Travel Guide: Exploring Prague
Prague is the capital of the Czech Republic, and also its largest city. With its 1.3 million inhabitants (2.6 m metro area), there’s so much more to Prague than beer and stag weekends. Its compact centre lends itself to exploration: wander through the charming cobbled streets and alleyways, and take a tram to discover the districts of Vinohrady and Žižkov, where the locals live.
Prague’s recorded history spans thousands of years. Celtic and Germanic tribes settled along the Vltava river as early as 4000 BC, with the first Slav tribes arriving around 500 AD. The Duchy of Bohemia was established circa 870 AD with the seat of power moving to Prague and the newly-built Prague castle 5 years later. The duchy became the Kingdom of Bohemia, which lasted from 1198 until 1918. During most of this time Bohemia was also part of the Holy Roman Empire, of which Prague was the capital twice; becoming one of Europe’s largest and wealthiest cities. The beginning of the 15th century saw conflict between the Roman Catholic Church and the Hussites (a pre-Protestant group) before
“KASARNA KARLÍN ( PRVNÍHO PLUKU) IS A WINE BAR IN A FORMER SWIMMING POOL OF AN ARMY BARRACKS”
Catholicism was forcibly reimposed by the Hapsburgs with the capital of The Holy Roman Empire shifting back to Austria during this time. Prague was then swallowed up by the Austro- Hungarian Empire, which broke apart at the end of World War I. Prague became the capital of the newly-formed Czechoslovakia and was occupied by Nazi Germany during World War II, then controlled by the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia afterwards.
On 17th November 1989, the Velvet Revolution, a month of non-violent protests against the one party state, took place in Prague. These protests led to the end of Communist rule, with the first democratic elections held on January 1990. In 1993, Czechoslovakia was split into two independent countries, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, with Prague becoming the capital of the Czech Republic. The republic joined the European Union in 2004. Phew.
Everything from shopping malls to traditional markets and souvenir shops can be found in Prague. But we’re into discovering the real Prague, aren’t we? So, head out to U Elektry in the Hloubětín area. This is the largest flea market in the Czech Republic which opens at 6 am and runs until 2 pm, every Saturday and Sunday. A more food-orientated and more central market is Pražská Tržnice (Prague Market). Here you’ll find numerous food stalls stocking real, local cuisine.
Visit Botas (meaning shoes or boots) 66 on Skořepka for retro fashion and real Czech style originating from the 60s. Vnitroblock (Courtyard) Tusarova 791/31, Holešovice used to be a ruin in an Industrial district of Prague. Now a multi-functional space, it encompasses a café, cinema, and shop as well as art exhibitions. Pour Pour (Vinohradská) is a shop filled with goods from young Czech designers. It also carries vegan and ethical brands such as RagWear. Also keep your eyes peeled for toy shops as puppets are marionettes are common and make for an unusual souvenir.
It goes without saying that the Czechs know something about beer, especially pilsner. You’ll be hard-pressed to find somewhere bad to drink your pivo. So, na zdravi (cheers)!
Beer Geek on Vinohradská has around 30 taps serving Czech and international beers and, as the name suggests, they really know what they’re serving. Pivo a párek (beer and sausages) on Bořivojova obviously serves beer and sausages! That is, traditional grilled sausages alongside local beer making it a popular spot with locals. The cheekily named Dva Kohouti (Two Cocks) on Sokolovská is a typical hipster brewhouse who brew their own and only sell beer from microbreweries, served in their minimalistdécor taproom.
But it’s not all about beer. Navigate around Czech wine with a visit to Kasarna Karlín (Kasarna means ‘barracks’ while Karlin is the name of the area.) You’ll find this wine bar on Prvního pluku in the former swimming pool of an army barracks! Also a multi-functional arts venue, here you may also find outdoor cinema and exhibitions. Vinograf (Winechart) has two outlets on Míšeňská and Senovážné nám. The cosy Malá Strana shop on Míšeňská Street is the place to discover small, regional producers.
The mystical drink of Absinthe is available at The Absintherie on U Radnice. Here you can try Czech, French, Swiss, Spanish and even American versions. Tasting flights of Absinthe are available for those who wish to not remember their trip to Prague!
There’s more to Czech cuisine than meat and dumplings, although in the depths of winter these are exceedingly welcome. As with many popular tourist destinations, try not to eat in the busiest areas. Head as little as 5 minutes off the beaten track to discover cheaper prices and often better food.
