In my previous post about our stay in Vienna, I said it had set the bar very high for our European adventure. And to be fair it had, Vienna is a magnificent city and I encourage everyone travelling through Europe to make sure it’s on their itinerary. But Prague is something else, a step up in beauty again. Boy oh boy Prague is a spectacular city, with every turn bringing something more beautiful to absorb.
There are so many amazing aspects to Prague such as incredible architecture, fascinating history, ridiculously cheap beer (the government doesn’t tax beer to keep the price down), delicious hearty food, and plenty of top quality entertainment from buskers dotted around the city, particularly those allowed to perform in the Old Town Square.
There was just one problem, it seemed like everyone in the world had the same idea as us to visit Prague at this time. There were so many people sometimes you had to fight your way through the crowds to get where you wanted to go. I’ve been to Prague before, in 2000, and I don’t remember it being this busy. Having said that I have the worst memory in the world, and apart from the Charles Bridge and Old Town Square, I didn’t really remember much else about my first visit, which is more than I can say for Vienna where I didn’t remember a single thing. I was young and single then and partying was high on my list of priorities, so maybe that had something to do with my fuzzy memory! But of course we were part of the crowding problem, so we’re not complaining.
We travelled to Prague from Vienna on a Student Agency bus for 45 Euros (approx. AU$63). The journey took about five hours and apart from spilling an entire cup of hot chocolate all over myself, having no internet despite being assured there would be, no food (and no koruna to buy any), a rude bus driver and Jack spending the entire time crawling all over me, the journey was pleasant and uneventful. We stayed at a budget hotel called Pension Davids, which I highly recommend for budget travellers arriving in Prague by bus as it was only 100 metres from the Florenc Bus Station and a 15 minute walk into the Old Town Square.
We spent three nights in Prague and because there’s so much to see, and we have online freelancing contracts to fulfil in our spare time while we’re on the road as well, we didn’t waste a second. Here’s what we got up to during our stay:
WE JOINED A ‘FREE’ WALKING TOUR
This walking tour is marketed as free, and technically speaking it is. You don’t have to pay if you don’t want to, but if at the end you’ve enjoyed the tour and the guide has done his job well, you tip him what you think he deserves. It’s a great concept as it forces the guide to be on his A-game every time, you get a great experience, and you can pay what you can afford. Perfect for travellers on a budget like us.
There’s two operators that we saw in Prague, the Sandemans New Prague tour (in the red t-shirts) and the Good Prague Tours group (in the green t-shirts), but there may be more. We joined the red t-shirts mainly because it started a little earlier at 10am.
We met our guide Chris in the Old Town Square and set off for our three hour journey around Prague. There were about 30 people in our English speaking group, but there were other groups as well for those who spoke other languages. We started with a look around the Square and a brief chat about the history of Prague and the Czech Republic. It was interesting to hear about the country’s history, and all that the people have been through over the past 2000 years, with independence from the Habsburgs of Austria, the Nazis, and the Communists really only happening for the Czech people in the last 25 years after the Velvet Revolution.
We took in some of the major attractions around the city, such as the Old Jewish Quarter, the Astronomical Clock, Spanish Synagogue (that isn’t Spanish, or a synagogue), Powder Tower, Wenceslas Square and the Rudolfinum just to name a few, but strangely the Charles Bridge and Prague Castle were left off the route. I can understand them giving Prague Castle a miss on this tour as it’s a bit of a walk and you can spend all day up there (and they have another paid tour specifically for the castle), but not venturing onto Charles Bridge seems odd. Perhaps they’re not allowed to as it would add to an already congested space, who knows!
In the middle of the tour Chris took the group to a restaurant just behind the Old Town Square for an early lunch, guaranteeing a traditional meal at a more than reasonable price. It’s probably true as they can negotiate a good price given they bring large groups through every day, but Sarah and I weren’t hungry yet and Jack was still sleeping his way through the entire tour. He has a habit of sleeping at some of the world’s most famous places, i.e. the Taj Mahal, Temples of Angkor, Halong Bay, and now Prague!
