Prague

Where: Prague, (capital of) Czech Republic.

When: One night in 1994; a weekend in October 2010. 

Why: I first visited Prague in 1994 whilst inter-railing around Europe with my mom. We spent one night and a morning here. I then returned with my brother in October 2010, to celebrate his birthday in this great European city. 

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Map

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Intro

I first visited Prague in 1994 whilst inter-railing around Europe with my mum. At the time, it was the most ‘foreign’ place that I’d ever been. When we visited it was relatively soon after the revolution and only a year after the velvet divorce (when Czechoslovakia peacefully split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia), so the nation was very new and an exciting place to be able to visit. The city felt very Eastern European. The Berlin Wall had only been gone for six years and at the time Eastern Europe was still a very foreign place. It was still quite different to western Europe and at the time was quite an old-fashioned, developing nation. The big differences I remember was the old infrastructure and that coal was still being used for fuel, so this gave everything a slightly yellow tinge.

The other big difference at the time was language. Everything was in Czech only and most people weren’t able to speak to us in English or German. There was transport infrastructure, but it was hard to navigate with no common language. This was also pre-internet days, so we had to rely on guidebooks and local information.

However, being somewhere so foreign and new was really cool and I really loved the atmosphere in Prague. It was also a really cheap place to visit and my mum and I were able to stay in a beautiful art-deco hotel on Wenceslas Square (the centre of the city), even on our low budget.

I returned to Prague in 2010 for my brother’s birthday and fifteen years later Prague was completely different. Prague today is a rich central European city, on a par with Berlin, Vienna and Budapest. Money has flooded into this beautiful city and now luxury cars drive past the designer clothes stores on Wenceslas Square. Prague could now be any gorgeous, major European city, which is great for the Praguians, but I can’t help feeling that even though it is still a lovely, interesting city, Prague has lost a little bit of what made it so special the first time we visited. This time round I really liked Prague, but I didn’t love it in the same way as I did on my first visit. It’s just not so foreign any more and thus not quite so cool.

However, I don’t wish to denigrate Prague as it is still one of the most beautiful cities in Europe and well worth a visit. There’s loads of wonderful things to see and do, lots of restaurants, lots of interesting boozes, great shops, funky hotels, art everywhere and a Clementinium. Charles Bridge is amazing, the castle is great, there’s lots of beautiful parks and a great public transport system – so I would highly recommend it for a visit.

In 2010, we visited Prague in autumn and it was just wonderful. We had crisp, clear days that were cold and refreshing, but not overly cold (and it gave us a great excuse to warm up with mulled wine). At Christmas, Prague must be just magical with the Christmas markets and all of the houses all lit up.

Prague is a friendly, funky, fun city where there are loads of interesting things happening, lots of things to see and do. It’s a party city, an artistic city, a cool, unpretentious city, an art-deco beautiful city. A city which is great to visit in all seasons – and one of the best cities in the world.

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Getting there and getting about 

We flew from Birmingham to Prague with BMI Baby. BMI Baby no longer exist, but many airlines fly to Prague. To find the cheapest flights from your local airport, visit the skyscanner website.

Prague airport is huge and very modern. It has all the facilities that you will need such as shops, bars, cash points, info services etc.

Airport to city centre

To get to the city centre from the airport we got bus 119 to the end of Metro line A and then the metro into the city centre.

You can buy bus tickets from the information desk in arrivals or at a machine by the bus stops (which are by door E). When we were there the queue at the information desk was huge, so you may be best buying a ticket from the machine.

You stamp your ticket when you get on your first mode of transport and then you can use it on any of the city transport for the time specified on your ticket. You can get a three day ticket (300 Koruna/£10ish), a one day ticket (100 Koruna/£3.50ish) or a 75 minute ticket (27 koruna/£1ish). (Prices from 2010).

Most of the signs on the public transport network were in English and the public transport was really easy to navigate.

The journey from the airport to the city centre took us about one hour.

Getting around

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Prague has a good transport system which includes the metro, trams and buses, though once within the city centre most journeys can be made on foot.

You can find out more information about Prague’s public transport system at www.dpp.cz/en.

