Known as the “city of a thousand spires,” Prague is the capital of the Czech Republic and is one of the best-preserved medieval cities in the world.
This bohemian gem is just waiting for you to visit and won’t disappoint.
Your first stop in Prague and the best bang for your buck is old town square. A highlight of this area is the world’s oldest operating astronomical clock, dating back to the 1400s. Every hour on the hour from about 9a to 9p the clock puts on a show. Death tips the hourglass and pulls the cord, ringing the bell, while the moneylender jingles his purse. Then the windows open and the 12 apostles shuffle past. It’s a fun little spectacle that lasts a couple minutes and always attracts a large crowd of tourists.
Take the time to visit inside the Old Town Hall and its tower where the clock is located. The guided tour includes the historical halls, the tower and the underground areas. The bird’s eye view of the city’s numerous spires is amazing from the top of the tower.
There are bridges, but then there is the Charles Bridge in Prague! Also dating back to the 1400s, this gothic style bridge features 30 statues of saints along its length. It’s very atmospheric, and the best time to walk it is in the early mornings, before the crowds get to it. There’s a certain calm and still in the air during this time that seems to let the old bridge speak to you of untold stories it has witnessed throughout the centuries.
Close to Prague’s Old Town, and a must, even if you’re not Jewish, is the Jewish Quarter. It’s well worth a visit of a couple few hours. You can meander through the Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague among some of the 12,000 medieval headstones that stick up in all directions on top of one another. From the 1400s – 1700s this was the only burial ground allowed for the Jews of Prague. In fact, National Geographic ranks it among the 10 most worthwhile cemetery sights to see in the whole world!
Along with the cemetery you can purchase a bundled tour (#2) that includes entrance to several of the old synagogues in the quarter. It’s well worth it and includes The Pinkas Synagogue where the 77,297 names of Prague’s Holocaust victims are on the walls along with a recording reading out loud all of their names. This, along with a display of the artwork made from Jewish children in the nearby concentration camp, is quite the somber and sobering experience.
Up on the hill above Prague sits the Prague Castle complex. Built in around the 9thcentury, it’s been the seat of ruling for kings of Bohemia and Czech Presidents and more. It’s around 8 acres in size, making it one of the largest castle complexes in the world. Plan to arrive there either early morning or later in the day as the lines to buy tickets can get very long. (I got up to the castle complex around 8:30a and was first in line for a ticket when the office opened at 9a. By 9a the line was at least 50 people long.)
Did you know the Czechs invented the pilsner beer? It takes its name from the Czech city of Pilsen, where it was first produced in 1842. The world’s first blond lager, the original Pilsner Urquell is still produced there today. The interesting thing is that a beer in Prague actually costs less than a bottled water! Pilsner beer is a way of life for Czechs, and you can sample some of the best Prague has to offer on a beer/pub tour to some very lively pubs that only the locals hang out at through a Walking Prague tour. Ask for Flip or email him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, he’s an outstanding local guide that brings not only the history of the pubs and pilsner into the evening but explains the changing politics in Prague from a local’s perspective. Flip was a young teen during the communism years and told me stories of going down to the city square with his parents during the velvet revolution for independence from the Soviets. Many of his family and friends had been suppressed for so many years it all started boiling over in 1989 and after 10 days of peaceful protest and without firing a shot, they ended communism.
The first few years of independence he described were like the “wild wild west.” People could now have businesses again and try to get their property back that had been taken over by the state. A sort of mob mentality however took over and the early to mid-nighties was a scary time in Prague.
But today, Prague and the entire Czech Republic country is a very safe place to visit, and Prague is a major tourist destination that Flip said is overwhelmed with tourists in the summer. (I was visiting in March and it was moderately crowded.) Demand is causing the supply (his price to live here in the city) to go up and up each year.
One thing is for sure, after so many years of Hapsburg rule, Nazi rule and Soviet rule – the Czechs are proud to be speaking their language, embracing their unique identity and culture and well…enjoying lots and lots of their pilsner beer!
Speaking of beer (burp), did you know there’s such thing as a beer spa?! Well, you do now and it’s in Prague. The hops you soak in are rejuvenating and healthy for you skin, and you’ll also have your own private beer tap on your tub for drinking while you soak. Just don’t get the tub beer mixed up with your mug beer! Contact Bernard Beer Spa today and make an appointment. You can even pre-purchase some food to go along with your beer soak and sip experience.
Prague has indeed hit its stride with an ever-expanding culinary scene. Bite, savor, and swig the evening away and make new friends with Eating Europe on their Prague Evening Food Tour. A local guide will take you down picturesque, tiny back streets to discover some of the city’s most hidden gems. You’ll be taken into secret wine cellars, backstreet bistros and tiny, family-run cafés, to savor Prague’s best food and drink. Come hungry! Enter “EVA” for a 10% discount.
I found Prague to be a safe city and the people very down to earth and hospitable. Not many cities can compare to Prague’s charm and enchantment factor. Spend a few days in Prague, the historic capital of Bohemia, and you just might have yourself a travel rhapsody!