Prague: the city so beautiful that it was spared by Hitler..at least that’s the rumour.
For some reason, I always associated Prague with beauty and class. I mean, even the word “Prague” sounds so fancy; I always romanticised Prague more than Paris, more than Rome. Turns out, I was right; Prague is a truly ethereal land that’s probably the closest thing the planet will get to a fairytale. It’s decked out with castles, bridges, and oozes charm. Pretty much, it makes Disneyland look like a dump.
However, under all the beauty is a quirky, edgy, artsy scene ranging from a thriving coffee culture to gritty Slavic underground clubs. Being neither edgy nor Slavic, I was excited but unsure of delving into this unknown environment. But, like any vastly unfamiliar place (see: Croatia’s surprises, Japan as a whole), Prague quickly became one of my favourite cities in the world. I stayed with my friend this past weekend and she showed me all the sights and the local social scenes to get all sides of Prague.
What To Know
- The Czech Republic speaks Czech, obviously. But, as there are only 10 million native Czech speakers and they realise they can’t use their language outside their own country, many people in Prague speak English. But if you need to know a few Czech words, “ahoj” means hello, “Děkuji” means thank you,” and “sbohem” means goodbye
- Prague is really cheap! Despite being part of the EU, the CR uses korunas, which means your dollars, euros, or pounds will go far. For example, the most expensive thing I bought there was a souvenir tea set for my mom for CZK 390, or £13.60/$16. My most expensive meal was probably CZK 180, or £6/$8.
- Fly into Prague’s Vaclav Havel Airport via Easyjet, Ryanair, etc. if you’re already in Europe. If not, you can fly through Norwegian, Aeroflot, and more. I flew through Easyjet for only $110 round trip! After, you can take an Uber to the city centre for 320 CZK (£11/$15).
- If you want to get to Old Town Square, you can buy an all-day bus/tram/metro pass for CZK 110 (£3.90/$5). Then, take the 119 Bus to Nádraží Veleslavín, and take the A Metro line from there to Staroměstská. That will take 40 minutes, as opposed to a 20-minute Uber. I recommend getting the day-pass every day you’re in Prague, as you’ll need the tram to hit all of Prague’s sights in a short amount of time.
Where To Stay
- Many tourists stay in Prague 1, which comprises of the famous Old Town Square with the astronomical clock. In Prague 1, you can stay in Mala Strana which a more laid back yet central Prague, or you can stay in Old Town which puts you smack in the centre of the city with the liveliest atmosphere.
- Some cooler neighbourhoods include Vinohrady and Žižkov, which is where I stayed. These neighbourhoods are filled with young people and expats and offer the best cafe culture Prague has. They’re both accessible to Prague 1 via a short tram ride.
- If you want a more tranquil atmosphere, stay in Holešovice. On the west side of the city, here you can get to Letna Park and the Beer Garden which offers panoramic views of Prague.
Day 1: The Main Sights
- Start your day off by visiting the famous Old Town Square. Here, you’ll find the famous Church of Our Lady before Týn complimenting one of the most beautiful squares in Europe. Also, you’ll find the slightly overrated Astronomical Clock. This square more or less represents all of Prague’s architecture, which is extremely colourful. It took me by surprise because I thought it would be all brown and red. Little did I know, I had stepped into a real-life Wes Anderson film with streets adorned with pastel baroque buildings. In the uber, I actually searched “Wes Anderson Prague” and it turns out, Prague was the main aesthetic inspiration behind the Grand Budapest Hotel! It all started making sense.
- After, walk to the iconic King Charles Bridge that you see in all the postcards. This is one of a few bridges that connect the two parts of Prague, separated by the Vltava River. From here, you can go up the Old Town Bridge Tower where you can see the bridge lead into a red-roofed labyrinth from a birds-eye view. This is where I really, really, fell for Prague.
- Cross the King Charles Bridge to go to St Nicholas Cathedral. For CZK 50, you step into one of the most ornate cathedrals on earth, adorned with a gold, rose-gold and marble motif. It’s up there with the Vatican as one of the most opulent religious sites on the planet. Upon entry, you can go to the balcony to see some 14th-century paintings and get another view of the church. Being a cathedral fanatic and a Christian, I was somewhat overwhelmed and I may have gotten a headache from the sheer beauty. You can easily spend a whole afternoon in here and still not spot all the details.
