Stone strewn streets wind their way along the river straight to the Charles Bridge separating the castle on the hill from the bustle of the old town square. It’s a city of little expectation, but Prague presents itself to the world traveler proudly and unpretentiously. Prague will quickly, quietly, suck you in with cheap prices, an air of alchemist mystery, and the addictive quality of trdelnik. It’s also incredibly easy to communicate as almost everyone (in the service industry at least) speaks English as well as Czech. In general, even the tourist tracks are surrounded by an overwhelmingly authentic feel — perfectly Prague.
Follow this FlyingYak guide for a captivating Prague experience. Oh, and for a true Prague experience be sure to try the incredibly strong liquor, absinthe.
Things to See:
The View from the Top of the Old Town Hall Tower
For anyone who is a sucker for a view, climbing (or taking the lift) to the top of the Old Town Hall Tower is worth the price (and the wait). As you climb floor by floor, the history of the Old Town Hall and Astronomical Clock will reveal itself through displays. Walk around the balcony of the tower for incredible shots of the Old Town Square (Staromestské námestí) and red rooftops of the city. Admission to tower is affordable: 100Kc adults; 50Kc students, children under 10, and seniors.
You may also choose to take a guided tour of the Old Town Hall’s historical halls, chapel, and underground area.
The Charles Bridge
Constructed by its namesake Emperor Charles IV, the impressive 16-arch stone bridge connects the side of the Prague Castle above Lesser Town (Malá Strana) to the Old Town over the Vltava river. Fun fact: Charles IV was into astrology and chose to lay the first stone at 5:31 a.m. on July 9, 1357 because when written out (year, day, month, time) the numbers form an anagram of sorts: 1–3–5–7–9–7–5–3–1. Tall watchtowers bookend the bridge that is packed daily with pedestrians gazing at the Baroque religious sculptures and perusing the sights of artists’ wares. Want a peaceful moment on the bridge? Try very early in the morning or late at night.
Charles Bridge also serves as the premiere (packed) firework watch party for New Year’s Eve.
At first the Lennon Wall seems a little out of place. Round a corner, walk past a collection of “love locks” attached to a gate, and an otherwise ordinary wall is plastered with ever-evolving, bright street-art.
So why John Lennon? Lennon never stepped a foot in Prague. To understand that you have to dive into Prague’s political history. The Czech Republic was under totalitarian communist rule. Pop songs, like Lennon’s, were banned because they spoke of freedoms that weren’t allowed or advocated for under the political system. Following Lennon’s assassination in 1980, Prague youth and proponents for free speech painted Lennon’s visage and Beatles lyrics (among other dreams and messages for peace) on the wall that’s still covered in paint today. Despite the government and police’s best efforts to erase the painting and punish the artists, the art could not be stopped. The wall stands as a tribute to peace and free expression; of course there is now freedom of speech in Prague today, but the essence of the wall still stands.
Walk or Run to the Tower on the Hill
From afar it resembles the Eiffel Tower, which is exactly what it is — a miniature version constructed for the Jubilee Exhibition. Built in 1891, the Petrin Observation Tower beckons visitors to walk, run, or take the funicular railway to the top of the hill for an excellent view. Climb up even further, 299 steps specifically, for a clear look out over the city from the top of the tower. The Tower lords over the surrounding landscaped gardens, telescope observatory, rose garden, hall of mirrors, and church.
Things to Experience:
Take a Free Tour
It’s always a wise idea to get your bearings and layout of the land. Add a charismatic tour guide and a “free” price point on top of it all make SANDEMANs NEW Europe Tour — Prague a must. Key locations, a wealth of history, and an explanation of Czech politics in relation to the city can take understanding of a city to a whole new level. If the three hour tour provides you with valuable information, an insider’s look at the city, and ideas for the rest of your time in Prague, then you can give your freelance tour guide payment (and leave a TripAdvisor review).
A performance at the National Theater
Towering grand next to the river on a major city block, the National Theater (Národní divadlo) stands as an exemplary model for Czech arts of opera, ballet, and theatre. Language barriers won’t be in the way as you settle into the gorgeous theater for a performance of a dramatic opera or graceful ballet. Cheap seats in the balcony are still a fantastic view of the stage (even if you do have to lean forward to see over the railing). A date to the National Theatre is always a great excuse to get dressed up.
The Prague Castle
Likely founded in 880 A.D., the Prague Castle is less of a Cinderella Castle and more of a gargantuan complex of 70,000 square meters. After walking from the Charles Bridge all the way up to the start of the complex, travellers will find a heterogeneous mix of architectural styles of the palaces, churches, and other gardens. Take a guided tour, or buy a ticket and explore the castle and the supporting exhibitions yourself. The complex is still used by the Czech government as administrative offices.