In 1994, we visited Prague whilst inter-railing around Europe. I remember getting to the train station in Prague and having no clue where to go, no clue how to get there and no clue how to get tickets. The map was in Czech and we had no hotel booked. People at the station kept trying to stop us to ask if we’d like to stay in their apartments. It was all a bit overwhelming.

We looked at the map and we decided to head to Wenceslas Square, just because it was a name we recognised and we though this might be an important place. Luckily for us, this turned out to be the centre of the city where there were some affordable hotels.

Our next challenge was buying a ticket for the public transport. We tried to ask a shop-keeper in English, German and French, but no luck. We never did work out how to buy tickets, so we just snuck on (sorry Prague public transport).

Prague has two mainline stations, and I think we arrived at Holesovice Station, which is slightly out of the centre. The main station, which is right next to Wenceslas Square, is Hlavni Nadrazi Station. Today, most trains arrive here.

For more information on getting the train to Prague, visit www.seat61.com/Czech.htm. To find out more about inter-rail passes and to buy them, visit www.interrail.eu/interrail-passes.

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What we did on our holiday

1994

I have to confess, I was a bit rubbish on our visit in 1994. As there was a huge thunder storm at the time of our visit (and I’m very scared of lightning), I didn’t really venture out of the hotel to explore the city. Mum did though, and she went to see Charles Bridge and the castle (more about these below).

We stayed in a fabulous art-deco hotel on Wenceslas Square on this visit. At the time, it wasn’t too expensive, although now I suspect hotels here could be quite pricey. Wenceslas Square was pedestrianised then, and running down the centre of the square were lots of wonderful (cheap) cafes and bars with outside tables. On the evening of our stay, we walked down Wenceslas Square and down into the tangle of lanes that lead to the Old Town Square. We went to the Old Town Square and saw the astronomical clock go bingety bong, watched some musicians performing from the roof of the Town Hall – then we walked through the old Jewish district. It was interesting, though we did get a little bit lost.

And that was it – but we did only have one night in Prague in between Berlin and Vienna – which is why I wanted to come back…

2011

Wandered about

The best thing to do in Prague is to just wander about, as there is so much to see. Many of the buildings are covered in ornate art, statues, frescoes etc. There are lots of fun, touristy shops to window shop in. You can drink mulled wine in the cold, eat yummy pastries and try to dodge all the millions of tourists thronging the streets.

I loved the statues and the funky facades on the old buildings, as they had such character and personality: some were flashing cheekily, some looked tired from holding up buildings; one woman’s hair was turning into a tree. There were animals and gods and crazy people – so much to look at and photograph and giggle at. There were statues with ferns coming out of their ears and statues with steering wheels and helicopters on their heads. They were brilliant! I have a billion photos of the fantastic facades.

We spent both days of our trip just wandering around the city. On our first day, we pretty much followed the Royal Mile, which is the old Royal Processional route which runs from the Opera to the Castle. The route we took started at the Opera (which is the epitome of art deco opulence), we walked through the Powder Tower and then down a pretty shopping street, past the chocolate museum (which is actually just a big chocolate shop) to the Old Town Square.

The Old Town Square is the centre of old town Prague and one of the hearts of the city (along with Wenceslas Square). The Old Town Square is a gorgeous pedestrianised square, a huge space where many people congregate and bands perform. The square is surrounded by wonderful, medieval old burghar houses and dominated by the spiky Tyn Cathedral. There are lots of great restaurants and bars in the square, though being the tourist centre of the city these are a little bit more expensive.

The key thing to see in the old market square is the astronomical clock (see the photo at the top of the page). It’s the law that if you go to Prague you have to see the clock bing bong bing bong. Jeff thinks the hourly bingety bong is rubbish. However, I think it’s rubbish and cheesy and thus great. I love rubbish things though.

We then walked out of the square, past the clock and down through the tangle of lanes that ran to the Clementinium and Charles Bridge (more below). There were lots of pretty squares and interesting buildings to see, and these were great hussley and bustley streets with lots of interesting shops and cafes to pop into.

