Exploring the sights of Prague, one of the great cities of Europe
Prague is a fascinating place to visit and there are so many things to do and see. We were lucky enough to be able to spend 2 days exploring this amazing city.
We loved our time in Prague but there are, as with many of the major cities, multitudes of tourists which makes the main tourist attractions very crowded. It is worth checking out tours that enable to bypass the lines – these can be pricey but if you don’t like getting up at the crack of sparrows and camping outside hours ahead then you might want to consider this option.
There are plenty of places to eat, as you might expect, many offering traditional Italian food. As we try to follow a vegan diet (sometimes on holiday we expand our range to be more vegetarian) there were not a great many options. You can always try the Happy Cow website or app to find a vegan or vegetarian restaurant. We tried and enjoyed Vegans in the Lesser Town (Mala Strana) close to Prague Castle and Forkys a vegan buffet located just a few blocks away from the Old Town Square.
If you are looking to try traditional Czech food, such as goulash (guláš), dumplings or trdelnik ( a rolled pastry – a bit like a doughnut – that can be plain or filled with ice cream and fruit). Vegans beware the Czechs like most Central Europeans are highly carnivorous and like their cheeses!
Coffee and soft drinks can be fairly expensive, especially in tourist areas. But if you like beer then you are in for a treat as it is cheap and plentiful … and most importantly tasty.
Prague is an interesting city to explore and it is safe to explore – of course, usual precautions apply about being wary of what areas of town you are in and not flashing your wealth overtly (i.e. expensive jewellery and watches), especially late at night.
Most people will likely arrive by plane at Václav Havel Airport, which is about 17km (10 1/2 miles) west of the city centre. This is the main international gateway to the Czech Republic and the hub for the national carrier Czech Airlines, which operates direct flights to Prague from many European cities. There are also direct flights from North America (from April to October) as well as to select cities in the Middle East and Asia.
The airport has two terminals: Terminal 1 for flights to/from non–Schengen Zone countries (including the UK, Ireland and countries outside Europe); Terminal 2 for flights to/from Schengen Zone countries (most EU nations plus Switzerland, Iceland and Norway).
Exchange rate: $1USD = 20.91 Czech Kr.
The cheapest (and often quickest) way to get into Prague from the airport is by public transport. Bus 119 stops outside both arrivals terminals every 10 minutes from 4 am to midnight, taking passengers to metro stop Nádraží Veleslavín (metro line A), from where you can catch the metro into the centre. The entire journey (bus plus metro) requires one full-price public-transport ticket (32Kč) plus a half-fare (16Kč) ticket for every suitcase larger than 25cm x 45cm x 70cm. Buy tickets from Prague Public Transport Authority desks (located in each arrivals hall). If you’re heading to the southwestern part of the city, take bus 100, which goes to the Zličín metro station (line B).
For connecting directly to Praha hlavní nádraží (the city’s main train station), the Airport Express bus stops outside both arrivals terminals and runs every half-hour. The trip takes 35 minutes. Buy tickets from the driver.
Official airport taxis line up outside the arrivals area of both terminals and can take you into the centre for 500Kč to 700Kč, depending on the destination. Drivers usually speak English and accept credit cards. The drive takes about 20 minutes, depending on traffic.
Our preferred method of getting around a city is to walk wherever possible. Prague is fairly compact and most of the main tourist sites are within the city walls so walking is easy – there are a few hills but nothing too drastic. During the summer Prague can be very hot and humid, so make sure you carry plenty of water.
Prague has an integrated metro, tram and bus network – tickets are valid on all types of transport and for transfers between them.
