Ah, Prague. For certain, one of the most beautiful cities in the World. Also, one of the most crowded with tourists. Seriously, SO MANY TOURISTS. In any case, Dan & I spent a really lovely long weekend in Prague in October 2018 with our friends Meghan and Tinh!
I first experienced Prague in 2004 (!!), when I was much younger studying abroad, much less traveled, and had barely even heard of Prague. I visited over Halloween weekend in 2004, and I remember it being the most exotic place that I had ever visited. Now all of that has changed, but Prague does still retain a certain Central/Eastern European charm that I really love. In my opinion and experience, Prague is a great destination for travelers who have been to a few “bucket list” places and are ready to brach off, at least seemingly, to a less visited destination.
THE CITY AND ITS MAIN SITES
If you are not familiar with Prague, Prague – or Praha in Czech – is the capital city of the Czech Republic. The Czech Republic has been ruled by many different empires over the years and has only been its own country since 1993. The Czech Republic was further under communist rule until 1989 and, while Prague’s buildings were not destroyed by bombs and warfare during the Second World War, much of its population was sadly killed. Under any read, the Prague and the Czech Republic has had a fascinating and tragic history, which makes for a terribly interesting city to visit today.
The most touristy part of Prague, as well as the most beautiful part of Prague, is its Old Town. The center of Old Town is Old Town Square, which also contains the famous Prague Orloj (the famous medieval clock with parts that move – like the Glockenspiel in Munich), as well as many other beautiful buildings. I recommend arriving in Old Town Square early and planning to spend about an hour walking around, shopping in the touristy shops, catching the Prague Orloj show (on the hour, every hour), and perhaps having a coffee in a cafe or a trdelnik (i.e. the chimney cakes that are everywhere and not authentically Czech) to go. Pro tip – steer clear of the kiosks on in the square selling things; apparently they wayyyy overcharge tourists!
Just past Old Town is the famously beautiful Charles Bridge, which connects the Old Town to Hradčany, also known as the Castle District. Like the Old Town, if you want to avoid the tourists, you need to arrive to the Charles Bridge very, very, very early, like sunrise. If you do not, you should definitely still walk across the Charles Bridge, but know that there are going to be a lot of people! The bridge is pedestrian only and is often filled with people selling jewelry, paintings, and trinkets. Buy with caution. In addition, restaurants and cafes line the Vltava River on either side of the Charles Bridge. While certainly not local, many of these places are a good place for a coffee or a drink with a view of the Charles Bridge!
Across the Charles Bridge, Hradčany is the hilly neighborhood that is home to Prague Castle. Seriously, its very, very hilly. If you are not up for the climb, take a car (Uber works well in Prague).
Prague Castle is at the very top! It opens right at 9 AM and you should aim to arrive right when it opens, or visit about 2 hours before it closes in the evening. Prague Castle is pretty cool, but St. Vitus Cathedral, inside the castle complex, is certainly the most impressive site.
If you explore Hradčany beyond the castle, check out Nový Svet, which is a charming and quite part of Prague about a 5 minute walk from Prague Castle. We had a great coffee and cake at Kavarna Nový Svet and walked all the way to the end of the street and up the stairs for the best views of Prague!
Just next to Hradčany is Malá Strana. This part of town is “new” and pretty cool, but its also still quite touristy. Malá Strana is home to the John Lenin Wall, which is almost always jam packed with people. Be sure to walk past the John Lenin Wall and up to the Vltava River; this part of Prague is really cute and a bit reminiscent of Amsterdam (see below!).
In other Prague highlights, Fred and Ginger – i.e. the Dancing Houses – are just down the river about a 20 minute walk from the John Lenin Wall. Its an easy walk and definitely worth the stroll. Dan and I grabbed lunch at the lovely Art Restaurant, and it was one of the best meals we had the entire trip (and we had some good ones!)!
Outside of Old Town Prague, Wenceslas Square is fairly close to the Old Town and kind of like the Times Square of Prague. Think High Street shops, chain restaurants, and lots of fun stuff going on at all hours! Fun fact, Wenceslas Square also played host to the St. Peter’s Cathedral in Eurotrip! Wenceslas Square is definitely worth a look when in Prague, and I recommend spending about 30 minutes to an hour, depending on how much shopping you plan to do.
Finally, if you have not noticed, the very best movie ever – Eurotrip – was filmed entirely in the Czech Republic, mostly in Prague! One of our tour guides graciously told me all of the filming spots, and I had a great time recreating the scenes! If you want to do this yourself, check out the Filmed in Prague Instagram page for the spots!
