I made a stopover in Prague (or Praha as it is known in Czech) after a particularly hectic work trip to Europe and the 48 hours I spent there have only left me craving for another longer and more leisurely trip – I am so in love with the place! Easy to get around in, with beautiful buildings, charming bridges and some amazing food: this would be one of my favourite cities in the world! Oh, and did I mention the beer?! Yes! This city is the Beer capital of the world, with the highest per capita consumption!
I get off the train on Praha’s Hlavni Nadrazi Station in the early evening and find a ramp to exit the platform. Currency wise, Euros are pretty much useless in Prague, and you need to use the Czech koruna or CZK here. Having read this before my trip, I queue up at a Money Exchange counter within the station premises. Also having heard that the rates here might not be too great compared to banks / exchange counters in the city area, I exchange enough for a cab ride (That is your first tip right there!). Thankfully, my very kind AirBnB Host, Petr has informed me that the cab ride to the apartment should not cost me more than 100CZK – about 4 Euros and I am quite shocked when some intimidating looking cabbies accost me and tell me that the ride would cost 30 Euros. I beat a hasty retreat and wheel the bag to another side of the station where the Uber pick up point is supposed to be and book one. So tip 2: While in Prague avoid hailing the local cabs. Personally, no matter where I travel, I always check with the host / hotel how much a trip should cost, and where I should exchange currency. Always helps!
Petr is waiting at the lovely little apartment to hand over the keys and gives me a couple of maps and shows me the nearest tram station. He has, on my request, bought a tram ticket for me for that day and hands it over, so that I can begin exploring the city immediately. I quickly freshen up and head to Wenceslas square. This is the City centre named after St. Wenceslas, the patron saint of Bohemia. A buzzing area, this has some beautiful buildings with lovely sculptures and wrought iron work adorning the facades, with offices, department stores and restaurants.
The main tram line passes right through the Square and I get off there. The first thing I do there I find a place to exchange currency at reasonable rate and next I find a Tabák shop (Technically a Tobacco shop, but they sell all sorts of things, including local transport tickets!) and pick up a ticket to last me the rest of my trip. (That’s tip 3: Buy a 24 – 72 hour ticket for unlimited tram rides and get around the city: it is easy!)
I then look around and take in the amazing atmosphere in the square. At one end of the square are the National Museum Building, and the statue of St. Wenceslas, that are brightly bathed in the light of the setting sun.
The Northwestern end of the square, opposite to the Museum is a pedestrian only area and I see an open air food market. There is a nip in the air, I am feeling cold and I head to a stall selling Hot Wine Punch, and get a paper-cup of the spiced beverage which immediately warms me up!
The aromas from the stalls are making my stomach rumble and I find it hard to make up my mind what to eat, and finally decide on something that is called roztrhané kuře v opečené housce which is shredded chicken in a toasted bun from a stall that is aptly named “Grill at Wenceslas Square”
The bun is toasted just right and the chicken is delicious! And before I have even managed to read what it is called and figure out how to pronounce it correctly, I have wolfed it down! The sun has set by now and the square is brightly lit with the museum sparkling like a jewel!
I walk around a little more and decide to call it a night. The next morning, on my agenda, is the Prague Castle complex (called Pražský Hrad in Czech). Over a 1000 years old and a UNESCO World Heritage site, the construction of the Prague Castle is said to have started around 880 AD and with an area of 70,000m² it is registered in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest castle complex in the world! It is easy to access and I use Google maps to figure out the trams to take and make my way there. I get the tickets and enter the Castle ground.
I must mention here that a big attraction of a visit to the Prague Castle complex, is the Changing of the Guard ceremony which occurs daily at 12.00 noon in the first courtyard of the Castle. Tip 4: If you miss that, don’t worry, every hour on the hour the sentries change and that little ceremony is fun to watch too! I manage to catch that, though I miss the Changing of the Guard.
As I try to enter into the inner compound through a short passage a doorway, I find people crowding to click photos and as I am almost pushed ahead, I see a majestic structure right in front. This I realise is the St. Vitus Cathedral.
