Prague is a mightily beautiful central European city straddling the Vltava river, and looking like something from the pages of a fairy tale. Its spired cityscape and cobbled streets are amongst the most stunning in this part of the world, most landmarks are walkable, and the place is dripping with culture — from renaissance revival theatres to off-the-wall art. Here's how to spend 48 hours in the Czech capital.
Getting to Prague
A number of budget flights operate between 'London' and Prague, including easyJet (Gatwick and Luton) and Ryanair (Stansted). Transfer to the city centre is very cheap if you take the 119 bus to Nadrazi Veleslavin, then continue on the green metro line from there (that'll take you around 40 mins in all). Taxis/Ubers etc are a bit quicker (and, of course pricier — though still not too dear if you're used to spending London style).
Prague need to know
- Getting around Prague: First timers can cover most must-see landmarks by foot. However, the city's served by a good metro network, and if you've got tired feet, you can always jump on a tram. Make sure you buy your ticket and stamp it before heading down the escalator, or if using the tram, stamp it as soon as you board. Otherwise the Men will get you.
- Accommodation: We've stayed in some pretty swish, very central Airbnb apartments in Prague — a mid-range sized budget goes a decent way. If you're really pushing the boat out, check in somewhere truly swanky like the Art Deco Imperial Hotel or The Grand Mark.
- Beer: The Czech Republic (also known as Czechia btw) has a proud brewing tradition, and invented the pilsner, a crisp, bitter lager drank in great quantities here. A typical half litre beer in Prague costs around a fifth of what you'd expect to fork out for a pint in London. Arrive thirsty.
- Language: Pretty much everyone in Prague speaks English, but handy words to have in your Czech vocab are 'dobrý den' (hello/good day), prosím (please) and dík (thanks). Oh and pivo (beer).
Must-see landmarks in Prague
Prague's major tourist attraction looms large over the city; Prague Castle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site dating back to the year 800. Hradčany, to give it its proper name, is a day out in its own right, featuring churches, gardens, the uber-bling Lobkowicz Palace and the picture-perfect Golden Lane. Close to the complex is the opulent Strahov Library, and nearby to that, you can refresh with a typical Czech lunch/beer from Strahov Monastery Brewery. Immediately below the castle district is the pretty Malá Strana (Little Quarter), brimming with touristy-yet-pleasant boutiques, and plenty more places to eat and drink.
The city's other big historical tourist hub is the 'Old Town' — an impossibly beautiful warren of cobbled streets populated by swoon worthy gothic, renaissance, baroque and revival architecture. At the heart of it all is the Old Town Square, with the redoubtable-looking Church of Our Lady before Týn, and the Astronomical Clock (which puts on a kooky show on the hour).
There's so much beauty and history in the Old Town, it's liable to give you a migraine but make time to see: the Jewish Quarter, the Powder Tower (smashing views from up here) and Municipal House (an art nouveau cracker). Linking Prague Castle and the Old Town Square is the much-photographed Charles Bridge, a cobbled medieval span, peppered with street artists, musicians and statues of saints. It's the definition of romantic, so much so that before you know it, you'll be down on one knee proposing to the nearest person.
Eating in Prague
Traditionally, Czech food is stodgy, gut busting fare — the likes of pork, bread dumplings, garlic soup, deep fried cheese, smoked sausages, goulash, schnitzel... you get the gist. You'll find this kind of thing in a slew of restaurants and pubs — and it's great in the winter, when temperatures plummet (providing you're not a vegan, natch). For these kind of eats, try Pivovarský dům, U Kroka, Kavárna Velryba or U Parlamentu.
Food choice has improved and diversified a lot in recent years, and among the places we've had recommended to us are Taro (a Czech-Vietnamese fusion joint), the magnificently named Sad Man's Tongue (which does very good burgers, including veggie options), or push the boat out at Michelin-starred Field. There's a lot of authentic Korean food in Prague these days too — try a fried chicken joint like Pocha. We're reliably informed the cinnamon buns at branches of Artic Bakehouse are insanely good.
One of Prague's great joys is its grand cafes — lavish art nouveau/deco places, where you can indulge in some smashing coffee, cake and Moravian wine. Among are favourites are Lucerna Café, (announced by David Černý's upside down equestrian statue), Café Imperial, Cafe Slavia and Grand Cafe Orient (a unique 'Cubist' offering).
Prague's communist history
Until 1989, this part of the world was under Soviet rule, and reminders of this period remain scattered around the city. If you're keen to learn more, walk through a mock-up interrogation room at the Museum of Communism; see Soviet propaganda posters and tools at the KGB Museum; or dive into a nuclear bunker. For a more positive slant on the era, visit the John Lennon Wall — where young Czechs scrawled messages of frustration against the communist regime, and which continues to be a living artwork today (and looks like Abbey Road on acid).
