Getting under the skin of Prague

Prague - Charles Bridge at SunsetI’d been wanting to see Prague for a while. It was high up on my “Central/Eastern Europe” list, and a city I was only really interested in seeing in the summer due to how cold it gets around that area during winter. I’d heard of how historic and beautiful it was, but also how cheap the beer was and how it was loads of fun for a bunch of lads.

So, I headed over to Prague this April to hit it up in a weekend during our week long Europe trip (look for more posts about those). We drank all the beer, ate all the meat and explored all of the castle. You’re reading this, so I know you’ve got a similar idea. So here’s what I reckon you need to see, where you need to eat and what beer you need to drink in the cosmopolitan Czech capital.

Things to See and Do

Prague is known for it’s historical wonder, beautiful architecture and mammoth medieval castle. The winding cobbled streets of the old town are littered with remnants of fallen empires, revolutions and centuries of trade. It also features a chequered Communist past, one that is unique, laced with stories and differs from a lot of the other former Soviet countries.

Prague Old Town

The first stop on most people’s itinerary is the old town and it’s where you’ll find the baroque facades, tall towers (hey, Prague is called the “City of Towers”), cafes, markets and picturesque squares.

Prague - Old Town Square

Astronomical Clock

This is one of Prague’s biggest attractions, and the huge sprawling crowd that gathers underneath is each hour is a testament to how much hype surrounds this thing.

Astronomical Clock of Prague

Essentially the top clock tells the time and the bottom clock is a calendar that shows the month. The story behind it is quite fascinating, but the shitty show each hour that people cram into the square to watch isn’t. It’s pretty lacklustre, you will be utterly disappointed, but at least check it out and then come back and call me a liar if you thought it wasn’t a complete letdown.

Town Hall

The Town Hall is the building on which the Astronomical Clock is perched and looms over the Old Town square like a big authority figure. If you approach the square from the north, it’s probably one of the first towers you’ll see (apart from the twin towers of the cathedral).

Town Hall Tower

A good way to get your bearings is to climb to the top and score an amazing view of the entire old town of Prague. It’s super crammed once you get up there, but you get a great view.

Charles Bridge

Probably one of, if not the most iconic landmark of Prague – Charles Bridge was built in the 15th century by King Charles IV to span the Vltava River and joins the Prague Castle with the Old Town.

Charles Bridge

If you go at any other time other than sunrise, be prepared to battle large crowds along with people trying to sell you stuff and paint your portrait. We pretty much just crossed it once to check it out and then went and did something else. It’s definitely not super amazing or anything.

Prague Castle

Check this sucker out, it’s the largest medieval castle in the world. Scene of numerous kingdoms and empires over hundreds of years along with priests and noblemen being thrown out of windows, the Prague Castle absolutely dominates the skyline of the city.

Prague Castle

It’s free to enter the castle, but you have to buy a ticket to enter the various buidlings inside. I recommend getting the “short visit” ticket for 250 CZK (INR 630), which gets you access to the massive St Vitus Cathedral, Old Royal Palace, St George’s Basilica, Golden Lane and Daliborka Tower. Following the short visit route shouldn’t take you more than 2-3 hours. Here’s a selection of attractions to see once you’re inside:

Website: http://www.hrad.cz

St Vitus Cathedral

St. Vitus Cathedral

Golden Lane

Prague's Golden Lane

Definitely devote half a day to the castle as it’s quite sprawling and there’s lots to see. It’s quite versatile as an attraction actually, as you can choose to only do a lap through it if you’re not keen on seeing what’s inside or buy the “long visit” ticket if you’re a castle aficionado and don’t want to leave a square metre unexplored.

Jewish Quarter

At first I really didn’t have much interest in checking this out, but when our tour passed through the area, I found it more and more intriguing. Most European cities have a Jewish part that used to be a ghetto or something from years of persecution and Prague is no different, but it has some interesting stories to tell.

Old New Synagogue

Built in 1270, it’s the oldest synagogue in Europe. Worth a lap around to appreciate the architecture, its also home to a quirky story about a Golem in the attic that apparently ate a Nazi during World War II.