A valid ticket or day pass is required for travel on all metros, trams and buses. Tickets and passes are sold from machines at metro stations and some tram stops (coins only), as well as at newspaper kiosks and information offices at the train & tram stations. You must validate (punch) your ticket before descending on the metro escalators or on entering a tram or bus (day passes must be stamped the first time you use them). For the metro, you’ll see stamping machines at the top of the escalators. In trams and buses, there will be a stamping machine in the vehicle by the door
Where to stay:
|Location:||U Lužického Semináře 30, Prague, 11800, Czech Republic|
|Type:||Small private hotel|
|Website:||Hotel Website; Booking.com;|
|Prices:||Around €110 per night|
For our stay in Prague, we wanted to stay close to the city centre as we planned to walk everywhere. After looking around on hotel booking websites I decided to book a room at U Páva – which means ‘At the Peacock’ in Czech. The hotel is ideally placed to explore the surrounding markets, museums and historic buildings of Mala Strana, but it’s also just a 15-minute stroll across the bridge to the Old Town. It is only a 10-minute walk to Prague Castle.
U Páva is an intimate four-star hotel, located right next to Charles bridge, offering 26 romantically-inclined rooms in a historical building, parts of which date back to the late 15th century. Whilst there is no evening restaurant, there is a small breakfast room where breakfast is served is simple but fairly generous, featuring cheeses and cold meats, fruits and cereals, scrambled eggs and good coffee. There plenty of good restaurants and bars close by, including a great bakery just across the square, so having an on-site restaurant is not an issue. Also down the road is a rustic bar that serves a variety of Czech goulash dishes – delicious!
- Exploring the beautiful and inspiring Prague Castle
- Explore the streets of Prague’s Lesser Town (Malá Strana)
- Visit the museum dedicated to the life and works of Franz Kafka
- Go to a musical event
- Visit the famous Charles Bridge
- Visit the Old Town Square and the famous astronomical clock
- Visit the National Gallery Prague – Kinský Palace
- For something different tour Prague’s seedy Sex Machine museum
- Admire the beauty of the Art Nouveau master Alphonse Mucha
- Visit the Jewish Quarter
- Wander the streets of Prague to see it’s architectural delights
- A day tour of the Bohemian and Saxony Switzerland National Parks
Lesser Town (Malá Strana)
The Lesser Town (Malá Strana) is extremely picturesque with its ancient burgher houses, quaint side streets and St. Nicholas Church, one of the finest examples of High Baroque architecture in Central Europe, this massive imposing green dome and the Catholic church have continued to look over and protect the Lesser Town for centuries.
At its heart is the Baroque Lesser Town Square (Malostranské náměstí). Here, and all-around in the cobbled side streets, there are small shops to browse, churches to explore and traditional Czech pubs and restaurants to discover; including some with fine views over the river.
The Lesser Town is a lovely area to stay in. It is quieter than the Old Town and the New Town, particularly at night. To wander through the almost deserted, lantern-lit streets during the evening is an utter delight, affording visitors a real sense of olden day Prague.
The museum is dedicated to life and works of the legendary Kafka. The first gallery really helps set his life into context with a timeline of his short life and a family tree. There is also a short multimedia film that tells the story of Prague in the early 20th century and the role the Jewish community played in it.
The rest of the exhibits tell the story of Kafka’s education as a lawyer and his time working for the insurance company and how this experience paved the way for the development of his major works, including “The Metamorphosis”. Many of Kafka’s first editions and his letters, manuscripts, photographs and drawings are housed in the museum.
|Address:||Cihelná 2b, 118 00 Prague 1 – Lesser Town|
|Opening hours:||Daily 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.|
|Admission fees:||CZK 260. Reduced fees for children, seniors and students|
During the summer months, especially, Prague is host to numerous musical events. The music ranges from classical through to current artists. We wanted to try out some of the classical music performances that are held daily in various venues. There was a lot on offer and opted to try out a couple of different concerts over two nights.
The one thing we learned is that you get what you pay for – the cheapest of the concerts in a small church near the Old Town Square was disappointing. The most expensive and best evening concerts are held at Prague Castle – so, I recommend splashing out a bit more cash and go to a concert at the castle!
