Prague (Praha in Czech) is one of the oldest and most beautiful cities of Europe. Here, time stands still as the past comes alive through a rich tapestry of architecture from different periods of history; with ancient palaces, cathedrals, church domes, gold-tipped towers and bridges forming the backdrop for an energetic and modern way of life. Vibrant with its music, art, fine dining and cultural acts, the city scores 10/10 as an alternate experience destination for the free-spirited millennial traveller.
‘The City of a Hundred Spires’, as the capital city of the Czech Republic is fondly called, Prague is a magical fairy-tale world of fables and folk tales, with a rich blend of Romanesque, Baroque, Gothic, art nouveau and modern styles of architecture. Attracting travellers, art lovers, students of architecture and history from across continents, it is a city that has stayed true to its unique form and style over centuries.
Unlike many European cities, Prague remained unscathed by the ravages of WWII, retaining its walled courtyards, cobbled lanes, cathedrals, stone bridges and the countless churches with their majestic spires. On one side of the Vltava River lies the Old Town (Staré Mesto) and the New Town (Nové Mesto), while on the other bank lies the Lesser Town (Malá Strana) and the beautiful Prague Castle (Prazsky Hrad). The two sides are connected by twenty bridges, with Charles Bridge being the stellar attraction. Spring and summer months are the best time to visit, when moderate day temperatures and abundant sunshine prevail. But that’s also the most expensive time to visit. Consider a trip around September-October when the weather is pleasantly cool and the usual holidaying crowd thins out. There are great deals on flights and accommodation during this time, that make a lot of sense if you are travelling on a budget.
Life is easy in Prague. Great landscapes, parks and gardens are ample reasons for people to be outdoors. The Czechs ascribe high regard and significance to family and friends and spend a lot of time catching up with each other. As a result, restaurants, cafes, pubs and bars serving delectable cuisine and affordable drinks remain buzzing till the wee hours. From the roadside cafes to a unique fine dining experience in exclusive cellars, rooftop settings or in riverside restaurants, the food scene in the city never disappoints.
With trains plying regularly to most of the major European cities, Prague is well connected with the rest of Europe through an efficient rail network. It makes for a great inter-city weekend destination and young folks wandering around Europe invariably end up in Prague during weekends to party, and catch up with friends. The city boasts of an excellent public transport network with the metro and trams, making it super easy to commute even during unearthly hours.
While there is much to soak in and discover in every nook and cranny of this fabulous city, here are a few places and things worth checking out:
1. Old Town Square. Founded in the 12th century, the Old Town Square is a UNESCO world heritage site and the soul of the city. It has been witness to many significant historical events and in addition to the Old Town Hall and the monument of the Protestant reformer Jan Hus, many other structures dominate the surroundings. The Gothic Tyn Cathedral, The Prague Astronomical Clock at the tower of the Town Hall, The Baroque Nicholas Church and the Rococo style Kinsky Palace are some of the more significant ones. The pavement of the square has memorial stones marking the execution of 27 Czech lords in 1621. Today, the square is also the venue for many important events, with the traditional Christmas markets being huge crowd-pullers. Relax with a beer at one of the many outdoor cafes that dot the area, as the Square and surrounding streets are strictly a pedestrian zone.
2. Astronomical Clock. One of Prague’s most famous attractions, the Astronomical Clock in the Old Town Square is the oldest working clock in Europe. Every hour, hordes of tourists come here to witness the 12 miniature figures of apostles come out in procession from the windows. Quite a treat to watch.
3. Prague Castle. An entire day would seem insufficient to explore Prague Castle. Dating back to the 9th century, the castle complex is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Lesser Town. It is the largest castle complex in the world spanning an area of almost 70,000 sq m. with gardens, churches, alleyways and royal residences. St. Vitus Cathedral standing tall in the castle complex is a fine example of Gothic architecture in all of Central & Eastern Europe. Inside the cathedral lies the tomb of St. Wenceslas, the country’s patron saint. On your way back from Prague Castle, stop by at one of the classic Czech taverns and wolf down a sumptuous Czech meal with some lager.