Old New Synagogue

Wenceslas Square

This kilometre long stretch of wide boulevard was named after Saint Wenceslas, the patron saint of Bohemia (the historic name for the Czech Republic) and forms the focal point of the New Town. It was the scene of many demonstrations and protests over the years against the Nazis and the Soviets, and is of huge national importance.

Winceslas Square

Once you proceed east out of the old town you will undoubtedly find yourself here. Dodge the shady dudes selling weed and take in one of the more modern parts of Prague. There’s lots of shops and other uninteresting stuff here, but it’s worth checking out to appreciate the immensity of it.

Museum of Communism

When Paul and I found out about this privately operated museum, it definitely piqued our interest. I’ve always had a keen interest in Soviet history and how they ruled half of Europe with an iron fist for over 50 years, so I’m always up for finding out more about Communist influence when I visit a city it directly affected.

Museum of Communism

The place is setup upstairs in a wing off the back of a casino and is filled with kitschy Soviet era bits and pieces to gawk at. There are lots of explanations in English of how the Soviets came to be in Czechoslovakia after WW2 along with descriptions on what conditions were like for families, how hard it was to get food, what work was like, how the West was perceived and other oddities. It actually does a really good job of showing you what it was like to live in the country when an oppressive regime was controlling your every move in life.

Museum of Communism Museum of Communism

Entry is 190 CZK (INR 480) and you can enter next to the McDonalds on one of the streets off Wenceslas Square (don’t worry I’ll show it on the map below).

Food and Drink

Let’s face it, Prague is known for it’s cheap and plentiful beer – lots and lots of beer. You’ll be knocking back many pints of Staropramen, Gambrinus, Pilsner Urquell and my favourite, Kozel. There’s no shortage of cool little beer gardens for you to check out during your visit, but do make sure you get a serve of the stodgy Czech cuisine on offer to soak up some of that lager (that the Czechs invented!).

Prague Beer Museum

Not exactly a museum, more so just a pub with a misleading name. They do have an absolute shitload of beers on tap though, so if you’re a bit of a beer aficionado and want to try the best the Czech’s have to offer, make your way here.

Prague Beer MuseumInside Prague Beer Museum

There’s a small but airy beer garden out the back where you can peruse the thick A4 booklet of beers on offer. I recommend getting a taster of 5 beers to get a good cross section of what the Czech’s brew.

Pivnice Stupartska

As you walk in, this place looks quite formal and stuffy with lots of velvet upholstery and old people eating their meals quietly. Proceed downstairs though and you’ll find more of a beer hall atmosphere where you can enjoy some good hearty Czech food. Go for the 1 kg of wings, farmer’s platter or pork knee to really sample some solid Czech meat offerings.

Pivnice Stupartska

This place has some shitty reviews on Tripadvisor, but we didn’t have any dramas when we went and were thoroughly plied with Gambrinus beer and made to feel quite welcome.

The bars we smashed at

So yeah, we were on our way to hit a few pubs, we did hit it pretty hard, mostly because we were guided by an enterprising Canadian guy, and managed to check out Bombay Bar, Chapeau Rouge and Propaganda Barduring our lager fuelled evening. Some bars in Prague can be hard to find, so use these as a starting point.

Where to stay

We had our stay covered by the nice folks at Plus Prague Hostel in their huge digs in the Holesevice area north of the old town. It’s a bit further out (you’ll need to take a tram into town), but the hostel has everything you could need. Big, clean rooms, a full restaurant and bar and even a swimming pool.

Plus Prague Hostel Plus Prague hostel

Ever been to a hostel that provides a welcome kit like this? No need to bring your little carry-on plastic bag of toiletries!

Plus Prague's Welcome Kit

Conclusion

Prague is actually a pretty magical once you get under its skin a bit. As with all European cities, it’s absolutely teeming with history and character. It has a good half-dozen or so of city attractions to check out during your stay and won’t break the bank.

The combination of former Soviet history along with the struggle the Czechs endured paints an intriguing national picture; and the days you’ll spend soaking up the architecture, cafes, bars, churches and squares in Prague provides a brief, fascinating insight into the country’s long and rich heritage.

A bit of orientation

Here’s a handy map laying out all the sights mentioned above to give you an idea of where things are in Prague. Click on the markers to see the sight listed and zoom and pan around to see more of the map.

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