People say if you’ve never been to London, Paris and Rome, you’ve never been to Europe properly. I’d say there are so many other countries that one should visit to get a real mingling taste of Europe, and Prague is one of the hidden gems.
Tucked away in the border of Western and Eastern Europe, Prague has an eccentric mix of the flourishing, rich Western Europe style of architecture and also maintaining its own distinctive Eastern European flare. The buildings and streets are so beautiful its just a pure joy wondering around aimlessly. The Castle District, Old Town Quarter and Jewish Quarter are “must-sees”, especially if you are a castle/cathedral/church maniac like me. The city is divided by the Vltava river, but the town is pretty much accessible on foot. Do leave some time, maybe an afternoon to let yourself relax and wonder around the Castle district neighbourhood or the old town square, I guarantee you will find so much peace in it.
Best season to visit?
This was my second visit to Prague and both times I went in Winter. I know, I know, I heard EVERYTHING about the lovely summer garden and beer festivals (Czech beer Pilsner is good and cheap by the way) and I know summer is better for ladies’ skin, but having been there twice I would say one of the best reason is to avoid getting into a situation like this:
Imagine all the sweat and frustration you’ll get from pushing people (or being pushed) around just to have a glimpse of the Astronomical Clock or the St Vitus Cathedral. If you get to the spots early (say before 10am), most likely you can find yourself owning pretty much the whole square.
Where to stay?
Last time I went to Prague (February 2006), I was with my Mom and Dad so my parents obviously had a bit more to spend than me on the budget. We stayed at the really cute boutique hotel, Neruda Hotel that has a light pistachio green wall with Art Nouveau decor, very chic. It was conveniently located, just below the Prague Castle and within 10 minutes walk to Charles Bridge. If you have some extra cash to spend, i would definitely recommend this. Oh, and their hot chocolate in their cafe is heavenly!
Where to visit?
If you’re a “to-do list” freak (like I am), check out the following “must see” sights!
- The iconic Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral is a place you simply CAN’T miss. Go early in the morning before the place is swamp with tourist to enjoy the simple solitude of soaking in the magnificent interior and peace within the Cathedral. Take a close look at the stained colour glass windows, you can find some of them are works of the famous Czech artist Mucha, whose Art Nouveau style feeds in perfectly with the richly composed colour. The place is rich with History so if you have the spare time and money, do join a guided tour or get yourself an audio guide and just wonder around the Cathedral. Hike upthe flight of stairs to the watch tower of the Cathedral to enjoy a panoramic view of the city, 150Kc well spent.The Golden Lane, which used to be servant quarters when the Prague Castle housed its royalty, is also an interesting place to visit. There are reconstructions of how people lived back in the 19th century which was a really different experience.
- Walk from Prague Castle to Charles Bridge, you will see a lot of colourful houses on hilly cobble road, whats better than sitting in a small coffee shop sipping hot chocolate watching the world go buy? Turn around and you may find a small surprise here and there… The best time to visit Charles Bridge is before Sunset, make sure you get there to see the beautiful transition of the skyline!
- The Old Town Quarter and the Jewish Quarter are on the other side of Charles Bridge, all major festivities, celebrations or big events take place in the Old Town Square. You won’t miss the Astronomical Clock, many free walking tours are on offer and in my opinion they are quite good! A 2 hour condense Czech history lesson with all the major sightseeing places checked, and you might even have time for a coffee break in a French style patisserie, what’s more to ask for? Spend 2 hours before dinner and visit the Jewish Synagogues, these sights are sometimes overlooked, but the stark presence of history and the suffering of those innocent people should always be reminded. You might find the Jewish Quarter a bit familiar to Paris, but surprise surprise! When reconstruction of the much damaged Jewish Quarter began the architects were actually inspired to copy the architecture in Paris, that’s why you see such similarities!
- Don’t miss out on the great offerings of cultural experience the city gives you! Check out their monthly performance schedule, I managed to see an Opera and a Swan Lake ballet performance on both nights for tickets around GBP10 (around HKD120~130) each! You can’t find any of that in Hong Kong, London, Paris or NYC!
What to eat?
Prague is probably the new “it” place for gastro-lovers! Be it authentic local Goulash and Bread Dumplings or extravagent up-market Czech-French fusion, the city offers it all. Try Lokál, which is a local chain restaurant that serves hearty Czech nationalities for very reasonable price. On another side of the spectrum, try V Zátiší, an upmarket Czech-French restaurant that offers exquisite 4 or 5-course Degustation menu. I tried the Bohemian Degustation Menu for 1350Kc (about GBP45/HKD560, can’t do the maths) Their Crispy Duckling was particularly impressive, also the barley risotto. In between the spectrum there are tons of other restaurants that offer all kind of different cuisine at very reasonable price for their quality. Prague is certainly taking its toll on improving the culinary scene, catch the current before it goes big people!
Big shout out for my buddy Margaret who made this trip very enjoyable! Two food lovers and amateurs playing with camera wondering around Prague was such a pleasant experience (despite the cold was really getting me). Keep warm everyone! I shall update again soon! Just spent another long weekend in Dublin and Edinburgh which was really fun too!