If your first time visiting a city involved freezing weather, a hostel located under a bridge with a certain reputation, zero decent photographs, and was around 100 euro over budget, would you plan to go back?
Some people would go back not once, not twice, but ten more times – because that city is Prague.
Simply put, the Czech capital is one of the most interesting, beautiful and walkable cities in Europe. The people you’ll meet are clever, interesting and often funny – in a very Czech way. Crucially, Prague is also excellent value for money; I still find myself checking the bill to make sure the waiter didn’t forget to add half of the food and drinks consumed.
Whether you’re also a longtime fan of the City of the Thousand Spires, or are yet to find out why some call it Golden Prague, this walking route is bound to move the Czech capital to the top of your post-pandemic travel list.
Day One [powered by Antonín Dvořák]
Bridges, breakfast, buildings and beers (07:00 – 12:00)
Why would one get up before dawn during a holiday, you ask? To see one of the busiest and most photographed places in Europe pretty much by yourself, of course. No folks hawking souvenirs, no selfie maniacs, no crazy person feeding the birds. Just you, Charles Bridge (Karlův most), its many different statues, the sweeping views of both sides of the city, and the sunrise.
If you came from Prague’s Old Town (Staré Město), cross the bridge, turn left and walk through Kampa Park, where the modern sculptures at Museum Kampa rival the view across the Vltava river. Since you probably skipped breakfast to make an early start, you can have a feast at the 19th-century Café Savoy. Yes, it does look fancy and expensive, but a simple meal can be had for five euro.
Fed and caffeinated? Great, continue heading south until you reach Jirásek Bridge. There’s nothing remarkable about the bridge itself, but once you cross it you’ll see concrete proof that Prague flirts with all sorts of architectural styles: Vlado Milunić’s and Frank Gehry’s Dancing House.
Head east on Resslova until you spot Charles Square (Karlovo náměstí). Founded in 1348, it was the largest town square in medieval Europe. As well as a popular park, nowadays it features two baroque churches, a palace known as Faust’s house (which has enough history for a blog post of its own), the town hall of the New Town (which gave us the word ‘defenestration’) and more.
Going back to the river bank, walk north and you’ll see Prague’s National Theatre (Národní divadlo), whose history is as dramatic as the operas and ballets it hosts. Just over a year after its premature opening, in 1881, a fire destroyed large parts of the venue – including the stage and auditorium. The theatre reopened in November 1883, only to close again in 1977 and reopen conclusively six years later for its 100th anniversary.
Is it almost noon? How convenient! You’re only metres away from Pivovar Národní, where the food is hearty and the beer selection is excellent. Need I mention that they brew their own stuff and that this happens to be the largest beer garden in Prague? Na zdraví!
More than you can chew (13:00 – 18:00)
Walk back to the National Theatre and take the tram to Prague Castle (Pražský hrad). Prague’s public transport is enviable. Not only is it affordable and extensive, it’s also fairly reliable – and going down the escalators at some of the metro stations is bound to give you goosebumps. This particular tram route is quite scenic too, so sit back and enjoy the ride.
The castle is a behemoth. In fact, it’s the largest ancient castle in the world. It’s brimming with history as well, so visiting it with a good, local tour guide will provide you with a much richer experience. Trust me on this one.
Got plenty of time in the city? Then you can buy a ticket valid for two days and explore this leviathan to your heart’s content.
If you took the tram, as advised, you probably entered the castle through the gate near the Mihulka Powder Tower. When it’s time to leave, do so via the Matthias Gate (Matyášova brána). As well as the 17th-century gate itself, a statue of Czechslovakian legend Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, and the Schwarzenberg Palace (a fine example of sgraffito), you can admire the city of Prague from one of the best vantage points there are.
It’s way past beer o’clock, isn’t it? How convenient! Walk up Loretánská until you hit U Černého vola, one of Prague’s classic beer halls. It opened its doors in 1965, and not much has changed since then. You may need to translate the snacks menu or even order your pilsner in Czech (Jedno pivo prosím!), however, if you prefer to mix with the locals rather than visit the nearest Irish pub, this is the place to be.
As tasty as they are, marinated cheese and pickled sausages are no substitute for a proper meal. Continue walking up Loretánská and you’ll find the Strahov Monastery Brewery, a great spot for full-bodied beers and Czech specialities like svíčková (sirloin steak with vegetables, black pepper, allspice, bay leaf, thyme and double cream, served with dumplings). Have I mentioned that Czech cuisine isn’t famous for being light?
Are we there yet? (19:00 – 00:00)
Back in the Before Times, there was so much to do in Prague at night one wouldn’t know where to start. Depending on how things are by the time you get to visit, you may be able hit the nightclubs, enjoy a romantic dinner cruise, check out a black light theatre (černé divadlo), have your fair share of pilsner in a pub crawl, watch a concert at stunning venues such as the Rudolfinum and the Municipal House (Obecní dům), or simply wander aimlessly while appreciating the golden light that bathes the city.
No matter the nocturnal activity you choose, make sure to keep an eye out for pickpockets, never lose sight of your belongings, and take note of the operation hours of whatever tram/metro/bus you need to go back to your accommodation. Prague is quite walkable, but you may not feel like making an hour-long trek at four in the morning.
Day Two [powered by Bedřich Smetana]
Religiously irreligious (08:00 – 12:00)
See what I did there? Yes, you got an extra hour in bed today. You’re welcome!
And since time is on your side, let’s kickstart it with a ritual as necessary and cliché as making a wish at the Fontana di Trevi in Rome or kissing the Blarney Stone in Co. Cork: a visit to the world’s oldest astronomical clock still functioning.
