Prague is a city that has long been on my big list of European cities I must see. I had long heard that it was my Uncle’s favourite place, and the romance of the Charles Bridge, the maze of cobbled lanes and hidden courtyards and the hilltop fairytale castle had my wanderlust on high alert. However, Prague also has a terrible stag party reputation which goes hand in hand with its moniker as the beer capital of Europe.
This seedy reputation of many Eastern European countries, the cheap and cheerful piss up city with eye-wateringly budget flights and groups of British men roaming in packs put me off discovering this European gem for so long. But those pictures of pretty Prague weaved their way into my heart – so I decided to find out if its rich history could win out over its stag-party reputation.
Whilst we flew via Ryanair from Prague to London on the way home, we arrived in Prague via train from Krakow (this trip was part of a week long exploration of Eastern Europe) at about 6am, bleary eyed from a lack of sleep from the sleeper train. (Side note – I am not a gap year teenager – whilst the sleeper train was something I had wanted to experience for years and is a great way to moving between European cities, as a 33 year old woman it was not necessarily the most comfortable way to spend an evening. But it was an adventure, so who needs sleep anyway?)
A quick note on the sleeper train
The sleeper train is bookable via Czech Transport, and has routes that include Krakow, Budapest and Vienna, for far cheaper than a hotel stay. You can book a private room with bunks, a shared room with bunks or banquette seating. Each private room comes with a small sink and there are toilet/washing facilities on board. Just before you arrive at your destination, you’ll be given a pastry and a coffee. Don’t worry, the guard will wake you up in plenty of time for your stop!
A second quick note on Prague Taxi Drivers
We learnt a difficult lesson in Prague as soon as we arrived at the train station. Given the early hour of morning, we decided to grab a taxi from the station to our hotel. We made our way to the taxi rank, and whilst I had done my research and had in my head a price, this was not the price I was charged. I was, quite frankly, ripped off. Upon arrival at our hotel, we were warned that we were best to prebook taxi’s via them as this was a known tourist trick and we had been overcharged by £10. Not a huge amount, but enough to make me feel insanely pissed off at the start of the trip.
Luckily we didn’t get another taxi until the one to the airport at the end of our trip. Prague is absolutely a walkable city, and also has a decent tram system so you shouldn’t need to use the taxi system very often.
WHERE TO STAY
Finding reasonable accommodation in Prague is fairly easy, and depends largely on location rather than anything else. Most tourists stay in Prague 1, the centre of the City and close to all the action, either in the Old Town or in Mala Strana (which is up by the Castle). This gives you easy access to all of Prague’s attractions and its lively nightlife and it doesn’t have to cost the earth either.
We booked via Booking.com and chose Charles Bridge Palace Hotel, simply because of its proximity to the old town, and the fact that you could see the wonderful Charles Bridge from the rooms. You’ll see from the pictures that it was certainly traditional and a little dated, but it provided the perfect base to explore Prague from.
There are other locations in Prague to stay in – Vinohrady and Zizkov are classed as the more “hipster” areas and Holešovice is in close proximity to the Letna park and beer garden but all of these areas require a metro ride into the main centre of town. For two nights in Prague you may want to stay as close to the action as possible!
There is SO MUCH TO DO in Prague, you absolutely won’t be bored and you also won’t fit it all in so don’t try to. We have 3 full days in Prague and still didn’t manage to see everything, but below are my top picks for sights and activities in Prague.
As we always do with a city break, we started with a free walking tour, this time run by my favourite of all those on offer, Sandemans. Led by Karel, we learnt all about the history of Prague and the Czech Republic, whilst visiting the House of the Black Madonna & Museum of Cubism, the Church of Our Lady before Týn and the Old New Synagogue & the Golem. I’d always recommend a walking tour to start a trip – it really helps immerse you into a city!
Prague’s most popular attraction does not disappoint. Sent high on a hill above the Vltava River, it’s a fairytale castle of epic proportions. The castle isn’t just one building, but a set of buildings and treasures behind castle walls – it’s no surprise then that it is the largest ancient castle in the world.
We booked a specific castle walking tour to get the most out of our visit as there is so much to see it is difficult to know where to start. Not to be missed is St. Vitus’ Cathedral, The Black Tower and Golden Lane – all set within the haphazard and beautiful setting of the castle.
Cost: From CZK 250 per adult
ASTRONOMICAL CLOCK & TOWER
Every hour, hoards of tourists stand beneath the unusual clock on the old town hall tower to watch an odd and strangely quaint performance lasting no longer than 45 seconds. It has a rich history and is steeped in gothic symbolism, with beautiful tiny figures moving in unison to tell an intriguing story.
As well as watching from below, you can also climb the tower for exceptional views across the Ols Town Square and beyond. If you time it right, you can also be there whilst the trumpeter plays and the Astronomical Clock starts its show.
