Prague: A drinking town with a tourist problem

I recently spent four months traveling around Central and Mediterranean Europe with a friend. When planning our trip, we decided to start in Prague because we heard it was cheaper and a laid back city where we could do further planning for the rest of our trip. We ended up spending a couple of weeks here and during this time we were able to do some sightseeing and take a couple of day trips. Following is my break-down of major activities to do, what to buy, what to eat, where to stay, and how to get around.

Things to Do:

Prague Castle. This complex houses many sights including the old royal palace, St. Vitus Cathedral, gardens, an owl sanctuary, and wineries. It also provides some nice views of the city as well. Spend an afternoon walking the grounds and visiting the cathedral. Going inside the church is free. I also recommend spending some time at the owl sanctuary and paying the money to hold an owl, which is not that expensive. We did this and had a fun time getting closer to the owls.  Plan to spend 2 hours here (more if you stop for a drink or bite to eat).

Charles Bridge. This iconic bridge connects old town to new town. And travelers will likely recognize the bridge from many travel lists. The bridge is now used as a walking bridge by pedestrians, and there are religious statues and street vendors that line both sides. We crossed this bridge multiple times during our stay in the city. Stroll across it casually at least once and take some good pictures. Buy a print or have your caricature made as a souvenir. Plan to spend 20-30 minutes taking in the beauty of the bridge.

Old Town. This is the part of Prague that has retained the historic architecture. The old town hall and astronomical clock can be found here along with many bars and restaurants. The clock is another icon that travelers will likely recognize from travel lists. Every hour on the hour, the clock has a procession of the twelve apostles so try take a peek then. When we were here, there was a lot of construction going on in this area and much of the church was covered up, but the clock remained open. Despite the large crowds that gather here on the hour, we were still able to see the procession and get some good pictures.

Petrin Hill. This is a nice park area outside of the old town. Climb up to the top for a short hike and then climb all the way up the tower to get some of the best views of the city. For those who do not like to hike, the funicular railway goes up to the top and so do taxis. But the hike is not strenuous and good exercise so I recommend walking if possible. We really enjoyed the walk and ended up doing this twice during our stay. Drinks and snacks can be bought at the top of the hill for reasonable prices. There is also a mirror maze, church, and an observatory near by the tower. All require a small fee. We did not visit any of these so I cannot recommend them. For those short on funds and time, I think the most important thing to see would be paying to go to the top of the tower. There is also a restaurant midway up the hill and several cafes and restaurants at the bottom of the hill. Plan to spend 2 hours to get up, look around, and get back down.

Strahov Monastery. This complex has a brewery, gallery, and library. But there are separate entrance fees for each one. While I did not go to the brewery, I did go to the library and gallery. To be honest, I am not sure the fees were worth it. I saw pictures of the library online and was excited to go, but visitors cannot actually enter inside the library. Visitors can look at it through two door openings, but must pay an extra fee to take a picture. I thought it was beautiful but could not really see it up close, and the pictures online were just as good. The gallery was religious paintings and was well put together, but my favorite part was not the main exhibition. It was a temporary exhibition featuring work by a Czech painter. Again, it was not a must see even for art lovers. But for those with extra time and money, the monastery could be a good way to spend a couple of hours.

National Gallery in Prague. I did not get a chance to visit this museum, but if I had to choose again I think I would choose to go here over the monastery. It is supposed to be a nice space with works by famous Czech and other European artists.

Lennon Wall. Fans of the Beatles and Instagram account holders will want to stop here. It is a wall completely covered in Beatles graffiti, which makes a cool back drop. We did take a stroll over here and also took the obligatory pictures. Nearby there is also a Beatles Café where you can stop for a drink and admire the Beatles decor. We went here for a drink afterwards and sat in the courtyard. The food and drinks were nothing special, but the atmosphere was fun.

Old Jewish Cemetery. Prague has one of the oldest Jewish cemeteries in the world. We did not go here because of timing, but travelers who are interested in the Jewish culture may want to take the time to stop here. If I went back, I think this is something I would choose to do. Note, however, that there is a fee to get in, which is a bit unusual for cemeteries and might be a turn off for some visitors.

Shopping:

Prague is known for things such as wooden toys and bohemian crystal. However, neither of these things appeal much to me. I do have a lot of nephews and nieces, but none of them would play with wooden toys. Honestly, I would not spend my money on them. And the bohemian crystal is pretty but may not be a practical choice. It is unlikely they would be used often. Instead, I would recommend buying a piece of street art from Charles Bridge and the Old Town area, or bringing back some choice beers that would be hard to find back home or marked up in price.

