…and a hundred thousand beers. At least.
If you like beer, you should visit Prague.
If you like cool architecture, you should visit Prague.
If you like old stuff, you should visit Prague.
If you like modern and/or ancient history, you should visit Prague.
If you just want to wander around narrow cobble stone streets in an ancient city, you should probably visit Prague.
There are about a thousand more reasons to visit this amazing city, but maybe the following photos will convince you.
Prague is the Czech Republic’s charming capitol city on the banks of the Vltava river. It spans quite a ways outside of the tourist districts and, given plenty of time, I am sure that there is plenty of amazing and quirky things to see and do. However, there is something to be said about being a tourist in a city as amazing as this! While there is a lot to do, the city is small and accessible by foot, and it can be enjoyed at a leisurely pace- which is perfect as there is no shortage of darling squares in which to pause and whet your whistle.
I had visited Prague 4 years ago with my family in the late spring- closer to high tourist season. On our trip, in early spring and before the massive tides of students and travelers arrive, the city was completely swamped. Arriving on the train and walking to our hotel on the river, we had to force our way through crowds and search for less densely populated streets-of which there were none. Maybe it was the holiday weekend, but judging by the sheer numbers of tour buses constantly parked along the river side, something tells me that this is the way it is. While it is amazing that travel is so affordable and accessible- as we benefit immensely from it!- it does come at a cost: a lot of authenticity is lost and it becomes much more difficult to enjoy a city and its sights when you have crowds of people looking through cameras barging past you. I am afraid that, in some ways, Prague has become the Las Vegas of Europe. That said, it is still a city that is worth a visit as most of those negative things can be avoided and/or ignored!
This post will feature “Prague General”- all the things you can do as you leisurely meander your way through the city. A few following posts will highlight the Jewish Corridor (a must-do) and two of our favorite evening spots that merit their own post.
So now: your virtual walking tour of Prague!
You physically cannot miss Old Town Prague. The original medieval settlement of Prague, it was once surrounded by a moat that connected to the river. Today, the moats are covered with streets, but the borders remain the same. You can easily spend your entire stay within these cobbled streets, bouncing from one square to another, and taking in the city’s most famous sites. These include:
Old Town Square, which houses the famous Prague Orloj-a medieval astronomical clock on the Old Town Hall, the Church of Our Lady Before Týn, St. Nicolas Church and Kinský Palace. The astronomical clock is the oldest operating astronomical clock in the world, having first been installed in 1410. In Kinský Palace, you will find some of the displaced exhibitions from the Czech National Gallery, which is under construction
We happened to arrive on Easter Sunday to a festive market in the middle of the square, serving up sausages, smoked pork, sweets, Czech handicraft and plenty of beer. Famished from a 6 hour train ride, we made this our first stop!
As I said, you can spend your entire trip just exploring Old Town. Old Town Square is at the center, but various other spires will draw you through the narrow corridors and land you in small squares. I really enjoy the small square outside Bethlehem Chapel; there are two small patios set out by nearby restaurants that are a great place to sit and enjoy the sun in a much less crowded area. We also found that there are some wonderful restaurants around this square and even had an amazing dinner at a small Risottoria on the square.
Just outside of Old Town is the famous Wenceslas Square- an oblong square surrounded with buildings of every architectural style. Many important demonstrations have occurred in this square. Today, it is occupied largely by big-name shopping stores and the young and hip, hanging out around Starbucks and McDonalds. At the top of the square, you will see a bronze of St. Wenceslas himself.- the patron saint of Bohemia (I dare you not to sing the Christmas carol while staring at him…). Just beyond the good King is the national art gallery which is undergoing some major renovations. However, its collections are spread throughout the city. The building itself is fantastic- when not bearing an exoskeleton of scaffolding. You will see mismatching patches in the facade; remnants of the unwelcome 1968 Warsaw Pact Intervention. Soviet bullet holes in the building were purposefully patched with too-light sandstone to ensure that the violent event was never “out of sight, out of mind”.
Another impossible-to-miss attraction is the Charles Bridge.
Word to the wise- avoid this location in the middle of the day. Either get up early or wait until the evening to avoid suffocating crowds. It is nearly deserted and quite an ideal spot for a romantic late night walk, if you have the time. We took photos at sunset one evening as well as at night. All other times, we kept the camera away- both to enjoy the scenery and because it was far too crowded.
