Czech out Prague in 24 hours: Top 5 Musts
To be honest, Prague was never high on my list. I have heard stories of its beautiful architecture. I have also heard that Prague can be racist. Conversely,I also heard it can be friendly. The best way to learn about anything is to experience it yourself!
What brought me to Prague? A travel deal of course…
When I saw Gate 1 offering a tour package for $700 with flight and hotel for 2 cities and 2 countries for about a week, a friend and I hopped on that! It even included a bus in between the two cities. Yasss!
When it came time to actually travel, we had some complications due to weather related flight delays followed by an actual flight cancellation with Swiss Air. Who knew there would be a “snow storm” in mid-November. Although it only snowed 2-3 inches in NYC, the city was not prepared for it. However, it did land us a layover in Paris that we took full advantage of. I digress.
So, we went from having 2.5 days in Prague to a little over a day there. We arrived late Saturday night and left early Monday morning to head to Budapest. Here is how we czeched out (see what I did there LOL) Prague in a day if you are in a time crunch because you are either on a layover or doing a multi-city/multi-country trip. You will not be disappointed!
Things to Know about the Czech Republic :
Almost 10 years ago, the Czech Republic had the largest consumption of beer per capita in the world, beating Belgium, Germany, Austria and Ireland. They drink on average about 161 liters of beer per person each year. WOW!
Prague used to be 4 towns until the 18th century. Then it became Old Town, New Town, and Lesser Town.
The Czech Republic, at one point, used to be Czechoslovakia (after the fall of the USSR). Slovakia at the time was seen as too poor to be its own country so it joined Czech Republic and became Czechoslovakia in 1990. Czechs did not want to have to pay support Slovakia, which is more rural and had an unstable economy. Czeh has 12 million people while Slovakia has 5 million. So in voting, Czech always had the upper hand. Ultimately in 1993, Slovakia separated.
Top 5 Musts:
STOP 1: Explore through Full Day Prague Tour:
Bus tour: I found a day tour through Viator which included a bus tour, a tour of Prague Castle, lunch and a river cruise. Considering that it was November (which meant that the weather was chilly), it felt nice to have bus tour in the early morning. The bus tour helped us get a good overview of the city. For example, we passed by many well known sights such as Old Town Square, the Communism museum, and the National Museum. It also provided a good historical overview.
Prague Castle: This is definitely one of the highlights in Prague. For one, it is considered the largest castle in the world, 45 hectares. In addition to its outstanding architecture, it has a lot of history. Because it was built in the 9th century, it has over 1,000 years of history of kings, emperors and presidents in power! This is not just a castle, but a whole headquarters.
One of the most important things to check out when visiting Prague Castle is St. Vitus Cathedral, whose gothic architecture immediately stands out. Founded in the 14th century, it also stands out for being the largest and most important church in Prague. Aside from religious services, coronations of Czech kings and queens also took place here. The cathedral is also a place of burial of several patron saints, sovereigns, noblemen and archbishops.
TIP: If you truly want to be able to explore the Prague castle comprehensively, it could easily take a day. Because I was on a tour and only had a day to spend, I quickly walked through some of the most important monuments. However, if you have more than a day to spend, I would suggest you take your time to explore.
Old Royal Palace: Part of the Prague Castle, the palace itself dates back to the 12th century. Bohemian rulers had their seat in power in this palace until the Czech Republic gained its independence. Some of the best views!
TIP: Be sure to get here before noon if you want to watch the changing of the guards. If you want to see them march in, then position yourself in the alley way. If you want to see the actual changing of the guards, make sure to stand by the fence early as it gets SUPER packed and you will not be able to see a thing!
Lennon Wall: If you see a bunch of people crowded around taking photos, it is probably because they are trying to get a flick with this wall. Located in a small, isolated square across from the French embassy, the first piece of art was placed on the wall following the 1980 assassination of John Lennon when an unknown artist painted a single image of him as well as some lyrics. Since then, the walls have become completely filled with John Lennon-inspired graffiti and pieces of lyrics from Beatles’ songs. The wall is forever changing. For example, in the late 80’s, young Czechs would write grievances against the Communist regime. Over time, the wall has become a symbol of peaceful political activism and artistic free expression.
TIP: If you want a picture free of tourists, it is probably best to come early in the morning. I went midday and it was very hard to capture a picture without having a lot of patience!
St. Charles Bridge: This is a good area to walk around to truly experience Prague’s landscape in its entirety. Built in 1357 during King Charles IV reign (as you can see, everything in Prague is old), this is a pedestrian bridge that is often frequented by tourists. For 300 years, this was the only way to cross the Vltava River! There is so much to admire from this bridge— whether you are taking in views of Old Town and New Town, watching boats float down the river or admiring the many statues of saints lining the bridge. You might be wondering, what distinguishes Old Town and New Town? Prague’s Old town is one of the oldest places in Europe, dating back over 700 years. The New Town, however, isn’t really new at all. It just newer than old town. Charles IV founded it in 1348. The bridge, not surprisingly, has become very touristy with musicians and vendors. However, do not let this deter you!
TIP: Make sure that you look at both sides of the bridge. You will get very different views of Prague: Old Town & New Town.
TIP: The bridge is very crowded in the afternoon. Therefore. for best pictures, you will need to try to find an open space on the sides of the bridges. However, there is no way that you can get a picture on the bridge without people in your shot unless you go there very early in the morning.
STOP 2: Ride the Vltava River Cruise
This is the most scenic, leisurely way of experiencing Prague. The Vltava River is the longest river within the Czech Republic. Running through the center of Prague, it is the waterway that the city developed about 1000 years ago. On one side of the river is Old Town and New Town, while the other side of the river is Lesser Town and Prague Castle. Not only do you get to sightsee from a different perspective, it is also a great way to warm up during the cold November days as the boat is heated and you get a cup of mulled wine, with some cookies included.
