The capital of the Czech Republic has risen to prominence thanks to its immense architectural beauty, its vast cultural offer and its world renowned clubs and beer taverns. Here are some suggestions on how to spend a few days in the Golden City.
History and overview:
The area of Prague has been inhabited since as early as the 4th century and served as a Roman stronghold in the early Middle Ages. Slavic tribes settled in the area and historic Prague was born in the 6th century.
The city subsequently developed into one of the cultural, military and political centres of Central Europe before its rise to glory in the 14th century when Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia Charles IV transformed Prague into the imperial capital and it became the third biggest city in Europe (after Rome and Constantinople). Many of the 14th century fortifications are still partly visible today in the Old Town.
Prague’s ascent to power amid the Kingdom of Bohemia seemed unstoppable, the region was however conquered by the Habsbourg monarchy who established a new political order in Central Europe and added vast areas and architectural styles to the city, Prague’s new core was born.
Many wars and battles followed, the conflicts in Central Europe touched all the region’s capitals and Prague was no exception. After the Second World War, Czechoslovakia (a federal state founded after the First World War) was forced into the communist bloc and Prague’s economic development plummeted. The Czech defiance against communism culminated in the 1968 Prague spring uprising which was violently crushed by Soviet tanks.
The Velvet revolution in 1989 led to the Czech Republic’s new independence and the country could finally regain its path to prosperity. A great economic success story fueled by the ever expanding Czech car and beer industries followed and the Czech Republic is now one of the most exemplar and successful former communist states that joined the EU in 2004.
Note that the Czech Republic is not situated in Eastern Europe (every Czech will remind you of that), the country is part of Central Europe and Prague lies more than 100km west of Vienna, which most people would consider Western Europe.
Eurostars David: A great upper mid range hotel in a beautiful Habsbourg building in a good location with all the usual amenities. Check it out here
The luxury option: The Grand Mark: A fantastic hotel close to all the major sights with a spa and luxurious rooms all in the classic Czech style. Check it out here
The budget option: Hostel Elf Prague: A well located hostel with a lively and hip alternative atmosphere. Check it out here
Cultural offer and activities:
Museum of Communism: (Na Prikope 10) A very instructive museum about the time between the Second World War and the Fall of the Berlin Wall, when Czechoslovakia had to live under the socialist system that was imposed to all the nations behind the Iron Curtain.
Old town and Wenceslas Square: The fabulous Habsbourg buildings that have helped Prague achieve global fame need no introduction while Wenceslas Square definitely ranks high among the most beautiful squares in Europe if not the world.
Dancing House: World famous architect Frank Gehry left his mark in Prague with this weird yet beautiful construction close to the Vltava river. The building is great to glance at but not of much interest to travellers.
Charles Bridge: One of the most famous landmarks in Prague, Charles Bridge is definitely worth crossing in order to marvel at the stunning riverside architecture. Go early tough, hordes of tourists flock onto the bridge in the afternoon which spoils the stroll.
Petrin Hill & Prague Tower: Hiking up Petrin hill is a great nature related activity and on top you will be rewarded with mesmerizing views over the city. Prague Tower is a sort of Eiffel Tower like metal structure which allows you to ascend to the highest point of the city and enjoy an even better observation point.
Old Jewish Cemetery: (Široká) The Jewish cemetery is one of the major historical sights in the city and reminds you of the terrible events that happened in Europe’s Jewish ghettos during the Second World War.
Czech National Museum: (Václavské nám. 68) An instructive museum located in a fantastic architectural masterpiece where you can learn about some of the major historical events that put the Czech Republic on the map throughout the centuries.
Powder Tower: (nam Republiky 5) Another stunning feat of Gothic medieval architecture in the Old Town. The tower and its gate are one of the 13 original city gates that were built in the 13th century. It was designed as an attractive entrance to the city and later used as a defensive facility.
Wine & Dine:
Kolkovna Savarin: (Na Prikope 10) A great local restaurant inside the patio of the Museum of Communism.
Casa Argentina Praha: (Dlouhá 730/35) Not a local option but still a very good one. The Argentine house will delight you with its wide array of top of the range meat from different countries and its various rooms all providing different atmospheres.
Café Louvre: (Národní 22) A bit touristy but of such architectural beauty that you should absolutely not miss it. The restaurant/café offers everything from breakfast to dinner and it is highly recommended to reserve a table in advance.
James Dean: (V Kolkovně 922/1) A high-end bar attracting a hip, young and mostly local crowd.
Propaganda: (Pštrossova 29) A cozy, laidback bar off the beaten tourist track where you can try several local beers and play table-football. Propaganda bar is moreover very reasonably priced.
Roxy: (Dlouhá 33) One of the top electro clubs in Prague right in the busy Dlouha street. This club will delight techno and electro lovers, some of the world’s renowned electro DJs are regulars here and the sound system is excellent.
Karlovy Lazne: (Smetanovo nábř. 198/1) This 5 storey nightclub features an ice bar and is advertised as the biggest nightclub in Europe. The club in itself is not a bad spot and the 5 floors are all diversely themed but the fact that there are barely any locals in this club is a downside. It is a great place to go once or twice in order to meet fellow travellers but certainly not the best club in Prague.
Dlouha Street: One of the coolest nightlife areas in Prague, frequented by locals and travellers alike due to its wide variety of bars and clubs
Kolkovna: (V Kolkovně 8) One of the best beer taverns in the Old Town which was named ‘Best Pub‘ and ‘Best Czech and Slovak Pub‘ by the Prague City Hall. You will encounter great hearty Bohemian cuisine and the finest Czech beer in this beer house, which is frequented by locals and tourists alike. Book a table in advance tough, especially during high season.
Harley’s: (Dlouhá 704/18) A very down to earth bar with a mix of locals and tourists enjoying a wide selection of drinks in a great atmosphere.
Final tips & verdict:
In my personal ranking of Europe’s top cities, Prague ranks among the top 3, it is simply put one of the cities in Europe I like the most.
You could argue for hours whether it is the most beautiful city in Europe or not but it would definitely rank high on anyone’s list. The architecture, the food, the culture, the cozyness and the buzzing nightlife make this a truly great world city to which you always want to return.
On top of that, the infrastructure is excellent and the prices are relatively low. The only disadvantage I can think of is mass tourism in summer which can be a hindrance to the perfect Prague experience and I would therefore recommend a stay off-peak season.
Prague being a popular tourist destination, English is very common although a few basic Czech phrases will definitely be useful, even on a short trip.