Karlínská Pivnice on Březinova serves classic Czech dishes with a modern twist, and sells fresh pilsner beer on tap. Every Saturday and Sunday they also serve confit duck leg with apple red cabbage, dumplings and parsley.
Prague’s vegan offerings are surprisingly good, with a profusion of vegan and vegetarian restaurants. Loving Hut is a local chain with restaurants throughout the city. This is a relaxed and bright, buffet-style venue where you pay by the weight. It’s pretty cheap though, so you don’t have to worry too much about how much you pile onto your plate. MAITREA (‘loving kindness’) on Týnská ulička is a stone’s throw from the Old Town Square. Featuring two levels, one small and bustling, the other womb-like and chilled, Maitrea is stylish and serves interesting and comforting food. Also consider Vegan’s Prague on Nerudova, near to the castle. Persevere with the stairs as you will be rewarded by great views of the castle if the weather is good.
If you are self-catering, Bezobalu have two sites: Pod kaštany and Bělehradská. They are a zero-waste grocery store, selling everything from nuts, grains, household items, and personal care items. Shin Food on Korunní is an Asian grocery store with all sorts of cooking supplies, for those seeking something a little more exotic.
Mr Hotdog on Kamenická is, as the name suggests, a hot dog vendor. It also sells sliders, onion rings, and fries. Not only that, they also serve the local Vinohradská beer. Paprika on Rumunská is a popular spot and tiny, so be prepared to either wait or takeaway. Here you can build your own sandwiches or buy a plate of hummus and add your toppings. Vegetarian and vegan-friendly.
Value for money accommodation is still easy to find in Prague. We stayed at Hotel Ariston & Ariston Patio Prague. which is in the Bohemian district of Žižkov. Handy for trams and near to the main railway station, the area is known for its down-to-earth bars and restaurants. Here youwill also find an interesting talking point – Žižkov TV tower, which is covered with freaky faceless climbing babies!
There’s Prague Castle and the Astronomical Clock, but these are crawling with tourists rather than giant faceless babies. Instead, look up, wander about and search for the work of David Černý. From the aforementioned babies, to a life- size statue of Sigmund Freud dangling over a busy lane and SMS-controlled peeing statues, a giant revolving head, to Brown Nosers, a comment on the political landscape of the Czech Republic; there are plenty of fun sculptures to seek out and amuse. From sculptures to buildings – look out for Dancing House on Jiráskovo nám, by American architect Frank Gehry. It may be somewhere to visit after The Absintherie! There is a restaurant on the top floor with panoramic views.
The famous Charles Bridge over the river is a cliched spot, but a worthy one. It is a stunning bridge and worth battling through the tourists for. If you can make time to visit it at different
times of the day, do, as the atmosphere changes considerably from dawn to dusk. Beside the bridge there is the Museum of Medieval Torture Instruments on Křižovnické nám. If you like to spend your holiday looking at instruments of pain, well, this is the place for you!
If you want to get out of the city and are looking for something a bit different, then head to the town of Kutná Hora, east of Prague. Easily reached by train, the city is known for the Gothic St. Barbara’s Church with medieval frescoes and flying buttresses. Worth a visit too is Sedlec Ossuary, a chapel adorned with human skeletons. Yes, real skeletons. More gruesome history can be found at Terezín. This was a military fortress and citadel which became Theresienstadt Concentration Camp. A contradiction of a place, with some beautiful architecture and a very dark history.
Prague is served by Václav Havel Airport. Flights are available from both Edinburgh and Glasgow. JET2, Wizzair and Ryanair have direct flights from Glasgow, with Ryanair operating from Edinburgh. To get from the airport to Prague city centre, the cheapest option is to get the bus. This leaves from Terminal 2. Buy a 90-minute ticket for €1.25 (32 CZK), which will cover you for the bus, tram or metro. Take the 119 bus to Nadrazi Veleslavin, where you transfer to the green metro line A. Continue to downtown (Mustek) or any other station. The Airport Express bus is more expensive, but also more convenient as you don’t need to transfer to the metro. The bus station is at the parking lot right in front of Terminal 1. Tickets cost €2.50 (60 CZK) for adults and you can buy them at the terminal or directly from the bus driver. The bus terminates at Prague Main Station (Praha Hlavni Nadrazi).