Prague (Praha) is one of the most romantic cities in Europe.
True, tourists flock here. True, the main streets leading to Old Town Square are lined with souvenir shops selling cheap Czech crystal. But over a period of 36 hours in Prague, we found those areas of the city that felt undiscovered by the tour groups. Just a few steps off the main drag are quiet streets and palace gardens where we found ourselves all alone imagining life in the Middle Ages as Bohemian princes and thinking of how blessed the world is that this gem survived the devastation in Europe of the second World War.
Arriving Friday evening in Prague presents a wonderful opportunity to explore the side streets around the Old Town Square, getting acclimated to your surroundings.
Prague is often referred to as the “City of a Thousand Spires” and therefore, it is not surprising that each of the hundred churches in the old town offers musical performances during the evenings. Many are free; some will charge admission. The best part is the atmosphere.
The style in the churches is distinctively Baroque with gilded statues and pink frescoes. The strings and organs echo against these adorned walls. It is truly a quintessential Prague experience.
From there, head to Vinograf to taste Czech wines and enjoy those delicious unpasteurized cheeses that you can’t get in the States.
The vast majority of Czech wine comes from Moravia, in the southeast part of the country. It is a pleasant surprise. The whites are very dry and the reds are bold and complex. For a more substantial meal, locals recommended that we head to the Potrefena Husa. It can best be described as a large bar with a restaurant component, but it was packed with locals. Recommended dish includes a huge pig knuckle.
This was a great day to walk around the Old Town section of Prague. At the center of Old Town Square is the Old Town Hall with the famous astronomical clock.
The Orloj (astronomical clock) is mounted on the southern wall of Old Town Hall in the Old Town Square. The clock mechanism itself is composed of three main components: the astronomical dial, representing the position of the Sun and Moon in the sky and displaying various astronomical details; “The Walk of the Apostles”, a clockwork hourly show of figures of the Apostles and other moving sculptures—notably a figure of Death (represented by a skeleton) striking the time; and a calendar dial with medallions representing the months. Tourists crowd here on the hour to great the apostles and subsequently death.
The Old Town Hall also has a observation tower overlooking the Old Town Square and across to Tyn Church. It is a wonderful vantage point and well-worth the climb (aided by an elevator).
From there, we experienced the excitement on the Charles’ Bridge (Karluv most). The bridge is a pedestrian only walkway studded with old statues connecting the Old Town with the Little Quarter and Castle Quarter and dotted with street performers. Some good and others not-so-good.
Halfway across the bridge is a statue of St. John of Nepomuk. John was a 14th century priest to whom the queen confessed all of her sins. According to a legend, the king wanted to know his wife’s secrets but John wouldn’t tell. He was tortured and eventually killed by being thrown from the bridge. When he hit the water, five stars appeared. This is the oldest statute on the bridge, dating from 1683.
Across the river, you land in the Little Quarter. It is a small section of the city bounded on one side by the river and the other the base of the Castle Quarter. The Little Town Square is a wonderful place to grab lunch outside of the Church of St. Nicholas. We shared a margherita pizza at U Kostela Restaurant.
From there, we walked around the Little Quarter to the Church of Our Lady Victorious where an 18-inch statue of baby Jesus lives. Dignitaries from all over the world come to present it with various clothing options indigenous to those cultures.
We also found a lovely palace garden called the Valdstejnska Palac Zahrada. It is impressive. There are fountains and peacocks wandering around behind walls separating this hidden jewel from the narrow streets.
Another fun part of Prague are the pubs. We found this lovely outdoor pub called Malostranská Pivnice near the garden.
Just down the street is a very fun pub with a stoplight as “crowd control” called Certovka.
Just across the river are Tiger Bar and Three Roses. The Tiger Bar feels like something out of a Bond movie set in Eastern Europe and is the perfect place to watch football. Three Roses is a restaurant with its own brewery just down the street and is a great place to get some homemade Czech food and dark beer (you’ll already be filled up on pilsner up to this point). The best part about pub crawling is the experience of the Prague culture at little over $1.50 USD per pint.
We used Sunday morning to explore the sights of the Jewish Quarter (which, insider tip, the lines are extensive so arrive early).
It is truly a unique area of the world. There are three different synagogues and the old Jewish cemetery in addition to dozens of shops. From there we walked across the Vltava and up to the Castle Quarter.
The castle is built on top of a hill with terraced walkways and gardens behind red tiled roofed houses. In the gardens just below the castle wall is a gorgeous restaurant called Terasa U Zlate Studne. We joined Tom’s law partner there for an unbelievable meal involving lovely views of Prague and delicious Czech wine.
Hulking above the gardens and all of Prague is the Castle Quarter. We heard that the Castle Quarter is mobbed with tourists in the mornings, but a Sunday afternoon was the perfect time to enjoy the sights around Castle Square. The Castle tour includes the gate and courtyards, St. Vitus Cathedral with its Mucha stained glass windows, the old royal palace, and the Golden Lane, a series of tiny old buildings housing medieval ornaments.
Sunset over Prague brings with it the mysteries of the old city. The thoughts of defenestration from the castle which begun the thirty years war. Thoughts of Bohemian princes overseeing the vast empire. Thoughts of Prague Jews hiding their valuables during the Nazi invasion. You don’t need to observe the thousand spires to see Prague’s thousand faces. The faces of Prague appear on the quiet alleys just steps from the main tourist drags, in the little shops with their distinctive character, in the graffiti and the art. It is both lovely and haunting, which is why it remains so romantic.
We stayed at the Boscolo Prague, which is built into a lovely old bank just a few blocks from the main train station making transit to and from Prague either via train or via bus to the airport easy.