Ana’s birthday was coming fast, and thousands of ideas rushed through my head in the search of the perfect gift that would prove a perfect start to her 26 years. But one idea was brighter than the rest: a suprise trip! Well obviously, a trip is always a safe bet with Anaïs! So a couple of months before the date I told her: “Ana, you’ll need to ask for a couple of days off at work!” So it was done, although it wasn’t until she boarded the plane that she found out the destination: 4 wonderful days in Prague (plus a little escapade to Dresden, Germany).
A nice city in the low season
Theoretically, two or three days should be enough to visit the most interesting places in Prague. We were very lucky with the weather – the end of October is a delicate period but Central Europe is just so beautiful this time of the year! We could enjoy outdoors every day. Prague and Germany are great during autumn, and the crowds of tourists are much more bearable than in summer. Prague is also a walkable city – we just used public transports once. It’s also very conviniently communicated with several great cities in Central Europe, so it’s easy to combine destinations if you’re looking for a longer trip.
Prague preserves a bohemian atmosphere, half medieval town, half puppet house, which makes it a very romantic destination with lots of activities to offer. We had the chance to walk several neighbourhoods, and all of them have something charming and special. It’s a peaceful, safe city that invites to romanticism and exploration, so don’t hesitate to get lost!
Where to sleep in Prague
Prague has lately become the most tourist city in Central Europe, so you’ll easily find hotels, hostels, Airbnb and flats for rent. The center can get quite expensive, as well as the Castle area and Mala Strana. We found an attractive offer at a small hotel not far away from the tramway stop of Anděl in the neighbourhood Prague 5. It’s an excellent area for a series of reasons: it’s greatly communicated by tramway and bus, so it’s really easy to get everywhere in the city and the airport; it has a big shopping center (Novy Smíchov) with shops, supermarket and restaurants of all types; and it is also located close to the river and it invites to a nice sunset walk back to the hotel (25 mintues from and to Charles Bridge).
Getting to and from the airport
Prague’s airport is sadly connected to the city center, and very often you’ll need to get a several means of transport to get to your destination. The most frequent option is to take a bus then the subway or a tramway. If you decide to stay near Anděl as we did, then you’ll just need to take bus line 191, which takes approximately one hour. Just be warned that drivers will not show any kind of courtesy (our driver left us in the lurch 200 meters from the airport, instead of telling us we had to take the bus coming on the opposite direction).
What to visit
Prague has several attractions and terrific neighbourhoods that invite to get lost, with many different architectural styles that reflect the rich history of the city. We have organized the visits according to the quarters.
It’s the most visited area, and for a good reason, as the Old Town is of medieval origin and it’s very well preserved! We recommend you start your visit with the Klementinum – or National Library -, one of Central Europe’s most important libraries. Then visit the so-called Little Square, with its nice colourful buildings and the well in the middle of the square. A little further ahead, the Old Town Square is the actual center of Prague. It’s been pictured a million times. Here you’ll find lots of interesting buildings, like the Old Town Hall and it famous astronomical clock, St Nicholas Church, the Jan Hus (in the center of the square), the Goltz-Kinsky Palace (today an art gallery), and the Storch House (an old noble house with a gorgeous painted façade). Look for the Prague Meridian, a golden line on the floor which reminds of the former sundial destructed during the 1918 revolution.
On one of the sides of the square stands the magnificent Lady Before Tyn church, old medieval temple and symbol of the city. Don’t miss the Stone Bell House, a photographer’s favourite, and the Golden Ring House. In the old times, houses were not numbered, so people used these and other symbols to recognize addresses.
Behind the church, there’s the Ungelt square, also known as the Tyn, formerly a fortified market with a manual drinking fountain which has been in use since year 1100! Here you”ll find several bars and restaurants.
Celetna Street is the most commercial in the city, and it connects Old Town Square with Republic Square. You’ll pass by the famous Powder Tower (or Prasna Brana), one of the few still intact. The visit is paid, though. A little further up front, there’s Henry’s Tower, the tallest in the city, and some meters later the colorful Jubilee Synagogue (also known as Jerusalem Synagogue, in reference to the street where it’s located).
Na Prikope Street also has its charm, with a couple of suspended bridges over the road that remind us of the Bridge of Sighs in Venice. Once you arrive to the Museum of Communism, you’ll be right next to the Estates Theater, where Mozart premiered Don Giovanni and where you can enjoy opera shows almost every day. We preferred to continue towards Havelsky, a nice market with fruit, food and jewels, where we bought some delicious strawberries!
Josefov (the Jewish Quarter)
Much smaller than the Old Town, the Jewish Quarter in Prague has a couple of attractions that may be worth a visit. We decided to just roam its streets and not to pay what we considered an exaggerated price to visit to the monuments. Among the places to see, there’s the National Theater, the famous Pinkas Synagogue with it’s ancient Jewish Cemetery, the so-called Old-New Synagogue (where, according to the legend, lies the lifeless body of the Golem), and the Klausen Synagogue. It’s a rather wealthy, posh quarter, and we were not really interested in it, so we just walk around for some 30 minutes.
Prague’s Castle (Pražský hrad)
Although it should rather be called a palace. It’s an architectural compound in the highest part of the city. To get up there, several tramway lines will take you to the lower part, and the you can climb up on foot or take a bus.