The Prague Astronomical Clock (Staroměstský orloj or Pražský orloj) is over 600 years old, though it’s in such great shape one would think it’s 450. At most. Like every tower open to visitation in this city, the views alone make up for the climb. However, I suggest you get to Old Town Square (Staroměstské náměstí) just before eight, watch the ‘little show’ put up by the figures inside the clock, and then climb its tower.
Chances are you’ll pass by this square quite a few times during your stay, which is a good thing as the many buildings on it look beautiful in different ways as the day progresses. The Church of Mother of God before Týn (Chrám Matky Boží před Týnem), for instance, looks even more gothic at night.
Before we move on, there’s something you should know about churches and other worship sites in the Czech Republic. Religiousness has been in decline in the country for decades, with 2010 data from the Pew Research Center showing 76.4% of the population considering themselves “unaffiliated”. But what does this mean to you, as a visitor of this intriguing country?
Crucially, it means that the majority of holy places you’ll come across are rarely, if ever, used for religious ceremonies. Many host affordable cultural events such as classical music concerts, and when nothing is on you can usually walk in, free of charge, to enjoy the architectural and historical elements within.
So do pop into the Church of Mother of God before Týn and the nearby St. Nicholas’ Church (Kostel sv. Mikuláše), have a look inside, and then head towards the baroque Basilica of St. James (Kostel svatého Jakuba Většího). There’s a surprise at hand.
It may be too early for a beer, but not for a nice cup of tea or coffee. Whatever you feel like drinking, Týnská 9 has you covered – and it’s only a two-minute walk from the Basilica of St. James. How handy!
When you’re ready, get back to Old Town Square and walk down fancy Pařížská. Our first stop is the Maisel Synagogue (Maiselova synagoga), originally built in 1592. Here you can learn more about the turbulent history of Czech Jews and see pieces like the oldest tombstone from the local Jewish cemetery.
In case you didn’t notice, you’re now in Prague’s Jewish neighbourhood, Josefov, and there’s a lot more history here than I could share in a single post. If yours is a curious mind or if you’re particularly interested in Jewish history, you can buy a ticket that gives you access to the five synagogues and includes a 20-minute introduction to the Jewish Quarter.
Return to Pařížská and take a left on Široká, where you’ll find the gorgeous Pinkas Synagogue (Pinkasova synagoga). As well as a thought-provoking exhibition on the Holocaust, you can visit the 15th-century Old Jewish Cemetery (Starý židovský hřbitov).
Our tour of one of Europe’s best preserved Jewish quarters continues. Take a left at Maiselova, walk past the High Synagogue (Vysoká synagoga), turn right on Červená and behold the oldest active synagogue in the continent: the confusingly named Old-New Synagogue (Staronová synagoga).
The fact that this gothic beauty, completed in 1270, is still standing after everything the local Jewish community went through is a miracle. Or is it? Enter 16th-century rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, who’s said to have created a golem to protect the Jews of Prague. No such clay creature was ever found, but the Nazis did leave this synagogue intact during the occupation.
Our next stop is only four minutes away: the Spanish Synagogue (Španělská synagoga). One of the most beautiful buildings in the city, it replaced a 12th-century worship site demolished in 1867 by the
splitters modernist faction of the community. No Spaniards were involved in its construction, the name comes from its Moorish architectural style. Yes, there are many confusing names in this country – just wait until you find out what Moravian sparrows are.
A time to chill (12:00 – 18:00)
Speaking of Moravian sparrows, you must be hungry. Leave the Spanish Synagogue, walk past the chucklesome Kafka Monument and you should see the almost posh La Veranda. Chances are you’re under budget, thanks to yours truly’s tips, Tiqets’ tickets and the undervalued Czech koruna, so it’s only fair that you treat yourself!
If money is tight because you had a bit too much fun the previous night (and who am I to blame you?), walk down Dušní until you hit the river, turn right on Dvořákovo nábř. and you’ll soon see Loď Pivovar. With excellent views, delicious microbrews and finger-licking spare ribs, there’s not much else one can ask for.
Okay, let’s get moving. Cross Štefanik Bridge (Štefánikův most), walk past the inconspicuous concrete slab, and continue following the path until you reach Muzejní.
It’s up to you now, choose-your-own-adventure style: to your left you have the National Museum of Agriculture (Národní zemědělské muzeum) and to your right the National Technical Museum (Národní technické muzeum). The former is probably more suitable for families with kids, though the view from the rooftop alone is worth the admission fee. The latter packs enough exhibits to keep one busy for many, many hours and will solve the mystery of the aforementioned concrete slab.
Weather permitting (or if it’s not raining wheelbarrows, as the Czech say), your next stop and final stop for the day is only 200 metres away: Zahradní restaurace Letenský zámeček. Mind you, this is not the classiest joint in town. The beer is served in plastic cups, there are only picnic tables and last I checked they don’t even accept debit cards. Nevertheless, there are two great reasons why the locals keep coming: the atmosphere is very relaxed and the views are truly spectacular.
Art and draught (19:00 – 00:00)
Here’s a final suggestion: an interesting way to either start or end your evening, depending on how much of a night owl you are.
Take the metro to Republic Square (Náměstí Republiky) and make your way to the 15th-century Powder Tower (Prašná brána). Among other things, it served as a gunpowder depot before being greatly damaged during the Battle of Prague in 1757.
Climb the 186 steps to the tower’s observation deck and you’ll find a very different, perhaps more complete view of the city. Many of the venues covered in this guide should be visible, bathed in Prague’s glorious golden hue. You also get to have a good look at the Art Nouveau beauty neighbouring the tower: the Municipal House.
Whether you attend a concert there or not, the American bar within is a stunner – and well worth a visit. After all that walking, climbing, sightseeing and dumpling eating, you deserve to spend the next hour or so sipping a nice drink. Here’s to you, to health and to never again taking travelling for granted. Na zdraví!