How (not) to: Prague

Basics

I arrived via Ryanair: Stansted (15.30) to Prague (18.20). I got to the hostel relatively easily, mostly because I met someone on the plane who pointed me in the right direction 🙂 otherwise I would have ended up going totally the wrong way and with the wrong ticket…

I stayed at Little Town Budget Hotel (don’t be fooled, it is a hostel) four full days, six nights. I decided to stay that last night in Prague because it was cheaper to get an early train into Vienna than stay the night in Austria.

The hostel was very pleasant, quite big rooms but I probably could have paid for something smaller. There was a kitchen in the room with a fridge, which kept the beer cold. There was quite a mix of people staying at the hostel, the last night was marred slightly by a big group of Spanish kids who didn’t want to make any friends and were very cliquey. Otherwise, its a good hostel, very cosy, with lots of power points for phone charging and excellently located.

I actually forgot I was staying for the fourth day because I’m an idiot and really I could have left. That’s always the disadvantage of booking in advance. However the early morning train was great because I got to walk through Prague as it was empty and waking up: beautiful!

Itinerary

When I first arrived I went up the hill to check out the castle at night. I got some beautiful views over the city and the atmosphere was great. Unfortunately I couldn’t get any good photos… so you’ll have to go yourself!

The map below is from my guidebook. I was staying where that ‘X’ is (i.e. where all the lines meet). It was right below the castle (where the blue and red lines are) and also within easy reach of the Old Town (where the yellow and green lines are). The lines are approximate but I think it gives a good idea of:

a) quite how far I walk on the first days of a trip; and

b) how a little planning and organisation could have saved my feet some of this effort!

Prague Map

What I’m glad I did

Charles Bridge

This is the centre of Prague. I walked across it dozens of times. It’s filled with tourists and caricaturists and presumably criminals. It’s nice enough during the day and you can see all the statutes properly. However, it’s best at night, with the drizzle and the sun rising. It really feels like a spy movies and you get this almost overwhelming compulsion to hide notes in the statutes and leave a trail of breadcrumb clues… I may watch too many movies.

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Letná Park

The people of Prague have been relaxing here for hundreds of years. The park is dotted with Italian-style palazzos and people doing running and exercising. I went up there because I can’t resist a panoramic view over a city.

What nobody wants to mention is that the modern approach from the river was built by the Soviets. It’s obviously enough if you can recognise the symmetrical poured concrete style but nobody in Prague is exactly proud of their communist blip. Apparently there used to be a monument to Stalin at the top of the stairs but it’s been replaced by some modern art. This is a shame from a tourist perspective since I’m quite fond of aggressively large statutes but I can see where they are coming from.

The Old Town

I spent a fair amount of time walking around in the churches and alleyways of old Prague. It’s easy to end up on the main roads so you have to try quite hard to always be pushing back into the smaller streets. There are a lot of hotels on this side of the river and a lot of tourists and coaches, so it’s best to just turn around whenever you seen a herd of them coming your way!

Petřín Hill

This is that big park on the left hand side of the map. The views across the city and to the castle are incredible. The park itself is filled with random stuff like the Hunger Wall (basically a castle, good fun for action movie games), this little church (for St Michael, I think), an observatory, a tower that looks like the Eiffel Tower. You can also get to it via a funicular railway: need I say more?

Prague Castle

I mean, look at it! It’s ancient, it’s beautiful. Taking a turn around the castle is a no-brainer. Also, there’s a place that sells quite good, quite cheap ice cream in one of the courtyards. FYI.

Stadium

This is not exactly a tourist spot. I think it was on my map for the sake of completeness rather than a recommendation. Nonetheless I would strongly suggest that anyone with a spare hour should head up there. It’s just beyond the observatory and it’s so quiet and still and out of place when you think about all the beautiful, ornate, gothic stuff you’ve just been looking at.

When you head back into town you walk through these massive tower-blocks, maybe 12-16 in total. I think it’s really important to get out of the tourist bubble sometimes.