Right when you head out of the church, you’ll find the Prague Castle. It’s a bit of a trek up the hill, but it offers sweeping views of the city. Accompanied by the castle is the St Vitus Cathedral, the most famous cathedral in the city. You can buy tickets to all these cathedrals and sights at the box, no need to buy them in advance (*coughs* BARCELONA).
Day 2: Views and Babies
- Prague is a city flourishing with parks and several islands. After the countless steps of climbing from Day 1, take today to explore Prague’s natural wonders. If you want to see Prague at its best, it’s advised to go either in late-October/early-November or late April/early-May. I happened to stop by right after the autumn boom but I still got vibrant colours in many of the parks.
- Have a slow morning by getting a trdlník, or Czech chimney cake, and hang out on Slovansky Ostrov. It’s one of the few small islands dotted on the Vltava River, surrounded by the dreamy pastel architecture. It’s perfect for people watching and getting attacked by geese.
- After, head west to Letna Park for, you guessed it, another area for beautiful views!! However, unlike Slovanky Ostrov, Letna Park has a beautiful Biergarten on top of a hill to take advantage of Prague’s cheap beer. Now that I think about it, I don’t know if it offered beautiful views, or if it was the beer goggles. It was probably both.
- Now for my favourite part of Prague. Head to Kampa to see the Crawling Babies. Yes, they’re exactly what you think: massive statues of terrifying faceless babies crawling about. According to my friend, they were initially placed at the Žižkov TV Tower (which has a sky-high cocktail bar) since the tower ruined the beauty of Prague; because nothing beautifies a Soviet TV tower like some disproportionately big-headed babies, right? Then, for some unknown reason, they moved them to Kampa, for people to crawl on top of and take pictures, like me.
Day 3: Historical Prague
- Spend the afternoon checking out the John Lennon Wall. Used as an outlet of anti-Communist irritation, the wall is now the only place in Prague where spray-painting is completely legal. People spray-paint everything from yearnings of peace to obscenities that would make me lose all 3 of my viewers if I typed them. If I had spray paint, I would’ve probably unashamedly promoted this website and my Instagram.
- While on the topic, make sure to visit the Museum of Communism where you can see and read detailed accounts of the post-WWII occupation of Czechoslovakia by the USSR. I also wish I did this, but get a walking tour while you’re in Prague; it’s extremely likely that your guide will have lived before and after the Soviet collapse. Ask them as many questions as you can! Getting a first-hand perspective will always trump a museum, but definitely, do both.
- Lastly, you have to visit Josefov, Prague’s Jewish quarter. Along with Amsterdam’s Jewish Quarter, I found it to be the most insightful account of Jewish history in Europe. While there, check out the Jewish Cemetery, Old Synagogue, and the Prague Jewish Museum. I actually didn’t have time for the Jewish Museum, so I guess I just have to come back.
Eats and Nightlife
- Globe Prague: A bookstore/cafe that offers delicious American food. I always got the buffalo chicken sandwich for CZK185.
- 1902: A plant-filled, beautifully decorated cafe that serves breakfast and juices.
- Cafe Taxis: The cafe nearest to the Anglo-American University, they offer student-budget eats and a cozy atmosphere
- Vzorkovna: An industrial underground bar(?) where you can sit (or hang) from wherever. There’s aerial seating, mazes, large dogs, a swing set, and foosball over intense beats.
- Zastav se: A takeaway coffee place that has amazing pastries and chai lattes
Prague is magical, gross, obscene, and opulent all in one. It’s a city for anyone and everyone. You can spend a week here and go to the most industrial clubs and experience some of Europe’s best nightlife, or you can discover castles, rolling hills and a rich history. It’s a place that has everything, and it’s a city that this unedgy non-Slav fell in love with, a million times over. It’s easily the most beautiful city I’ve ever visited, and it’s also one of the hippest and coolest. Despite my initial romanticising of Prague at the beginning of this post, I truly didn’t expect to fall in love with it as much as I did.
Usually, when I have to come back to Edinburgh after a weekend trip, I’m sad to leave but content. Leaving Prague, however, made me miserable. It’s true, I fell for Prague, and fell for it hard. It’s one of the few places everyone must see in their lifetime, and I’m already planning my next trip back in the Spring.