We finished the tour just after 1pm at the Rudolfinum (home of the Czech Philharmonic), paid Chris 100CZK (AU$5) and made our way home to do a couple of hours work. We watched what others were paying and saw that some were dumping any spare change they had into his hands, while others paid about 200CZK. We figured the average was about 100CZK so that’s what we paid. It may seem cheap by Australian standards, but there were 30 people on his tour and it’s not nearly as expensive to live in Prague as it is in Australia. So AU$150 cash for three hours work is pretty good going.
No trip to Prague is complete without spending time on the Charles Bridge. It’s a beautiful, medieval bridge that links the Old Town with Prague Castle. You can get to Prague Castle via other routes, but why would you when you can go this way. It’s almost always packed with tourists, and the bridge is lined with locals selling artwork or souvenirs, musicians busking to receive donations and flog CD’s, and artists painting people’s portraits. It’s also a great place to get spectacular views of the castle and have your obligatory Prague tourist photo taken.
The walk up to Prague Castle is arguably more beautiful and eventful than the castle itself, although the castle is spectacular like everything else in this city. If all you did during your stay in Prague was walk from the Old Town Square, across Charles Bridge, along Mostecka (street), past St Nicholas Church, then along Nerudova (which I think is arguably the most beautiful street in Prague) and explore Prague Castle, you could leave incredibly content.
On the way up Nerudova there are several restaurants offering three-course traditional meal options for anywhere between 150-230CZK (AU$7.50-$11.50). These include a soup, a main meal and a dessert, and there’s no chance you’ll leave needing to eat again in five minutes like you would with an upsized Quarter Pounder with Cheese meal at McDonalds. We stopped at one of these establishments, sat in the lovely sunshine, enjoyed our meal on the beautiful street and were content with how to day was progressing thus far. We were given some great advice by the guide on our walking tour. He said you should never pay more than 25-35CZK for half a litre of beer (AU$1.25-$1.75), or more than 200CZK for a meal (AU$10). If you walk into a restaurant and the price for food and drink is more than this, leave and find somewhere else to eat and drink. Even though these meal deals don’t include a drink, they’re still worth every penny!
The castle doesn’t actually look like a castle, more like a collection of palaces various rulers built over the course of hundreds of years…which is exactly what it is. It’s free to wander around the grounds, but if you want to go inside anywhere there are costs. However, the one free attraction available is the magnificent St Vitus Cathedral. Anyone can go in for a look, but if you want to head down the front or into any of the other areas of the church apart from the free bit at the back, you have to pay. One tip, don’t stand at the back of any long lines to get in. Wait for the times when literally no one is lining up to go in which is what we did. One minute the line will be 100 metres long, the next there’s no one waiting to get in. Make sure you pick your moment! How long you spend at Prague castle is up to you. You could literally spend an hour or two just wandering around like we did, including a peak inside the church, or buy various ticket types to go exploring throughout the castle complex and spend all day up there. The choice is yours depending on what you want to see and do.
Despite the fact Prague is probably the most beautify city in the world, when Sarah and I put it to the ‘would we live here’ test, we were undecided. Not because it wouldn’t be an awesome place to live, but because there are so many tourists that after a while you wouldn’t want to be where they are. And that counts out pretty much all of the centre of Prague! But it is an amazing place with something for everyone. If you’re young and up for a party then you’ve come to the right place. With beer still at 1973 prices and more pubs and clubs than you can poke a stick at, you won’t be short of options. And if you fancy meeting other people, there are heaps of organised pub crawls for you to tag along on and meet some friendly faces, which include a few free pints of the local drop. If you’re a little more conservative, or older, and those heavy partying days are behind you (like us), you can enjoy a whole range of classical concerts, fine dining, tours and museums. Or go home and get an early night’s sleep after a long day of exploring, like we did! Like I said, there’s something for everyone.
We stayed for three nights, but you could easily stay for longer and not get bored. Our guide initially planned on staying for two months and he’s still there showing people the city two years later! Three nights is enough for you to get a good taste of what the city is all about, but four or five nights would enable you to slow down, soak up the atmosphere and take part in more local cultural experiences.
Click the images below to see a photo gallery of our stay in Prague…