For many years, people have recommended that I visit Prague. When deciding where to go on a short city break, I’ve frequently asked myself ‘Is Prague Worth Visiting?’ but I never went to find out. I don’t really know why. When I worked at the BBC World Service back in the 1990s, I was lucky enough to work with some Czech colleagues who told me how fantastic the city was. Over the years, other family and friends have also raved about the city. So, this year, Olivier and I headed off for a relaxing weekend mini break in Prague before our wedding.
Having visited the city recently, I can confirm that Prague is definitely worth visiting. It’s a relatively small city so it’s perfect for a weekend-away and most of Prague can be seen on foot. Walking around saves money, keeps you fit and gives you the perfect opportunity to admire and soak up the beautiful buildings. Prague is a historic city with something for everybody and, what’s more, the food is great as is the beer!
Where is Prague?
Prague is the capital city of the Czech Republic and is located in central Europe. This small country became a member of the European Union in 1994 and is nestled between Germany, Poland, Slovakia and Austria. The city is the 14th largest city in the European Union and is situated on the Vlatva river.
Why Visit Prague?
1. Prague is the Perfect Size for a Short Break
Prague is a compact city which makes it perfect for a short break. You can easily see the whole city on foot or hop on and off Prague public transport which is really cheap. In our experience, the city was very crowded at the weekends, so if you can take a short break in the week, the city may be slightly quieter. Prague is also a popular destination for hen and stag parties, so weekends can be noisy. If you are planning a weekend break and you value your sleep, perhaps avoid staying in Stare Mesto which is the Old Town district and geographical centre of Prague (Prague 1). Instead, you could consider staying in the area behind Wenceslas Square (Vinohrady = Prague 2) or Letna and Holesovice (Prague 7) which are on the other side of the river..
2. Prague has Cheap Public Transport
We were amazed at how cheap public transport is in Prague. From Prague’s Valcav Havel Airport, the easiest way to get to the city centre is to buy a ticket for 24 CZK (Czech Crowns) which is valid on the bus, Metro and tram system. This ticket costs approximately 1 Euro! If you decide to take a taxi from the airport to Prague, get an estimate first, but it’s likely to cost you 20-30 Euros.
Once you’ve purchased your public transport ticket, you need to take a bus to one of the city’s Metro lines. There are two bus lines (number 119 and number 100) and these are clearly signposted at the airport. We took the number 119 bus which connects to the green Metro line A. You get off the bus at the last stop which is Nadrazi Veleslavin and transfer to the green Metro line. This line is recommended if you are staying in the city centre. Bus line number 100 connects to Zilcin on the yellow Metro line B. You can get to the city centre, but it will take you 30 minutes longer. Be aware that the Prague Metro stops after midnight.
A full day pass for Prague public transport costs 100 CZK (approximately 4 Euros) and allows you to hop on and off the buses, trams and Metro as much as you want. You can easily pay for public transport tickets using your debit or credit card at ticket machines.
3. Prague is a Safe City
Prague is a safe place to visit as long as you use your common sense. Of course, you are staying in a city and like any city, you need to keep an eye on your personal belongings. This is especially true when you are in crowded areas which attract many tourists!
Avoid changing money at the airport or taking money out at ATMs in Prague as you may be charged high commission fees and have an unfavourable exchange rate!
4. Prague is Picturesque with Beautiful Architecture in Different Styles
Prague is a great place to discover and enjoy different architectural styles – gothic, baroque, Art Nouveau and Cubism. For me, walking around Prague was like walking around in a fairy tale. I was immediately bewitched by the ornate painted houses which stand side by side with medieval gothic buildings. Prague is known as the ‘City of a Hundred Spires’, so don’t forget to look up and enjoy the stunning silhouette of the Prague skyline which rises above you wherever you are.
There are Many Things to See in Prague:
5. Old Town Square, Prague Old Town (Stare Mesto)
Like many cities, Prague offers visitors many interesting things to see. The first stop on our visit to Prague was the Old Town Square which is situated in Stare Mesto (Old Town). It’s a large pedestrianised medieval marketplace edged with impressive buildings and cobblestones under foot. The square has a different feel by day and by night, so make sure you visit at different times of day. By day, it’s buzzing with visitors waiting to hear the astronomical clock chime and those soaking up the ambience, enjoying Czech food and beer in the restaurants and bars which line the square. By night, we particularly enjoyed dancing to open-air Jazz amongst the shadows of the illuminated gothic buildings.
6. Old Town Hall and Astronomical Clock, Prague Old Town (Stare Mesto)
Whilst you are in the Old Town Square, you won’t be able to miss the crowds which gather in front of Prague’s famous astronomical clock. This clock is situated on the southern wall of the gothic Old Town Hall which was built on the edge of Prague’s Old Town Square in 1338. This intriguing clock was installed in 1410 and is the oldest working astronomical clock in the world. It features a curious hourly mechanical show of ‘The Walk of the Apostles’. The 12 apostles walk between two windows accompanied by Death striking the time (a chiming bell).