Old Town Square
From the Old Town Square gaze upon the Astronomical Clock between the hours of 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. when every hour, on the hour, figurines present a little show. You’ll have to look to the clock at the top of the tower for modern Central European Time, as the lower timepiece marks moon phases, equinoxes, seasons, days, and different Christian holidays.
After stopping for the hourly show, explore the Square surrounded by restaurants, bars, and shops and filled with performers of eclectic varieties.
From the beginning of December through the first week in January (dates vary year-to-year), the Christmas Market moves into the Old Town Square (and nearby Wenceslas Square). Wooden huts sell wares of the traditional (and touristy) nature next to hot wine and foods that will tantalize the senses — hams roast over spits, tasty barbecued sausages (klobása), and sweet pastries.
Things to Eat & Drink:
At Oblaca in the Žižkov Television Tower
White, pointy, and standing tall above the city is the Žižkov Television Tower built between 1985–1992. It’s “high-tech architecture”, emblematic of the Czech Republic’s communist-era, is dotted with giant baby sculptures by Czech artist David Černý. Inside of this tower are a number of entities including an observatory, One Room Hotel (yes, you need a reservation) and the Oblaca Restaurant.
Not only do you get one of the best views across the city expanse from surrounding windows 66 meters above ground, you get a good meal for cheap compared to New York, San Francisco, London or Paris multi-course meal prices. A caprese salad standard can be followed with truffle gnocchi or knuckle of piglet. Sip on innovative, creative cocktails or Czech beer and save room for dessert of the banana mousse (with a Baileys and caramel sauce) or exotic cream delivered in a chocolate shell topped with a tropical fruit sauce and coconut.
Near the Prague Castle and across from the Strahov Monastery, a beer (Pivo in Czech) is waiting to be ordered. Don’t be confused, monks are not involved in the brewing process, but the brewery resides on Monastery grounds founded in 1142. In full the microbrewery is comprised of the brewery, a beautiful courtyard and St. Norbert restaurant. Consider this your Czech “must” for traditional eats and authentically brewed beer.
Lots of Trdelnik
Sweet and delicious, not so much nutritious, trdelnik (or trdlo) is technically Slovak (not Czech) in origin. However Prague has adopted the crunchy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside, pastry as its calling card to indulge in the traditional. Many shops will have the trdelnik dough spinning over hot coals in the windows waiting to be spread on the inside with Nutella, chocolate, or jam (among other spreads). However, All Trdelnik is not baked the same. From personal experience, the window of Creperie U Kajetána located on the main road up to Prague Castle, serves up a winning recipe.
Drink and Dance on the Jazz Dock
Put on your toe-tapping shoes and get your ticket to one of Prague’s many jazz clubs, defined by it’s unique position on a dock bobbing on the Vltava river. The Jazz Dock plays host to a range of jazz artists ranging from dixie, to student orchestral jazz, to modern and electro swing. With music nearly every night of the week, get a ticket and then order up a fitting cocktail to complete the experience.
What to Skip:
Of course there are many, many things to see, do, and consume while in Prague. Depending on time and interest the list could go on for pages. However there are a few things that are just too kitschy to advise (however, you’re welcome to make your own judgements).
Five Story Club, Karlovy lázně
Unless you love sweaty boys in their late teens and clouds of smoke wafting past your expensive, basic cocktail, skip this club that boasts itself the “largest club in central Europe.” Each of the floors is a different theme of music and decor which is interesting to a point, but save the money you’ll spend on the cover and go to a more close-knit, less awkward bar.
Skip the pricey admission fee and the general touristy-trap nature of this
attraction. The vestibule of this brightly lit and hard to resist “museum” allows you to gander at the rotating feather tickler that we can only assume was used as a sort of vibrator and gawk at the random assortment of pleasurable and seemingly torture-looking devices around…we’ll pass.
Pricy tourist-frequented restaurants around the Old Town Square
Because the Old Town Square sees the most foot traffic, the restaurants surrounding the block are equipped to handle lots of walking-weary travellers in need of sustenance. The quality of meal you’ll find in this heavily frequented area isn’t awful, but for the generally higher prices it’s not worth it. Travel down a more vacant street, off the beaten path so to say, and even without a destination in mind you’re likely to find a delicious, affordable stop.
Full disclosure: I’ve travelled to Prague twice (four days at a time) and there is much more I want to explore. I’m by no means a local, but do love this city and am counting down the days until I can go back.