4. Charles Bridge. The historical stone bridge is the link between the old and new towns of Prague. Spanning 16 arches and 30 baroque statues, the bridge is nothing short of iconic. The sublime beauty of a magnificent sunshine on an early morning trip to the bridge is simply unmissable if one can manage to do so. Day time walks are lively with performances by artists and musicians, and artisans selling local handicrafts, souvenirs and jewellery. The swans flocking together against a beautiful sunset makes a pretty picture, and leisurely late night strolls can be utterly romantic. A river cruise down Vtlava is a good idea, if you wish to get a swan-eye perspective of this unique and charming city.
5. Lennon Wall. A 10-minute walk away from Charles Bridge, is the famous Lennon Wall. Stride along to admire some street art and graffiti inspired by John Lennon and the Beatles. Quotes for freedom and lyrics from Lennon songs generously adorn the wall. Although some of the original artwork of the 80’s is now covered by regular graffiti, Lennon Wall is worth a visit for its spirit and message of peace and freedom. An immensely popular zone with the young creative types.
6. Franz Kafka Museum. Situated on the banks of the Vtlava River in Lesser Town is the famous museum where you see Prague through the eyes of Kafka. Dedicated to the great 20th century Czech writer, it has many first-edition books, original letters, drawings, manuscripts, and offers deep insights into his life and work.
7. Nightlife. Prague has a buzzing nightlife all year round and there is something for everyone in this vibrant city. Famous for its Jazz and classical music, there are several venues here that offer great entertainment. A number of ballets, opera and classical concerts are held in the many concert halls, opera houses and medieval churches that dot the city. Jazzdock, which draws some of the best local Jazz musicians, is a great option. For top-notch clubbing, Cross Club is an impressive bet. Located in an industrial setting, the interiors are an interesting blend of shafts and construction works.
8. Parizská Street. The main fashion street in Prague is named after Paris and dotted with beautiful Art Nouveau buildings on both sides; most of them dating back to early 20th century. Parizská Street is the most expensive and stylish shopping destination in the whole of Prague, with global fashion brands, local high street brands, and stores selling jewellery, cosmetics and Bohemian crystal.
9. Czech Beer. Prague has a relaxed drinking culture. And the wide range of ale and relatively affordable price makes it one of the top 10 beer destinations of the world. The Czechs claim to have some of the world’s finest brews, and hundreds of bars across Prague give you several opportunities to test their claim. Budvar and Staropramen are the more sought-after brands but it is the variety of traditionally brewed local craft beer that takes matters to another level. Beer is most definitely the go-to beverage here – both for locals and tourists.
10. Farmers markets. The farmers markets are undoubtedly one of the best things to experience while in Prague. Frequented by the locals, the markets are a great place to shop for fresh seasonal fruits & vegetables, cheese, wine, Czech beer and even freshly prepared hot meals. They are a year-round affair and we particularly loved the riverside Naplavka farmers market and the Jirak farmers market in Vinohrady district. A 20-minute walk from Prague Castle, Dejvice farmers market is another option to consider if you are towards the castle complex. Shop like a native and end it with some fine Czech pastries and freshly brewed coffee.
Prague is one of the greatest cities to explore on foot. If you are forever curious and have an appetite for amazement, this could be your wonderland. An all-out cosmopolitan city which is lately turning out to be a millennial magnet, Prague embraces antiquity and modernity with equal ease and confidence. The vibrant and lively atmospherics of the city, against a stoic and sombre background makes it a perfect blend of the Eastern and Western European experience. And the fact that it is not as expensive as other European cities, is an added attraction.
Often compared to Paris for its beauty, Prague in many ways has more character and feel. You almost know what to expect in Paris, but Prague is about urban explorations and everyday discovery – of moments, material objects and memories. If Paris is about ‘joie de vivre’, then Prague is about ‘pohoda’ – which means contentment. And that’s perhaps the best way to describe it from a traveller’s perspective too.