Prague: A Travel Guide
The post-card perfect capital of the Czech Republic.
Prague is one of those European cities that’s almost too good to be true — beautiful, fairy-tale architecture, vibrant culture and nightlife, and warm and friendly locals.
There’s obviously a lot more to this city than what you see on the postcards, but it’s the old town of Prague that everyone comes to see — narrow, cobbled streets, and a real sense of medieval history and intrigue.
Where to start
This is a city where walking is the best way to really immerse yourself into the history that surrounds you, so from an accommodation perspective you want to stay as central to the old town as possible.
The entire world seems to meet beneath the huge astronomical clock that’s a major feature of the town hall that dominates the main square — around which the old town of Prague revolves.
The clock is not only a stand-out landmark, but on-the-hour there’s a fabulous display of the 12 apostles. If you’re feeling like some exercise then you can climb the town hall’s tower for stunning views out across the city.
Avoid the crowds
One of the down-sides of Prague is that it’s generally awash with tour groups all dutifully following along behind an upheld umbrella or flag. This abundance of tour groups does give the old town a slightly unreal feeling, almost like you’re visiting some kind medieval theme park. This is a city that has been beautifully preserved from a by-gone period, so its popularity isn’t surprising. Try and tackle the most popular sights and attractions early in the day before the tour groups are in full swing, or towards the end of the day when the streets are all a little calmer.
Another tip is to try not to be in too much of a rush — the only way to walk down crowded narrow streets is to take it slowly, take your time and soak in the sights and experiences of the city.
Appreciate the history
One of the most fascinating aspects of Prague’s history is the story of Jewish culture within the city. You’ll get more out of your visit if you do some reading before you arrive, but the Jewish cemetery gives you a glimpse into the way that the Jewish culture and community shaped the city through the centuries.
Prague’s Jewish cemetery opened in 1439 and closed in 1787. Approximately 200,000 people are buried there — it’s such a small space that it has to be seen to be believed.
During World War II Prague was occupied by the Nazi forces — the cemetery was spared from destruction because Hitler apparently wanted it to form part of some sort of Jewish museum. Definitely somewhere that forces you to pause and reflect on the madness of our history.
Enjoy the pace of life
When the weather is good, there’s nowhere better than sitting beside the Vitava River, relaxing with a beer as you enjoy the sun and watch the water rushing by.
The brewing of beer has a long and proud history in the region we now know as the Czech Republic — the country has the highest beer consumption per capita in the world.
It was the monasteries that began specialising in the production of beer, followed by a number of cities that were licensed to brew beer from around the 12th century.
The most common beers that you’ll find in Prague are pale, pilsner lagers — golden in colour and light in flavour.
Perhaps predictably, there’s a lot of beer festivals in the Czech Republic — Prague hosts the biggest, the Czech Beer Festival runs for 17 days each May, offering festival-goers the opportunity to taste more than 70 different brands of Czech beer.
Prague is a beautiful, fascinating, and welcoming city. The ideal destination for a quick city-break.
A weekend in Prague
About fifteen years ago, Prague was the top place for a stag-do or hen-party. It was cheap, easy to get to, it was cheap, lots of fun, and it was cheap.
Thankfully the raucous stags and hens have moved on, but Prague remains an extraordinary city and perfect for a quick mini-break from London.
The Prague that you have come to see is the baroque Old Town with its cobbled lanes and medieval mystery.
This is postcard Europe as you have always imagined it, the kind of city that would be populated by Disney princesses and the occasional wicked queen.
You are going to want to stay in the Old Town, there’s a range of price options available, but being able to wake up in the morning and go for a walk around this magical piece of history is essential.
I always seem to be hanging around the huge Astronomical Clock which is a feature of the town hall in the main town square that is at the heart of Prague’s Old Town. It’s the best place to arrange to meet anyone, and on the hour there is a display of the 12 apostles. You can climb the tower of the town hall for spectacular views.
The Old Town does get really busy and you will feel a little overwhelmed by the multitude of tour groups following their guide along — a flag or umbrella held aloft. That is perhaps the one downside of the Old Town — in some ways it does feel a little unreal, like a theme park. Unlike some of the other old cities in Europe you don’t really get the impression that anyone lives or work in the Old Town, but it has been beautifully preserved.
The history of the Jewish culture in Prague is long and fascinating — worth doing a bit of reading before you get there. One of the things that is definitely worth checking out is the Old Jewish Cemetery — it opened in 1439 and closed in 1787 and during that time about 200,000 people were buried there. It is such a small space of land that the graves were created on top of each other, it has to be seen to be believed. Ironically, this cemetery only survived the Nazi occupation of Prague during WWII because Hitler ordered that it be saved to form part of a museum after all of the Jews had been extinguished. A good spot for some quiet reflection.
If you have time you should definitely try and explore beyond the Old City, there is a lot more to Prague beyond the postcard. Neighbourhoods such as Vinohrady and Bubenec still have that touch of medieval magic but you start to escape the crowds of tourists and feel a little like you are discovering the real city.
One of my favourite things to do in Prague is to find a nice little bar near the city’s Vitava River and enjoy a beer in the sun. The beer here is really good — and cheap!