One of the most iconic and popular tourist spots in Prague is the Charles Bridge, the city’s oldest bridge. The Charles Bridge was built to replace the Judith Bridge that had been badly damaged by floods in 1342. The Stone, or Prague, Bridge, called Charles Bridge since 1870, was begun in 1357 by Charles IV and was completed in 1402. The bridge is built of sandstone blocks, flanked at each end by fortified towers (Lesser Town Bridge Towers, Old Town Bridge Tower). From 1683 to 1928, 30 statues of saints were carved to decorate the bridge, the most famous of which is the statue of St John of Nepomuk.
Most of the time the bridge is packed with people but if you want to try and get some shots free of the crowd then you will have to get up early, and even then you’ll find some people of a similar mind – particularly wedding photographers with newly married couples trying to get those intimate, romantic shots.
From our hotel in the Lesser Town it was a short walk across the Charles Bridge to the Old Town Square (“Staroměstské náměstí” or familiarly “Staromák” in Czech), the oldest and historically most significant square in Prague, is according to many people one of the most beautiful European squares. Not only was it the venue of numerous dramatic historical events, but it is incredibly beautiful and charming. The Old Town Square is nowadays still Prague’s beating heart.
Nowadays, The Old Town Square is, among other things, the historical centre of the Old Town of Prague and one of the most visited places in the Czech Republic. Also, the Square is a venue for numerous occasional and regular events, such as Christmas fairs (when there is always an enormous Christmas tree installed) or exceptional public broadcasts of significant sports matches.
Attractions & Sightseeing at the Old Town Square:
Prague’s Old Town Astronomical Clock is one of the city’s most popular landmarks. It is well over 600 years old and is one of the oldest functional astronomical clocks in the world. It is also a magnificent blend of mechanical engineering and art.
Like other astronomical clocks, the famous Prague example is effectively a specially designed mechanism to display astronomical information. Many, like the Orloj, tend to show the relative positions of the Sun, Moon, Zodiac constellations and, sometimes, other planets. The astronomical clock in Prague, otherwise known as The Orloj, does all this, and much more. It tells the time, provides the date, shows astronomical and zodiacal information, and, best of all, provides some theatre for its viewers on the hour, every hour.
Old Town Hall
The Old Town Hall (“Staroměstská radnice” in Czech) belongs among the most noteworthy monuments of Prague, not least because of its above mentioned Astronomical Clock. The hall was founded as the first of its kind in the country in 1338, based on a privilege vested by John the Blind, the Count of Luxembourg and King of Bohemia (known as “Jan Lucemburský” in Czech), to the townsmen.
The Gothic Church of Our Lady before Týn (“Kostel Matky Boží před Týnem” or “Týnský chrám” in Czech) is one of Prague’s dominant viewpoints. It took almost two hundred years (from the 14th to the 16th century) to be built. The Church amazes with its beautiful, 80-metre high towers and a rich baroque interior. Nowadays, the cathedral serves as a gallery.
The Baroque St. Nicholas Church (“Kostel svatého Mikuláše”) was built between 1732 and 1737, in place of a Gothic church which burnt down. The remains of the former church can be found in the basement. The St. Nicholas Church attracts with its main marble altar, the beautiful sculptural decoration of the access front, and the stucco decor created by Bernardo Spinetti.
Other Historical Buildings
Kinský Palace (“Palác Kinských” or “Palác Golz-Kinských” in Czech) is a significant historical Rococo building on the eastern side of the Old Town Square. Today, The National Gallery places some of its valuable collections inside the Kinský Palace. During our time in Prague, there was a collection of impressionist paintings that were on temporary loan to the National Gallery.
In the centre of the Old Town Square, the Jan Hus Memorial dominates, reminding all Prague residents and visitors of one of the most significant and world-renowned Czech historical figures. The memorial represents Jan Hus, a religious reformer, who was burned for his unshakable beliefs at the stake in Constance in 1415.