Built in 1357, this bridge is largely original. While repeated floods and wars have resulted in extensive repairs, it has never been fully replaced. It is especially impressive that this bridge was the main form of commerce between the two river banks, fielding horse cart traffic, an electric tram and buses until it became a designated pedestrian bridge in the middle of the 20th century. And in that time, it has also sported the severed heads of failed revolutionaries (Game of Thrones, style, y’all), various sculptures, and even served as a battle field. The architecture artists cannot even take away the feeling of a long and rich history as you slowly stroll over its arches, from one imposing gate to the other.
Across the Charles Bridge, opposite Old Town, you will find Lesser Prague. The main attraction here is, of course, Prague Castle. The brief but steep hike up the hill will yield charming views over the red roofs of the city and out to the TV towers of the modern quadrants of the city
The castle and its grounds hold dozens of small museums pertaining to the castle, traditions, defenses, and even a toy museum. As the seat for every rule in the area since the 9th century, there is plenty to learn. You could easily spend the day ducking in and out of these museums, but you will also be completely satisfied with a stroll through the grounds.
During Easter, we found another festival in the squares surrounding the Gothic St. Vitus Cathedral. These offered slightly varied crafts and foods from the markets in town.
St. Vitis is a beautiful example of Gothic architecture. As the country’s largest and most important church, it dominates the Prague skyline with its sharp spires and tiled roof. Be sure not to miss the “golden gate” on the south facade; so named for the sparkling mosaic over the portal. This is the entrance that emperors and kings would use when entering the cathedral for coronations and is appropriately ornate. Perhaps the subject of the mosaic- The Last Judgement- was pertinent to the Kings as they began their rule.
The rest of the grounds are a charming mixture of Baroque courtyards and palace buildings. We ducked into a beautiful white-pebbled manicured garden for a refreshment before continuing on.
Branching off of the sprawling castle area is an equally as expansive park. There are pavilions and sculptures to be found throughout, as well as plenty of view points over the city. Follow your eye to a particularly charming observatory cafe for a break in the sun as well as a view over the river and its laced bridges.
We actually came up through the park from our hotel and then over to the castle. This allowed us to drop down from the castle district into Lesser Prague in time to find a beer garden for lunch before exploring the rest of the area.
The rest of this side of the river is dominated by yet another green park along the river; more sculptures and museums to be found here. The main sight is a large Baroque cathedral (pictured at the top of the post) and plenty of charming shops.
Wander around long enough and you will find yourself in the district of some very exclusive hotels and Michelin-starred small eateries tucked into the narrow streets and colorful buildings.
Of course, no visit to this neighborhood would be complete without a stop by every student’s favorite photo-op: the Lennon Wall.
This is a fairly brief touch on all main things “tourist-Prague” but the sure way to do as the locals do is to take in some good, authentic Czech beer.
A half liter of beer will put you out only a few bucks (if that) so this is not one to break the bank. However, if you really want to invest your time, be sure to pick up a brewery tour. Or just take yourself on a tour through the city; you wont miss it.
There are a number of Czech classic beers. Most commonly we saw Pilsner Urquell, which seems to have a monopoly on the Prague market. However, if you are even slightly discerning about your beer gardens, you will fall upon a few other options. Be warned however: the brand that is advertised on the awning is what is served inside, and you have only one option: light or dark (and how much). As one Austrian waiter said many years ago “Beer is beer.” And I agree.
We did make a point of finding Budvar- the original King of Beers! As true Americans (and I have a lot of St. Louis in my blood) we could not leave without having a fresh Bud. It was surprisingly hard to find, and led us on a bit of a goose chase, but it was a burden we were willing to bear. And we came out victorious!
Outside of the generally-described area above, you will find some fabulous architecture and quirky sites. Pictured below is Frank Gehry’s Dancing House (aka Fred and Ginger).
Also pictured are the mmmmmmazing garlic snails and muscles we ate at a Belgian place near to our hotel, Les Moules. After a few days in Hungary and sausages from the festival, we were in need of a break from smokey meat products. Highly recommend, if you get a bit fed up with steamed dumplings and gravy.