WELCOME TO FAIRY TALE: TOP THINGS TO DO IN PRAGUE
January 1, 1970
Recently I’ve read a quote that said: „If European cities were a necklace, Prague would be the diamond“ and I couldn’t agree more with it. Home to some of the best kept architecture in Europe, Prague’s monumental castle, picturesque cobblestone streets and charming spires have turned the city into a real life fairy tale. Add good beer and fun nightlife both for low prices and no wonder Prague has been experiencing the tourist boom lately.
I have been proudly calling Prague my home since 2010 so it felt about right that my first article would be about this central European treasure. And because a list of top 10 things to do didn’t seem to be enough for Prague, I doubled it and, combining the tourist point of view with the local insight, I created an ultimate guide to the Pragadise.
1.WALK ALONG THE CHARLES BRIDGE
Visiting the iconic Charles Bridge is a must for any visitor to the city. Built in the 14th century to connect Old Town and Lesser Town, this bridge is lined up with more than 30 statues of various saints and patrons. On each side of the bridge there are big gothic towers that immediately sweep you into medieval times.
Walking from one side of the bridge to another will give you a chance to see some spectacular views of the Prague Castle and other city landmarks. Approximately in the middle of the bridge there is a small figurine of St. John of Nepomuk. Legend says that if you touch it, whatever you wish will come true. So don’t be surprised if you see people eagerly rubbing his belly and give it a go as well.
As the Charles Bridge is one of the city’s most popular attractions, be ready for mass of tourists and passersby who come here almost all day long to enjoy the gift stalls, art performances and stunning views. If you want to escape the crowds, the early bird catches the worm even in Prague.
2. VISIT THE OLD TOWN
Prague’s Old Town is the heart of the city and you can feel the history on every corner. The main part of the Old Town is the Old Town Square, which has been the city’s main marketplace since 11th century and I dare say that it is one of the most beautiful squares in Europe. It is surrounded by the enchanting historical buildings, from which Týn Cathedral, St. Nicholas Church, the Jan Hus Monument and Old Town City Hall are the most eye catching. Don’t miss out on the view over the red roof tops that you can get after climbing up to the top of the City Hall Tower.
The highlight of the square is a medieval astronomical clock that is considered to be the third oldest in the world and the oldest one still working. The clock welcomes every new hour with a little action when the clock figures are set in motion. This show attracts dozens of tourists and the only thing better than watching the clock is watching the crowds with heads peering up the tower, cameras in their hands and enthusiasm in their eyes.
3. ADMIRE PRAGUE CASTLE
This is the place you know from the pictures of Prague. The largest castle complex in the world (according to the Guinness Book of Records) was founded in 9th century, took 700 years to complete and now is one of the most recognizable landmarks of the entire country.
This stunning architectural achievement includes royal residencies, gardens, churches and several museums. In the heart of the complex lies St. Vitus Cathedral which attracts tourists thanks to its unique gothic architecture and colorfully stained glass windows.
Every hour till 6 pm you can witness the changing of the guards at the main entrance of the castle which is always fun to watch. My favorite part of the complex are the Palace gardens under Prague Castle as the view you get there is simply breathtaking.
Another unique feature of the castle is the Golden lane. It is a small row of 15th century dwellings that were originally built as homes for castle servants and were occupied until World War II. Nowadays you can take a walk through the romantic street and after 4 pm the entrance is free.
4. DRAW SOMETHING ON THE JOHN LENNON WALL
Right across the beautiful building of French Embassy near Kampa you can find a symbol rebellion against the communist regime – the John Lennon wall. Toward the end of Communism in the 1980s, youths expressed their grievances with the regime by writing John Lennon lyrics on this wall even though they faced a prison sentence if getting caught.
Today, the wall represents freedom, love and peace. There is always someone playing music and the atmosphere around the wall is amazing. Everyone can draw graffiti on it, so grab a sharpie and write something nice as well.
The wall is situated just few steps away from the little Island called Kampa which you shouldn’t miss if you’re craving for a little bit of peace among the sea of people in the city centre. Situated on the northern tip of the Charles Bridge, it’s separated from Lesser Town by just a small artificial canal called Devil’s Stream. Walk through the narrow lanes and don’t skip the Kampa Park where you can find a museum of contemporary art as well as huge sculptures designed by Czech architect David Černý that I like to call Prague babies.
