Prague Travel, Czech Republic

Prague old town square at night, Czech Republic, Europe

The Old Town including the Old Town Hall, Astronomical Clock, the Gothic Church, Powder Tower. Prague travel.

Visiting Prague

This ‘City of a Hundred Spires’ – cobbled cruising ground for Kafka, Mozart and Soviet tanks – brims with aesthetic and architectural treasures, Baroque here, Gothic there and a splatters of Neoclassical everywhere.
Prague (also Praha or Praga) is a delight and buzzes with innovation, interest, quirky things and noisy entertainment.
It is clean, romantic, relaxed, walkable, and has oodles of entertainment ranging from twee puppet shows to spontaneous poetry outpourings to heavy-metal S&M.
Cuisine is surprisingly sophisticated, Czech beer is world famous (Budweiser it is, but it isn’t, it’s much, much richer and more potent than the anaemic American version) and it’s good value – especially for opera and plastic surgery! All in all this is one of the best short-stay tourist destinations in Europe, with something for everyone.

Downsides

– Where have all the locals gone? There are just too many tourists!
– Service people are not exactly friendly.
– Taxis have a VERY bad reputation, so take the excellent public transport instead. It’s worth getting an interchangeable transport ticket. Otherwise, check the meter is on and working (properly)
– Pickpockets enjoy the city enormously, and profitably.

Best seasons

Best season: This depends on personal preference of course but bugbog would choose the shoulder months of October/November and March/April, for clear, chilly days with space to move.
Winters are less busy, very cold but get less than half the summer’s precipitation with average lows of -3C (27F) and highs of 3C (37F), whereas summers get most of the rain, pretty fair heat of 14C-25C (57F-77F) and massive herds of tourists trampling the feeding grounds and watering holes. Curiously May – August gets the most sunshine hours but also the most rain.

Prague Main Attractions

This city is packed with stunning architecture ranging from heavy-duty gothic, through Baroque, Rococo and Art Nouveau to Deconstructivist.

Hradcany (castle district) aka Prague Castle (Prazsky Hrad), is  the city’s most magnificent landmark and a World Heritage Site, including the imposing (free to enter) St Vitus Cathedral, with fine stained-glass windows, spectacular Wenceslas Chapel, various mosaics, Franz Kafka’s cottage, the Royal Palace/garden and St Nicolas’ Church.

Getting into St Vitus’s Cathedral without lining up: start early and join the locals for Mass every day at 7am or Sundays at 8am. Prague Castle gates open at 5am in summer, 6am in winter.

The Old Town includes the Old Town Hall/Astronomical Clock and the Gothic T´yn Church, the Powder Tower, medieval Charles Bridge and Josefov, the former Jewish Town, with Europe’s oldest in-use synagogue, a remarkable cemetery and excellent Art Nouveau cafés.

Petrin Hill with its little ‘Eiffel Tower’ for a 60m (180ft) panoramic view of the city.

Other notable buildings: National Theatre, Estates Theatre, the Dancing Building, Municipal House, Loreta and Kinsky Palace.

The Fortress in Vysehrad. Very little of the fort is of interest but the view from the hilltop is fine and the gardens are peaceful, free and – best of all – unknown to most tourists.

Zizkov is currently the funkiest district in the city, home to all sorts of absurdities, night and day, street theatre to wacky nightclubs.

The River Vltava provides an escape from the tourist mobs, so hire a rowing boat and take a picnic onto one of the islands, or head into the surreal Wallenstein Gardens at the base of Hdradcany Hill.

Short Trips out of Prague

The province of Bohemia has many interesting possibilities. For example:

– Karlstejn Castle, the prettiest castle in the area, superbly situated above the River Berounka, 35 minutes (28 km) by train from Prague, now commercial and touristy, though.

– Kutna Hora, UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996, used be the second most important town in Bohemia. It is a small version of Prague, with the finest Gothic masterpiece in Europe, Santa Barbora (Barbara) Cathedral, which is even more spectacular than St Vitus. 1 hour train ride.

– Cesky Krumlov, one of the Europe’s prettiest medieval towns, with streets lined with fairly-tale buildings. A UNESCO World Heritage site. The train is actually a tortoise, so take a bus, 1 hour out of town.

– Sedlec if you have some spare time, known for the ‘Bone Chapel’ (Ossuary Chapel of All Saints) decorated with human bones.

– Terezin, fortress town/ex-concentration camp, is 50 km north-west of the capital.

Accommodation

This city is busy with tourists for most of the the year though the high season and high prices run from April to September. Booking ahead during those months and Christmas time, is strongly recommended.

