I’d been wanting to see Prague for a while. It was high up on my “Central/Eastern Europe” list, and a city I was only really interested in seeing in the summer due to how cold it gets around that area during winter. I’d heard of how historic and beautiful it was, but also how cheap the beer was and how it was loads of fun for a bunch of lads.
Knowing this, I roped in Paul from TravMonkey, and we both headed over to Prague in August to hit it up in a weekend. We drank all the beer, ate all the meat and explored all of the castle. You’re reading this, so I know you’ve got a similar idea. So here’s what I reckon you need to see, where you need to eat and what beer you need to drink in the cosmopolitan Czech capital.
Things to See and Do
Prague is known for it’s historical wonder, beautiful architecture and mammoth medieval castle. The winding cobbled streets of the old town are littered with remnants of fallen empires, revolutions and centuries of trade. It also features a chequered Communist past, one that is unique, laced with stories and differs from a lot of the other former Soviet countries.
As I’ve done in a few other European cities, we took a free SANDEMANs New Europe tour in Prague. This enabled us to get a quick heads up on the city in just 3 hours, and allowed us to make a note of things we wanted to come back and spend more time at.
Prague Old Town
The first stop on most people’s itinerary is the old town and it’s where you’ll find the baroque facades, tall towers (hey, Prague is called the “City of Towers”), cafes, markets and picturesque squares.
This is one of Prague’s biggest attractions, and the huge sprawling crowd that gathers underneath is each hour is a testament to how much hype surrounds this thing.
Essentially the top clock tells the time and the bottom clock is a calendar that shows the month. The story behind it is quite fascinating, but the shitty show each hour that people cram into the square to watch isn’t. It’s pretty lacklustre, you will be utterly disappointed, but at least check it out and then come back and call me a liar if you thought it wasn’t a complete letdown. 😛
The Town Hall is the building on which the Astronomical Clock is perched and looms over the Old Town square like a big authority figure. If you approach the square from the north, it’s probably one of the first towers you’ll see (apart from the twin towers of the cathedral).
A good way to get your bearings is to climb to the top and score a bloody awesome view of the entire old town of Prague. It’s super crammed once you get up there, but you get a great view. All the up-high photos in this post were taken from it.
Probably one of, if not the most iconic landmark of Prague – Charles Bridge was built in the 15th century by King Charles IV to span the Vltava River and joins the Prague Castle with the Old Town.
If you go at any other time other than sunrise, be prepared to battle large crowds along with people trying to sell you stuff and paint your portrait. We pretty much just crossed it once to check it out and then went and did something else. It’s definitely not super amazing or anything.
Check this sucker out, it’s the largest medieval castle in the world. Scene of numerous kingdoms and empires over hundreds of years along with priests and noblemen being thrown out of windows, the Prague Castle absolutely dominates the skyline of the city.
It’s free to enter the castle, but you have to buy a ticket to enter the various buidlings inside. I recommend getting the “short visit” ticket for 250 CZK, which gets you access to the massive St Vitus Cathedral, Old Royal Palace, St George’s Basilica, Golden Lane and Daliborka Tower. More info on tickets here. Following the short visit route shouldn’t take you more than 2-3 hours. Here’s a selection of attractions to see once you’re inside:
St Vitus Cathedral
Definitely devote half a day to the castle as it’s quite sprawling and there’s lots to see. It’s quite versatile as an attraction actually, as you can choose to only do a lap through it if you’re not keen on seeing what’s inside or buy the “long visit” ticket if you’re a castle aficionado and don’t want to leave a square metre unexplored.
At first I really didn’t have much interest in checking this out, but when our tour passed through the area, I found it more and more intriguing. Most European cities have a Jewish part that used to be a ghetto or something from years of persecution and Prague is no different, but it has some interesting stories to tell.
Old New Synagogue
Built in 1270, it’s the oldest synagogue in Europe. Worth a lap around to appreciate the architecture, its also home to a quirky story about a Golem in the attic that apparently ate a Nazi during World War Two.
This place is downright macabre. Basically when the jews ran out of room to bury their dead, they asked the city for more space. They said no, and said “use what you’ve got”. The result is this 3 metre high city block surrounded by concrete walls.
What’s behind there isn’t at the same level as the street, the grass and headstones are actually at the level of the top of the wall. When the Jews couldn’t bury their dead elsewhere, they just buried them on top of the other graves. Yeah, that’s a bit rank.
This kilometre long stretch of wide boulevard was named after Saint Wenceslas, the patron saint of Bohemia (the historic name for the Czech Republic) and forms the focal point of the New Town. It was the scene of many demonstrations and protests over the years against the Nazis and the Soviets, and is of huge national importance.
Once you proceed east out of the old town you will undoubtedly find yourself here. Dodge the shady dudes selling weed and take in one of the more modern parts of Prague. There’s lots of shops and other uninteresting stuff here, but it’s worth checking out to appreciate the immensity of it.
