Things worth knowing before you visit Prague, especially when time is precious

Things worth knowing before you visit Prague, especially when time is precious

Prague is the capital of Czech Republic and one of Europe’s top tourist destinations. I could easily spend 5 days in Prague and not run out of things to do. But unfortunately not everyone has the luxury of time. For whatever reason – work, money, kids, you might only have a long weekend and need to know what’s worth doing. Below is a list to help. 

 

1) Don’t spend more than 50 CZK on a beer

 

Czech Republic is a nation of beer lovers. The Prague locals consider anything over 50 CZK (~€2) for 0.5 litre draft beer is too much. 

Many bars in the Old Town by Charles Bridge or off Wenceslas Square will be more expensive and aimed at tourists compared to those a short walk away in the back alleys. 

The tourist bar prices still aren’t too high. I went to the top floor bar in the Dancing House and paid 75 CZK for a bottle of Staropramen beer. When you buy a drink here you can also go out on the roof top terrace.

 

The Dancing House – looks like two buildings dancing together
The Dancing House – looks like two buildings dancing together

 

Cheap draft beer is likely to be Pilsner Urquell, either light or dark. Dark beers are especially popular among women in the Czech Republic because they are sweeter.

 

Cheers ;)
Cheers 😉

 

2) The free walking tour gives you a good overview

 

The walking tours usually last 3 hours and give you a good idea of the main sites. Including – the Old Town, Astronomical Clock, Wenceslas Square and the Jewish Quarter. I did this tour.

 

Wenceslas Square
Wenceslas Square

While they’re called “Free Tours” you’re required to tip. I spoke to one of the guides in Prague who told me he expects a €10 tip from each person. Personally I feel they should stop calling them a Free Tour and charge everyone the same amount instead to stop the confusion.

 

Powder Tower
Powder Tower

Either way, a city walking tour is worth the money if you’re short of time and want to see the highlights of Prague.

 

3) Prague has become more accessible 

 

Czech Republic has moved away from its communist past and is now a city attracting tourists from all over the world. Did you know there are more Chinese tourists in Prague than in London? I didn’t until I visited Prague. They enjoy photographing everything – from selfies on the metro escalator to photos outside hotel doors. It meant many popular sites like Charles Bridge were overcrowded with tourists. 

 

4) Absinthe is everywhere

 

Prague is one of the most popular cities in the world to drink absinthe. They serve it in almost every pub, sell it in tourist mini-marts and have bars devoted to it. 

 

Mini-Mart Absinthe
Mini-Mart Absinthe

 

Absinthe has a super high alcohol content and is derived from herbs. It has a liquorice flavour due to the anise and fennel it contains. But it’s the wormwood which has thujone in, that’s responsible for absinthe’s supposed hallucinogenic side effects. Thujone is regulated in the US which makes absinthe harder to get as opposed to the Czech Republic where thujone is legal.

 

Absintherie – Absinthe bar located in Prague’s Old Town
Absintherie – Absinthe bar located in Prague’s Old Town

 

In general, French and Swiss absinthe is considered better quality than Czech absinth (Czechs spell it without the e). You can see the different brands offered here.

I drank Pernod absinthe prepared with ice cold water in the Hemingway Bar. My experience wasn’t anything like in the movie Eurotrip and I didn’t see the green fairy. I just felt merry.

 

5) Charles Bridge is overrated

 

Charles Bridge
Charles Bridge

 

The first thing most people do in Prague is head to Charles Bridge. This is an icon of Prague – it’s a stone bridge over the Vltava river named after King Charles IV who laid its first stone. There are many rumours about its construction as Charles IV was known to be keen on numerology and astrology. One legend is that construction started on 1357, 9, 7 at 5:31, because this is a palindrome. Another is that egg yolk was mixed into the mortar to give it superior strength.

 

Charles Bridge at night
Charles Bridge at night

 

While the stories are fun, it is just a bridge with some statues on. If you’re staying in the Old Town you’ll end up crossing this bridge to the Castle so many times you’ll get tired of it.