It is impossible to photograph its entire height from the doorway unless you crouch or lie-down (which a few people actually do!) Your best bet is to visit very early, when the crowd is not too bad, and keep your camera ready, if you want to take a good shot of the place.
If the structure is majestic on the outside, it is simply enchanting inside!
There are several chapels within the cathedral, each with its own stained glass window and these allow the sunlight to filter through and paint the walls of the Cathedral in myriad hues of the rainbow.
I take my time here and have to eventually peel myself away and out into the courtyard again.
The Castle complex ticket also includes entrance to the St. George Basilica which is the oldest surviving church building within Prague Castle and to the old Royal Palace. Apparently, the term “Defenestration” was coined after an incident here when a trio, adjudged as trouble-makers were unceremoniously thrown from one of the windows of the Royal Palace!
Next is a guided tour of what is called as the Golden Lane. This is a narrow alley with tiny colourful homes, which were originally constructed in the 16th century as quarters for the castle guards.
The land also had a prison and a torture chamber. Later in the 17th century it was occupied by Goldsmiths, (hence its name) and then by people of various professions, tarot-card readers, seamstresses, and in 1916-17 by Franz Kafka, who rented it from his sister!
There is a museum of medieval armoury too in the Golden Lane, which is worth a visit.
A leisurely visit to the palace takes most part of the day and by the time I finished it was early evening. I exit the complex through what is called the Gate of the Wrestling Titans or Giants Gate and come upon a little street market where traditional Czech food and handicrafts as well as souvenirs are being sold.
I grab a bite and decide to walk to the iconic Charles Bridge (called Karlův Most in Czech) – a medieval stone bridge, construction of which was started in 1357 and completed some time in the early 1500s! I walk through the Malá Strana – Lesser town, which is the area which lies on the left (west) bank of the river Vltava.
On the way I stop at some cute souvenir shops, and also at the Prague Chocolates outlet, a brand owned by a pair of passionate chocolatiers – Steiner and Kovarik.
The store also serves “Chocolate beer”, which is unique in taste and really refreshing.
I also pick up packs of their signature Chocolate coated Roasted Almonds rolled in powdered cinnamon and a few other delectable variants to take back home for the family! This is one shop you must make a stopover at, for sure!
As I reach close to the Charles Bridge, I see what seems like a ticket office right next to the Lesser Town Bridge Tower, (8.1)and realise that one can climb to the top and see the entire town for a price of 100CZK.
Sunset is still an hour away, and I decide on a whim to go for it. By the time I am at the top, I am exhausted from the day’s walking and climbing, but the sights that I get to see make it all seem worth it. To the west, I can see all the way to the Castle, and to the east, way past the Vltava river and beyond.
I keep clicking photos from all the sides till the sun finally sets!
The couple of hours I spent here, I would say were the most beautiful of the entire trip! The setting sun paints in the sky in beautiful colours and the entire city looks ethereal!
Highly recommend doing this, if climbing 5 flights of steep wooden stairs is not a challenge for you! (Tip 5 : this one is a must do, especially if you can catch the sunset from here!)
The bridge is way too crowded to enjoy as I walk back to the other side of the river. So, I manage to somehow get some dinner and make my way home on legs that are tired to the point of feeling like jelly and are ready to give away now.
The next morning I set off really early with my camera and back-pack, intending to walk around the Old Town before the crowds are out. I start my walk in the Jewish Quarter of Prague. The buildings here are really charming. It is quite early and the synagogues and the Jewish cemetery are not open yet.
I pass by The Church of the Holy Spirit and stop at the Franz Kafka Statue, a quirky sculpture of the author, based on one of his stories.
There are so many lovely buildings to photograph that I almost lose my way. Finally I find myself facing the Rudolfinum, a beautiful building which has one of the oldest concert halls and said to have excellent acoustics, which makes it the home to the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra.
The banks of the Vltava are serene and charming at this hour with just an odd jogger or cyclist and I happily click away.
I eventually make my way towards the Charles Bridge, which since it is as yet early, is not too crowded.
I take my time to click photos of the Bridge Towers and the beautiful statues of various saints on the bridge (There are a total of 30 of these).
So here’s another tip: Make sure you get to Charles Bridge in the early morning for the best photos!
(Tip 6! The early tourist scores the best photos!)