Sex Machine Museum
I am always on the lookout for unusual places to visit and in my research, before visiting Prague, the Sex Machines Museum jumped out at me. It was not something I expected to find in Prague, especially with its location in the heart of the Old Town of Prague, close to the main square.
|Address:||Melantrichova 18 – 11000 Praha 1|
|Phone:||00420 227 186260|
|Hours:||Open Daily 10 a.m. 11 p.m.|
|Admission:||Czk 250 (You have to be 18 to enter)|
Set in a historic 17th Century building this museum contains more than 300 exhibits across three floors. The collection comes from all around the world and looks at the history of sex machines through the ages. The amount of effort and creativity that had gone into some of these contraptions is mind-boggling.
Alphonse Mucha Museum
|Address:||Kaunický palác, Panská 7, 110 00 Prague 1|
|Opening hours:||Daily 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.|
|Admission fees:||CZK 300 for adults. CZK 200 for children, seniors (over 65) and students|
Mucha’s artwork can be found in many places in Prague including the Municipal House, the National art gallery, and even his design of a stained-glass window in the St. Vitus’ Cathedral in Prague. But there is no better place to go to see Mucha’s famous art than the Mucha museum in the centre of Prague.
The Mucha Museum is the only museum that is fully dedicated to Mucha’s work, it was created in 1998 by the Mucha Foundation and has a large selection of original Mucha lithographs, posters, canvases and paintings along with the history and timeline behind them.
The Jewish Quarter (Josefov) in Prague is located between the Old Town Square and the Vltava River.
The torrid history of the former Jewish Ghetto began in the 13th century when Jewish people were ordered to vacate their disparate homes and settle in this one area.
To add to this, inhabitants of the ghetto were forced to endure structural changes at the whim of the emperor or whichever ruler exercised control over them. The latest occurred in 1893-1913 when a number of buildings were flattened, and the layout of many streets remodelled.
Fortunately, most significant historical buildings were saved from destruction, and today they remain a testimony to the history of the Jews in Prague. They form the best-preserved complex of historical Jewish monuments in the whole of Europe.
The Jewish Quarter has six synagogues, including Maisel Synagogue, the Spanish Synagogue and the Old-New Synagogue; the Jewish Ceremonial Hall; and the Old Jewish Cemetery, the most remarkable of its kind in Europe. Tour tickets can be purchased that cover all or some of these monuments.
The streets of Prague have largely escaped the ravages of invasions and pillaging so much of the charm and beauty of its buildings and architecture remain and the city provides a catalogue of styles that have evolved through time from ranging from Romanesque, Baroque, Renaissance to Cubism. This legacy has been left to Prague through its development over hundreds of years.
Just walking the streets takes you through the ages – our favourite style is the art-nouveau and Prague has some fine examples on show. The finest examples are probably the Municipal House and the Hotel Paris which are located close to one another. Completed in 1911, the Municipal House is a fine example of Art Nouveau architecture in Prague, perhaps even the best. Designed by Antonin Balsanek and Osvald Polivka and built on the former site of the Royal Court Palace, the Municipal House is a popular attraction for tourists and locals alike.
It is not just classical architecture that is on prominent in Prague, there are also fine examples of contemporary design, the most famous of which is probably the Dancing House. This building was conceived by architects Frank Gehry and Vlado Milunićn and has been standing on the bank of the Vltava in Prague for more than twenty years.
Bohemian Switzerland & Saxon Switzerland Parks
After a few days of trudging around the hard pavements of cities, we felt the need to escape to the countryside and get some fresh air and slow down the pace of life somewhat. When most people think of the Czech Republic they think of Prague or the fairy tale town of Cesky Krumlov, the birthplace of Pilsen beer Plzen, or the spas of Karlovy Vary. But there is so much more see, and if you are a fan of the outdoors and want to experience some great hiking or biking then head for Bohemian Switzerland.
I had booked for us to take a tour from Prague to the Bohemian Switzerland National Park, which takes about 90 minutes to drive. After a bit of research, well not too much, I decided to go with Northern Hikes who offer a few different tours that cover Bohemian Switzerland and Saxony Switzerland (located in Germany) National Parks.