In addition to admiring the astronomical clock, you can also climb the tower of the Old Town Hall for views of the old square and panoramic views of the city. However, we recommend that you avoid the crowds here. Instead, head to the other side of the river and climb to the top of St Nicholas Bell Tower (see number 12) and discover its secret history and admire the views of Prague!
7. Church of Our Lady Before Tyn or Tyn Church, Prague Old Town (Stare Mesto)
Whether you are a fan of architecture or not, you won’t be able to avoid the gothic Church of Our Lady before Tyn (Tyn Church) which dominantly towers over the eastern side of Prague’s Old Town Square. This impressive church dates back to the 14th Century. Its 80-metre high twin towers are named Adam and Eve and are topped with small spires. Once you’ve finished admiring the exterior and taken your selfies, head inside to discover the Baroque interior.
8. Powder Tower or Powder Gate, Prague Old Town (Stare Mesto)
If you are looking for a bird’s eye view of Old Town, the viewing gallery of the Powder Tower gives a different perspective from its 44-metre high vantage point and is another historic Prague monument. Built in 1475, the Powder Tower is situated close to the Old Town Square and used to be one of Prague’s original 13 gates. The design of the tower was inspired by another famous Prague landmark. Can you guess which one? In the 17th Century, the name of the tower was changed to the Powder Tower as it was used as a storehouse for gunpowder. Today, the tower remains the start of the Coronation route or Royal route to Prague Castle.
9. Municipal House, Prague Old Town (Stare Mesto)
As you wander around Prague’s Old Town, I’m sure you will stumble across the ornate Municipal House. This stunning building was built in an Art Nouveau style around 1905. If you love Art Nouveau, you can take a guided tour of the whole building. Inside there is a café, bar and restaurants, along with the beautiful Smetana Hall. This concert hall is home to the Prague Symphony Orchestra FOK.
10. Charles Bridge, Prague Old Town (Stare Mesto)
No visit to Prague is complete without a visit to the iconic Charles Bridge which was built in 1357 and commissioned by Charles IV. This is a substantial bridge measuring 520 metres in length with 16 arches and 30 giant baroque statues. I’d heard that the bridge was crowded but the amount of people thronging across this landmark which connects to Old and Lesser Town still surprised me! Despite the unavoidable crowds, it’s still worth weaving your way across the bridge which attracts small vendors, performers and artists. Try and visit early in the morning or in the evening for the best experience. At night, the castle lit behind the bridge makes a good photo opportunity.
11. Prague Castle, Lesser Town (Mala Strana)
On the far side of the Charles Bridge is the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Prague Castle. In reality, Prague Castle is a sprawling complex which comprises of Royal Palaces, St Vetus Cathedral, St George’s Basilica, gardens and Golden Lane. The majestic St Vetus Cathedral rises from the castle complex and is a breath-taking example of gothic architecture. You can walk around the castle grounds for free and can enter the cathedral without paying for a ticket to get a feel for its magnificence. You can also visit Golden Lane for free after 5 pm. Golden Lane is a tiny row of small dwellings which were formerly inhabited by servants and defenders of the castle. House number 22 was inhabited by Franz Kafka from 1916-17.
12. St Nicholas Bell Tower, Lesser Town (Mala Strana)
One of the best views of Prague can be gained by climbing the 215 steps to the top of the St Nicholas Bell Tower which is situated next to the Baroque Church of St Nicholas. The viewing gallery is 65-metres high and gives superb views of Prague Castle, the Charles Bridge and beyond. We were able to take our time and soak up the views as we had the viewing platform almost to ourselves. We also enjoyed learning about the history of the bell tower. Will you find the State Security Service’s observation room which was used in the 1960s to 1980s to monitor Western embassies?
13. Old Jewish Cemetery, Prague Old Town (Josefov)
If you are interested in learning from the past, during your stay try and include a visit to the Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague. The Old Jewish Cemetery itself is one of the oldest Jewish burial sites in the world. It was certainly a moving experience to walk around the Pinkas Synogogue which poignantly lists and memorialises the 80,000 Jewish victims of the Shoah (Holocaust) from the Bohemian lands. As a Primary School Teacher, I also found the exhibition of children’s drawings and artefacts from the Terezin Ghetto, located 30 miles north of Prague during World War II, to be particularly moving.
The entrance fee ranges from 350 CZK (approximately £12) to 500 CZK (approximately £17) depending on the buildings you wish to visit. We felt that it’s a shame that the prices are so high for an educational experience which so many people would benefit from seeing.
14. Head of Franz Kafka or Statue of Kafka, Prague New Town (Nove Mesto)
If you are a fan of literature or enjoy seeing something a bit different, you may be interested to watch the spectacle of the revolving Head of Franz Kafka designed by Czech artist, David Cerny. This is an 11-metre high mobile sculpture of Kafka’s head made up of 42 individual layers. Each reflective layer slowly revolves so that Kafka’s face is twisted, contorted and then returned to a normal view. You can find this intriguing sight outside the Quadrio business centre in Nove Mesto (New Town) above the Narodni trida Metro station.