By now I am hungry and I stop for a Trdelník – the famous Chimney cake and some coffee!
The warm Trdelník, sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon and the hot coffee warm my soul and refreshed I set off back over the bridge.
Let me mention again here that Prague is really easy to get around in! Trams are easily available, and most of the places are an easy walk, so do pack a good pair of walking shoes!
You can see lovely old cars everywhere, and if you are up to spending a bit, these are available for rides around the city!
I find my way to the Old Town Square, where the Town hall and the famous Astronomical Clock, (which is said to be the oldest working one, being installed in 1410) are located! Tickets for a guided tour of the town hall and access to the top of the tower can be purchased in the building itself, and I manage to get one for a tour scheduled later that afternoon. Meanwhile I wander about around the Town Square. One of the most striking buildings that you will see here is the Church of Our Lady before Týn, with its 80m long twin towers.
I wander in the lanes around the square and do some shopping. There are cute little shops with where cheerful artists with antique sewing-machines and deft fingers embroider names on items of your choice. One of them calls out to me and asks me my name and before I know what he is upto, he has embroidered it on a sheet along with the name of the city!
You can choose pillow cases, aprons, dolls dresses to get a name embroidered. Cute stuff to take back home as mementos! Next I walk into an outlet of a Czech cosmetic company called Manufactura, which makes some lovely cosmetics and toiletries made with Czech beer, flowers, fruits, herbs and spring salt. One of the “Must buy” items here is their Beer Shampoo! Has a beautiful fragrance and is really good on the hair.
(Tip 7: There’s your list of “must take back home” stuff!) Oh and by the way: You can even enjoy a beer spa in this city! Apparently, Brewer’s yeast which is the essential ingredient in beer is excellent for skin!
I hang around very close to the iconic clock which has an astronomical dial, showing the Sun and Moon in the sky and wait till the clock strikes the hour.
A huge crowd gathers to watch, so one has to stand in a good place for a bit to get the best photos / videos.
As the clock strikes, the 12 Apostles, march up to the windows and a skeleton that represents Death, announces the time by shaking a bell! The event is well worth the wait, and I am happy to have caught it on video!
(Tip 8 : Buy a delicious Trdelník filled with ice-cream about 15 minutes before the hour and then wait at the best spot, to get the best video!)
It is now time for the guided tour of the beautiful historical Town Hall, the tower and the dungeons.
An elevator takes us to the very top of the 70m high tower and the view from there is breath-taking.
There is a charming little chapel, of the Virgin Mary inside the tower.
If you happen to be there on the hour when the clock strikes, you can see the 12 apostles close up from within the tower. Oh and by the way, the tower is totally wheel chair accessible and elderly friendly, so if climbing the bridge tower is difficult for anyone, this is a better option! (Tip 9! But are you counting?!)
I have a flight out of Prague later that night and therefore make my way back to the apartment at a slow pace, stopping for souvenirs at the Havelské tržiště a historic open market that has been there since 1232, with stalls selling local fruits ,vegetables, art, crafts and souvenirs.
(Tip 10: This is where you pick up cute little souvenirs : Fridge magnets to give out to friends, nut crackers, wall clocks and also buy the most delicious fruit that you can eat!)
On the way I see a shop advertising beer and alcohol ice-cream, which I am much tempted to try but one spoonful later I realise that it is probably an acquired taste! There are quaint little bake-shops everywhere and I get a few little pies and pastries packed to eat at the airport later.
I also stop by at couple of enticing candy stores which beckon to the child in me and pick up a couple of small bags of the goodies for folks at home to sample,
Finally I get back to the apartment and head to the airport, promising myself that I will come back soon, hopefully with my better half in tow. This is a city that one needs to savour at a more leisurely pace so yes, my next visit is going to be much longer!
Trending on TFN
Sonal is an Engineering Consultant, Trainer and Facilitator. She travels extensively for work as well as leisure and loves to share her travel photos and stories on her blog www.sonalstraveldiaries.com. She loves trying out local cuisine whenever she is traveling. She also occasionally dabbles in culinary experiments for fun and also to devise sneaky ways to get her family to eat healthy, nutritious food.