Islands in the Vltava

I spent a good four hours chilling on one of these islands. At one point a group of school children showed up and started collecting leaves for a project. It was really very pleasant.

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My advice would be to just pick and island and stay there for a long as possible. You see so much more of a city by just staying still.

The Royal Botanical Garden

Did I mention that I love botanical gardens? This wasn’t a proper botanical garden since it was designed to actually look nice, but it’s really lovely nonetheless. Some of the trees are very rare and very old, and it’s got very nice conservatories dotted amongst.

Also, on the further end there’s a petting zoo with eagles and owls, and also a museum. I learned that a lot of the treasures of Prague were actually looted by the Swedish in the 30 Years War. The Czech people want them back (obviously) but the Swedes aren’t on board. Turns out the UK isn’t the only country with a minor empire/stuff problem…

What I could have given a miss

The New Town

By this I mean the area in the bottom right of my map. It’s where the famous Dancing House is, which is famous because everyone in Prague really hates it. This was a more ‘real’ area of Prague, as in no tourists, lots of students, and people going about their lives. It was slightly intimidating at times.

The Astronomical Clock

This is one of the biggest tourist attractions. I accidentally arrived about 10 minutes before it’s big display so I decided to hang around. It’s nice if you’ve never seen an astronomical clock before but it’s got nothing on the clock in Munich! The highlight of this bit was watching all the Americans and also the children steal things from the Americans…

On the same square are lots of churches that are very difficult to get in to. I think the famous one is called St Nicolas and it’s only open for a few hours on alternate afternoons or something equally unhelpful. So many people want to go that you can only walk in one direction as you go around and all the atmosphere is lost.

The Monastery

I mean, maybe it’s me, but this wasn’t my favourite monastery of the trip. The beer is very expensive and you can’t really see anything. I like a monastery where you can imagine the monks walking around in silent contemplation and ideally some sort of corruption scandal like in The Name of the Rose. I didn’t get any of that from this monastery. Also, did I mention how expensive the beer is?

What I wish I had done

Brought an anorak

It rained a lot my first day in Prague. The rest of the days were sunny and delightful but still. Cities in the rain can be very atmospheric but only if you’re properly attired. Otherwise it’s just cold and wet.

Paid more money

It can be a serious toss up between having dinner and going into a church. I was deep in my ‘not paying for anything’ phase during this trip and so, despite seeing the outside of a lot of buildings, I only went into places that were free.

In particular, I wish I’d gone into the cathedral in the castle and the mirror maze. Why? Because cathedrals are a personal past time and mirror mazes are cool.

I also wish I’d paid to go into the Jewish sites. There’s two synagogues and a cemetery. The history of the Jews in Prague is both touching and horrific but the perseverance, stoicism and ingenuity are breathtaking. If I go back these would be the first places I go.

Known more about Vyšehrad before I went

This hill on the other side of the river doesn’t even make it onto my map but it’s where I went on the blue line day. It’s where all of the people of Prague seem to go on first dates, especially when the sun is setting, like when I was there.

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I had a swell time while I was there, what with the views and everything, but what I didn’t realise was that it’s where Dvorak and Smetana are buried. As the two major Czech composers it would have been nice to pay my respects.

Spent more time in the Lesser Town

I only ended up here on my last day because I’d miscounted my days. It’s a lovey bit of the city, very quiet and nice. There are old palaces which are now embassies (and my guidebook was full of fun stories about how people were sheltered in these palaces during WWII) and also the John Lennon Wall, which is a spontaneous celebration and memorial. Then you head further down the river and end up by the Kafka museum and find all the tourists again.

Last Thoughts

Prague was my favourite city of the three and I would love to go back again. I’d also love to explore some of the area, towns and villages around Prague. I also didn’t manage to go out-out to any of the major clubs which Prague is so famous for. I probably tired myself out by drinking beer on an empty stomach all day!

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Well, that’s it for now! Next time I’ll cast my eye over my trip to Vienna but until then, over and out x

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4 thoughts on “How (not) to: Prague

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