 

6) Don’t confuse the dog for the Queen

 

The highlights of Charles Bridge are the statues. Especially St. John of Nepomuk statue which has a plaque on it with some very shiny parts. The legend goes (there are a lot of legends) that St. John was the court priest of King Wenceslas IV. The King became convinced his wife the Queen was having an affair and had confessed the details to St. John. However, St John refused to tell the King anything so he had him thrown off Charles Bridge.

Touching the Queen on the plaque on the right is supposed to bring good luck and ensure your return to Prague.

 

St. John of Nepomuk statue – The Queen (right) and Dog (left)
St. John of Nepomuk statue – The Queen (right) and Dog (left)

 

But what about the shinny dog on left? Rubbing the dog was a rumour started by some university students. They rubbed it every time they went past and encouraged passing tourists to do the same for luck and it caught on.

 

Rub the dog?
Rub the dog?

 

You’ll see lots of statues around Prague of St. John, he’s the guy with the 5 stars around his head.

 

7) John Lennon wall is in Prague

 

I can’t be the only person to assume this was in Liverpool, UK, right?

Lennon wall is actually in Prague near the Vltava river on the lesser side (below the Castle). Since the 1980s this wall has been covered in graffiti inspired by John Lennon and the Beatles.

 

John Lennon Wall
John Lennon Wall

 

Before 1990 Czech Republic was part of Czechoslovakia and a communist country. This wall provided an outlet for people to express their dissatisfaction with the communist regime. According to wikipedia the wall is owned by the Sovereign Military Order of Malta who allowed it to be painted. 

 

John Lennon Wall
John Lennon Wall

 

Unfortunately a lot of the original paintings of Lennon and the Beatle lyrics have been covered by random graffiti. I suggest you go and see it now before the original artwork is all hidden. 

 

8) There is lots of crazy modern art around the city

 

Most of this is thanks to David Černý the Czech sculptor. My favourite sculptures of his are by Kampa Park, a short walk from John Lennon wall. Here you find giant faceless crawling babies, and next to them in the Vltava river is an army of yellow penguins. 

 

Černý's giant crawling babies
Černý’s giant crawling babies
Faceless baby
Faceless baby

 

There are babies crawling up the TV Tower but they had been take down for maintenance during my trip.

 

Penguin army
Penguin army

 

Something you’ll probably walk under many times in the Old Town on Husova Street is Černý’s sculpture of Sigmund Freud hanging by a hand. Mr Freud is famously known for being Austrian with hardly any connection to Prague. But Černý designed this sculpture of the psychoanalyst questioning whether to hold on or let go. 

 

Hanging statue of Sigmund Freud
Hanging statue of Sigmund Freud

 

Just outside the centre in Folimanka Park is a nuclear bunker air vent transformed into an R2D2. The painters also added two concrete arms and they still remain anonymous.

 

Nuclear bunker air vent – now an R2D2
Nuclear bunker air vent – now an R2D2

 

9) Franz Kafka was from Prague, even though he spoke German

 

Franz Kafka was a huge literary figure of the 20th Century. The term Kafkaesque was made after him. It means something is characteristic or reminiscent of the oppressive or nightmarish qualities of Kafka’s fictional world.

As he was German-speaking, I assumed he was a German author but he was born on 3 July 1883 in Prague where his spent most of his short life (he died at 41).

If you’re interested in how this literary icon came to be then visit Franz Kafka’s museum. The museum focuses on his life and connection to Prague more than his work. Inside it’s very dark and it gets crowded so make sure you have enough time to spend here.

 

Outside Franz Kafka museum are moving pissing statues by David Černý
Outside Franz Kafka museum are moving pissing statues by David Černý

 

I recommend reading about Kafka and flicking through his famous book Metamorphosis before going to Prague if you really want to understand his love/hate relationship with the city.

