Some say Prague is prettier than Paris. And yes, the rolling hills full of vineyards, dozens of viewpoints watching over spiraling towers and ancient castles, sprawling neighborhoods filled with Jugendstil architecture and quirky cafés, where great writers and scientists once drank their coffees, make you day dream about old world Europe. No wonder Prague is one of Europe's most popular weekend getaways. Fancy taking a trip?
Though the history of Prague, capital of the Czech Republic, goes back more than a thousand years, recent history is also quite visible on the streets and in the neighborhoods. Communism left its markt in the city, but is hasn't made it any less romantic. It doesn't reall matter when you visit Prague. Wintertime turns the city into a faurytale of snow covered cobbled streets and castles (oh, and there's the Christmas market in the town's square of course) and in summer the grand old colorful buildings stand glistening in the sun. Whenever you decide to visit Prague, this is a great itinerary for a weekend away.
Day one in Prague
Prague castle and the Charles Bridge
Start your day with a pretty view over Prague, from Prague Castle, the citadel with its dozen of castles, palaces, gardens, pretty little streets and churches. The fairytale like fortress used to be the seat of Czech Monarchs since the 9th century, making it Prague's most important historical site. Good news: you only need to buy one ticket in order to visit pretty much all the sights on the citadel. Make sure you don't skip Saint Vitus Cathedral, where the most important leaders of the Czech Republic are burried. All the stained windows are beautiful, but the one designed my Jugendstil master Mucha is extraordinarily stunning.
The Old Royal Palace is the oldest part of the Castle and was built in the 12th century for the Czech princesses, though llater it was used s the kings own palace. The Vladislav Hall has a beautifully, late-Gothic vaulted ceiling that you'd swear was Art Nouveau, if you didn't know it was built over 500 years ago. The balcony overlooking the All Saints Chapel proving breathtaking views over the city center.
The winding roads down lead to the world famous Charles Bridge, with over 30 statues of saints and religious rituals. The bridge was once designed to persuade people to go back to church. It can be quite crowded. If you'd like to enjoy some quite time on the bridge, get there just after sunrise or just before sunset. The light will be magnificent.
Shopping and beer
In the hip and upcoming neighborhood of Vinohrady you'll find some great small shops and boutiques. One of the most cutting edge new initiatives is Pavilon, set in an old covered market. But where once merchants sold their meat, vegetables and fruit, now the trendiest designers display their goods. You'll find furniture and accessories by Hansen, Desalto and Zeitraum at Pavilon. Make sure to take a peek at Modernist to see the lastest Czech concept designs and have a glass of wine at the center bar La Boheme.
If beer is more your thing, don't worry as the Beer Museum is just around the corner. There is no need to get cultural in this museum, as it is actually more like a bar. With the difference that it has over 25 beers on tap. The beer menus consists of a dozen of pages. If you can't decide, the helpful staff will talk you through the different types on offer. Just note that in Prague the standard size for a glass of beer is half a liter. If you don't want that much, specifically request a smaller glass.
Dinner at Sahara Café
After your Prague beer experience you will either feel like taking a long nap, or grabbing a bite to eat. To have some great food, you just have to cross the street to Sahara Café. This place came highly recommended to me by a friend of mine who lives in Brno and often has dinner at this place when she's in Prague. She spoke highly of the tapas in this restaurant and she wasn't exaggerating. On the menu you'll find a mix of Spanish, Turkish and Moroccan tapas that for some reason match wonderfully with the Czech chardonnay on the wine list.
Day two in Prague
Coffee with Kafka
Just like Vienna, Budapest and Turin, Prague is famous for its coffee culture. So please, ingore all the interantional coffee chains you'll encounter and have coffee in style. Coffee at Café Louvre will take you back to Old World Europe, with pink arched ceilings, fin de siencle vibe and grand and yummy looking cakes on offer. You'll be in excellent company, as Franz Kafka and Albert Einstein also used to have their shots of caffeine here.
Explore the Jewish quarter
The Jewish Quarter is one of the oldest Jewish neighborhoods in the world, and an absolute must-see during your first Prague encounter. With one ticket you can visit some of the 5 Synagoges and other sites in the area. All together, they are called the Jewish Museum. The Old Synangoge is one of the oldest in Europe and has seen fires, pogroms and was more than once the only refuge and shelter for the the Jews of the area.
The old Jewish cemetary will blow you away: thousands of thomb stones, crumbling and crooked. Walking through the cemetary is like walking through Jewish history in Prague, almost 200,000 Jews were burried here until the community was finally allowed to open another cemetary. If you can't read Hebrew, don't worry, through the symbols on the stones you can still figure out who is burried underneath: a knife for a butcher, a rose for a young woman, a hammer for a carpenter.
Don't forget to stroll through Pařížská street (Paris street), just behind the neighborhood, designed to be as stunning as the boulevards in Paris. With its pastel colored and golden rimmed Jugendstil façades the street will leave you gasping for air. So will the prices of the items in the stores of Pařížská street, as the well-known designers like Prada, Versace and Gucci all have flagstores here.
Hidden gem: Vysehrad
Rising from a cliff shadowing the Moldau river is one of the best kept secters of Prague: Vysehrad. Allegedly, this is the place where Prague was found and for centuries this was a sanctuary for Czech kings who'd spent the night before their coronation in the palaces within the fortress. Nowadays you'll find little evidence of those days, though the solitude leaves a mysterious vibe. But most of all, you can walk quietly through the greens between the ramparts, without a tourist in sight. Don't miss the church of St. Peter and St. Paul as the stained glass and mosaics are absolutely beautiful, the adjoining snug churchyard is where famous Czech writers and politicians are burried.
Dinner at Tower Park
For dinner with a view, head over to Tower park and have dinner at Oblaca restaurant. Yes, the art babies made by David Cerny, crowding the TV tower, are more than controversial (especially when lit at night), but don't let them distract you from the fact that you can have an amazing dinner in the restaurant at the top of the tower. You'll be dining amongst the young and trendy locals, accompanied by lovely views over Prague. Order some wonderful Italian food and equally great wines.
Where to stay in Prague? The Fusion Hotel
Finding an affordable place to stay in Prague isn't that hard, there are plenty of well-affordable options. I particularly loved the Fusion Hotel for its location: very central, in walking distance of the old town square and all the mayor sights, but in a quiet street next to Mucha Museum. The hotel offers rooms for every type of visitor and any occasion. Hip and bright rooms for couples, spacious rooms with double beds and bunks for families and hilarious multi-bed rooms for hen-parties. The Fusion Hotel also has a great rotating bar, a lively restaurant and fabulous lunch spot Soup in the City on site.
Have you been to Prague? Did you have fun?