Matt Scott offers some tips on what to do on a weekend in Prague.
The Czech Republic is the most popular of the old communist states, mostly due to Prague’s unique beauty that was not lost to the ravages of war or revolution. The streets that were scene to uprising and revolution now welcome crowds of a different sort: those with maps and cameras.
Prague’s rich history can be seen on almost every corner, spires rise above the city’s panorama and graceful city squares mix effortlessly with gothic and modern architecture; framed by the red roofs of the city’s buildings. The Czech culture is still keeping its head above the waves of a tourist invasion; many of the sites shouldn’t be missed and are popular for a reason, but you will need to head away from the tourist haunts to get a true taste of what the city has to offer.
Arrival at Prague
The number 119 bus leave Prague’s Ruzyne airport every twenty minutes and will take you to Dejvicka metro station (the first on the line) which will cheaply and efficiently transport you to any corner of the city. There is also a shuttle bus service that runs every 40 minutes, from the airport to the centre of the city. Taxis are also widely available.
Built in the 1400s, Charles Bridge is the oldest and most impressive of the many bridges that span the Vltava. Get here early so you can enjoy the views and a walk across this ancient bridge before it becomes one of the busiest spots on the tourist map. The bridge is lined with statues so be sure to buy a guide and get the history behind this unique landmark. The defence tower on the east side of the bridge can be climbed to escape the crowds and see a magnificent view of the city just over a dollar.
The Vltava, the river that runs trough Prague, is stunning in the summer, as are the buildings that surround it. The green domed Bethlehem Chapel is just across from the bridge, as is the Church of Our Lady Victorious; made famous by its small wax figure of the baby Jesus. Many of the churches and halls in Prague have regular concerts and events; look out for the posters around the city and in the hostels.
Wenceslas Square is just a short walk from Charles Bridge and many other attractions; once the site of party offices the Square it is now home to shops, restaurants and cafes. Half way down Narodni is a monument to the hundreds of people killed by Czech Police during the demonstrations in 1989; which lead to the Velvet Revolution and the overthrow of the Communist government.
King and Saint Vaclav (Wenceslas) overlooks the Square from atop his horse in front of the museum. The museum itself can easily take a day to look round and is well worth the time if you can afford it.
At the opposite end of the city, Josefov- the Jewish town- is also popular with visitors. The oldest synagogue in Central Europe, a cemetery with gothic, renaissance and baroque tombstones can be seen in addition to the Jewish Museum. Several small restaurants and cafes can be found around Josefov and offer much better value than those close to the centre.
Ride the funicular to the top of the Prague hills and gaze at 1,000 years for stunning architecture as the sun sets. Close to the top there is a viewing tower; if you can take the walk up the 299 steps you’ll be rewarded with unrivalled views over the city. Several churches are nearby, with stunning interiors and historic graveyards.
You could easily spend a day gazing at the grandeur of Prague’s Castle, which dominates the skyline; along with the towers of St Vitus, St Wenceslas and St Adalbert Cathedral. However, the cathedral’s interior is somewhat disappointing in comparison to the stonework outside. The castle is also the site of ancient churches, galleries, grand jousting halls and incredible city views. A changing of the guard ceremony also takes place each morning at 11am.
Walking away from the city will lead you to the Strahov Monastery; home to a unique painted library which houses thousands of medieval texts and a small natural history collection.
The cobbled streets leading away from the castle (Hradcanske and Kanovnicka) are lined with bars and restaurants, giving great views over the city. Gulas (meat stew) and dumplings is exceptional good and excellent value.
Dating from the 12th century the Old Town Square is more picturesque than Wenceslas. The Old Town Hall on the corner of the Square houses an Astronomical Clock. Striking the hour with the aid of a skeleton and 12 apostles the clock has been marking the hour this way since the 15th Century. The Tyn Church rises above the other medieval buildings in the Square and its gothic towers can be seen from around the city. The interior was rebuilt in the 17th Century and is currently undergoing another revamp; many of the alter paintings and tombs cannot be seen by the public, but the exterior should more than satisfy.
Many of the cities most impressive buildings lie within, or close to, the Square. A few hours should be spent wondering around the narrow streets; cafes, souvenir shops and galleries can all be found within a few meters of each other. Municipal House (Obecni dum) which houses the opera and two restaurants is also close by; if you want to dine in chandelier-lit luxury, this is the place to do so.
Time spent in Prague would not be complete without a night in one of the many bars that has made the country famous. Czech pivo (beer) is among the best in the world and in Prague there is nightlife to match. If you’re looking for a more authentic night out, head away from the busiest bars and wonder some of the cobbled backstreets (just make sure it is a popular, brightly-lit back street). You will be warmly welcomed wherever you go and the food in these out-of-the-way watering holes can be surprisingly good.
A few more nights?
Prague has plenty more to offer than stunning architecture and great views. The National Gallery, Mozart Museum and Gallery of Bohemian Art are well worth at least a day’s browsing. By just walking round the city you will discover many of its treasures; many of which would be national monuments in other cities but are lost in Prague’s grandeur. The gardens that surround the castle and other monuments are a perfect place to spend a sunny afternoon. The gardens, churches and graveyard of Vysehrad, the original seat of the Czech princes, overlook the river and are just a short metro ride from the centre.
The beauty of the Czech Republic can really be seen when you head away from the capital; within an hour’s drive are over a dozen castles and gothic churches. Many of the small towns and cities that surround Prague have views and buildings that are just as stunning: Karlovy Vary, Brno and Olomouc are just a few.
If however you are in Prague for the beer then don’t miss Plzen, home of the famous Pilsner Urquell. Just an hour away from Prague the Plzen brewery offers tours with free tasting sessions.