WHAT ELSE WE DID
In addition to the major tourist sites, we did a food tour with Prague Food Tour, which took us on an eating, drinking, walking, and history tour of Prague. This was a fabulous way to learn a bit more about Prague’s history from a local, as well as to try all of the classic Prague foods in one evening (and, there are a lot). I highly recommend this tour, and will be writing an entire post about it!
We also did a free 3 hour walking tour of Prague with Sandemans Free Prague Tours, which actually kept us occupied for 3 hours! This tour was really great and where I learned all of the Eurotrip filming spots.
And, we did a day trip to Ceský Krumlov, which I am writing about in future posts, but here is a cute picture of our group from our day trip!
WHAT WE ATE
Prague is definitely home to some delicious and decadent foods! Come hungry!
One of my very favorite Prague (and Central Europe) foods is fried cheese! Yes, breaded white cheese, often Camembert. I fondly remember eat fried cheese on a hamburger bun for basically $1 USD when I visited in 2004, and I was very excited to try this again. Have I mentioned that I love fried cheese? While a bit more than $1 USD now, fried cheese on a hamburger bun can be found at almost all street stands, as well as pubs, including the well-known Lokal.
After fried cheese, another favorite Prague food is Prague’s open faced sandwiches. Prague is famous for open faced sandwiches – a slice of bread, topped with whatever you want! Ham and egg is a popular choice, as is seafood salad. You can find these at many restaurants in cafes in Prague; they even had them in the Prague airport lounge. I loved these sandwiches!
Another favorite, and probably my real favorite of the trip – dinner at the butcher shop! Yes, dinner at a butcher shop! In Prague, it is quite popular for butcher shops to also have an eat in area, where you can enjoy freshly prepared meat dishes directly from the butcher. We ate at two different butcher shops – Naše Maso & Kantýna – and both were amazing and rank as one of my favorite meals on this vacation! My favorite dish at the butcher shop is steak tartare, which is soooo, soooo good in Prague, but lots of other dishes were offered, from sausages, to hamburgers, to schnitzels. My suggestion is not to miss the steak tartare. You cannot go wrong!
Finally, Vietnamese food! Maybe surprisingly, there is a large population of Vietnamese people living in Prague. As such, there are a lot of Vietnamese restaurants in town. One of our travel companions was born in Vietnam, so we obviously had to try some Vietnamese food in Prague. We opted for Bahn Mi at Bahn Mi Makers, just next door to Naše Maso. I thought the sandwich was delicious; Tinh said it was not authentic.
WHAT WE DRANK
First off, beer! Prague is home to the original Budweiser – called Budvar, which is much tastier than its US counterpart. Budvar can be found at most bars and at any store selling bottled beer. They were even serving in our airport lounge, see below. #properglassware.
In addition to Budvar, the Czech Republic is also home to the famous pilsner beer. In fact, the town of Pilzen is only about an hour away and can be visited as a day trip from Prague. The Czech Republic’s most famous pilsner is Pilsner Urquell and, like Budvar, Pilsner Urquell can be found at most pubs and at any store selling bottled beer.
Moravian wine is also from the southeastern part of the the Czech Republic in the area called Moravia. Prague is home to many wine bars specializing in Moravian wine. Moravia is better known for its white wine, but we did really love a 2015 Stapleton and Springer 2015 pinot noir (found at Art Restaurant) from Moravia.
And last but not least, cocktails! There are many fabulous cocktail bars in Prague! We went to two – Bonvivant’s and Parlour. Both were super cute and made excellent cocktails. If you are deciding between the two, Bonvivant’s is moving locations very soon, to the suburbs, and Parlour has no menu and handcrafts drinks pursuant to what you like.
And, if you are really into partying, Prague is home to Central Europe’s largest nightclub. We skipped it this round, but I did pay a visit back in 2004. True to its name, its quite big and it was quite the party!
WHERE WE STAYED
We visited Prague with two friends, so we rented a fabulous AirBnB very close to the train station. This was perfect as we arrived by train. Our AirBnb was quite nice, and even included an in house sauna, which I used every morning!
Whether you are staying in an AirBnB or not, I highly recommend staying outside of Old Town and away from Prague Castle. I really liked staying near the train station, as we could walk every in about 15 minutes (Prague Castle was a bit further) and our neighborhood did not feel super touristy.
WHAT WE DID NOT LIKE
Honestly, the tourists. Prague is filled with hoards and hoards of tourists. From what I saw, most of them were super duper touristy, and they really loved these large dancing bears (I mean, they were pretty fun; I definitely stopped for a picture!).
