I just got back from a trip to Prague. I went a few years ago, in 2012. I was enthralled back then, but feelings fade with the passage of time. It didn’t take long to fall right back in love all over again, though.
Whether you’re in Prague for the beer or the beauty, this little introduction to the Czech Republic will leave a lasting impression. I rarely visit a place twice, after all.
I know that’s so vague and generic, but I mean just look at the images. They are to die for.
A tour guide in Prague told me that Prague remained mostly untouched during World War II because there was simply no real reason to bomb the place. Prague didn’t hold much weaponry, even if the city did have a large Nazi occupation. Prague was bombed just twice, and both times were accidents. (Armed forces apparently mistook the city for Dresden at one point. Good job, military.)
Many of Prague’s most beautiful spots are located near the Old Town, on one side of the River Vltava. The entire town square is surrounded by centuries-old architecture: Romanesque, Baroque, Gothic, Renaissance, Neoclassical, Art Nouveau, etc. The famous Astronomical Clock is found here – show up at noon every day for a pretty dazzling show.
From the Old Town, cross the Gothic-style Charles Bridge (worth some photos for sure) and head to Prague Castle. This entire area is actually a castle complex, with St. Vitus Cathedral looming over the entire city. It’s apparently the largest ancient castle in the world, which makes sense when you start walking through the area. There are secret gardens, alleyways, and royal residences.
My absolute favourite thing to do is walk down through the narrow streets just beyond the castle, heading back down towards the Old Town. I guarantee that you’ll be spellbound by the bright colours and intricate artwork etched into the walls of historical buildings.
In terms of history, Prague (and the Czech Republic) has seen a LOT in a short amount of time. In the 20th century alone, the country declared its independence from Czechoslovakia, was placed under the control of the Nazis, became a communist country, and then eventually fought its way to capitalist democracy.
There are several historical attractions you’re able to see as a visitor. As mentioned before, the Charles Bridge, the Prague Castle, the Astronomical Clock, and the Old Town are all definite must-dos.
Wenceslas Square has been the site of many historical events over the years, including many anti-communism protests and marches – several of them that ended up in bloodshed. It’s also the site of the reading of the proclamation of Independence from Czechoslovakia. Then there’s Austerlitz Battlefield, where Emperor Napoleon defeated the forces of the Russian and Austrian Empires. How’s that for badass?
History is literally all around you in Prague. You don’t have to go far to find it.
In the Czech Republic, beer is cheaper than water. You should NEVER have to pay more than 69KN for a good beer! And the people of Czech Republic drink more beer per capita than anywhere else in the world. They’re a fun bunch.
Pilsner Urquell was invented here, and from there things quickly took off for the Czechs. Beer is such an engrained part of Czech life; nobody would dare raise prices or taxes on this beloved product. Seriously. The other mainstays include Staropramen, and Bernard (a cheap beer from East Bohemia). There’s also Budvar, known as Budweiser in Germany (not the same as American Budweiser).
While in Prague, hit up the beer gardens at U Fleku. They’ve been brewing for 500 years, and all you have to do when you show up is find a table. As soon as a server sees you without a drink, he’ll plop down a glass of the good stuff for you. They also come around with herbal liquor shots, and they do a pretty good job of convincing you to try one.
One of my favourite places is simply called The Pub. It’s nothing special, except you can show up and sit at a table and pour your own beer from the tap (Pilsner Urquell). It’s cheap as heck, and really, it’s all about the novelty of pouring your own beer and never having to wait for someone to serve you!
Then there’s Letna Beer Garden, where locals love to hang out when the temperatures are nice. The view overlooking the city is exceptional. There’s also Beergeek, a great craft brew pub located a little distance from the Old Town. (Don’t worry – Prague has an incredibly efficient metro system, and taxis are super cheap.)
On my first visit to Prague, I wasn’t overly impressed by the food. But I don’t think I really took the time to explore the foodie scene. As it turns out, the foodie scene is great. The Czech Republic doesn’t have a lot of unique national dishes, but the food tends to draw from all influences. Plus the further you move away from the touristy parts of town, the more you’ll find local hotspots and such.
The real Czech dish is Svíčková na smetaně. Don’t worry if you can’t pronounce it because I don’t have a bloody clue either – I only found it because of a Prague food tour I was on. It’s a beef sirloin in cream sauce, with bread dumplings, whipped cream, and cranberries. Yes, it’s just as weird as it sounds. It’s also delicious. If you want to try it, head to Café Louvre – the oldest in the city.
Most of my favourite places were beyond the city centre. Mozaika Burger & Co was one incredible burger place, as well as Le Burger. You’ll find just about everything you desire here – even Vietnamese food, thanks to the city’s large Vietnamese population. My friend and I even found a poutine place.
Czechs also love their gingerbread. You’ll find many gingerbread shops around town. If you befriend a Czech person, ask them about their Christmas carp. Instead of a nice turkey dinner at Christmas, Czech families will sit down to a fat Christmas carp. For five days up until Christmas, the carp swims in the family’s bathtub. I’m not kidding.
Music to a backpacker’s ears! It amazes me that such a popular city still remains so shockingly cheap. After a long day exploring the city, I’d come home kicking myself for spending so much money (as per usual). Then I’d realize that I only actually spent about $20 for the entire day, including meals and even drinks. A cup of coffee and a sandwich at most cafes were just $5.
I did end up in the Old Town Square one day and ordered a beer on the terrace overlooking the area. I wanted to do some people watching. That beer cost me 200KN – it should’ve been 60!
Taxis and Ubers are cheap as well. My apartment was about a 30-minute walk from the Old Town, but a quick Uber ride was often less than $5. Hotels and apartment rentals were also incredibly cheap. The trick is definitely to spend some time away from the Old Town and the castle area. Like I said before, public transit is really cheap and easy to use, and even a journey from the outskirts of town to the city centre is just a 20-minute ride. Plus then you’ll get to eat and drink where the locals do, which almost always is better quality than the stuff you’ll find around the centre.