7 Reasons to pick Prague – and what to do once there

Some people grow up dreaming of exchanging a kiss in front of a lit up Eiffel Tower or cruising the dreamy canals of Venice with their special one.  But for some others, the charm lies simply in the cobblestoned streets, the cafes that line them and in being surrounded by mesmerizing architecture. If you fall in the second category, this post is for you.

Over the next few minutes of your reading time, I’ll try to convince you to choose Prague for your European vacation and let you in on how to make the most of your trip.

#1- Because there would be fewer people to bomb your photos

It gets a third of the visitor’s that Paris gets. Prague is less frequented than its more illustrious European cousins like Barcelona and Amsterdam but it packs as much of a punch.

#2 – Because it won’t break the bank

Prague is way cheaper than its Western European counterparts without lacking in any of their charms. It regularly ranks among European destinations that are great value for money.

#3- Because you can see all of it without spending a penny on transport

Explore Prague entirely on foot

That’s right. Once you reach your accommodation in Central Prague, you can see almost everything of interest without using any transport whatsoever. We had every place we wanted to visit within a 2km radius of our Jewish Quarter Airbnb.  

#4 – Because no one ever bombed the hell out of Prague

Prague’s historical low profile has served it well. It has been spared the destructions of WW II and the extensive re-building that characterised many European cities. Much of its medieval architectural marvels stand well preserved.

#5 – Because it has great neighbours

Budapest by night

Budapest, Bratislava, Vienna and Krakow can all be easily clubbed with a trip to Prague. Not unlike Prague, these are all on the budget end of the European travel spectrum.  

#6 – Because Czech Beer! (and some awesome places to gulp it in)

Czech Republic is the birthplace of Pilsner beers. The Czech are very proud of being the highest per capita consumers of beer in the world. Prague is also full of lovely places to have these beers in.   

#7 – Because it’s safe and that’s really important

The tourist zones of major western European cities are overrun with thieves and pickpockets. Despite ample precautions, I was relieved of my DSLR in Montmartre, Paris. My friends have met similar fates in Rome & Madrid. Prague, like much of Central Europe, continues to be much safer for tourists, with petty crime being almost non-existent.  

Woof! Quite the speel, huh! If I have managed to convince you to consider Prague for your next vacation. Prague’s medieval castle and Gothic St Vitus Cathedral, Charles Bridge and Astronomical Clock are perpetually thronged by tourists. But there’s much else to see and do beyond these well-known attractions during your time in Prague.

I went to Prague with my wife and 2-year old daughter this September and let me tell you what we were up to and how you can get the best of your trip to this delightful city. Be forewarned though, there are no recommendations on the party places. Here’s a four day itinerary for Prague, by and large tracing what we did. 

Day 1 – Walking Tour, Old Town Square

Sandeman’s walking tour

It’s a good idea to get your bearings around the major sites of Prague with a Free walking tour to kick-start your trip. I took the Sandeman’s walking tour with an Aussie guide which was well organised and informative. It was fun getting an informed outsider’s perspective on the city. Even if you tip generously (€ 5 would be considered very reasonable), you end up paying much less than the paid tours. the tour touches the must-sees and is peppered with interesting information and anecdotes.  

Old Town Square

This is the nerve centre of Prague for tourists. The beautiful spires of the Tyn Church dominate the skyline of Old Town Square and the statue of protestant reformer Jan Hus sits in the centre of the square.  

Evening sun rays on Tyn Church spires

The astronomical clock dating back from 1410 is one of the most visited attractions in Prague and also one of its most over-hyped. The fact that a clock built six centuries ago is still in operation is doubtless marvellous but there is nothing for the visitor to really see.