Avoiding the tourist hoards is impossible, but, to do you best, stay outside of the city centre (i.e. Old Town or near Prague Castle)! We stayed near the train station and it was decidely less touristy that the Old Town. Also, get up early to see the most famous tourists sites – Old Town, Prague Castle, the Charles Bridge, the John Lenin Wall. The earlier you go, the less tourists will be there (although, there will almost certainly be a few brides taking bridal photos at sunrise on the Charles Bridge…).
THE EU – The Czech Republic is part of the European Union, so you can move in and out of the country without passport checks. However, the Czech Republic does not use the Euro. Instead, it uses the Czech Krona. In my experience, many places will take euros pretty freely (and a few places would even take USD).
SAFETY – Prague is really safe, especially the tourist areas! I would not think twice about visiting Prague alone. I would, however, watch your wallet in crowded tourist areas!
LANGUAGE – Everyone in the tourist industry speaks a little English. If you speak English, you will be totally fine.
ELECTRICITY – The Czech Republic uses 220V electricity and the same outlets as most of Europe – the C Plug.
A CAR? – While many people may rent a car to drive outside of the city, I do not recommend renting a car in Prague proper. The city is really crowded, with many streets being pedestrian only (at least part of the time), one way streets, and large trams that seem to own the streets.
PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION – Prague has a fabulously cute tram system, as well as a small subway. Note that to take either you need to purchase a ticket, even though it looks like the locals are not (they all have yearly passes). Fines for use without a ticket are apparently high. Uber also works well, and is a good option for getting to Prague Castle without scaling the steep hill.
STEAL OUR TRIP
Our Apartment rental: Can apparently be booked via a lot of different companies. The apartment was clean, safe, and, as promised, had an amazing sauna! Note – while there are 2 bathrooms, only one of them has a proper shower.
My Czech Driver: The tour company we used for our day trip to Ceský Krumlov. Reservations can be made online. Reasonable prices and great service.
Prague Food Tour: Walking, food, and drink tour. We did the Delicious Food Tour at 98 euro/person. More than enough food and drink and highly recommended. Make a reservation online in advance.
Sandemans Free Prague Walking Tour: Free 3 hour walking tour of Prague. We stayed for the whole tour; it was that interesting. The tour is free but you should tip your guide! Even though the tour is free, make a free reservation online so that they have enough guides. Meeting spot is easy to find in Old Town Square.
Prague Castle: Complex open 6h – 22h, with historical buildings open 9h – 16h, 17h in the Summer. Tickets can only be purchased at the complex itself (or via third party vendors). Recommend getting their early to get your ticket and experience the castle without the crowds. Also, check the opening times for the cathedral, as that can be closed for services during certain hours, especially on Sunday.
Naše Maso: Dlouhá 39, 110 00 Prague 1. Closed Sunday. Open other days from 8h30 – 22h. Very casual; no reservations. Credit cards accepted. The staff speaks English, and there is a English menu. Naše Maso also offers a “butcher’s table” dinner Monday – Wednesday at 19h. Tickets must be purchased online in advance, and they sell out early!
Kantýna: Politických vězňů 5, 110 00. Open daily 11h30 – 23h. Kantýna also offers a “butcher’s table” Monday – Saturday, which tickets apparently easier to purchase.
Bahn Mi Makers: Dlouhá 727/39, 110 00 Staré Město, Czechia. Closed Sunday. Open 11h – 22h, except Saturday 12h – 23h. Super casual, no reservations.
The Art Restaurant: Masarykovo nábř. 250/1, 110 00 Nové Město, Czechia. Open daily 11h – 0h. Upscale. Reservations recommended for dinner. Lovely outdoor seating on the river, complete with blankets when cold.
The Biggest Music Club in Central Europe: Actually called Karlovy Lázne. Open daily 21h – 5h (yes, AM). 5 stories, expect some craziness.
Bonvivant’s: Currently closed and moving to a new location. Definitely check their website and give it a visit. No reservations and quite casual. Excellent cocktails.
Parlour, The Cocktail Artists: Czech Republic, Krakovská 15, 110 00 Praha 1, Czechia. Open daily 18h – 1h. You can reserve a table, which is recommended on the weekends, although we went on a Saturday night without one.
Filmed in Prague: To recreate Eurotrip (or any other movie filmed in Prague).
ON A BUDGET
On a budget and want to visit a major European city? Yep, Prague is definitely for you! You do not even need to do much planning to have a great time on a budget!