STOP 3: Walk around Old Town Square
Old Town Square is one of the most beautiful squares I have been to because of the surrounding architecture as well as the general liveliness of the area. Surrounding the square, no matter where you look, are some of the most detailed and beautiful buildings. For example, there is St. Nicholas Church, which is a massive Baroque church built in 1732. I did not get a chance to go inside but I heard it is worth checking out!
There is also the Church of Our Lady before Tyn, which stands out because of its gothic spires. Basically, if you do not get a picture in front of this, did you really go to Prague? If you look closely, the two towers aren’t identical to each other -- one is slightly larger than the other. Apparently, they represent the feminine and masculine sides of the world.
Another remarkable build is Old Town Hall, which is where the famous Astronomical Clock, known as Orloj, is located. It’s the world’s third oldest clock of its kind, and the only one that actually still works! Built in 1410, it is the oldest of its kind in Europe. On top of beautiful architecture, there is cool history. For example, some of the architecture around Old Town Square has existed since the 14th century. The square itself dates back to 1091 when there used to be a market at the same location.
The best part of the square are the markets and food! Here you can try some authentic cuisine such as the trdelníks, a dessert made from rolled dough wrapped around a stick that is grilled over charcoal and coated with sugar. You can fill it with ice cream if you want! Its origins are rooted from a town right along the board of the Czech Republic. The best sausage, called the klobása, I’ve ever tasted so far has come from Prague’s street food. Simply juicy and well seasoned!
TIP: You will find lots of tourists in Old Town Square. With that being said, if you want to watch the astronomical clock, make sure to come at least 10-15 minutes before the start of the new hour, which is when you can watch the clock in action. Otherwise, you will be fighting for space to see and videotape this clock in action!
STOP 4: Visit Sex Machines Museum
When I travel, I love to search for unique museums. This place definitely met that criteria. I originally had it on my plan to visit and removed it for the sake of time considering our travel mishaps. However, as we were walking to try to find the train home, we bumped into it! It was a funny, yet interesting experience. There were sex machines dating as far back as the 1700s. The museum is very comprehensive considering that there are exhibits on 3 floors! There is even a theater where you can see some of the world’s oldest pornographic films dating back to 1920's Europe. Supposedly, it is the only sex museum in the world that is just dedicated to sex machines.
TIP: If you are near Old Town Square and are looking for something out of the ordinary, definitely check it out. As a warning, it is not the cheapest museum as it cost us 250 CZK (around $12 US).
STOP 5: Eat Dinner at Triton Restaurant
This was probably the most unique experience in Prague. It was a great way to end our long day adventure! In this restaurant, you will find Czech and international cuisine in a modern and creative way. The most unique part is that it is located in a 1912 stalactite cave. However, the outside is unassuming because of its modern entrance. The food looked like works of art!
TIP: If you are expecting to be full from the food, you will not be as the portions are fairly small. However, this is a place to come to if you are looking for a cool experience and tasty food.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:
TRANSPORTATION: How do I get to and around Prague?
When I booked this trip, I purchased a flight and hotel independent tour package from Gate 1 for under $750. A flight alone can cost that price! From JFK airport, there are no direct flights to Prague. My original flight transferred in Zurich, while my changed flight transferred in Paris.
Once you are in Prague, the cheapest way to get around is by public transportation. You can purchase a ticket depending how long you plan to ride. For example, a 30 minute ticket costs 24CZK, which is about $1, while a 24 hour ticket cost 110 CZK, which is about $5. The Metro, Prague’s train, is pretty spotless!
There is no Uber available in Prague. So, if you want a taxi, your best bet is to call a local taxi.
LODGING: Where should I stay in Prague?
While we were in Prague, we stayed at a hotel called NH Prague. The hotel was not the most luxurious hotel, but it was definitely no hostel either. It was comfortable enough for the short time that we were there. The hotel was about a 10 minute drive from Old Town. It is about a 10 minute walk from the Metro, which then is only a few stops from the city center. I imagine staying closer to Old Town and the city center will not only be more money, but more crowded with tourists as well.
FOOD: Where should I eat in Prague? What are the national dishes to try?
Considering that we only ended up in Prague for a day, I have very limited recommendations. Here is what I would recommend that you must try:
Let me start off with national dishes to try out:
Trdelníks: This is a dessert made from rolled dough wrapped around a stick and grilled over charcoal and coated with sugar. You can fill it with ice cream if you want! Its origins are rooted from a town right along the border of the Czech Republic.
Klobása: This is probably the best sausage I have tasted. Simply juicy and well seasoned! You can find this at the food stands in Old Town.
For particular restaurants to try out, I would recommend the following:
Triton Restaurant: This was probably the most unique experience in Prague. It was a great way to end our long day adventure. In this restaurant, you will find Czech and international cuisine in a modern and creative way. The most unique part is that it is located in a 1912 stalactite cave, although the outside is unassuming because of its modern entrance. The food looks like works of art!
OTHER: What should I keep in mind when planning a trip to Prague?
Cash is the way to go! Most places do not accept credit cards unless it is a very big restaurant.
Make sure that you load up on the Czech Krona, which is the currency. Although Prague is in Europe, they do not really use the Euro as much. It is also better for your pockets to use Czechia’s currency. Fortunately, there are a lot of currency exchange places.
One of the cheapest times to travel is later fall. We traveled in mid-late November, prior to Thanksgiving, and the streets were not crowded at all. It is just on the chilly side, but not freezing cold.
Considering that there are a decent amount of people who speak English, you can get definitely get by. Some of the transportation signs were also written in both Czech and English.
Souvenirs are not the cheapest here!