As you wander the picturesque streets and squares of this vibrant, bustling and beautiful World Heritage-listed city, it almost defies belief that is little more than 20 years since it emerged from the shadow of the Iron Curtain. Prague is now the most popular travel destination in Central Europe and to say much has changed since 1989 would be an understatement.
This modern and progressive city blends a contemporary energy with a deep respect for history and culture developed over 12 centuries, all against the backdrop of the pretty Vltava River that flows through it and helps define it.
Prague is the true heart of the real Bohemia, a place where so many architectural styles combine: Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque, Art Nouveau and Art Deco. Even Cubist. You may wish to orientate yourself first with a funicular trip up Petrin Hill with its mock Eiffel Tower but brilliant views of the city. Look out to the river and the more than 30 bridges that span east and west, including the Baroque statues that line the iconic medieval Charles Bridge.
You will want to visit Prague Castle and St Vitus Cathedral before wandering back to the medieval heart of Old Town (Stare Mesto) and New Town (Nove Mesto), which is actually a creation of the 14th century. From there take in the several sites of the Jewish Museum, and the famous 600-year-old Astronomical Clock.
Eat and Drink
Czech cuisine has a reputation for rich food, which is all well and good in the colder months. Think goulash with dumplings, pork or roast duck with sauerkraut, sausage and fried fish, with a dessert – again a dumpling, but this time filled with fruit (ovocne knedliky). There is also a burgeoning international dining scene in recognition of visitors seeking something beyond the traditional.
Drinks run the gamut from the Prague teahouses to the pubs of Old Town and Nove Mesto, to the lively bars of Zizkov, to beer and more beer. Zly casy in the Nusle district claims to have more beers than anywhere in Prague, with more than 40 on tap.
Where to Stay
Prague has a wealth of accommodation options on both sides of the river, all within walking distance of key sights. It is a hugely popular long weekend destination among Europeans and this tends to skew pricing and seasonal availability.
Peak season runs from April to October, but Prague is also popular at Christmas and New Year so it pays to book ahead for accommodation that at its peak may be twice the low-season rate.
You will find a range from luxury hotels in magnificent Baroque, Art Nouveau or Art Deco buildings to guest houses, apartments and pensions. New “designer” boutique hotels have added to the options.
From stores in medieval streets, to early 20th-century shopping arcades and ultra-modern malls, Prague will meet your cravings for a shopping indulgence while you enjoy one of the world’s most romantic cities.
There is mainstream high-street shopping, of course, but with a little delving into Old Town, Nove Mesto and Mala Strana you will find superb examples of garnets for which the region is famous, Bohemia crystal, antiques and antique books, even superbly crafted marionettes.
A shopping must-do is Palac Rokoko, an antique arcade built in the early 20th century. Back to the present and there are several large malls including the Palladium, Novy Smichov and Chodov.
Prague Like a Local
If you happen to be around on a Saturday, head for the Vltava River and the Naplavka Farmers Market where locals congregate for the freshest local produce. It is perfect if you are self-catering, along with the centrally located Namesti Republiky (which runs Monday to Friday) offering not only fresh ingredients but ceramics and handicrafts. If you happen to be around at Christmas, revel in the special seasonal city square markets.