On our first day, we walked over Charles Bridge, past the modern art museum and up through the old town to the castle and the cathedral.

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On our second day, Sunday morning, we walked along the river to the dancing twisty house, over the bridge, back along the river on the other side, up the hill, up through the park to the Eiffel Tower (see below) and then we walked back through the old town and back over Charles Bridge.

Strolling along in the autumnal sunshine, under the red and amber trees in the park, with the low light and long shadows was just gorgeous (see below for more info).

Visited the Clementinum

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How could the Clemos not visit the Clementinum? It’s ours!

It’s by Charles Bridge and is actually the national library, so not a building which you’d normally visit.

The Clementinum contains a number of galleries and there are a series of courtyards you can stroll through which contain some modern art. The Clementinum also contains the most beautiful baroque church, which is open from 16.00 to 18.00 each day. We popped in twice but both times there was a service taking place, so we had to be discreet and just poked our heads through the door. Even though it’s ours.

Apparently you can do tours at 10 a.m. each day – although I think we (the Clemos) should just be allowed to wander around at will, as it is ours.

 www.klementinum.com

Charles Bridge (Carlos Most)

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I had a moment when walking across Charles Bridge whilst the sun set and I thought ‘life does not get any better than this’. Charles Bridge is beautiful and fun and lovely.

Charles Bridge is the bridge on the royal route, that the royals used to use to cross the river. It is a beautiful, pedestrianised bridge, bedecked with statues and with great views of the whole city – especially the castle and the old town.

But, it is also very, very crowded. It’s possibly the most touristy place in Europe. Graham and I tried to play a game where you have to walk across Charles Bridge and not touch anyone else and not get in anyone else’s photos – it was impossible to do.

But, even though it is crazy busy, we did end up walking over Charles Bridge five times in one weekend and it was just lovely. The views are amazing, the statues fun to photograph, there’s traders and musicians and artists – I loved it.

Prague Old Town

On the far side of Charles Bridge is the Old Town. This is a beautiful, Bohemian city of cobbled streets, burghar houses, statues, cosy cafes, steamy restaurants, and trinkety shops etc. It is a beautiful part of the city and a great place to explore.

Prague Castle and St Vitus’s Cathedral

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Like the castle in Budapest, I don’t think that Prague Castle is a proper castle: there were no cannons, no dungeons and no crenellated walls. It’s one of those palace castles that are lovely, but not a castle.

However, Prague Castle is ace in that it hides a cathedral in the middle of it. It doesn’t hide it very well – you can see it from miles away – but it’s still hidden in the middle of the castle in courtyard three.

You can enter Prague Castle for free and go for a wander in the outer courtyards – but to get to the main areas you do have to buy a ticket. 

There are two ticket options: the long tour or the short tour. We bought a ticket for the short tour and this cost us 250 Koruna (about £8).

On the short tour we went into the nave of the cathedral, into the old Bohemian castle – where we saw the window from the second defenestration of Prague; we saw the Diet Hall, the main hall and the room with pretty shields painted all over it. We also went into St George’s chapel to see some tombs and bones. We could also have gone into the Noble Women’s Hall. I didn’t – but you might want to.

From the castle you get great views and it is surrounded by lovely parks and gardens.

I thought I’d get bored after half an hour, but actually I spent a good two hours exploring the cathedral and castle. I also stopped at a cafe and had a mulled wine and wandered the streets. It was pretty good.

www.hrad.cz 

Muzeum Kampa – Modern Art Museum

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We weren’t supposed to go to the modern art museum, but Graham needed the bathroom and the nearest WC to Charles Bridge was in the park by the river – and this is also where Muzeum Kampa is.

We could tell it was a modern art museum as it had huge, freaky babies outside. And something which looked like a rabbit. And in the courtyard there were some big balls and what I think might be a Henry Moore.

We would have loved to have looked inside but it was just closing for the day and we didn’t get a chance to go back. We liked what we saw outside though. It was very cool.

www.museumkampa.com

Shopped

I had an excuse – I’d forgotten to take any spare trousers so I had to shop; and they had C&A, H&M and F&F, so I had to shop. Most of the huge stores were the shops we find on the British high street but it was still cool. We went in the huge shopping centre by the Opera House called the Palladium.

