Prague Travel Blog› entry 2 of 2 › view all entries
I have visited Prague on business 5 or 6 times, spending a total of about 3 months there, the first time in 2000 and most recently in February 2011. It's a great city and anyone who gets the chance should visit it.
It's a very civilised place, is a cross between a medieval and a communist city and is booming with its increasing integration with Western Europe which means that prices are rising but it remains one of the cheaper places to eat and drink in Europe. In summer it's sweltering and in winter it's truly freezing so pack accordingly.
Prague's airport, though relatively small compared to the main international hub airports, is a modern, efficient, well laid out place that usually manges to get your bags off the plane and onto the carousels by the time you've passed through customs.
If you have arrived into Prague without any of the local currency then there are ATMs in the airport.
The cab ride into Prague initially brings you through fairly ugly areas of communist-relic apartment blocks where the graffiti actually serves to make things less drab, before you start to enter the historic environs of Prague where tree-lined cobbled streets prevail and the driver will compete with the trams barreling up and down the spiralling road down to the city.
This section is a little bit of a misnomer in that I have, without exception, stayed in the enormous Prague Hilton on each of my visits. There are a number of international hotel chains with a presence in the city, as well as plenty of local hotels of varying price and quality but bear in mind that Prague is a small city which is easily explored on foot in a day so as long as your hotel is in the city, you won't be far away from wherever you want to be. I did try to stay at the Corinthia Towers hotel once but it wouldn't accept my company Amex due to its Libyan ownership at the time so off to the Hilton I went.
Speaking for the Hilton, it sits right on the bank of the river about 20 minutes walk into the heart of the city and is a huge, modern, cube of glass with all rooms either having views out to parts of the city or into the hollow central atrium which houses restaurants, bars, shops, a casino and the reception area. There is a very good gym in the hotel but note that the gym is not wholly-owned by the hotel so you will be paying to use it on top of your room rate and it is not cheap. There are two executive floors which benefit from a private breakfast area and free drinks and snacks throughout the day.
The Main Sites
There are hundreds of Prague guide books which will describe a plethora of obscure museums and historical sites but, for me, there are a small number of key main sites which you should see, and then you will have enough anecdotes about the place to convince anyone.
The Main Square
This is the best place to start from and to hold as your orientation point of reference. It's a large, beautiful square, predominantly closed to traffic, flanked on all sides with buildings of the highest architectural merit and you'll pay for the privilege of sitting here with a beer. Don't confuse this with Wenceslas Square, which almost everyody does the first time they get here, including me.
The main thing to note here is the astronomical clock - a mechanised clock that chimes every 15 minutes and provides a display of biblical and other characters. Personally, I think you should see it so you can say that you have done so but it's fairly underwhelming. Far better to pick out one of the many bars or cafes, get a drink and admire the view.
There are a couple of pubs in the corner diagonally opposite the clock which cater for the stag do crowd so it's up to you whether you love or hate this but they are very loud but can be good fun.
The Charles Bridge (Karlov Most)
Another world-famous site, the Charles Bridge is one of many bridges crossing the river, but it is special. It's pedestrianised and it's main attractions are the numerous gothic statues which line it and the street theatre, musicians and peddlars who set up here to take advantage of the throngs of tourists that always pack the bridge.
You can get to the bridge from the main square by walking out of the square past the astronomical clock and then following the narrow maze of street (and the crowds) for about 10 minutes. You will struggle to get lost. Once over the Charles Bridge, try descending down to the river level through one of the many narrow alleyways and you'll find plenty of small bars and restaurants with great views over the river.
THIS IS NOT A SQUARE! It's a long boulevard lined with shops, bars and restaurants on both sides with a statue of the Good King himself on horseback at one end. As this is the place that the Russian tanks rolled into then you should not miss the photo opportunity, although it is quite seedy in the evenings with lairy bars, McDonalds restaurants spewing out backpackers and stag parties and no shortage of prostitutes and drug pushers to avoid/look for depending on your preference.
It's a nice place to wander up and down on a Summer's day and there are plenty of benches to sit out and watch the world go by.
From the main square, walk out of it in the corner between the clock and the lairy pubs and turn right, traversing a couple of street and you'll be there in five minutes.
The Castle & Cathedral
The castle sits on the opposite side of the river from the city centre and you can walk up to it by simply looking at the horizon and following your nose as it dominates the skyline in that area. It's a bit of a trek to be honest so grab a cab if you dojn't fancy it. You can always walk back down the hill afterwards.
The castle and cathedral (St Vitus cathedral) are well worth a couple of hours of wandering around and there are spectacular views back over the city. Time it right on a Sunday afternoon and you'll see a changing of the guard which compares well with similar institutions elsewhere in Europe.
Eating & Drinking
There are literally hundreds of places to eat, drink and be merry and the range of places runs from extremely cheap and cheerful to the higher end establishments. When I first visited Prague in 2000 I managed to find a bar selling pints of beer for the equivalent of 11 pence! Anywhere that I can get drunk for a quid is cool in my book.
Things have changed since then with the impact of the European Union leading to an inevitable rise in prices but, if you are willing to walk away from the main tourist areas, this remains a very cheap city by European standards and you'll get a beer for under a pound quite comfortably. While Pilsner Urquell is the local brew (the locals do claim that beer was invented by the Czechs in the city of Plsen) and you should certainly have a few, try out a bottle of Czech wine with a meal too. It's not bad and is a halfway house between French and the better German wines.
The main clusters of bars and restaurants are in the main square (pricey but worth it one night for the view), Wenceslas Square (seedy but lively) and around the Charles Bridge (couple of nightclubs on the city side of the bridge which are good fun, including a 6-level place). However, all the streets and alleyways which link these the main tourist areas are dotted with bars and restaurants which are usually better fun, cheap and serve decent, local food.
A particularly good area for eating and drinking is on a ridge overlooking the city, and in the approach to it. Cross the Charles Bridge and walk up the hill and on the way you will pass a lot of bars and restaurants on the main street and down the numerous alleyways. Bearing right to continue up the hill you will pass lots of embassies which are served by some higher end bars and restaurants and eventually you will rise out of the city to its leafier suburbs. Here is an old monastery and within it are a couple of restaurants with great food and truly staggering views over the city. Any taxi driver will know what you mean when you ask for the restaurants at the old monastery.
I cannot claim to have travelled extensively within the wider Czech Republic but have used the trains to get to Bratislava in Slovakia and the roads to get to the city of Brno in the south east of the country.
The train station is within the city centre and, though it looks old and tired, it functions well and signage is relatively clear. The staff on the station are generally helpful and speak english if you need to ask. It is worth paying for 1st class travel, which I would equate to being not quite standard class in the UK, though the trains are comfortable and seem to run on time. There's plenty of space for luggage, and there is a buffet car on most trains though I would take food on with me, if I were you. Note that the carriages are not air conditioned and the 4 hour journey I made to Bratislava in the height of summer was quite uncomfortable.
The roads in the Czech republic are reasonable and my experience was that the motorways were not too busy although I can't be sure I didn't just travel on good days. I had a driver so didn't run the gauntlet of driving abroad, although general driving standards seemed better than a lot of other European countries.
Let me know if this is of use to you or if there are any details you would like more or less of. This is my first post so I'm testing the water with it so any feedback will be appreciated.