Astronomical Clock
Klementinium Baroque Library (Image Credits boredpanda.com)

Head instead to the Klementinium Library, one of Prague’s lesser known gems. Its Baroque reading hall is touted as the most beautiful library in the world. It certainly was the most otherworldly library I have set eyes on with its centuries old globes and book racks and the majestic fresco on the ceiling. How anyone could get any reading done in this hauntingly beautiful setting is beyond me. The ascent up to the astronomical clock tower offers great views of the city. Tickets cost 300 CZK/€12 (approx.) including the price of guided tours in English commencing every half hour.

Trdelniks

 For me the highlight of Old Town was the Trdelnik a pastry made of grilled rolled dough sprinkled with powdered sugar. It is transformed from delicious to heavenly when filled up with ice-cream & Nutella. It’s known in Hungary as Chimney cake and has originated in Romania. Sceptics say it’s not a traditional Czech dish and has proliferated with mass tourism when something is this delicious, who cares!

Day 2 – Jewish Quarter, Charles Bridge

Spanish Synagogue

The visit to the Jewish quarter was undoubtedly the most moving part of our trip. Staring at the names of thousands of innocent Jews who were mass murdered under the Nazi occupation and the gravestones jostling for space in the solitary Jewish cemetery in Prague is enough make the most stoic well up. Hitler only spared the important Jewish monuments of Prague because he planned to preserve this is as a monument to the race he had every intention of wiping out from Europe.

Names of 78,000 victims on the walls of Pinkas Synagogue

The Jewish Quarter is a cluster of Synagogues and other Jewish heritage sites. The Synagogues are all very different from each other. The Spanish Synagogue will blow you away with the rich and intricate art inside, the Pinkas synagogue will move you with the reminder of the anti-semitic purge under the Nazis, the Klausen Synagogue has Jewish relics that can be your introduction to Jewish culture and the Old New Synagogue (which I skipped) is the oldest surviving Synagogue said to house the remains of the mythical Golem. The Cemetery is also certainly worth the visit. The attached museum sheds light on the Jewish customs related to the last rites.

Jewish Cemetery

Entry to all these monuments is covered by a single ticket that costs CZK 530 (€ 20.50). A discounted version covering everything apart from the Old-New Synagogue comes for CZK 350 (€13.50) and is better value for money. Details here.

Charles Bridge

Charles Bridge

The most iconic image of Prague is that of Karluv Most or Charles Bridge with its 2 sides lined with statues. The legendary bridge dating back to the 15th Century to the 15th Century was constructed by the most revered of Prague’s rulers, Charles IV and is adorned with 30 statues. Wikipedia has basic information on the statues and referring to it while you walk past them will help you see them as something more than beautiful works of art. The bridge makes for a great stroll any time of the day. Mornings are good for leisurely walks. In the evening Charles Bridge is abuzz with a carnival-like atmosphere that makes for great people watching. Turn up later at night to admire a lit up castle district from this vantage point.  

Day 3 – Day trip to Cesky Krumlov

If you have just 4 days for Czech Republic, one of them must be set aside for Cesky Krumlov. You can’t come to Prague and not go to the fairy tale town of Cesky Krumlov. 

Cesky Krumlov

Cesky Krumlov’s sits on a bend in the Vltava river and oozes with oodles of charm. The Old Town is a pedestrian zone with cobble stoned winding streets, baroque houses, souvenir shops with the prettiest of collectibles and beautiful restaurants serving traditional Czech fare with views to die for.  The medieval castle is the top draw for admirers of history and architecture. Even the less historically inclined should climb up to the castle grounds and soak in the postcard worthy views of this quaint town. It is one of those places where you just can’t stop smiling once you are there. You won’t go there with a checklist of things to tick off. But you will doubtless come back happy in the knowledge that such a place exists. That you can step into a fairy tale for a while if you crave it bad.     

Cesky Krumlov

Cesky Krumlov is well connected by trains as well as buses. We took the direct train out at 8 am and got there by 11. You can book the tickets here. For the return leg, we used Regiojet which has almost hourly connections with spacious seats, personal entertainment systems and complimentary Wifi and coffee on board.