Also, there were lots of touristy, crafty shops in the old town which was cool. I managed to resist buying too many souvenirs though.

Oooo ooo – one shop I must tell you about – between the clock and the bridge is a small arcade with the White Whale pub in it. Next to the White Wale pub is the best, most individual clothes store I’ve ever seen. They had windmill earrings, mutant teddies, a hat with a forest growing out of it and a giraffe eating the forest (Don’t believe me? See below). If you want individual and funky then head here.

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Went to the Absinthe Museum

The absinthe museum is actually really just a shop which sells lots of absinthe drinks. Absinthe coffee is disgusting. The only way I could make it palatable was to eat an airwaves at the same time. Gave me a nice feeling afterwards though.

www.absintherie.cz

Climbed a mountain and a mini Eiffel Tower (Petrin Hill and the Observation Tower)

I have a really bad habit of climbing things without meaning to. On the Sunday morning, G and I had been for a lovely stroll along the river to see the twisty house. We had an hour or so till we needed to head back to the hotel and the airport, so we thought we’d get the funicular up the mountain (as funiculars are fun) – but when we got there the queue was huge and before you knew it – we’d accidentally climbed the mountain (well, Petrin Hill).

It was lovely strolling up the hill in the autumn air, sweating out the absinthe from the night before. OK, the steep bits weren’t so fun – but most of it was quite gentle. The trees were beautiful, there were leaves to kick through and the views were great – it was a thoroughly lovely way to spend a morning.

When we got to the top, there was a little Eiffel Tower – so we climbed this as well. It cost 100 Koruna. You can get a lift for 50 Koruna – but we were being cheap, so walked up the double helix staircase.

Again, the views were just amazing – you really are at the highest point in Prague, but … it wobbles in the wind, and it was a little bit scary. Good thing to do to get rid of a hangover though.

Drank

Sorry Prague, but we did live up to the cliche a bit and did drink rather a lot (well, it was Graham’s birthday). We had mulled wine, local beers, absinthe cocktails, Slivovitch (plum brandy – yum), wine, beer mojitos (surprisingly nice), normal mojitos…

We didn’t find a ‘bar area’. We did find one or two cool bars, but no particular place which felt like it was the centre of the party. When we visited in 94, Wensceslas Square was the centre of everything – it was pedestrianised and full of wonderful al-fresco bars selling 50p pints. Now it is a road full of shops and cars – no bars.

The Hungry Partier has a great blog listing pubs and clubs in Prague. I’m not such a raver as I used to be but reading this he makes me want to go back to Prague just to party.

If you’re looking for places to party in Prague another good website to visit is World’s Best Bars.

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Where we stayed

The Designer Elephant (now Gradior Hotel Prague)

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There’s loads of good accommodation in Prague, from budget to high end; and a lot of it is within ten minutes of the city centre.

We decided to stay in a Designer Elephant (named after Baba the elephant who used to live here). The Elephant hotel was nice, reasonably priced and had a great location. I think we mostly booked it for it’s cool name and backstory though.

Although the Designer Elephant looked great online, it didn’t quite live up to the promise of the website. For me, the hotel felt a little cold (metaphorically). The rooms were quite plain, there wasn’t a lot to play with (no leaflets, tea/coffee etc), and there didn’t appear to be any public areas, apart from the lobby. On the website the hotel had looked like it had bags of personality, but in truth it was just a blank canvas.

However, it was comfy, the shower was heavenly (I wish I was in it right now), the breakfasts were interesting and yummy and the location was great (it was ten minutes from the centre of the city).

This year (2016) the hotel has merged with Grandior Hotel Prague and apparently it has undergone a major refurbishment. So it might have lots it’s funky name, but hopefully the hotel is a little more warm and welcoming.

We paid £70/ room/ night. 

www.hotel-grandior.cz

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Useful links 

www.praguewelcome.cz/en 

wikitravel.org/en/Prague 

www.lonelyplanet.com/czech-republic/prague 

www.timeout.com/prague

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