Prague’s huge popularity was once down to 20p pints and cheap flights on EasyJet. And today, although not the bargain it once was, its appeal continues to grow. A fascinating history combined with a stong architectural credibility, ensures the Czech capital is as compelling a city break as ever. Take the city centre, for example. Here you will find examples of almost every architectural trend of the last two centuries, including Gothic, Renaissance, baroque, neoclassical, art nouveau and cubist. And for those who venture beyond the medieval lanes of the Old Town and the Castle District, a hub of modern culture fashions the landscape, from lively bars and beer gardens to clubs, live music venues, and cutting-edge art galleries.
However, Prague does have its negatives. The good places are often the most difficult for an unknowing tourist to scope out; too many people, serious traffic jams and heaps of tacky commercialism mean Prague’s secret treasures are less ‘hidden gem’ and more Mission Impossible. In fact, many travellers return from Prague considering it nothing more than ‘Magaluf in a city break’. With this in mind, we wanted to create a Prague travel guide that would seek out the best of Prague, so you won’t waste any valuable holiday time and can avoid getting ripped off with the crowds.
Czech in: the sights worth visiting in Prague
This spectacular 15th century bridge is the connecting structure between the ‘Lesser Town’ and the old town. Adorned with 30 statues of saints and lined with old fashioned lanterns, it is the perfect spot for a romantic stroll.
Purple Tip: Avoid visiting during the middle of the day when the crowds flock across the bridge to grab some snaps of the ‘entertainers’ and craft stalls that line the bridge.
The Astronomical Clock
The striking astronomical clock of the town hall, which also features a calendar painted by the famous Czech painter Josef Manes, and the procession of the 12 apostles who appear through the wooden doors that open at the top, is a must-see in Prague. The clock displays four times: central European time, old bohemian time, stellar time and Babylonian time.
Purple Tip: Visit early (9am is best) to avoid the crowds and make sure you arrive on the hour to view the show of the apostles.
The John Lennon wall
One of the more unusual sights in Prague is the graffiti-covered, featuring an image of John Lennon’s face. Despite having never visited Prague, he became a hero to young Czechs, anti-communists and peace activists, particularly after his murder in the 1980s when western music was banned here. Since the collapse of communism, visitors from all over the globe have added messages of peace, creating an impactive statement set against the soft palette of the more traditional buildings of Prague.
Purple Tip: You can find some really fascinating messages on the wall if you look closely.
The Prague Castle is the largest ancient castle in the world. Having survived invasions, fires, wars and rebuilds, the castle displays a striking mix of architectural styles. It is currently the seat of the president of the Czech Republic, and every hour, on the hour, visitors can witness the changing of the guard.
Purple Tip: If you catch the changing of the guard at midday, you can see the military fanfare, too.
The Jewish Quarter
The harrowing story of Prague’s Jewish community begins as far back as the 13th Century, when the Jewish Quarter was created. Jews had extreme restrictions placed upon them and were not allowed to live in any other area, causing it to become known as The Prague Ghetto until 1781. Important historical buildings, including synagogues, The Jewish Town Hall and the Jewish cemetery remain on the grounds.
Purple Tip: The Jewish cemetery is a must-see for history fanatics. It is the oldest burial ground in the world, and where some 12,000 graves are piled on top of the one other.
Kampa Island and Kampa Museum
Opened in 2002, the Kampa Museum holds an extensive, permanent collection of Central European art, as well as some impressive temporary exhibitions throughout the year. Situated on Kampa Island, on the left back of the Vltava River, the modern gallery is the home of a large chair sculpture by artist, Magdalena Jetelova, which is situated outside the museum and is a prominent landmark visible from across the Vltava.
Purple Tip: Include the visit into your exploration of the Lesser town and enjoy lunch in the museum’s elegant riverside café.
Czech these out: things to do in Prague
Grab a coffee
Prague’s chicest and most atmospheric cafes are mostly all on the first floor, meaning great views and fewer tourists. Expect to find a picturesque setting of period interiors, such as in the Grand Café Orient above the Cubist Museum, where the coffee is dependably wonderful and the cakes are decorated with love. Similarly, the Café Louvre, with its abundant natural light, numerous elaborate mirrors, fine pastel shaded walls and light furniture, was a favourite with Kafka and Einstein. Try one of their legendary hot chocolates, so thick that you can stand a spoon up in it.
Have a wild night out
Clubbing and anarchy goes hand-in-hand in Prague; with almost no safety regulations or political correctness, you can expect bar-top stripping, grungy interiors and rampant stimulant use in many of the capital’s bars. Venue such as Staré Mêsto on a Friday night, hip art bar Cross Club and live music venue, Bordo, all organise seriously cool events, such as short film festivals, experimental rock nights and 90s throwback tributes. Újezd is a smoky three-storey madhouse, filled with badly amplified rock and a young dreaded Czech crowd and Wakata, a true teenage wasteland, houses art exhibitions and live bands.
Czech, please: the Prague food scene
In a country where the national dish is roast pork, dumplings and sauerkraut, you better leave your diet at home. Traditional Czech meals are not only heavy, but also on the salty side, however, they are always tasty. There’s also some serious pig lust going on here, so vegetarians – do your research (and see below). Here’s our pick of the best places to get your fill in the capital:
Clear Head is a vegetarian restaurant located in a 15th-century house on what is said to be the shortest street in Old Town Prague. This welcoming former teahouse serves a rotating menu of feel-good foods, including hearty soups, Indian-influenced cuisine and colourful entrees.
Recommended by the NY Times, this bagel joint is life-saving for anyone craving something familiar amongst the midst of menu items you cannot pronounce. Bohemia Bagel serves up bagel sandwiches, burgers and diner classics like huevos rancheros and pigs in a blanket.
Serving up frill-free French cuisine, this wavy riverfront building designed by Frank Gehry and Vlado Milunic, resembles a couple – often called Fred and Ginger – in midstep. Gwendal Le Ruyet, the head chef, who spent five years working with Alain Ducasse, uses mostly local ingredients and intense flavours. The top floor of the building provides unparalleled views of the Vltava River and Prague Castle.
For unrivalled Italian cooking in Prague, head to the Four Seasons Hotel. Although a little on the pricey side, chef Vito Mollica’s seasonal dishes are worth emptying your pockets for. Expect dishes such as slow-roasted veal with Alba truffles and aged Modena balsamic vinegar.