Falling in love with Prague, Czech Republic
Prague, city of a hundred spires, mother of all cities, capital of the Czech Republic, I love you. I unexpectedly came to Prague to catch a flight back home after a month of volunteering in Romania. I had been told in the past that Prague was worth a visit but it had not occurred to me to go there. What I had been missing out, Prague is outstanding!
The first time I went to Prague, I stayed there for three days. It was mid-August, in other words, it was the hellish touristy high season. I had to cope with herds of tourists following their guide all around the city center. Still, I managed to lose my heart to this wonderful city.
Free walking tour
When I arrived at the Old Town square for the walking tour, there were many other guides waiting for tourists. Luckily that day, the Extravaganza Free Tour was not crowded – we were six or seven people. It was great to be able to enjoy a walking tour with just a few people, it was friendlier. The guide was really cool too. His explanation and stories were very interesting and I was hanging on his every word. With this tour, I had an overview of Prague and its history. I definitely recommend taking a tour with them – they have several to choose from. They have changed the meeting point to avoid the crowd, now you can meet the Extravaganza guide at the Powder Tower.
Since the number of people attending the tour was low, I easily made friend with an American girl. After the tour, we decided to hang out together. We had dinner and then we decided to join a pub crawl. Pub crawls are also promoted by hostels and the hostel staff will directly bring you to the meeting point or you can meet promoters on Old Town Square. We chose the Clock Tower Bar Crawl because it was the one recommended by my hostel.
The fee for attending this pub crawl is pricey (around 14 euros) considering that drinking in the Czech Republic is cheap. I think this is the only bad side. There are some advantages like free shots and a bartender dedicated to serving the group, but still I believe it is a bit expensive. I think it is worth the price though because you get to meet other travelers and you might even find travel buddies that way. Obviously, this pub crawl is what you expect a pub crawl to be: massive group of backpackers drinking and partying, going from bars to bars to clubs. You like it or you don’t. The club scene in Prague is quite amazing though, so I think a pub crawl is a good way to discover it.
During the pub crawl, I had the chance to meet a lovely Czech boy who brought me all over Prague the following days. This way, I discovered Prague a little more through the eyes of a local.
What I really appreciate about the Czech capital is that you do not need to spend a fortune to enjoy the city. There are many landmarks and the city itself is so fabulous, I could marvel at the architecture of the buildings for hours. Let me share with you my favorite sights:
Old Town – Staré Město
Old Town is very charming: cobblestone streets and impressive architecture. I think the Old Town is the most crowded place in Prague but it is understandable because it is magical. The highlight of this district is undoubtedly the Old Town square with Prague City Hall and its astronomical clock. It is the third oldest astronomical clock in the world! Every hour, the clock become animated with moving sculptures. It is called the walk of the apostles.
There are also many artists performing on the square:
There are many souvenirs shop in the area and the restaurants are a bit expensive, because… tourists.
Charles Bridge – Karlův most
Charles Bridge links the Old Town (Staré Město) to the Little side (Malá Strana).
Named after Charles IV, this bridge is the oldest in Prague. It dates back from the 14th century. It is embellished with statues of many Saints like John of Nepomuk who had been thrown into the river because he wouldn’t tell the Queen’s confession to the King Wenceslas IV. Legend has it, a halo appeared above the water when he drowned.
Charles bridge is very lively and I enjoy taking a stroll there. It is the first place I go to when I visit Prague. There are many artists expressing their art: painters, cartoonists, jewelers, musicians… You can easily be entertained there! The view to the castle is also very impressive.
Little Side – Malá Strana
The Little Side is located on the other side of the Charles bridge. This lovely district is paved with cobblestones, which make it very picturesque. It is less busy than the Old Town but it is still packed during the high season. On this district, there are many churches to visit, the most noteworthy would be Saint Nicholas’ Church which is of Baroque style.
On this side, there are also many pubs and shops to go to. One of my favorite store would be Manufaktura, which is a Czech store that produces home spa products made of natural ingredients. I really enjoy their beer shampoo and conditioner!
The Little Side is also home to the Petřín hill. This a nice green spot to go to. You have the choice to either climb the hill walking on the path or hop into the funicular. If you want to see Prague from a very high spot, you should visit the observation tower. This is like the Czech Eiffel Tower. You can climb the 299 steps and you’ll have a magnificent view over Prague! If you’re not into climbing steps, you can simply take a stroll in the Garden of roses or perhaps go into the mirror maze (I don’t recommend that one though, it’s not spectacular).
