The people in the Czech Republic consume the more beer per head than anyone else in the world, and the country has topped the per capita beer drinking table for 23 consecutive years! In 2015, the most recent year for which statistics are available, the Czechs drank 142.4 litres per person, which is the equivalent of 250 pints – one every 35 hours! Read more here.
During our visit there, it was our duty, therefore, to contribute to national statistics and the delicious beers absolutely helped! We found that in Germany, there were fewer varieties of beer (weiss, dunkel, helles), all were light (around 5% ABV) and it was mostly about the quantity of beer (in liters!) consumed; read about the fun we had here! Almost all beer in the Czech Republic tasted like craft beer, with varied tastes, strengths, and we couldn’t get enough!
While all the beer we tasted was very good, according to us, the top 5 beers/breweries to try in the Czech Republic are:
Pilsner Urquell in Plzeň.Their traditional Pilsner, a blond lager, is very good, as are their darker, stronger beers- we tried Master (18°) which was yum!
Konrad and Hermann microbreweries. Our trip was perfectly timed to coincide with the Czech beer festival in Prague, a very lucky coincidence! As a result, we got to try a number of smaller microbreweries that might not have been possible otherwise. Konrad and Hermann were two that we only found at the festival and would definitely recommend both.
Kozel.More mainstream than the ones mentioned above, we found at least 4-5 different varieties of beer made by them and the few we tasted were delicious!
Bohemia regent. Also more mainstream, we got to try one of their craft brews, Lady vanilla, at the festival. It tasted like a very good cream ale, with a hint of lime, and now we really regret not having brought home any bottles!
Eggenberg brewery in Český Krumlov.Another famous brewery, this one truly deserves its good reputation! The restaurant has a nice ‘beer hall’ feel, their beers are really delicious and the food is tasty too! What more could one ask for?!
While Prague is undoubtedly an important city to visit in the Czech Republic, smaller cities/towns around are also charming, have interesting sites and great food and beer!
We spent a day in Plzeň and another in Český Krumlov, and would definitely recommend both for day trips out of Prague.
Pilsen (Plzeň) is about 1.5 hours outside Prague and is home to the famous Pilsner beer, brewed by Pilsner Urquell Brewery, specializing in bottom-fermented beer since 1842. Being beer aficionados, it was impossible not to visit the city!
With about half a day in Pilsen, a few must-dos include:
Pilsner Urquell Brewery: visit the brewery to soak in the atmosphere! We did not take the tour, but if this is the first brewery you have visited, the tour is supposed to be quite informative and fun. Definitely go to the beer hall and drink a beer (or two)! We tried the regular Pilsner and a dark, stronger beer called Master. They were both delicious!
The brewery is connected to the town by a footbridge and clearly marked walking path, making is very convenient. Park in the brewery, and after a few beers wander into the town!
Pilsen has a small but pretty city center. It is famous for the colorful and highly decorated facades of the houses that line the street.
The cathedral of St. Bartholomew is an imposing Gothic church right in the main square. Probably established in 1295 it is home to the statue of the “Madonna of Pilsen” which is considered to be a European masterpiece and the town’s most treasured artifact. A replica of the statue can also be found outside the church.
Pilsen is also where the third largest synagogue in the world can be found, the first two being the ones in Jerusalem and Hungary.
Having built up an appetite, feast on local specialties, washed down with delicious beer! Read more about the great Czech food we tried here.
We couldn’t squeeze it in, but a walking tour of the city will be a great way to get to know the place better and learn more about all the interesting stories!
Český Krumlov:After spending a few days in Prague, we drove to Český Krumlov. Although it is about 4 hours away, the route is very scenic, making the drive fun.
Move over Shah Rukh Khan, there’s a new hero in town!
The city (or town) is picturesque and small enough that nothing is more than a 15 mins walk away. The center is also clearly signposted (the red and blue strips below) so its difficult to get lost.
Spend the time walking around and marveling at the views, which get better at every bend in the road!
Although not as large or imposing as the castle in Prague, the castle in Český Krumlov is pretty and steeped in history, so it is definitely worth paying visit to it.
Also, they have a real live bear in the moat outside!
The walk to the top is hard work, but the views make it worth the effort. Also the gardens are quite pretty!
Having thus built up a thirst (and an appetite) walk over the the Eggenberg brewery. They have delicious, refreshing beers, and the food is pretty good too!
As night falls in the city, the lights add to the beauty of the place. Do continue to wander even after dark- the starry sky and soft music played in the main square, make it a very romantic setting!
The great little apartment we found on Airbnb and our wonderful hosts definitely enhanced the experience! Check out the place we lived in here.
While visiting the big, well known cities is definitely a great experience, exploring smaller towns that are off the beaten path, makes it a more ‘real’, less touristy experience, giving the visitor a real feel for the place and the wonderful people living there!
When thinking of the Czech Republic, while beer would probably be one of the first thoughts, food would possibly not feature on the list. However, for us, food is an important way to better learn about a new city or country, so doubtless, our explorations of the Czech Republic included culinary adventures!
Meat, especially beef formed a major part of Czech food (sorry veggies, this post is quite meat-heavy). Some of the food we sampled, and quite liked, included:
Goulash: Available in almost all restaurants (especially those catering to tourists) goulash is like a spicy beef stew with a thick gravy. Originally from Hungary, it has comfortably integrated itself into Czech cuisine. We had it served with dumplings, which were bland and unsalted when eaten plain, but served very well to mop up the last of the gravy!
Beef tartar: One of our first forays into the world of raw beef, and oh was it worth it! We were asked whether we wanted to mix the meat, eggs and spices ourselves or wanted it done in the kitchen- fortunately we chose the latter, and recommend that you should too! As a part of our preparations we had come across a food blog that very rightly said- why should you do the job you’re paying the chefs to do?! When served like the photo below, the way to eat it is: rub the clove of garlic on the toast- it is crisp enough that it serves as sandpaper and gets nicely coated, then slather on the meat and dig in!
We’re still hunting for tasty and affordable beef tartar outside the Czech Republic!
Stuffed dumplings: Coming from the bay area, we were used to stuffed dumplings being a part of dimsum, not European food, so this came as quite a surprise. These were stuffed with pork, and dipped in mustard, they were delicious! Move over XLB, there’s a new dumpling we like!
Soups: Apparently hearty soups also feature often on traditional Czech menus. In the harsh winters, they can be very heartening. We tried a pea and bacon soup and a potato soup in a bread bowl, both were tasty and comforting!
Fried cheese: What’s better than a tasty cheese, the fried version of the same cheese! Breaded and fried, it was sinful and yum 🙂 Apparently it makes a great late night snack after an evening of drinking, and we can completely understand why!
And for dessert, Trdelnik. It is made by spirally winding dough on a spindle and slowly roasting it over hot coals. The fragrance of the cooking trdelnik is hard to miss and harder to resist! Once cooked through, it is covered with sugar (powdered or granulated, either works as well) and can be eaten plain, filled with molten chocolate or ice cream. We tried one with ice cream and another with chocolate, and they were both absolutely delicious! (my mouth is watering at the remembered taste, as I write this post).
Of course, no Czech meal is complete without copious amounts of beer, but there is so much to say about the beer, that we have a separate post about it!
With nothing about the Czech Republic in our trusty ‘Western Europe’ Lonely Planet, Prague was one of the cities we were least prepared for! A few things we learnt right away, and are good to keep in mind, include:
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.
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.
Fred and Ginger (the Dancing House): 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!
Lennon wall: 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.