15. Vysehrad, Prague New Town (Nove Mesto)
If you’ve had enough of the crowds, you may want to visit something less busy. The historic fort of Vysehrad is located on a rocky hill on the opposite bank of the river from Prague Castle. Within the fort is the Basilica of St Peter and St Paul and a cemetery containing many famous Czech historical figures. Vysehrad also offers great views of the city and has park areas. It’s a good place to escape the Prague crowds. You can take the Metro line C to Vysehrad station or enjoy a relaxing walk along the river which will take you about 30 minutes.
There are Many Things to Do in Prague:
16. Shopping at Wenceslas Square, Prague New Town (Nove Mesto)
If you’ve had enough of sightseeing and need a shopping fix, head to Wenceslas Square which is located in Prague’s New Town (Nove Mesto). This is one of the city’s main squares but when you visit, you will probably agree that it’s more like a long boulevard then a square. Historically, many demonstrations and other public gatherings have taken place in this location as it can hold up to 400,000 people! Today, Wenceslas Square is a shopper’s paradise with plenty of international stores, restaurants, bars and nightclubs.
However, Wenceslas Square is also the place if you are looking to experience cultural activities. Prague’s National Museum is located at the top of the square and, just off the left of the square, you will find Prague’s State Opera. Prague’s opera season runs from September to June, so if you are visiting during this period, consider checking out an opera.
17. Markets – Dyzajn Open-Air Design Market (New Town, Nove Mesto)
Prague has some great markets and they are a great place to get a feel for local produce and to mingle with locals. Whilst we were wandering around Prague near the National Theatre, we stumbled on the Dyzajn open-air design market by chance. This market is held every two months in the Vaclav Havel Square next to the National Theatre. There was a wide range of interesting products on sale from local Czech designers including bags, hair accessories, leather goods, wooden sculptures, clothing and pet accessories. We enjoyed looking around the stalls, eating from food stands and enjoying the entertainment on offer.
18. Cultural Opportunities
If you are visiting Prague, there are many opportunities to pack in some culture. We’ve already suggested a trip to the National Museum or State Opera (see number 16) or to catch a musical performance at Municipal House (see number 9). Alternatively, you could visit the neo-Renaissance National Theatre which is located on the banks of the river Vlatva near the Legions Bridge (Most Legii). Here you can watch theatre productions, opera and ballet.
19. Chill out at Shooters Island, Prague (Strelecky Island)
If you are looking for a great place to relax and escape the crowds on a busy day of sightseeing or to have a romantic picnic, make sure you join the locals on Shooters Island (otherwise known as Strelecky Island). This tranquil, secluded and tree-shaded island can be accessed from Prague’s Legions Bridge (Most Legii) and is a park which offers a different view of Prague. If you’re wondering about its name, longbow and crossbow shooters used to train here back in the 15th Century. Today, it’s a place to sit back and enjoy life on the river.
20. Try out Traditional Czech Food
One of the best things of visiting another city is trying out local food. Whilst we were in Prague, we ate some delicious food and drank some great beer! Prices were reasonable too. If you get the chance, try out traditional Czech dishes like goulash (Gulas), a meat dish with dumplings called Svickova and fried cheese to name a few.
21. Eat in Unusual Places
Eating food in different places is always a highlight of a holiday, especially if they are slightly unusual locations. In Prague, we enjoyed eating traditional Czech food at ‘Kantyna’ which is a meat lover’s dream. This place is an impressive Butcher’s/Deli and restaurant combined in a unique setting of a former bank. You can still see the marble top counters! We also tried out ‘Lokal Dlouha’ which has a communal feel. You eat in what feels like a school dining hall with long wooden benches and tables. For a special evening, try out the more expensive ‘Next Door by Imperial’ which is a modern Czech bistro. The restaurant has a beautiful interior and an open kitchen.
If you are looking to stop for coffee and cake, the cubist Grand Café Orient is also worth a visit. Once you’ve admired the Cubist building from outside, venture inside and head up the spiral staircase to the charming interior first floor café. I very much enjoyed eating Venecek which is usually a round vanilla-iced pastry, but it’s served in a square form at this café to match the Cubist theme! If you can get a table on the small terrace above the Prague streets, you can watch the world go by at your leisure.
Is Prague Worth Visiting?
To sum up, Prague is definitely worth visiting. It is a small city packed with interesting historic monuments which are easy to visit on foot. There is often no need to pay to go inside many of the landmarks because their beauty can be admired best from the streets. Exploring the cobbled streets of Prague at your leisure is definitely relaxing and there are plenty of restaurants and bars where you can enjoy great food and drink. The presence of the Vlatva river adds a calming backdrop to both banks of this picturesque city. Prague can be as much or as little as you want. What’s not to like?