If you don’t fancy visiting Kafka’s museum, make sure you see his huge revolving head located outside Národní třída, a short walk from Můstek metro station. It could be any man’s head but Prague really wants to claim Kafka and make him a tourist attraction. One can’t help wonder what he would think given on his deathbed he asked his friend Max Brod to burn all his work.

 

 

10) The Jewish quarter is a mix of museums

 

The Jewish quarter is located next to the Old Town and is formed of several synagogues and the cemetery. It’s also the birthplace of Franz Kafka.

 

Tourists in the Jewish Quarter
Tourists in the Jewish Quarter

 

This area is often referred to as the “Jewish Museum in Prague”. In order to see the whole of the Jewish quarter you need at least half a day (3.5 hours). To enter the synagogues and cemetery you have to buy a ticket from the information centre for 330 CZK (€13). However, this ticket doesn’t allow entry to the Old-New synagogue which is an extra 200 CZK.

 

Maiselova Synagogue
Maiselova Synagogue

I only wanted to visit the Old Jewish Cemetery. It’s among the oldest surviving Jewish burial grounds in the world. Because land was scarce they ran out of room to bury people so kept piling on dirt, adding bodies and graves on top of each other. There are over 12,000 tombstones.

In order to visit I still needed to buy the 330 CZK ticket and there was also a charge of 50 CZK for taking photos. So on this occasion I decided to give it a miss. I will do it when I return and have time to visit all the synagogues and make the ticket worthwhile.

Note: The synagogues aren’t open on a Saturday.

 

11) Their goulash is better than Hungary’s

 

The goulash in Czech Republic and in Hungary are very different. Hungarian goulash is more like a soup, as opposed to Czech goulash which is a lot thicker. I prefer Czech goulash as it has more flavour. They also serve it with bread dumplings (steamed and sliced bread) which are delicious.

 

Goulash and bread dumplings – delicious
Goulash and bread dumplings – delicious

 

If you want to try some good Czech food then you should head to Lokal Dlouhaaa, probably the most recommended restaurant to tourists. It’s a huge place and reasonably priced.

 

But I’m a vegetarian

If you’re a vegetarian then you’ll find Smažený sýr on most menus. This is sliced fried cheese, usually Edam.

 

But I don’t want Goulash or Fried Cheese

If you want to get away from traditional Czech meals or just want dessert I recommend Café Louvre. It dates back to 1902 and is full of history. It was frequented by Franz Kafka, Karel Čapek and Albert Einstein. And one of the only places in Prague I could get a goats cheese salad… followed by cake and cocktails.

 

Cafe Louvre
Cafe Louvre
České buchty - Sweet bun filled with poppy seeds
České buchty – Sweet bun filled with poppy seeds

 

Reservations are sometimes required

If you’re eating out in a large group on a Friday or Saturday night at a popular place, I recommend making a reservation. This is also true for busy cocktail bars. Both Lokal Dlouhaaa and the Hemingway Bar required a reservation.

 

12) Museums are expensive

 

I’ve mentioned the Jewish Museums of Prague and Kafka’s museum. I also visited Museum of Communism. Something that surprised me was the entry fee for an adult.

Kafka’s museum was 200 CZK – almost €8

Museum of Communism was 290 CZK – €11.50

While these prices aren’t outrageous, I paid €10 to enter museums in Zurich and Stockholm, which are in significantly more expensive countries. So if you’re on a budget consider what museums will interest you before going.

I’m interested in Soviet history so I found the Museum of Communism worth the entrance fee. Like the House of Terror Museum in Budapest, Hungary, it is very biased against Russia but that’s to be expected. However, unlike the House of Terror which is interactive and you can get an audio-guide, The Museum of Communism is all reading. Be prepared to read a lot in English or Czech.

 

Museum of Communism
Museum of Communism

 

I heard mixed things about the National Museum in Prague. I suggest checking the exhibitions before you visit.

 

13) The castle isn’t really a castle but a complex

 

Prague Castle isn’t like Edinburgh or Neuschwanstein Castle. It’s a complex of lots of different historic buildings.