Wenceslas Square (actually more of a 'strip') may purport to be the beating heart of Prague's nightlife, but truth is, much of it is seedy and a tad lame. There are far better places to spend a night out. Listen to Miles Davis on the water at Jazz Dock, a great little club afloat on the Vltava. Catch avant garde theatre at La Fabrika. Sink martinis at buzzing cocktail bar, Bukowski's. Discover the hidden rooms in hip teahouse A Maze in Tchaiovna. Have a banging night out at the steampunk Cross Club.
In the market for something more sophisticated? Opera and ballet are big in Prague — there are a number of grand theatres/opera houses dating back to the time when Mozart was swanking about the place, where you can catch top quality shows at a snip of the price of the Royal Opera House in London. Head to the National Theatre, State Opera or Estates Theatre and get your Don Giovani/Swan Lake on.
Museums, galleries and art in Prague
Prague's Jewish Museum is a must-visit, with its over-crowded cemetery, and tales of the mythical Golem. Fans of the absurd will appreciate the Franz Kafka Museum, while one of the country's best-known artists, Alphonse Mucha is celebrated with his own museum/gallery, festooned with his glorious art nouveau works.
Frankly, on the whole museums/galleries in Prague can be a little dry/underwhelming (e.g. the National Museum, which bears down over Wenceslas Square). Some of the best art is free and outdoors; you can hardly avoid running into the screwball creations of David Černý — the Czech Republic's wacko artist-in-chief. Look out for his sculpture of a man dangling from a pole, two cars 'nailed' to the side of a building, the 'pissing sculptures' outside the Kafka Museum, and a huge arse you can stick you head in. Perhaps his most famous addition to Prague is his huge TV-faced babies, which crawl up the Žižkov Television Tower (more of which in a sec).
Neighbourhoods outside central Prague worth visiting
Prague's got plenty more to offer, and if you venture outside the city centre you'll be richly rewarded. Try Vyšehrad (home to spectacular views over to the castle, the cemetery where composer Antonín Dvořák is buried and an outdoor summer theatre); Holešovice (a trendy district home to an arts centre in an 'airship', hip cinema Bio Oko cinema, and Jatka78 — a circus in an old slaughterhouse); Petřín, with its rose gardens, hall of mirrors and Eiffel Tower-esque lookout; and Žižkov (which has trendy bars like Malcovich, and the out-of-this-world Žižkov Television Tower, offering splendid views from its observation deck, and even a one-room hotel).
Pubs and breweries in Prague
As we've already established, Prague knows what it's doing when it comes to hop-based alchemy. We can't get enough of the properly traditional pubs here (where they keep the beers coming, until you place your beer mat over your glass). We've had a lot of fun in U Sadu, U Zlatého tygra and U Fleků. Really though, it's hard to go wrong, and even if you find yourself in a bar you don't like — just drink up quickly and move on (the average price of a beer in Prague is just over a quid).
Though brands like Pilsner Urquell, Staropramen and Bernard are commonplace, smaller breweries/craft beer bars have sprung up all over the shop: sup to your heart's content in Beergeek (craft beers aplenty), Dva kohouti (a great little brewery), Vinohradský Pivovar (more excellent beer) and Lod' Pivovar (another Prague brewery but, get this, on a blimmin' boat).
Oh, and when the sun's out, Prague beer gardens spring into action; they're more like vast drinking parks than British pub gardens. Head up to Letná Gardens, where you can sink cold Gambrinus while admiring Prague's red rooftops, or watch live sport on massive screens in Riegrovy sady.
On the list for next time...
There's plenty more to see in Prague — and loooads more to see in the Czech Republic. If you're sticking around for longer, or already planning a return visit, consider these:
- Žižkov Tower aside, Frank Gehry's 'Fred and Ginger' building is the most wowing piece of modern architecture in the city.
- We've heard good things about Prague Zoo, so if gorillas and pangolins are your cup of tea, add this to the list.
- Prague is home to a lot of British/American expats, so catching English language shows/comedy isn't too difficult. Once a year, the Prague Fringe comes to town — check it out if you're around.
- Český Krumlov is another ludicrously pretty part of the country, and doable as a day trip.
- As is Kutná Hora, infamous for its eerie 'bone church'.
- While Prague itself is home to the Staropramen brewery, Pilsner Urquell — arguably the greatest beer in the world — is brewed in the town of Plzeň. The brewery tour is brilliant, and something of a pilgrimage for beer fans.
With thanks to Joe Reaney from World Words, a Prague local who recommended some of the above.