5. CLIMB UP PETŘÍN TOWER
When the city becomes overwhelming, head to the beautiful park Petřín which is located on the hill just a short uphill walk from the castle or a bit steeper walk from the tram station Ujezd. There is a funicular that can take you up and down the hill if you don’t feel like walking.
The Petřín hill guarantees a perfect escape with gorgeous views of the entire city. It is an awesome spot for a picnic and you can also visit a maze, an observatory and a rose garden here. The main attraction is Petřín tower that looks like the Eiffel Tower. If you have spare time stop by a stunning Strahov monastery to see the baroque library hall, that is the largest in the country.
Under the hill, near the Ujezd tram station, you can also find a moving memorial to the victims of Communist regime which is definitely worth seeing.
6. TAKE A STROLL THROUGH JEWISH QUARTER
Jewish community has always played an important role in Prague’s history. The Jewish Quarter in Prague, known as Josefov, is located between the Old Town Square and the river Vltava and its history goes back to the 13th century. It survived Nazi occupation during WWII as Adolf Hitler himself decided to preserve the area as a “Museum of an Extinct Race”, so nowadays it is one of the most complete collections of Jewish monuments in Europe.
The Jewish Quarter has six synagogues, including the Spanish Synagogue and Old-New Synagogue, and the Jewish Ceremonial Hall. The Old Jewish Cemetery, the most remarkable of its kind in Europe, features almost 12,000 tombstones.
Interestingly, the Jewish Quarter is also the birthplace of the famous writer Franz Kafka. Additionally, it is an area that Golem, an artificial man created by magic, walked through, so makes sure you learn about the legend when you visit the Jewish Quarter.
7. GO SHOPPING IN WENCESLAS SQUARE
Wenceslas Square, founded in 1348 by the king Charles IV, lies in the heart of New Town and has become the center of all the hustle and bustle in Prague. The square plays an important role in the Czech history as it was a scene of all the main happenings such as arrival of the Russian tanks in August 1968 or the Velvet revolution twenty-one years later that ended the Russian occupation. In the Middle Ages it was also the location of public executions.
The Wenceslas Square, which earned the nickname “Champs Elysees of Prague”, is dominated by the building of the National Museum. You can’t also miss the statue of St. Wenceslas I of Bohemia, patron of Czech Nation, sitting on a horseback.
If you’re up for shopping, Wenceslas Square is your place. Here you will find plenty of international brands and handful of restaurants. It is a popular place for visitors as well as locals so be ready for a constant flow of people.
8. EAT CZECH STYLE
Czech food doesn’t quite carry the same reputation as for example Italian or French, but it’s still worth trying. Local cuisine consist of meat, soups, cabbage, potatoes, mushrooms, pastries, dumplings (kind of spongy steamed bread) … so it’s not an ideal place for those who want to keep their figure.
The most local dish that should not be missed is probably svíčková – a beef that has been marinated in a cream sauce served with dumplings and whipped cream with cranberry sauce on the top. Another well known dish is goulash or goulash soup served in a loaf of bread. If you’re a meat fan, Czech cuisine is your friend. Try roast pork, goose, duck or rabbit. If you fancy a fish, trout or carp (traditionally eaten at Christmas) are the most common.
One of the most popular pastries that can be found on Prague’s street is Trdelník (Prague chimney cake). Originally Hungarian, it is made from rolled dough that is wrapped around a stick, then grilled and topped with sugar and walnut mix. Trdelník filled with nutella and berries is to die for!
There are plenty of places where you can please your appetite. The most popular ones are for example Lokal, Kolkovna Celnice, Cestr, U fleku, U Medvídků, Plzenska Beer Hall Restaurant and U Ceskych Panu Medieval Restaurant. But don’t be afraid to try street food such as sausages, schnitzels or langoše.
9. DRINK CZECH STYLE
Did you know that Czechs hold a proud number 1 place in the world for beer consumption per capita? The quality of beer in combination with the price makes it a „liquid bread“ as Czechs sometimes call it. There are loads of local brands but the most famous one is Pilsner Urquel that goes perfectly with all the Czech food.
Aside from beer, Czech Republic is also a producer of fine wine and two unique liquors – Fernet Stock, Becherovka. If you want to experience a real Moravian tradition, try a strong fruit brandy called Slivovitz.