Museum of Communism
When Paul and I found out about this privately operated museum, it definitely piqued our interest. I’ve always had a keen interest in Soviet history and how they ruled half of Europe with an iron fist for over 50 years, so I’m always up for finding out more about Communist influence when I visit a city it directly affected.
The place is setup in a upstairs in a wing off the back of a casino and is filled with kitschy Soviet era bits and pieces to gawk at. There are lots of explanations in English of how the Soviets came to be in Czechoslovakia after WW2 along with descriptions on what conditions were like for families, how hard it was to get food, what work was like, how the West was perceived and other oddities. It actually does a really good job of showing you what it was like to live in the country when an oppressive regime was controlling your every move in life.
Entry is 190 CZK and you can enter next to the McDonalds on one of the streets off Wenceslas Square (don’t worry I’ll show it on the map below).
Food and Drink
Let’s face it, Prague is known for it’s cheap and plentiful beer – lots and lots of beer. You’ll be knocking back many pints of Staropramen, Gambrinus, Pilsner Urquell and my favourite, Kozel. There’s no shortage of cool little beer gardens for you to check out during your visit, but do make sure you get a serve of the stodgy Czech cuisine on offer to soak up some of that lager (that the Czechs invented!).
Prague Beer Museum
Not exactly a museum, more so just a pub with a misleading name. They do have an absolute shitload of beers on tap though, so if you’re a bit of a beer aficionado and want to try the best the Czech’s have to offer, make your way here.
There’s a small but airy beer garden out the back where you can peruse the thick A4 booklet of beers on offer. I recommend getting a taster of 5 beers to get a good cross section of what the Czech’s brew.
As you walk in, this place looks quite formal and stuffy with lots of velvet upholstery and old people eating their meals quietly. Proceed downstairs though and you’ll find more of a beer hall atmosphere where you can enjoy some good hearty Czech food. Go for the 1 kg of wings, farmer’s platter or pork knee to really sample some solid Czech meat offerings.
This place has some shitty reviews on Tripadvisor, but we didn’t have any dramas when we went and were thoroughly plied with Gambrinus beer and made to feel quite welcome.
Zahrádka u Kristiána
We randomly stumbled on this place as we were walking to join a pub crawl. We could hear music from below the embankment next to the river, so ventured down the steps to check it out. Lo and behold, we encountered a bloke with his guitar banging out ballads, a roaring BBQ and an expansive beer garden.
As it’s right on the river, you get great views of Prague Castle and Charles Bridge as you tuck into a pint of Staraopramen.
Remember I mentioned that BBQ? For the change of Czech crowns you’ve got in your pocket you can get a bloody good bratwurst. The spring onions with the ketchup and mustard really set this snag off. Brilliant.
Other bars we smashed it at
So yeah, I mentioned that pub crawl. We did hit it pretty hard, mostly because we were guided by an enterprising Canadian chap, and managed to check out Bombay Bar, Chapeau Rouge and Propaganda Bar during our lager fuelled evening. Some bars in Prague can be hard to find, so use these as a starting point.
How to get there
Prague is pretty well serviced by a lot of carriers out of the UK, given that it’s a pretty popular destination. Check out Wizzair, easyJet, British Airways and Czech Airlines from cheapest to most expensive for flights over there.
A bit of orientation
Here’s a handy map laying out all the sights mentioned above to give you an idea of where things are in Prague. Click on the markers to see the sight listed and zoom and pan around to see more of the map.
View 48 hours in Prague in a larger map
Get around in Prague
The old town is so compact, you’ll have no problems walking it. If you’re staying a bit further out, then taking a tram in and out of town will be your best bet. Prague is served by a metro system, but I doubt you’ll need to use it.
Where to stay
We had our stay covered by the nice folks at Plus Prague Hostel in their huge digs in the Holesevice area north of the old town. It’s a bit further out (you’ll need to take a tram into town), but the hostel has everything you could need. Big, clean rooms, a full restaurant and bar and even a swimming pool.
Ever been to a hostel that provides a welcome kit like this? No need to bring your little carry-on plastic bag of toiletries!
The currency in Czech Republic is the Koruna and currently sits at about CZK 198 to the GBP. Prague isn’t the uber-cheap mega party destination it used to be unfortunately. Meals will only be slightly cheaper than in the UK, but the beer is still relatively cheap. Expect to pay the equivalent of £1.50 for a pint in a bar.
Prague is actually a pretty magical once you get under its skin a bit. As with all European cities, it’s absolutely teeming with history and character. It has a good half-dozen or so of city attractions to check out during your stay and won’t break the bank.
The combination of former Soviet history along with the struggle the Czechs endured paints an intriguing national picture; and the two days you’ll spend soaking up the architecture, cafes, bars, churches and squares in Prague provides a brief, fascinating insight into the country’s long and rich heritage.