PS – The clock is scheduled to be out of action from spring 2017 to summer 2018 while the clock tower undergoes renovations, so bear that in mind when booking your trip!
Cost: CZK 130
JOHN LENNON WALL
The John Lennon Wall is a curiosity leftover from the communist regime and is bizarrely owned by Sovereign Military Order of Malta who have allowed its existence ever since. Since the 1980’s it has been filled with John Lennon inspired pictures and lyrics and was a symbol of student resistance against the regime. Whilst the original John Lennon portrait has long since been painted over, today the wall is a global symbol of love and peace.
One of the most visited sights in Prague, this beautiful bridge over the River Vltava connects the Old Town and Mala Strana. Not only does it offer amazing views of the castle and Prague itself, it also is home to a number of Baroque statues, the most famous of which is St. John of Nepomuk, a Czech martyr saint who was executed during the reign of Wenceslas IV. Touching this statue is thought to bring good luck.
The bridge gets extremely busy, so it is worth getting there early – watching sunrise from the bridge is one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.
petrin hill & tower
Petrin Hill, and the tower upon it has a sort of old-fashioned fun fair feel which adds to its character. The hill is steep but walkable (when we went, the funicular that would take you to the top was out of action, much to our displeasure!), and after a hike to the top we landed upon Petrin Tower. Built for the 1891 Prague Expedition, it is a copy of the Eiffel Tower which stands at 62m high. The views from the top are spectacular, and for a small price you can climb all 299 steps to the top.
Cost: CZK 120
Prague Underground Tour
I’ve established how much we love a walking tour, so for a bit of fun I booked into an underground tour of Prague. We explored the underground caverns and corridors of the Old Town Hall (which used to be a prison) and were led on a bit of a ridiculous ghost chase – which only added to the fun. This isn’t necessarily a must-do, but it was an interesting way to spend an evening and we learnt lots more about the history of Prague’s Old Town.
Cost: CZK 400
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK
There is a huge choice when it comes to food and drink in Prague – whether you want something traditionally Eastern European or something a little different. You’ll find good, cheap beer anywhere you can look (Urquell is actually cheaper than mineral water. Fact), and of course a trip to an eastern European city wouldn’t be complete without a sausage or two, of which we ate loads at the Spring Fair in the Old Town Square.
You can also see below a trdelník chimney, a funnel-cake filled with soft-serve ice cream that’s sold all over Prague. It’s a deep fried donut cone filled with ice cream (I also had a sort of apple pie and cinnamon filling in mine which made it taste like a McDonald’s apple pie on crack).
Below is a list of recommendations, but another way of sampling the beer that Prague has to offer is on an organised tour. We went on a Micro-Brewery Tour of Prague one afternoon which was a great way of understanding beer culture and the micro-brewing scene in Prague, but also of tasting lots of great beer (I’ll have a whole post dedicated to this trip soon!).
Whilst it might seem weird to talk about a Mexican restaurant in a guide to Prague, this was a truly gorgeous place to eat. We were at the end of several nights eating our carby hearts out with Eastern European Goulash and dumplings and just fancied something different. Agave hit the spot. Arty Mexican food, reasonable priced with a fantastic wine selection – and the service just topped it all off. It was a really lovely meal and would recommend 10/10.
U Fleku Beer Hall & Brewery
One of the places we visited on our beer tour, but is worth a visit even if you are not on a tour of bars/breweries. U Fleku is the only brewery in Central Europe which has been brewing continuously for over 500 years, and is set like a tradition beer hall with 80 rooms and over 1200 seats. It’s busy, it’s loud and it is fantastic. And lets talk about the beer for a second – you can get one beer and one beer only here (Flekovský ležák 13°) which is brewed on site and which cannot be found in any other bar, anywhere. It is a wonderful beer and absolutely worth the trip to visit.
Lokal takes traditional Czech pub food and just makes it better. Whilst you can find traditional food in any pub in Prague it can often be a greasy and grubby affair, as we found out the hard way. However, Lokal takes all that is good about dumplings and pork knuckle and goulash and places it in a much nicer setting. It’s super cheap too, so it is win win!
Prague is a truly wonderful City to explore, with a rich history, awesome culture and fantastic beer. I’ll be honest and say at times I found the place a little overwhelming – even in March it was extremely busy and coming from Krakow which was very quiet it was a shock to the system.
Another key difference was in how friendly I found the city – or not. Again in comparison to Krakow where we found literally everyone to be very friendly and welcoming, Prague felt a little cold. We were told by our tour guide that with major tourism in Prague only being around 20 years old the locals were still getting used to the influx of tourists, but prepare yourself for a slightly less than warm welcome to the City when you visit and you’ll be fine!
Would I visit again? With so much else to see and so much more beer to drink I’d love to visit in spite of rip off taxis and not so friendly locals – ideally in a warmer climate so I can enjoy the many beer gardens Prague has to offer!
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