Prague is also one of the most popular places for drinking absinthe. My personal favorite place to meet the green fairy is a bar called Absintherie where you can try different kinds of absinthe as well as absinthe ice cream.
The city is full of bars and pubs where you can order all kinds of local and world booze. For a good beer go to Prague Beer Museum as they have around 30 Czech beers of different types on tap.
10. RENT PADDLE BOATS
Prague is a city that offers a different experience each season. Summer is the time when everybody, if the weather allows, wants to be outside, and even though Prague is situated in the land locked country, that doesn’t stop people from some of the water activities on the river Vltava.
The favorite activity is renting a paddle boat. On a warm summer evening the river gets full of paddle boats, regular boats and paddle boards. You can rent it at Smetanovo nábřeží , Slovanský ostrov or Střelecký ostrov.
Too lazy to paddle? Go on a boat cruise. There are heaps of offers for variety of roundtrips along the river banks.
11. DRINK HOT WINE AT THE CHRISTMAS MARKETS
If you’re visiting Prague during winter, the weather might not be your best friend, but you can soak in the Christmas mood at the local markets. Those held in Prague can pride themselves on having been voted the most beautiful by the USA Today readers.
Prague becomes a winter wonderland in December and the main markets are situated on four central locations. The largest and the oldest one is at the Old Town Square, smaller markets are on Wenceslas Square, Republic Square and Namesti Miru. All of them are quite different but share the one main thing that the markets are about – people come here to drink hot wine, eating trdelnik, sausages or other goodies, admire art and crafts and listen to Christmas carols. I’m sure that even the biggest Grinch couldn’t avoid falling in love with Christmas after visiting the markets.
12. EDUCATE YOURSELF IN MUSEUMS
In case the weather doesn’t play in your favor of if you’re simply a museum geek, Prague won’t disappoint you. The offer of museums and galleries is large so everyone can find something they like.
The National Museum of Prague is one of the most important museums of the city. It features Old Building (currently under reconstruction) and New Building and holds temporary exhibitions of natural, scientific and historical collections.
If you like art, Prague is a home of plenty of galleries and art museums. Museum Kampa is a modern art gallery showing work from Central Europe, in particular Czech work.
My personal favorite is Museum of Communism that takes you to the recent part of Czech history. The exhibition is dedicated to presenting the communist regime in Czechoslovakia and shows many interesting aspects of a life during communism.
Even though the Sex Maschines Museum doesn’t sound like a very informative type of exhibition, visiting this place is actually pretty fun and interesting as, among other things, you’ll learn about the history of sex machines used in the medieval times.
13. PARTY LIKE A LOCAL
Prague’s nightlife is well-known and thanks to the hundreds of pubs, underground bars, rooftop terraces, beer gardens and music clubs of all kinds, this city never sleeps. Prague has it all and can please different tastes, which, in combination with cheap liquor, attracts tourists for stag celebrations and many other occasions.
The centre of nightlife in downtown is Dlouhá street, where locals and tourists meet to party.
Number of places to fill up your tanks is endless. The most famous are for example U sudu, Zlatý Strom, Nebe, Local, Popo Café, James Dean, Harleys’ and Hangar
Prague is a home to the big variety of music clubs from which the most popular are Roxy, Retro, Sasazu, Duplex, Luzerna, FX Radost or Cross Club .The supposingly biggest club in Central Europe is five story building Karlovy Lazne right next to the Charles Bridge which might not be as good as it sounds, but it depends on the taste.
14. GO OFF THE BEATEN PATH
Prague isn’t just the Old Town and New Town so if you have enough time to wander around, the city can offer so much more.
Arguably Prague’s liveliest district, Žižkov, is rumored to have more bars per square kilometer than any neighborhood in Europe, so put it on your list and go experience the alternative vibe of this district.
Don’t miss Vitkov Hill with its National Monument established in 1950. The view from Vítkov is different to what you can see from the Old Town and you can also check out the giant statue of Jan Žižka on horseback.
Another unique neighborhood in Prague is Vinohrady with its elegant buildings. Visiting Riegrovy Sady, a spacious park with beer garden where people like to sit and drink as the sun goes down behind the Prague castle, is a must.
Quite popular park with top notch views of Prague is Letná. It surprisingly still manages to keep its local character despite the fact its only short walk from Charles bridge. It is a home to the city’s largest and most popular outdoor beer garden and also a metronome which was once the place of the largest statue of Joseph Stalin in Europe.