What to Eat:

When in Prague, drinking beer is a must. Beer is not usually my go to choice of drink, but occasionally I do find myself in the mood for a beer and can appreciate a good tasting beer. Trying beers in Prague really made me shift my mindset on dark beers in particular. A good place to start is the Prague Beer Museum. This is not a museum but a bar with 30 different beers on tap. Try the 30 beer sampler (with friends of course). Also try the pork knuckle to eat, which is very tasty.

Although Prague is well known for its beers. It also has several cool cocktail bars. Absinthe is a very popular spirit here. Our favorite bar was the Hemingway Bar. This is a fun place that we returned to multiple times. The drinks are on the pricier side, but they are very good. The décor and atmosphere is relaxed with a cool vibe, and the staff is friendly and knowledgeable. Plus the bar has unique cocktails that come in fun glasses based on the cocktail order. We ended up trying almost every one on the menu by the time of our last visit. It is a popular place so there may be a bit of a wait.

Wine is usually my choice of drink. If I am traveling anywhere that makes good wines, I like to do a tasting. I would have never associated the Czech Republic with wine, but I received a good recommendation from a friend who had visited before for a place called Vinograf. This wine shop is a great place to try local wines. The price per glass is cheap, and they let you do half glasses as well. I have never had Czech wine and was surprised by how good it was. This is a must stop for wine lovers.

I am also a coffee addict. And there are many times that I have to do some online work while traveling so I like to find a good cafe. In Prague I really enjoyed Misto Cafe. This place had great pour over coffee and a variety of other coffee drinks. They also serve a good breakfast. There are plenty of tables, and the wifi is strong.

I know I have written mostly about drinks so far, but Prague really is a drinking town with a tourist problem. Prague does have some must try dishes though. One must try is Trdelnik. This is a type of desert that is kind of like a chimney cake filled with ice cream and topped with sweet toppings. You will find these all over the city but look for a place with long lines and good topping options. Goulash is another popular dish here. This is a heavy beef stew that can be served in a bread bowl. Travelers will find this on most menus for traditional Czech restaurants. Although we visited in the summer, we still wanted to try this dish. It was good, but this really is a dish best served in winter.

Where to Stay:

Prague is made up of different districts with Old Town being in district, or Praha, 1. Prague also has a lot of Airbnb options that are cheaper than hotels. For our visit, we stayed in an Airbnb in Praha 6, which had better values. This district was more of a residential area that was safe and family friendly. However, there were less restaurants and bars here. It was very easy to get around this area, and Old Town was about 20 minutes away by public transport.

Getting Around:  

I arrived to Prague by plane from Thailand. The airport is on the smaller side and easy to get around. You can get a SIM card for your phone and public transportation cards at the kiosks outside of baggage claim. Prague has single trip tickets or multi day tickets and these can be used on the buses, subways, and trams. Visitors who plan to be in Prague for 2 or 3 days and are not staying in walking distance of Old Town, will get their money worth for the multi day ticket. Tickets must be purchased before getting on public transport and validated before the first ride. Machines to validate will be on the bus and trams and before the subway platforms. Multi day tickets must be kept for the full time but only need to be validated once. While tickets will most likely not be checked, anyone caught without a validated ticket faces a steep fine. It is much better to pay for the tickets. These tickets can also be used on the airport express bus, which will take you from the airport into town. The Prague public transport system is linked to Google maps so it is easy to use this system, and the cheapest way to get around. The public transport also runs into the late hours so needing to get a taxi is unlikely. It is also easy to walk around the Old Town area. When I left Prague to go to Budapest, I took a bus. The bus station is also accessible by public transport and easy to navigate. Once inside, travelers can find their bus information on the main board or go to the company booth to find out which platform their bus is leaving from.

 

Overall:

I really enjoyed my time in Prague. It was a nice way to start my trip through Europe. The prices were good (its definitely cheaper than Western Europe) but may not be as cheap as past travelers recall. However, it is still a good deal. Travelers should be able to see all of the city highlights in 2-3 days. Plan to stay a little longer, however, to take some side trips or to have a more relaxing pace. We visited in July, and it did get warm. But there was also a cold snap while we were there so I cannot imagine how cold it gets in the winter! Summer was a good time to visit, but I think visiting in the fall would be nice as well since many of the dishes and drinks are hearty and better suited for colder weather. Anyone who enjoys a good drink (whether it is beer, wine, or alcohol) will have a good time here.

Additional Tip:

When I travel, I try to read a book about the place before I visit. The books I choose usually are nonfiction and are set in the countries or cities I will be traveling through and provide some insight into the history or culture of the place. For Prague, I chose to read the Unbearable Lightness of Being. Reading this book right before I went was purely coincidental at the time. It was recommended to me by a friend as his must read choice of books overall and had been on my to read list for a while. This is a philosophical novel written by Milan Kundera. It is a story about love and sex set in the late 1960s and explores the culture of Czech society at that time. For me, this book was a quick read and really put me in the mindset of Prague in older times.

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