Although public transport is decent and fast, staying in heart of the city (preferably Stare Mesto or Mala Strana) is worthwhile since walking is the best way to explore the place and taxis can be an unpleasant experience.

This is a crowded medieval city that has had an historic shortage of hotels and supplemented the lack of rooms with room lets long before the idea took off elsewhere in Europe, so they have plenty of experience in organising efficient and good value short term apartments for rent.
Visitors who arrive in Prague without a place to stay often head for Hlavni Nadrazi, the main train station, where residents and touts wait to rent out their rooms, but this service is awkward (it’s difficult to refuse to stay after walking with and chatting to the owner for half an hour! ), unreliable, unverified and occasionally results in out-and-out rip-offs.
Youth Hostels are a good alternative for the young budget traveler who is not concerned about privacy.

Festivals

May-June, Spring International Music Festival, with classical music concerts in various venues; this is one of Europe’s best musical events, a must-see.
July-Sept, the city’s Folklore Festival.
Aug-Sept, Verdi Festival.
September, St Wenceslas Sacred Music Festival, performed in many superb local churches.
September, Mozart Festival, appropriate music played in the gorgeous Bertramka Villa often visited by Wolfgang himself.
Sept- Oct, Prague Autumn, international music festival, with classical concerts in the Castle.
October, International Jazz Festival.
October, Musica Iudaica, a festival of Jewish music.
November, Festival of Cyberculture (Datatransfer), including digital art, film, net and performance art.

For some precise dates or more information see: European Festivals or Arts Festivals.

Arts/Culture

Museums: National Museum for Natural History, Veletrzní Palác (Modern & Contemporary Art), Frantisek Bílek Villa, Jewish Museum.

Classical Music: The gorgeous Rudolfinum Concert Hall is a Neo-Renaissance masterpiece that hosts varied music and ballet performances. There’s also the Lichtenstein Palace, Church of St Simon and St Jude for chamber music, Bertramka for Mozart, while different churches hold classical concerts at least somewhere, everyday. Fly sheets keep tourists informed.

Dance/Opera: State Opera, Estates Theatre, National Theatre, Duncan Center, Ponec.

Theatre: Puppet Opera has a very popular long-run ‘Don Giovanni’ at the National Marionette Theatre. Impressive and funny at first, but too long.
English language shows are held at Black Box International Theatre and Misery Loves Company.

Live Music and Clubs: Stare Mesto and Zizkov have endless venues offering all kinds of performances ranging from old-fashioned jazz to off-the-wall experimental insanity.

Check English language Prague Post ‘Night and Day’ section for event info and listings. Tickets can be bought from the venue or try ticket agencies: Bohemia Ticket International, Ticketpro.

Shopping

Some popular souvenirs are:
Fine Bohemian crystal, ceramics, wooden toys, Easter eggs (Kraslice) and puppets.
Touristy: Around the Old Town Square and en route to the Castle (The Royal Way) are endless shops for puppets, Kafka or communist T-shirts, Russian stuff, and matrioshka dolls.
Classy: Wenceslas Square, Parizska trida near the Old Town Square, and Na Prikope area.
Wacky: Back streets in Stare Mesto and Mala Strana.

Safety

Pick pocketing is endemic in Praga (much of it perpetrated by East Europeans, not by locals) and the police are of no use at all so look after yourself. Regular tourists or backpackers are all targets, especially if they are drunk and careless.

Basic rules are: never keep a wallet in an outside pocket and preferably leave most of your money in a hotel safe or stashed in your underpants; keep backpacks closed/locked; keep cameras hidden when not in use; don’t wear flash clothing; be very aware in danger zones such as crowded trams, buses and main tourist attractions such as Charles Bridge. Also beware sleeper trains and lock bags to luggage racks.

Taxis beware

Agree the price of all journeys in advance as the meter rate is fixed by the driver and often results in massive overcharging. If there’s a problem at the end of the trip offer to call the police (158). Best to get a proper taxi from a hotel or station rank, or call one.

Food

Meat (especially boiled beef) and heavy soups (chicken or potato) are an essential part of old Czech culture and all available in many pubs.

The good news for vegetarians in Prague is that many pub/restaurants now serve vegetarian meals or dishes excluding dead animals, and there are plenty of good pizzerias too.

Beer: Pilsner is the most popular local brew, but Budvar – the original/much tastier Budweiser – is Bugbog’s choice. And by the way, to test the quality of the draft beer you are served put a coin on its head. If it takes at least half a second to drop through then you have a proper Czech beer!
Wine: Moravia’s red wines are fine and bargain prices.