart of town and you’ll find a number of options. Roxy and Druhy Patro are thriving clubs in the electronic music culture and if you fancy more of a rock ‘n’ pop scene then there is Harley’s. To experience some local music then head over to the Zizkov and Vinohrady area to ‘Palac Akropolis’. Avoid the typical tourist clubs like Karlové Lázně as you can get ripped off.
Whatever your budget, Prague has a variety of affordable hotels on offer. The Hilton and Intercontinental offer a luxurious stay in the City but if you want real comfort then check out the Emblem Hotel. This modern hotel has great services and also boasts a restaurant and bar.
For backpackers the prices in hostels are even more reasonable and offer a great atmosphere to help you enjoy your stay. Both the Czech Inn and Mosaic host a number of fun events including parties, theatre and comedy.
If you’re travelling in a group then you could consider getting an apartment on air b‘n’b. If you choose this option you’ll get the chance to stay in one of the beautiful flats available in the City. A lot Czechs living in the City inherited apartments from their ancestors once communism came to an end so if you choose this option you’ll get the chance to stay in one of the beautiful flats available in the City.
There are plenty of transport options for getting around the City. The metro offers a decent service and also has a retro look to it. The trams and buses are extremely convenient as they run all night and go almost everywhere. There is a bus to Dejvická from the airport and then you can take the metro to Prague. There are plenty of taxi companies, but make sure you call before as Prague taxi drivers have a reputation of ripping tourists off.
Prague Travel Tips:
– Czech is an extremely difficult language to learn, but try saying Dobrý den (Good day) and Dík (thanks), making this effort will go a long way towards improving your relationship with the locals. Mostly Prague’s residents speak excellent English.
– Absinthe is legal in the Czech Republic! But treat it with respect, head to a proper absinthe bar for the real thing, and enjoy the little rituals associated with drinking it.
– Watch your belongings; Prague is packed with tourists, which inevitably attracts pick-pockets. Keep an eye out in public areas.
– Many businesses don’t take card, so always have cash on-hand.
– Remember that the Czech Republic doesn’t use the Euro! Take a look at the exchange rates to see how many Crowns you’ll need to get by.
Prague is one of the best cities I have ever lived in. It’s great for tourists, and has a real charm. Try it once, and I’d be willing to bet that you’ll come back.
About the Author – Ryan Keating-Lambert
I’ve been living in Europe for the last six years, 2 in London and the last 4 in Prague. I’m originally from sunny Brisbane in Australia. I have an intense love and passion for Europe. So many different cultures and languages all rolled into one continent. The diversity is insane, and it’s absolutely addictive. I’m an enthusiastic writer and also a communications and journalism student. I spend my days in Prague teaching English and writing my blog called ‘People in Prague’ which consists of interviews with locals, expats and travelers. In my spare time I play roller derby and drink a lot of Czech beer. The friends and connections I’ve made here are for a lifetime, this city just keeps sucking me in more.