There are several other worthy and convenient day trips if you are spending longer in Prague. The spa town of Karlovy Vary that also houses the famed Moser Glassworks factory is very popular. As is the Ossuary at Kutna Hora with its church made of human skeletons. But if you have just a day to spare, spend it in Cesky Krumlov.

Day 4 – Castle District

The Prague Castle is the highlight for most first time visitors to the city with the panoramic views of the city from the castle grounds and the magnificent Gothic Cathedral of St Vitus. It is among the largest castles in the world and also the residence of the Czech president.

St Vitus Cathedral

I had done a trip of the interiors on my last visit to Prague a few years back and chose this time to laze around the palace grounds and enjoy the magnificent views of the city below.

The guards at the castle gate are forbidden from expressing any emotions and are akin to wax statues. The changing of guards provides a nice photo opportunity. The St Vitus Cathedral is a very impressive structure and its stained glass windows are majestic. But to make better sense of the historic, cultural and religious significance of the castle, a guide or at least an audio guide is highly recommended. 

Letna Park

We spent our last few hours in Prague lounging at Letna Park. It’s a vast expanse of greens located on a hilltop next to the left bank of the Vltava river. It has beer gardens, gelaterias and breath-taking views of the city on the other side of the river. If you want to get away from the touristy side of Prague and spend some time watching the locals unwind, this is where you need to come. Sunsets here are the best! This is where we called it a night on our last day in Prague.

View from Letna Park

When to go?

Anytime. Seriously, anytime. But some months are better than other. July-August are European school summer holidays and Prague gets very crowded. The winters are rather chilly for my liking. May-June and Sept-Oct are good shoulder seasons to do Prague, combining good weather and fewer people.  

Where to stay?

Our Airbnb in the Jewish quarter was very conveniently located and placed us within walking distance of everywhere we wanted to go in Prague. I would highly recommend putting up somewhere in the Old Town, if not in the Jewish Quarter itself. It can get a little crowded but you can cover most of Prague’s attractions on foot from here.  

What to Eat?

Czech Goulash

Czech food was not haute but very hearty. It was my kind of unpretentious good food. The Czech Goulash (different from Hungarian Goulash), is probably the most famous Czech dish. It’s beef in a brown gravy with a side of bread dumplings called knedilky. When done right, Czech potato soup is also delightful. For me the winner was Trdelink, referenced earlier in the article.

How are the people there?

To be honest, I felt the Czechs could do with a little more of smiling. I mean its good exercise for the jaws. There’s a lot of discussion on travel forums about the general demeanour of Czechs. The service at restaurants was efficient but can hardly be called warm. The supermarket cashiers seemed to be doing me a favour by letting me buy from them. While I detest sweeping generalisations myself, I found the Hungarians and Slovenians to be much friendlier as a rule.

I guess every culture is unique and some are just more disposed to smiling and mingling than others. There was no untoward incident and we were never spoken to rudely, but a general warmth from the locals does add a lot to any travel experience which I found missing in the Czech Republic.  Some of our previous travels abroad – notably to France and Bali- have been made memorable by some very warm hearted people we met. I can’t really speak in the same vein about the Czechs.

Useful Resource

An extremely useful resource for practical information is the Honest Prague Guide YouTube channel. Highly recommend catching their videos on getting into town, changing money and using public transport. I saved myself a lot of trouble (and money!) by using their tips. 

Final Word

Prague has it all. Architectural grandeur, fascinating history and culture, nightlife & great cuisine. Prague makes you wonder how a city could be so incredibly beautiful and well kept. I thought Paris was the prettiest city around but I am not exaggerating when I say Prague can give it a run for its money. It is about sitting on café tables and watching tourists flow by, delighting in the fact that you have nowhere to go and there is nowhere else you would rather be. Don’t go there to tick off any attractions. Go there to feel the feeling of being in Prague. It’s magical. You will love it.

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