With nothing about the Czech Republic in our trusty ‘Western Europe’ Lonely Planet, Prague was one of the cities we were least prepared for and it took us pleasantly by surprise!
A few things to keep in mind before the trip
1. Currency: The Czech Repubic has its own currency, the Czech koruna. In May 2017, 24CZK = 1CHF, 23.5CZK = 1USD, 26CZK = 1EUR. A lot of transactions are cash only, so it is good to have some local money. Places do take Euros, but often offer a poor exchange rate, so avoid it as far as possible. The worst rate is at the border to buy the Vignette to enter the country- if possible definitely try to buy it in CZK!
2. Language: Czech sounded like, and probably is, a fairly difficult language. Most people do speak at least some English and German, so it isn’t too difficult to get around with no knowledge of the language. They do appreciate the effort though- ahoj (pronounced ahoy) is hello and goodbye, dike (pronounced dee-kay) is the slang for thank you, dobrý den (pronounced doe-bree-den) is good day, and prosím (pronounced pro-seem) is please.
3. Western/Central/Eastern Europe: I think instinctively one would assume that the Czech Republic is a part of Eastern Europe- it is not; Vienna, which is firmly a part of Western Europe is east of Prague! The locals say they are part of Central Europe, and definitely do not like to be called Eastern Europe.
Top things to do in Prague
With that out of the way, Prague is a fun and relaxed city, with cheap food, very cheap and really tasty beer and lots of interesting places to see! With 48 hours in the city, some of the key sights and things to do would include:
Old town square and the atomic clock
Steeped in history, with an interesting story at every corner, the old town square is a great place to admire the architecture (the Old Town Hall, the Church of Our Lady before Týn, the Jan Hus memorial and St. Nicholas church), people-watch and gawk at the atomic clock as it strikes the hour. The food from the stalls smells delectable, but costs at least twice of what it does elsewhere!
Stroll along Charles Bridge
One of the iconic and famous bridges of Prague, it is probably one of the busiest places in the city. Walking across can be quite a challenge, but the statues along the bridge, the vendors with their handmade trinkets and the views along the Vltava river, make it well worth the effort.
Visit Prague castle
It is the largest coherent castle complex in the world, with an area of almost 70,000 m², believed to be founded in around 880 by Prince Bořivoj of the Premyslid Dynasty. It feels like a tiny city in itself, and is worth the 3-4 hours it takes to walk around and soak it all in. No tickets are required to enter the castle grounds and gardens, so you can walk around the entire site for free, however individual sights- like the St. Vitus cathedral, Golden lane, etc, within the complex require their own tickets. It is supposedly the most visited site in Prague, so if the Charles bridge was a challenge, this is a lot busier! Tickets can be bought online and looking at the lengths of the queues, that would probably be recommended. We admired most of the structures from outside and watched the 12 noon changing of the guard- which is the bigger ceremony held once a day. Since the castle is perched up on a hill, the views of Prague from it are quite spectacular too!
Fun fact – the castle looks great lit up in the night when viewed from the city, interestingly, a large number of these lights were sponsored by the Rolling Stones! Apparently, when the band asked why the castle was dark during their visit to post war Czech Republic, they were informed by the then President that the country had no funds for frivolities. Ashamed but moved, the band sponsored the lights that stand even today!
Visit the Jewish neighborhood
Most of the Jewish neighborhoods of Prague were spared during World War II and a lot of the synagogues and buildings and in perfect condition. Horrifyingly, this was because when Hilter visited the city during the war, he fell in love with it and decided to preserve it, to be used after the war as a museum of the ‘extinct race’! The Spanish synagogue is ornate and stands at the site of probably the oldest synagogue in Prague. Confiscated properties of Czech Jewish communities were stored in the synagogue during World War II, which was handed over to Jewish Museum after the war and is now open to the public. The old-new synagogue, while small, is the oldest surviving medieval synagogue of twin-nave design and is the oldest active synagogue in Europe. Pinkas synagogue commemorates about 78,000 Czech Jewish victims of the Shoah (holocaust) and has their names on the synagogue’s inner wall. It also houses an exhibition of pictures drawn by children in the concentration camp in Theresienstadt, taught by the renowned artist Friedl Dicker-Brandeis.
Visit the second statue of Kafka
Located in the new town, getting to this statue is like traveling through a time machine, from the past to today! Located behind the modern, bustling Quadrio Shopping center, the work by David Černý’s complements his other statue entitled Metalmorphosis, installed in North Carolina.
This is a non-traditional, modern construction is a stark contrast to the ornate Gothic buildings in old town. Worth looking at just as an oddity!
Once a normal wall, since the 1980s it has been filled with John Lennon-inspired graffiti and pieces of lyrics from Beatles’ songs. In a state of constant metamorphosis (there was a can of spray paint sitting at the wall inviting wannabe artists), with a musician playing Beatles songs, it lends a very Bohemian feel to the area!
As always, food and drink was a big part of our trip. Czech food was quite delicious and cheap, and the beer was really great! Widely available and actually cheaper than water, it complemented every meal, was ubiquitous, a great way to beat the heat and so tasty! Fun fact – The Czechs are the largest consumers of beer in the world, with an average of 142.4 – 156.9 liters (based on which study you read) per person per year! Well ahead of any other contender!
So naturally we had to do our part too, consuming an average of 1 liter per head per day 🙂 Read about it here.
Read about our experiments with and experiences of Czech food here.