Lauded as one of the top cultural centers of Europe, and a city almost unparalleled for architecture and beauty, I have always wanted to see Prague for myself. I have long held a romantic nostalgia for Prague thanks to Hollywood using the city’s medieval streets as the backdrop for intrigue and romance.
As an American, much of the city’s architecture is older than my entire country.Prague — or Praha to the locals — suffered far less damage and destruction than most European cities during World War II, making it a showcase of the best preserved European architecture from the past centuries. And the downtown city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a designation of cultural significance for the world. So it was a shoe-in that I would head to the Czech Republic on my round the world trip. I had already planned to visit Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Slovenia, so Prague would require just a short train ride.But as my travels moved into Eastern Europe, other travelers warned me that the city doesn’t live up to the hype. It’s not the first time travelers have said this — sometimes others claim a town has lost its authenticity: it’s too busy, too slow, or just too something that they don’t like. But each person is unique, so I decided I would continue on toward Prague, I would find all the interesting things to do, dive into the food scene, and wander the maze of streets. I would discover for myself if Prague was, in fact, the destination of a lifetime and a must on any round the world itinerary, or an overrated touristy city glamorized by Hollywood.
When you exit the main train station, there is little information available about getting around. Although I cautiously used a taxi (again, nighttime and all, but there are some taxi con-artists to be aware of), it’s a short walk downhill into Old Town, or it’s easy to take the metro, too. If you have a smartphone (I didn’t on our first visit!), load the maps onto your phone and use that to walk. Like most transport hubs, I faced a few predatory cabbies stalking me as I searched for the official taxi stand, but they left me alone once I found a low-key driver, handed over the address, and dumped my bags into the trunk. My hostel was a bit outside of Old Town, so the private transport was pricier than I anticipated, but still worth it. Since Uber is in Prague now, I wouldn’t hesitate to summon one as soon as my train arrived and avoid the entire mess. (It is a great option from the airport, too).
One fellow traveler recommended that I always remember to look up. What good advice!
Old Towns buildings all have some sort of ornate decoration along the top edges. Eroding carvings of a beautiful woman emerge from a stone wall of one building, while a wandering minstrel is juxtaposed on the very next. (There is even a seven-foot tall statue of Sigmund Freud hanging from one building!) The city is a fascinating hodgepodge of architectural styles: art nouveau, neoclassical, cubist, renaissance, gothic, baroque. And although I can’t readily identify the differences between each one, the varied styles make for a never-ending parade of impressive buildings.
The beauty of the buildings is a feast for the eyes for even the least art-inclined. History has carved itself into every corner of Prague. Life and humanity spanning hundreds of years is visible in the worn stone steps that lead to Prague’s castles and churches.Even busy touristy areas shine above the chaos. The Charles Bridge teemed with tourists just as expected, but the bridge still oozed charm. This current crush of tourists is simply the latest incarnation of this bridge’s journey through history. It’s the latest incarnation of a bridge, stones, and carvings that existed before me and will continue after me as well. So when I passed the busking musicians and artists offering cheesy caricatures of young preening couples engaging in some incredibly showy PDA — I simply smiled and continued my stroll.
Three days in Prague is enough to eat all the things and see a whole lot, too. I recommend budgeting time into your days to simply relax, shop, and wander in Old Town, as it was a real highlight.
Day One: Take a free walking tour of the city (there are many). Most end near Prague Castle, so buy a ticket and explore. Be sure to visit the castle and St. Vitus Cathedral, too. Once done, wander the picturesque streets of Mala Strana, the “lesser quarter” and find lunch, coffee, etc. Then continue your meandering through Mala Strana, finding the Lennon Wall (tourists can add to it!). As late afternoon hits, wander into Petřín Park for sunset — hike to the top through the shady paths, or take the funicular. Enjoy the sweeping views of sunset before taking the funicular down to the bottom. Dine in Kampa, it’s not a far walk from the base of the park and there are many options.
Day Two: Head to Old Town and plan to spend hours here. Wander past the Astronomical Clock (seriously impressive), and perhaps have your morning coffee and croissant in the busy town square. The Mucha Museum was my favorite, but there are others in town, too. After the museum, head to the Jewish quarter nearby and continue your wanders, museum visits, and history lessons. Buy lunch and make a picnic of it at Letna Park nearby (just across the river) and enjoy gorgeous views. Then either head back to change, or go straight to your meeting spot for a beer and tapas tour that offers local insight from your guide alongside the chance to sip the best drinks in the city. This will start your evening off, and you can head to additional beer spots (recommendations below), or home for the night.
Day Three: Venture a bit further in the city today. Head south to Vyšehrad Castle, then walk along the river back to town. If food is your thing, consider scheduling a food neighborhood tour for the afternoon, which will take you to hidden spots and provides a lot more backstory and tasty eats. Otherwise, visit any of the other museums you find interesting (there’s everything from a KGB museum to a Kafka one on offer). And if you need some shopping time, head back to the antique places in Mala Strana, or the souvenir shops in Old Town.
Where to Eat: Lehka Hlava offers fantastic vegetarian fare near the Charles Bridge; Maitrea is a sister restaurant with a large menu and convenient for Old Town wanders. Country Life offers a veggie buffet and it’s one of the best values for budget food in the city, even if you’re not vegetarian. Vegetarian food is tricky at general restaurants and markets, but the Czech sweets are phenomenal and I collected several memorable favorites.
Where to Drink: For a large beer selection and a hip vibe, head to Lokál Dlouhááá (it has local Czech food too, but the beer menu stands out). The Prague Beer Museum (multiple locations) also has an enormous selection of beers on tap. For wine lovers, Vinograf can be pricier than some places but is a good bet.
Where to Stay: There are a lot of options on neighborhoods, each one with a different vibe and convenience factor. The city center/Old Town is Prague 1, while Letna (Prague 7) is adjacent and walkable. Both of these have mid-range prices to astronomical. If you are on a tight budget, most of the affordable guesthouses, Airbnbs, and hostels are in the other neighborhoods. Consider that Vinohrady (Prague 2) has a good vibe while Žižkov (Prague 3) is funky and fun. I consistently find good guesthouses and hostels through Booking.com (Receive a discount on your first booking!), but for longer visits always use Airbnb.
Prague has one of the most charming skylines I have ever seen; it’s for this reason that so many guides like mine include recommendations to get higher views and visit during the sunset magic hour. There is no chance that you won’t find beauty in Prague. Even though it’s a big city (and I don’t love big cities, as a rule), it’s fun, historic, and interesting. There is never a shortage of activities, which makes it an ideal spot to spend at least three days. Although I don’t want to live in Prague, the city has earned a place on the itinerary for any trip. Whether you’re on a weekend break or an epic trio through Eastern Europe, Prague only enhanced my trip with its beauty and European charm.
This post was last modified on May 12, 2018, 10:23 am