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Travel to Prague, the shining star of Central Europe

Travel Guide
  • This is the first city in Central Europe frequented by tourists. All year round and from all countries around the world it is visited also, by "neighbours" in the European Union (Germans, British, French), Australians, Japanese and Canadians. If you are not Czech, you will almost always find someone who speaks English. If you stop to have a conversation with a local, you will often see that your interlocutor ...
    © Paul Seheult / age fotostock
  • Charles Bridge links the Old Town to the Castle.
    © Paul Seheult / age fotostock
Amy Adejokun
Amy Adejokun Expert destination Czech Republic

This is the first city in Central Europe frequented by tourists. All year round and from all countries around the world it is visited also, by "neighbours" in the European Union (Germans, British, French), Australians, Japanese and Canadians. If you are not Czech, you will almost always find someone who speaks English. If you stop to have a conversation with a local, you will often see that your interlocutor is of Algerian or Vietnamese origin. These are the communities found in Prague, among others from Europe, Africa or Asia.

As for the capital city, largely restored since the end of communism, Prague remains, with its 1.2 million inhabitants, a comfortably sized city, but it is evolving quickly. Those who visited it 5 years ago would simply not recognize it. New shops, brand new façades (their Gothic, baroque, neo-Renaissance and Art Nouveau ornaments have been restored, repainted and re-gilded). The Prague of today is without any doubt even more beautiful than it was during its glory years under the reign of Charles IV.

Book a room in the 1st district (Praha 1), which extends on both sides of the Vltava river: on one bank is the Wenceslas Square for entertainment, and on the other bank is the Mala Strana for peace and quiet. Otherwise, you will lose time in transport and unless you want to live in Prague like the locals, you may miss the picturesque environment (expressways or sites within range of hotel). For a weekend, stay at a palace (around £275 per night) or a hotel with 3 or 4 stars (about £90 per night), or a 2 star hotel, but downtown (prices start from £45 per night).

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Prague: what to do?

Departures start at the foot of the Charles Bridge, on the side of the Old City. The boat, a flat-bottomed small craft heated in winter and open-air in summer, sets off from the pier once it is full of tourists; you should expect not to wait more than 30 to 45 minutes. Then you can go along the river up to Small Venice, a channel near Mala Strana. A half-hour of navigation costs around £10. Sailing at night is even more magical.

Located within Prague Castle compound, the magnificent St Vitus Cathedral, which many recognise as Prague Castle, earned Prague the title 'The City of a Thousand Spires'. The Gothic masterpiece looms above the city and can be reached by an enjoyable walk up through Prague's winding cobblestone back streets.

Some of the oldest and most beautiful libraries in Europe can be found in Prague. Clementinum is the National Library of the Czech Republic and is famous for its frescoed ceilings. Be sure not to miss the Baroque library hall among the complex of buildings.

Perhaps one of the most peaceful areas for a view of the city of Prague is Petrin Hill. Within the vast green space you can climb the miniature Eiffel Tower to get a birdseye view of the capital, try to navigate the mirror maze or just sit and watch the world go by.

There is a park with a mini Eiffel Tower, a library in a convent classified as a cultural heritage (Strahov), the castle and its cathedral and the historic streets down to the Charles Bridge. These two connected districts (Hradcany and Mala Strana) have the charm of Montmartre in Paris, or of London's Hampstead. As everything is on the hillside, as soon as you move away from the tram line (above the river), you will escape the tourists.

Charles Bridge is the most iconic image of Prague. Defined by two spired towers at either side, it is lined with 30 statues and spans 16 arches over the Vlatva River. From here you get stunning views of the Prague Castle compound rising above the city in the distance. Try visiting at dawn when the early morning dew is beginning to lift and there is no one around.

Quaint Kampa Island is flanked on one side by the Vlatva River and on the other by the Ertovka, the 'Devil's Stream'. The graffiti covering the John Lennon graffiti wall is added to daily and is abound with inspirational drawings and song lyrics.

The Church of Our Lady Before Týn is the marking feature of Prague's main square with its Gothic spires and the Prague Orloj, or astronomical clock, on its façade. Installed in 1410, it is the oldest clock in the world that is still operating. Be sure to arrive on time to catch a glimpse of 'The Walk of the Apostles' when the figure of Death strikes the hour.

 Czech Republic  Czech Republic
Prague: the key figures

Surface area : 30,450 sq mi km2

Population : 10,300,000 inhabitants

  • Very good air service (low cost companies)
  • A human size city and lots of monuments.
  • Great, even in winter.
  • In December (Christmas market), Prague is weighed down by tourists.
  • Many sites that charge an entry fee (including the alley of Or).

Prague: what to visit?

Arts and culture

Reminders

Take as much as possible on board with you. Some low-cost airline companies serving Prague often lose the luggage of their passengers. Considering the average length of stay, you will at the best recover them upon your return. To avoid buying a new wardrobe on the spot (not a good idea, the clothes are expensive), travel lightly with only hand luggage.

Also tickets for tram, underground and bus can be bought at the hotels or newspaper stands.

To avoid

In a cafe or a restaurant, read the menu carefully: if the service is not included in the price, it is up to you (not the waiter) to add a tip to the bill (around 15% is pretty acceptable). If the menu indicates that the service will be added to the amount of the order, there is no need to pay twice. It is normal, since the prices are quite high. Be careful, some restaurants have the Italian style "place setting" extra, compulsory and more expensive in the evening than at lunch.

Prague: what to eat?

Definitely worth a try is the svickova: slices of beef served in a creamy sauce with carrots and cream, accompanied with knedliky (wheat or bread based dumplings), cranberry jam and a hint of whipped cream as a condiment. You should also try the Bohemian duck, roasted and served with red cabbage and potato soup, which is a hearty meal and, unsurprisingly, a popular one. A good place to enjoy these specialities is Kamenny Stul, on the Old Town Square, in the basement (the coffee shop's ground floor is too overcrowded with tourists).

Prague: what to buy?

To purchase puppets in one of the most picturesque streets of Prague, go to the small shops on the Alley of Gold. Entering the street is not free (£1.50), unless you go very early in the morning or late afternoon, but you must see it from the tiny inside of these houses. As for Bohemian crystal, avoid overcrowded touristy shops in the Jewish district. You will pay more than in the Old City or around Wenceslas Square.

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