- “Ah, you’ll have some craic there brudder”. These were the sentiments of a friend of mine when I told him I was going to Prague for a few days with work. For those of you not familiar with my local colloquialisms, that roughly translates to ‘Oh, you sure will enjoy yourself there brother!”. He had been to Prague eight months previous on a testosterone-fuelled stag party that I was meant to accompany him on. I wasn’t able to go with them because, ironically, I was committed to doing substantial damage to my liver on a different stag party.
After laughing heartily to various tales involving...well after laughing heartily to various tales, I thought to myself ‘there has to be more to this city than drunken debauchery'. Some of you may know that I always like to get to the grassroots level of a city when I visit it. So after listening attentively to numerous yarns I knew my mission was clear – what had the Czech capital got to offer a 27 year-old male who wasn’t there on a stag party or a ‘lads holiday’?
The answer is that there is an awful lot to see and do in the Czech capital, and thanks to Prague’s size you don’t need a huge amount of time in which to see it in. A good place to start is in the Stare Mesto (Old Town). Crowded with tourist’s day in day out, it is hard to deny this medieval square its beauty and the minute you step foot in it you can see why every traveller goes there. The Old Town’s focal point is the Old Town Square, dominated by St Nicholas’ Church on the eastern flank and the Old Town Hall in the centre. This is where hundreds gather on the hour to witness the Procession of the Apostles when twelve small statues (the apostles) nod as they pass over the famous astronomical clock.
Not far from the square is Charles Bridge, the most famous of all 14 bridges that cover the River Vltava. Arguably Prague’s most instantly recognisable landmark, it is lined with budding artists selling paintings all-year round, while in summer months aspiring Czech musicians do their utmost to trigger hand-to-pocket reactions from the never-ending flow of tourists which cross it.
The largest ancient castle in the world
As you walk across the bridge you can see Prague Castle (open daily from 9am-5pm; admission 350/250/150Kc) looming over the Mala Strana (Lesser Town). Undoubtedly the city’s number one attraction, it dates back to 9th century when Prince Borivoj founded it as a fortified settlement. It is the world’s largest ancient castle still standing today.
Trams number 22 or 23 all go up to the castle from the city centre, leaving you at Powder Bridge and the gate to the second courtyard (try to catch the changing of the guard here on the hour). To fully appreciate this medieval fortress you need at least two hours. The reaching spire which dominates the castle belongs to St Vitus Cathedral, one of Eastern Europe’s best preserved cathedrals. If you only have an hour to spare put this on top of you list of things to see. Other highlights of the castle include St Georges Basilica and Golden Lane. If you enter the castle at Powder Bridge, make sure to exit at the Black Tower which leads to the Old Castle Steps. The view from the top of the steps of the Stare Mesto and the River Vltava is unforgettable.
Another place boasting breathtaking views over the Vltava and the city it flows through is Petrin Hill. Also located in the Mala Strana, it is one of the most open places in the Czech capital making it the perfect spot to shoot for when you need refuge from the crowds down below. To get there you can take the funicular (operates between 9am and midnight) from Ujezd (both trams #22 and #23 stop there). The journey takes a mere ten minutes and even if you only spend an hour atop it will be sixty minutes well spent.
The Nove Mesto (New Town) doesn’t have half as much going for it as its older counterpart but is still worth a brisk stroll. Its main artery is Wenceslas Square, a long boulevard flanked with high-street shops and fast food kiosks. Overlooking it is the imposing Nadroni museum (National Museum; open daily from 10am-6pm; admission Kc100) which houses the country’s largest collection of antiquities.
Thanks to the Czech restaurants’ tendency not to charge Westerners western-style prices, eating out in Prague is extremely affordable. For the best value, make a beeline for Josefov, the city’s Jewish quarter. Here restaurants are substantially cheaper than those closer to the Old Town. Orange Moon (Ramova 5, open daily from 11.30am-11.30pm), a fusion restaurant specialising in Indian, Burmese and Thai fare, is hardly five minutes walk from the Old Town Square but for less than 300Kc (€10 approx) you’ll be able to treat yourself to a starter, main course and a couple of glasses of wine.
Other restaurants around the city centre which deserve your time and money include Coctail-Café Restaurant (Karlova 6, open 24 hours), a restaurant that is just two minutes walk from Charles Bridge but doesn’t exploit tourists due to its location. There are a wide range of mains here for €5-€6. Keep an eye out for ‘Pecene uzene koleno’ (roasted smoke pork knuckle). It could feed at least two and is only Kc189. When it comes to breakfast, Kava Kava Kava (Narodni 37, open 7am-10pm) is the best place in the city. Staff are extremely friendly and the mugs of tea/coffee are big enough to climb into. Bohemia Bagel (Ujezd 16) in Mala Strana is another good haunt for the first meal of the day.
Be careful what you pay
The price of a drink in Prague fluctuates greatly from bar to bar. For instance, in the cocktail bar which faces the astronomical clock in the Old Town Square a beer is over Kc100. In Vinarna U Sudu (Vodiekova, 10) beside the Golden Sickle hostel, a beer is a mere Kc33 (kust over €1). This bar shouldn’t be missed. On first impressions it seems like a quiet wine bar, but keep on walking and you discover a bar that never seems to end. It’s just two minutes from Wenceslas Square in the New Town.
Over the other side of town, The First and Last (Krasnohrske 5) in Josefov is an English bar that draws a lot of ex-pats and backpackers and gets going at the weekend. The Old Town is also where you will find Karlovy Lazne (Novotneho lavka 5; open nightly from 9pm-5am; admission 50Kc-100Kc), Prague’s very own ‘super-club’. Just down from Charles Bridge, it has five floors, each one playing a different genre of music. If you want to hear stomping house tunes, you’re in luck. If it’s cheesy chart tunes you feel like getting down to, you’ll find that here also. It’s a tired cliché, but it has something for everyone.
I couldn’t enjoy my first day in Prague. I missed a big family occasion back home, I was nursing a sore leg, and I didn’t anticipate it to be as cold as it was (are those violins I hear?). But it wasn’t long before Prague’s charm began to have an effect on me and all those issues were long forgotten. Prague is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and the perfect size for a city break. While the number of tourists that flock to it every year means it isn’t as cheap as it once was, a few days here certainly won’t burn as large a whole in your pocket as numerous other European capitals.
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