The golden city of Prague – it is many things to me: my birthplace, my heritage, the first foreign country I visited as an American, a place to come of age in after the Velvet Revolution, and an old friend that I go back to visit time to time….just to keep in touch.
This past August I made another one of my visits, this time staying two nights in a modest hotel near Namesti Republic and stopping by all the typical tourist attractions. It amazes me that no matter how often I do the Prague Castle, the Charles Bridge etc. it feels like an exploration, a new discovery. Perhaps because each time I go time has passed, life has happened and I’ve changed so the experience is always different. To me that is the beauty of travel. It is much less about the destination than how you weave your experiences back into the journey of your life.
I’m sure you know about flying into the Vaclav Havel airport, taking a taxi into Prague and the hundreds of hotels in every price range located all over Prague. I encourage you to get a room for around $100 a night, because that price goes far there and you might as well be walking distance from the places you want to see. Walking around Prague is half the fun of seeing it.
“Prague – A Guide to the Golden City” by Harald Salfellner is a great comprehensive guidebook which can be purchased at a convenient bookstore on Wenceslas Square that also sells other English title books. I got a map too. I like walking around with my map like a tourist, and hopefully getting lost and winding down some unexpected street in the process.
The statue of St. Wenceslas on a horse is a popular meeting spot for those going out for a night on the town, and of course there have been several historic events at this square. I love the lavish architecture of the hotels lining the square that have stood the test of time. A walk through a short underpass below the National Museum brings you to Vinohradska street, and for me a passage back into time when I used to live in an apartment in the section called Vinohrady. My grandmother used to live in Zizkov. This used to be my life I ponder, as I walk up the incline. I take a nice break in the park at Namesti Miru, then continue on. Zizkov is now a trendy place both for living and nightlife. There is also a new movie and shopping complex by the metro stop Flora. If you plan to explore either of these, I recommend you take the street cars, which are fun and cheap,
or take the metro, which is also cheap and easy to navigate as there are only three lines (A,B,C) which are clearly marked at every station. Tickets can be purchased at shops or ticket machines in the stations at a flat rate for 30 min, 90 min or for 110 Czech crowns (about $5) you can get a 1 day pass for unlimited public transportation.
I stayed at the Clarion Hotel located on Hradelbny and practically around the corner from Starometske (Old Town), so I saved the Old Town for my last day and spent day 2 trekking to the Prague Castle and Charles Bridge. I started out the day with breakfast at “Opapa” on Revolucni 7, a modern and tourist-friendly place where you can get breakfast or lunch at good prices and even pay with your debit card. While the Czech Republic is part of the European Union, it does not use the Euro, so you need to either bring Czech crowns (Koruna) with you or scale the many exchange places scattered throughout new and old town for a good exchange rate. Most hotels and restaurants, such as Opapa, also take credit cards so that makes it easier on the traveler as it’s never a good idea to carry around a lot of cash on you.
Here is a more complex than usual, but exciting, route for heading out for the day to see the Charles Bridge and Prague Castle:
- From Old Town head down Karlova to the Charles Bridge. One of the best statues on the bridge to see is the one of St. John Nepomuk, who was famously thrown off this bridge to his death.
- Cross the Charles Bridge. At Malostrana, make a right and visit the Kafka Museum on Cihelna.
- Have lunch somewhere here – restaurants with scenic views of the river are everywhere, with prices pretty much the same at each.
- Using your map, wind your way left through Mala Strana, a romantic neighborhood in the shadow of the castle not often explored by tourists. Find your way to Ujezd and the place where you can take a ride with a trolley car up to Petrin Hill.
- You will need to buy a ticket for the ride up to Petrin Hill, however your reward is that you did not have to climb a hundred steps up to see the castle. Enjoy the beautiful view of Prague from Petrin Hill; take pictures.
- Visit the Strahov Monestery and maybe take a coffee break at a nearby cafe overlooking Prague. Then make your way in the direction of the Prague Castle; there will be signs.
- Enjoy the amazing Prague Castle; you will need to purchase tickets. Hopefully by now it is around 3pm. The castle grounds will close around 5pm but there are less crowds now. The lines for the tickets will be shorter, you can get an audio guide and take your time touring the church,
- as well as the Golden Lane, the old Jewish ghetto where Kafka used to write.
- The best part: walking DOWN the castle stairs back to Malostranska. Return across the Charles Bridge to the Old Town where you began.
This is fun shopping day and wandering around the Old Town. Plenty of time to browse all the gift shops, outdoor markets and modern shopping malls that have sprung up all along Namesti Republik and down Na Prikope towards Mustek. I was in the mood for pizza for a quick lunch, and I recommend Pizza Nuova, located right on Namesti Republic. It is a modern pizzeria with wood-burning ovens and excellent customer service.
Ham and Artichoke Pizza, at “Pizza Nuova” on Namesti Republik
Now that I was fueled up, I could tackle the many historical sites of the Old Town:
The Astronomical clock, dating from the medieval times when the clock mechanism was considered a modern day marvel, and it still works.
The Jan Hus monument, leader of the Hussite revolution:
The Church of our Lady before Tyn, where the Hussites would gather, The inside of this church is gilded with gold and extraordinary; it can be viewed by the public for free (closed on Mondays), but no pictures are allowed of the interior.
and the site of the 27 crosses, where 27 Protestants were executed after the Battle of White Mountain.
The Old Town Square is lined with outdoor cafes. While on the pricey side, it is worth stopping by at one for a refreshing Czech beer and to do some people watching. I did so to wind down on my last day and also to have one of my favorite traditional Czech foods, a hearty goulash with knedlicky (bread dumplings). The sauce is beefy, savory and just a little spicy – so delicious and the bread dumplings are perfect to soak up every last bit of the sauce with.
Beef Goulash and Knedlicky (bread dumplings) – Czech traditional speciality
I finished my trip with a concert at the Municipal Hall. Concerts play every afternoon and evening here, and tickets can be easily purchased inside the day of the concert for a reasonable price (around $35 for mid-range seating).
Before the concert I browsed through the Kotva department store, which has been around in Prague from Communist times (although certainly renovated a few times since then!), and snacked on one of my favorite traditional Czech snack foods, “Chlebicky”, which are open face sandwiches made of various combinations of potato salad, ham, pickles, roasted peppers, hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes, herring etc.
and then I stopped for a refreshing cup of tea at a new cafe that has become very popular with expats, “Cacao” on Celnici 4 about 1 street down from the Municipal building. It has a large tea, coffee and snack menu plus free wifi. Then it was off to the concert.
The municipal hall is located at Namesti Republic, where you can see the Powder Tower, and the Mucha mural at the top of the Muniipcal Building itself,
At this particular concert, which lasted about 45 minutes, they played J. Brahms Hungarian Dance No. 5, J. Pachelbel’s Canon, A. Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, and some gypsy tunes that seemed to play to the heart of the lead violinist. It was an intimate concert hall filled with only about 40 people, so you had a great experience of hearing classical music in a salon setting much like it was originally heard in.
I went to sleep that night in my hotel with the melodic notes of Vivaldi’s concertos playing in my mind, and dreamed of another season when I can return to this magical city.