Castle District – Hradčany
I cannot write an article about Prague without mentioning the castle district which is home to the one of the most renown landmark of the Czech capital: the Prague castle. The castle itself is not the only interesting place to check out on this district though.
Prague Castle is said to be the biggest medieval castle of the world. It is located on a hill, so it is one of the nicest spot to get magnificent views on the city (hello Charles bridge) – go there at night, it will be empty and the night lights would make it even better. During the day, I won’t lie to you, it gets crowded. There are many ways to visit the castle: just wander into the enclosure castle (which is free), take a self-guided tour or take a guided tour. I’ve done the self-guided tour and I wandered into the enclosure castle. I’d recommend the wandering. The tour is nice because you can enter the building but there is nothing astonishing, the best part is outside. One nice thing to experience is the changing of the guard ceremony at noon.
After you visited the castle, check out the Palace gardens. The five gardens are magnificent and romantic places to relax. The best time of the year to visit them would obviously be spring, when flowers are blossoming. But the Palace gardens must have their own charms in winter too.
Another place to visit in the castle district is the Strahov monastery, it is one of the oldest Premonstratensian monasteries in the world. Inside this landmark, there is an impressive library which has been featured in movies like From Hell and Casino Royale.
If you are visiting Prague, I do recommend you to try Czech cuisine. It has the reputation to be fatty and heavy but trust me, it is delicious. It will give you plenty of energy to go explore the city.
My favorite traditional Czech dishes are guláš (meat stew served with dumplings) and pečená kachna (roast duck served with sauerkraut and dumplings). Czech soup are also delectable so I suggest you to try some! Svičková (braised beef served with sauce, dumplings, whipped cream and cranberry jam) is considered the national dish of Czech Republic, so you should have some too.
On the lighter side, nakládaný hermelín (pickled cheese similar to Camembert) and utopenci, a pickled and marinated sausage with vinegar, pepper, bay leaf, onions and chili peppers would be very good pub food to have. Other Czech delicacies to try are Chlebíčky. They are open face sandwiches garnished with many different ingredients.
You might wonder which drinks you should have while savoring the Czech cuisine. The unanimous answer would be… beer! Indeed, Czechs love their beer. The country consumes the most beer per head with 143 liters per year! They are many kind to choose from but the most famous would be Pilsner Urquell.
If you are a Coke lover, I suggest you to switch it for Kofola. It looks like Coke but it does not taste like it. It is slightly different and quite good.
The best addresses
While in Prague, I had the opportunity to discover very nice eateries where the food is simply exquisite.
- U Dvou Koček (Two Cats) – Uhelný trh 10, Praha 1: this is a traditional Czech brewery since 1678. They serve traditional Czech cuisine and they make their own beer on the spot!
- Kavárna Slavia (Slavia café) – Smetanovo nábřeží 1012/2, Praha 1: this is a fancy café/restaurant since 1884. This means it is a bit pricey compared to other places but the location is perfect! If you are lucky, you will get a table overlooking the Vltava river and the Prague castle.
- Kozlovna Apropos – Křižovnická 4, Praha 1: this is quite touristy place but the goulash I ate there was tasty! This is also a place to enjoy a Kozel beer.
- Penzion u Švejků – Ú- jezd 22, Praha 1: this restaurant serves traditional Czech cuisine. It is located right next to Petrin hill and there is a small terrace outside.
- Ovocný Světozor (fruit delicatessen) – Vodičkova 39, Praha 1: this is a dessert shop which offers various cakes and the famous open face sandwiches. There might be a long queue but the service is very quick. The shop is located inside the Pasáž Světozor which leads to Františkánská zahrada, so you might want to take a stroll there after eating.
- Bakeshop – Kozí 918/1, Praha 1: located in the Jewish quarter, this is the perfect place for a coffee break (with a treat).
- I recommend using public transportation to get around. There are buses, tramways and subway trains which go everywhere. Taxi would tend to rip you off as you are not familiar with the surroundings. Walking is a great option too though.
- The Czech words you need would be dobrý den: hello, ahoj: hi, děkuji: thank you, Na shledanou: goodbye, and the most important sentence of all, jedno pivo, prosím: one beer please.
- The official tourist website for Prague could be a source of interesting information if you plan a trip there.
- The Czech Republic has also a short name which is Czechia. Thank you Vaclav for this information!
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