My perception of Prague were shaped by the the historical events that resulted in the formation of Czech republic and the literature of Kafka that I stumbled upon during my college days. Metamorphosis and The Trial took me to a world that was different from what I had experienced in literature until then. The Velvet revolution that culminated in a peaceful transfer of power from a communist regime to a democratic one, resulted in a writer- Vaclav Havel becoming the head of state, which further impressed a teenager growing up miles away and lay the seeds of desire to visit the country. The arrival of Pavel Nedved into the world of football, his flowing style of playing the beautiful game further flamed the wishes to visit the country.
Now for some brief (you can always google what I am about to write) information on Prague, starting with the obvious, Prague is the capital city of Czech Republic and also its largest city. The city is built around the river Vlatva that flows through it. The city is divided into various zones, however as a tourist the zones of Mala Strana, Stare Mesto, Josefov and Nove Mesto might be of prime interest. If you pitch your tent near Prague centre you can cover these zones by foot. Ideally the summer months are best time to visit, because of the pleasant weather, longer daytime and the events happening throughout the city, especially the classical music concerts(good link to book your tickets). However it is also the time when the city is most crowded. We made our trip in February when the temperatures are low, however these days with the right attire you can pretty much have a wonderful time. Moreover I believe seasons are like moods, so when its winter what you experience is a city with a different personality and add to that the fact that we hail from the tropics , the cold is something which we enjoy.
We reached Prague late at night and had booked our ride into the city with Prague Airport Transfer ( generally there were pretty good reviews). The ride was comfortable and the friendly chauffeur filled us in on the usual suspects when it comes to sightseeing as well as the local cuisine. Our pad at Prague was Hotel Leonardo (courtesy an off-season deal), a boutique hotel close to the town centre and Charles Bridge. Few of the things that really made our stay at the hotel special were the ever pleasant staff , great location , proximity to concert halls, the sumptuous breakfast that is laid out every morning, and a delightful restaurant that serves an amazing lamb shank. The catch with an off season deal is that you do not get a room with a great view, however if you are ready to splurge, then you could book a room that overlooks the Charles Bridge and the Vlatva river.
Your tour of Prague would be very much defined by which side of the Vlatva river you plan to explore and this would result in walking across the famed Charles Bridge a couple of times during your stay in Prague.
A great time to visit the bridge is early in the morning when the crowd is at a minimum,
and you have a great panoramic view of the city as well as the statues that adorn either side of the bridge all to yourself (well mostly).
If hustle and bustle of the crowd is what gives you the kicks then the best time to visit would be the afternoon and late evening. This is also the time when the place has some great street artists performing along the length of the bridge.
From Charles bridge you could either walk to Stare Mesto(Old Town) or to Mala Strana( Lesser Side) – foothills of the hill leading to Prague Castle. The Mala Strana is also home to some of the upscale restaurants of Prague as well as the embassies.
You would also not want to miss the Kampa Island which is adjacent to the Vlatva River. The park located in the island is quite crowded which might be due to its central location and the fact that it is close to Charles Bridge. It is also a great place to rest your tired legs and watch the people who have come to walk their dogs.
For the Kafka enthusiast, there are a host of places that one can visit. The Kafka museum near the Charles bridge can be clubbed along with a visit to Kampa Island and a pleasant walk along the Vlatva river, the Kafka statue at Dusni Street,
and the Franz Kafka society which is located at a short walk from the statue.
There are some nice cafes nearby giving you an opportunity to read one of Kafka’s books in close proximity to the writers abode. I do not know how much he would have appreciated it given the fact that he never wanted his books to be published. These are not a complete list, as Kafka’s footprints are present all over Prague, and for the Kafka fanatic there are many more that can be explored.
If you are in the Mala Strana region of Prague, one of the options would be to walk to Prague Castle and on the way covering St. Nicholas church. Also of interest and worth a visit is the famous Infant Jesus Church of Pargue(Our Church of Lady Victorius) and the Wallenstein Palace.
Prague Castle is considered to be the largest ancient castle of the world and is also the star attraction when it come to tourists. An activity to be not missed is the changing of the guard ceremony which happens daily at 12.00 at the first courtyard.
The castle also provides an opportunity to witness various styles of architecture such as the gothic church of St. Vitus
and romanesque basilica of St. George.
The Prague castle also houses one of the best concert halls of Pargue and one could soak in the ambience by attending the numerous concerts that are held most evenings.
In contrast the Stare Mesto( Old Town) is characterised by narrow streets, large tourist population and as a result higher prices. Squares to visit would be the Wenceslas Square
as well as the Jan Hus memorial.
The historical fort at Vysehrad is a place to visit if you like quiet walks and great views of Prague city and the Vlatva river. While at Vysehrad check out the Rotunda of St.Martin( considered to be the oldest surviving building in Prague, 11th century AD) , sculptures , the view of Vlatva river and the Tabor Gate.
Prague is also home to some great architecture which is evident from some of the old buildings, the cubist architecture of the Black house of Madonna , also home to the museum dedicated to Czech cubism. The dancing house originally called the Fred and Ginger building is another one that you would not want to miss, as well as the street next to Mosaic which has statues suspended from a cable.
A city to a large extent is also defined by its cuisine, street food and its favourite drink. Czech cuisine is not much talked about and one reason could be that it is simple and not very fancy, very much influenced by the countries around them. You tend to find the usual stuff which consists of soup, the popular potato dumplings and meat dishes, with pork taking the top honours . The citiy’s love for pork is best summed by the quote of Anthony Bourdain – ‘In Prague, pork is king […] Welcome to Porkopolis, the land that vegetables forgot.’ The portion of some of the dishes are quite large, hence if you are a light eater keep this in mind. Czech beers are known worldwide and there are great number of options to try if beer is your favourite tipple. If you are a budget traveller, Prague is a delight, as the food is quite economical and a lunch or dinner would not set you back by much.
Street food is limited, our take could be biased since we visited in February when it is still winter. However you should definitely try the Trdelnik (fun to eat as well as to watch being made) , the mulled wine as well as the smoked ham that is sold at squares. Spiral potato rings, a photograph of which I have posted is a snack which we found on our way back from the the Prague Castle, enjoyed every bit of it but it is also very oily and hence might not get everyone’s vote of approval.
This brings me to a close of what I have to share about Prague, however I have listed below some of my random thoughts about the city and this could in some way help you while you are planning your trip.
- Most of Prague (i.e old , new and lesser town) can be covered by foot. You would require the public transport only if you head out to the suburbs, hence plan your local day tickets accordingly.
- Czech Koruna is the local currency, euro and dollars are not accepted, while credit card is widely used. Do your research on the rates and as a word of caution be careful when you exchange currency at the numerous currency stores that dot the city, insist on a receipt and be alert ( advice given by our chauffeur).
- In case you like natural soaps, oils , wooden toys and wonderful knick knacks then I would suggest paying a visit to one of the outlets of Manufaktura.
- After a long walk Choco Cafe would be an ideal place to take a breather with some lovely hot chocolate. Plentiful options for your hot chocolate and some good pastries define this place.
- A very economical option for dinner or lunch would be the Beas- Vegetarian Dhaba, Indian food sold by the weight. Load your plate from the buffet counter , get it weighed and then pay. The cost would come to 4-5 euros for a person, max 10 if you go in for extras such as Mango Lassi.
- Bohemia crystals are quite popular and beautiful, a good option for gifting someone close, but expensive.
Where did we eat
- U Medvidku.
- Hotel Leonardo.
- Choco Cafe.
- Hotel Beas.
- Tredlink and mulled Wine at various stalls across the city.