The entry to the compound itself is free, but some of the buildings and areas are paying. We decided to do just the free part, as the rest are mainly museums and other activities that we don’t find interesting enough to pay for. The castle is just magnificent, and it’s well worth a visit.
Inside the compound you’ll find St George’s Basilica and St Vitus Cathedral, all of it surrounded by wonderful gardens, really well looked after, and which offer a great panoramic view over the red roofs of the city.
At this point of the visit, you’ll understand why Prague is frequently called “the city of the thousand spires”. And, by the way, just besides the caste’s main entrance there’s one of the most beautiful Starbucks Coffees in the world!
There’s also a very nice park (Královská Zahrada) behind the castle, with its Belvedere Palace, specially charming during fall season.
Novy Svet and Mala Strana
Once you’re done visiting the Castle, continue straight forward from the main entrancce through Loretánská street, with its arcades on the side. Keep going for a couple hundred meters on the paved streets until you reach what today is the Ministery of Foreign Affairs. A little down the side street, you’ll find the unique Loreta Church and a little park. If you continue on Loretánská st, you’ll reach Strahov Monastery, with a lovely little interior park and a fall red-leaved ivy. A beautiful stop.
Get back in the direction of the Castle to start your descend towards Mala Strana (literally, the Little Quarter), undoubtedly the most animated, bohemian and special quarter of the city. Going down beatiful Nerudova Street, look again for the symbols identifying the houses in ancient times, and get to Malostranské Square. The Square is divided in half by Saint Nicholas Church (where Mozart used to play the organ). Here you’ll find quite a lot of restaurants, theaters, palaces, museums and tourists (yep, thousands of them), as well as the Pest Column. When you come out of St Nicholas Church, remember to look up for a great sight of the Castle.
A little tip: tourists won’t probably come in the beautiful gardens of the Wallenstein Palace. They’re hidden behind a white wall, but the place is lovely and free. They even say it’s one of the most beautiful gardens in Europe! The building at the back is today part of the Czech Parliament.
Among the last attractions in Mala Strana, you’ll find Frank Kafka’s Museum and the sadly famous Pissing Statue by David Cerny.
We finished our visit here elbowing our way through the unique, magnificent, jam-packed Charles Bridge.
Just to give a name, as the New Town is not that new (it was founded in the Middle Ages). It’s basically a collection of great avenues flanked by wonderful majestic buildings. The outstanding Wencelas Square (Waclavske Namesti) is the largest in the city, and it holds the National Museum (closed for renovations for some years, so we recommend checking its webpage before planning a visit), and Wenceslas statue.
On one of the sides of the square there’s Lucerna Passage, an old shopping gallery mostly famous for Cerny’s inverted Wenceslas statue, and the impressive Evropa Hotel. There’s a beautiful anecdote concerning the Hotel. In 1979, Nicholas Winton’s wife found a box in his hotel room. Inside were a list of Jewish children names and letters from their parents. It turned out that Mister Winton ha dedicated years of his life to saving Jewish kids from the Nazi genocide, sending them on several trains out of Prague, and then finding them foster families in other countries in Europe. In total, almost 700 children were saved, and Nicholas Winton did never tell anyone about his heroic deeds, not even his wife. Today there’s a monument on his honour next to the hotel.
Other attractions a little further away but still in the New Town include the New Town Hall (Novomestska Radnice), Charles Square, Frank Gehry’s Dancing House, the Zofin Palace (on an island in the middle of the river) and the National Theater.
There are two islands on the Vltava River, one with a palace and the other one is a beautiful garden. From the latter you will be able to enjoy some beautiful sights and a very nice walk.
We must confess that we aren’t exactly addicts of central European traditional cuisine. We have tried on several occasions but we don’t really get hooked. Czech cuisine has a lot of German, Austrian and Hungarian influence, so it’s easy to find goulash, all kinds of sausages and meat, loads of meat! However, we did love the beers and the famous Trdelník (a kind of sweet brioche roll with cinnamon and chocolate or Nutella) which were quite good!
If you’re in a minimal good shape, you won’t need to buy public transportation tickets, although the price is quite low and the service perfectly organized. We only bought a return ticket for the airport, and we just took the tramway once to get to the area below the castle early in the morning.
Crowds of tourists from surrounding cities become bigger during the weekend, so if possible try to visit the tourist attractions – Charles Bridge, Old Town Square, Castle – early in the morning or during the week.
Prague is nicely connected to other cities by train, so it would be easy to organize a daytrip to Germany (Dreden is just great, Vienna is not far away, etc).
Kindness among the inhabitants doesn’t exactly work in the area, even workers in the tourist sector find it difficult to smile or try to help you out, and there’s still this tendency to “take advantage” of the tourists. So revise your restaurant check, and do not hold much hope that local people will help you find a route or a place. You’d be better off planning everything beforehand.
There are several places to visit around Prague. The most famous daytrips include Karlovy Vary, the Terezin concentration camp, Cesky Krumlov Castle, or the sinister Kutna Hora. We decided to take a train trip to Dresden, a great monumental city – they say it’s one of the most beautiful in Germany, so much that it’s known as the Florence of the Elbe river.
Have you ever been in Prague? What’s your favorite place?
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