15. SOAK IN THE VIEWS FROM ŽIŽKOV TV TOWER
Once you’ll get familiar with the Prague skyline, you’ll notice an oddly looking tower. Standing proudly above the Žižkov neighbourhood, the 216 metres high TV tower was originally designed during the communist era to block transmissions from the west but was not completed until 1992, three years after the velvet Revolution.
This controversial building was voted to be the 2nd ugliest building in the world and the fact that it has been adorned by giant crawling sculptures of babies (the same ones that you can see in Kampa park) added on creepiness and originality. Recently it has been given a major makeover and attracts visitors to enjoy great 360 views or have a drink in the skype bar. Another activity worth squeezing into your itinerary!
16. HAVE A PICNIC AT VYŠEHRAD
While Prague gets all the attention, Vyšehrad should be your destination if you’re craving less crowds and more green. This mighty fortress on a high cliff dates back to 10th century and is often missed by the tourists as it is not directly downtown (accessible by metro C).
However, if you make it all the way here, you’ll be rewarded with pretty view of the city. It is a perfect sport for walks and picnics and the area looks particularly stunning in autumn when all the trees put on the show.
The centrepiece of Vyšehrad is the Church of St. Peter and Paul which overlooks the Vltava River and can be seen from the Prague castle. Another well known spot in the area is a cemetery that serves as the final resting place for the Czech most honoured artists, scientists and politicians.
17. FILL UP YOUR TANK AT NAPLAVKA
When the weather gets nice, people in Prague love to socialize outdoors and because they got enough of parks and gardens, they go to Naplavka.
It is a stretch of pavement next to the banks of the river Vltava that has recently been renovated and filled with riverfront restaurants, bars and food trucks. People come here to walk along the river and have a drink of grab a bite. During summer there is a live music almost every day and the board walk becomes one of the liveliest hangouts in Prague. Plus on Saturday foodie lovers gather here to please their taste buds at the local Farmers markets.
But the days when Naplavka was a cool place for hip locals are over. Nowadays Naplavka is a pretty mainstream spot so on a nice warm evening you’ll be sharing it with lots of other people. But it still undoubtedly deserves to be on your Prague buckets list.
Just few steps away from Naplavka stands another piece of architecture that should get your attention. Dancing House (Tančící dům) is a nickname for a modern building of very unusual shape. When you look at it, you can actually see a resemblance to a man and woman dancing together. Definitely not just some boring office building.
18. GET CULTURAL
Prague hosts an incredible range of cultural events. Even though your options are a bit limited if you don’t speak Czech language, you can still go see a play or a concert.
The city is full of theatres with a huge variety of shows from which the most famous ones are National Theatre and Stavovske Theatre. For the fans of opera or ballet there is a Prague State Opera. Hybernia theatre is also a popular destination for musical and ballet lovers.
If you like classical music, Prague is the place to be, as there are several classical music concert halls such as Municipal house (Smetana Convert Hall), Rudoflinum, Klementunum, Lobkowitz Palace at Prague Castle and St. Nicholas Church which is outstanding because W. A. Mozart played church’s organs during his stay in Prague.
There are simply plenty of options, just do your research and be careful with the deals you find on the streets.
19. TAKE A TRAM
After few hours of walking around Prague, you’ll notice that the city has a large network of red trams that many of the citizens (and tourists) count on. If you want to try the most common form of public transportation and give your legs a break after walking on the cobble stones, jump on board and enjoy the ride.
During weekends from March to November, a historical tram vehicle number 91 leaves Střešovice every hour for 35 CZK (1.4 USD). It takes you through the heart of Prague (Wenceslas Square, National Theatre, Republic Square) all the way to the Holešovice district. Another tram following a scenic route is number 22 which goes through the Vinohrady neighbourhood up to Belveder and Prague Castle. (Make sure you’ve got your ticket!)
20. GET LOST
Even if you don’t have any particular destination, wandering the streets of Prague can be fun as you can feel the history on every corner. It is a perfect place for meandering around, exploring different neighbourhoods at different times of the day and admiring the outstanding architecture. So do not always follow the crowds heading to the most popular places. Slow down and get lost instead, because, who knows, maybe you’ll find your own hidden gems in this fairy tale city.