I highly recommend if you have problems walking, you hop on the tram or bus up to the castle and don’t take the steps. You can take tram no. 22 to the north side of the castle so the entrance is just a short walk down hill. Once at the entrance to the castle complex you have to go through some airport style security checks. These make sense as there are government buildings inside.

 

St. Vitus Cathedral
St. Vitus Cathedral

 

I took a tour for €11 with Sandemans, it was sold to me during the free walking tour, which was run by the same people. Looking back, I wouldn’t have taken this tour but instead read up about the castle beforehand and bought an admission ticket to the historic buildings for the same price. This ticket would have allowed me to enter the churches and exhibitions and do a self guided tour of what I wanted to see.

If you don’t want to pay for a tour or historic buildings ticket, you can enter the Prague Castle complex, walk around the courtyards, and visit the first part of St. Vitus Cathedral, with its beautiful stained glass windows for free.

 

Stained glass windows in St. Vitus Cathedral
Stained glass windows in St. Vitus Cathedral

 

The three main attractions are – St. Vitus Cathedral, St. George’s Basilica and Golden Lane. Both St. George’s Basilica and Golden Lane require an admissions ticket to enter and if you do a tour, it might not included this. So check first.

 

Changing of the guard happens every hour
Changing of the guard happens every hour

 

There’s also a brewery run by monks in the complex if you fancy a beer.

 

14) Czech have their own beer and wine but ordering a vodka lemonade is hard

 

The term “lemonade” in Czech Republic covers most flavoured waters and sodas. For example, asking for a lemonade can get you ginger ale, orange squash or elderflower infused water – it doesn’t have to have lemon in.

Unless cocktails are on the menu, you have to buy shots of vodka (or gin, rum, bandy, etc.) and a mixer separately. It can get expensive. So watch out when you’re ordering drinks.

Most restaurant and bars are catering towards beer drinkers.

 

Lemon squash and a shot of vodka :(
Lemon squash and a shot of vodka 🙁

 

15) Czech people like pets

 

Owning a pet is very popular in Czech Republic, especially dogs. In 2016, 41% of households owned a dog. It’s often said that more people have dogs as pets in Prague than anywhere else in the world. A pet loving nation also explains the lack of cats I saw on the streets. They were probably at home in the warm with their owners.

 

10 Replies to “Things worth knowing before you visit Prague, especially when time is precious”

  1. This is another excellent account of somewhere I would love to go and probably won’t as Ian has been with his mates in the last few years and thinks it is not worth two visits. I read Kafka in my twenties and have always remembered his novels and stories as I like his philosophical observations. My poet friend from Prague made terrific goulash. He fled when the Russians invaded but I used to love to hear him talking about Prague. I think you have covered it very well and brought it to life for me. The sculptures are fascinating and the place has such a character of its own. An old boyfriend introduced me to Pernod in my teens probably because of its effect on the mind. I don’t think it affected me particularly and did not much care for the taste. The whole was a reminder of youthful experiences and I would love to go. Probably more than Iceland actually as I watched an account of a cruise round Iceland and felt I had done it. I think I prefer Prague with its wonderful atmosphere and reminders of the past.

    1. I’m sure you can convince Ian to go. I’d go back again! So much there. I would have loved to have visited 20 years ago, before it became so touristy. Don’t worry – they have plenty of different absinthe to try if you don’t fancy Pernod 😉

  2. Prague is one of my favourite places. I actually loves Charles Bridge – we went at about 6am though, before all the tourists arrived.

    1. I thought about getting up at sunrise to take photos of Charles Bridge for my insta (I was staying almost next to it) but as it was February, as soon as the alarm went off and I felt the cold, I decided against it. Well done for having the motivation!

  3. Thank you Fran, when I finally get to go to Prague I will read through this and take notes – it will make my trip so much better. One Question – is it difficult to find vegetarian food?

    1. It’s not too bad – If you’re a vegetarian then you’ll find Smažený sýr on most menus. This is sliced fried cheese, usually Edam 🙂

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