First impression of Prague: cold.
“So cold, so cold, so cold…”
Bundled in the thickest winter clothes I could stuff into my backpack, my roommates and I wandered down Prague’s half-mile long Wenceslas Square, passing tall Christmas trees lit with color and wooden stands selling mulled wine. It was a beautiful sight, if a bit blurry, as the wind was irritating my eyes so much my gloves were practically damp from catching the tears rolling down my red cheeks.
I considered myself as optimistic a traveler as they come, but I was beginning to wonder if this weekend excursion to the Czech Republic capitol in early December was worth it. Every two blocks we had to duck into a souvenir shop to defrost our fingers and toes. I stared at the little ornaments and decorated gingerbread treats, trying to feel something magical.
It was enough of a challenge to leave the apartment we had found for dirt-cheap. It was, without a doubt, the nicest place I’ve stayed in in Europe—a far cry from the grimy, tiny apartment I’d crammed into for my first couch-surfing experience. High ceilings punctured by chandeliers, spacious rooms, and wood floors created a castle-like atmosphere. We were grateful to find that the heating worked wonderfully, and even the bathroom floors and towel racks could be warmed to perfection. The night we arrived, my roommates and I bundled together on the couch sipping wine left for us by the apartment’s owner. Fireworks went off outside. I’m not making this up.
Now, walking through the cold, I longed for the coziness of our apartment. But as I turned the corner into the old Town Square, my breath hitched.
I didn’t know what to expect in Prague.
I had heard about the infamous cheapness, and that it was beautiful. But I’d seen “beautiful”. I’d seen it in Parisian gardens, in Barcelona’s gothic quarter, in the cliffs of Northern Ireland. Could this place really top what I’d already seen? I must admit the bar was high and my hopes were limited that Prague would be able to take my breath away. Of course, I was wrong.
Europe has a way of taking your expectations, dangling them in front of you mockingly, and throwing them in the garbage bin. But surprises are only pleasant if you allow them to be. As we wandered through Prague, we started to feel like we were wandering through a fairytale. Now, the city sticks in my mind as one of my favorites in Europe.
Whether you’re in Prague for a day or a week, I highly recommend you go during Christmastime. Your toes will unfreeze, but that fairytale feeling will stay with you forever.
That said, time for a walk!
One of the best features of this city is its walkability. Most of the major sights can be hit in a day. Here is the route we took through Prague, in all it’s chilly, medieval glory.
Old Town Square
There is no better place to start than in the middle of Old Town square. The medieval shops, Gothic and Baroque churches, and famous Town Hall building with the old Astronomical clock will transport you back in time, while the lively Christmas market is a festive cherry on top. Here, pick up a piping-hot pastry or a cup of mead. You’ll need it.
Stare Mesto: The walk through Old Town
From here, walk out of the square on the side of the Astronomical clock and head in the direction of St. Charles Bridge. On your way, take the time to explore the winding streets on this side of the square. You’ll find great shops for glassworks, gingerbread, and jewelry; tiny art galleries; and some interesting museums. You’ll know when you reach the bridge, as you will be greeted with an incredible view featuring swans and boats that dot the Vltava river, castles and churches covering the hills across the water, and St. Charles bridge itself. If you’re lucky, you might be able to pose for a picture with the owl that occasionally hangs out by the entrance of the bridge.
St. Charles Bridge
As you walk across the bridge, take in the 360 degree views of Prague. Once you get across, exit the bridge on the right and head towards the Lennon wall. You’ll probably wonder what exactly makes this wall the “Lennon wall”. I’ll let you discover that on your own. In this area, there are plenty of spots to stop for a bite to eat. Get some traditional Czech food, and don’t be afraid to aim for something that looks a little fancier. Believe me, you won’t break the bank.
Mala Strana: The Western half of Old Town
Next, walk West, in the general direction of the castle you’ll see high up on a hill. It’s about a 20 minute walk, and depending on the weather, it can be a bit rough. But the higher you get, the more excited you will become. Because when you finally reach the government square and turn around to see the entire city of Prague laid out in front of you, you’ll know the trek was well worth it.
Here you’ll arrive at the last stop of your tour. Prague castle is a 9th century castle complex, the oldest castle in the world. It is usually open to tours, so head in and explore the area. Aside from the President’s sprawling home and buildings housing different areas of government, you’ll find massive old churches and, if you’re lucky, you’ll even see a horde of Czech soldiers marching by in formation. End your journey with another cup of mulled wine at the Christmas market you’ll find there. You’ve earned it.
If you’re up for it, after a rest back at your own lavish-yet-cheap AirBnb or hotel and some dinner, head out to explore the famous Prague nightlife. The M1 lounge in Old Town, Karlovy Lazne along the waterfront, and Retro Music hall a little ways away in Prague 2 are a few even locals say you can’t miss.