City of a Thousand Spires
I hope I will always be able to remember the feeling of walking through the main square of Prague for the first time. The city is so charming and magical that it seems fake. It’s like how downtown Disneyland feels, only it’s real life and it keeps going and going. My toes were incredibly bruised by the end of four days there because I was always tripping all the time – I was never looking down at where my feet were…
I’m not even exaggerating. Little apartment buildings are painted the prettiest colors and have beautiful scroll details on all the windows and doors. It’s surreal. You can go inside churches that took over 1,000 years to build. And have since survived countless wars and regime changes.
Apparently, after the defeat of communism, the entire city was black from the burning of coal for heat. Many of the great churches and museums and the Charles Bridge are still black. But all the buildings in between have been scrubbed clean and repainted and they are just dazzling. I can’t even describe it, so you just need to go sometime, okay? But not on the weekends. Apparently it is becoming the Las Vegas of Europe because dining is so inexpensive there. So stick to a Monday-Friday schedule and you’ll be good.
We were super lucky to be with a group led by Sam and Robin, who had lived in Prague for a couple years. They live in Portland now, but they knew of some of the best places to eat and things to see and I’m glad they passed their recommendations on to us.
It’s hard to even list things to do in Prague because the list basically goes like this:
- Leave wherever you are staying and walk around. Everything around you is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen. Enjoy it.
Although I guess I could add a few more places to suggest if you’re interested.
Grosseto Marina – Our first night we ate at this Italian “floating restaurant”. The food was incredible. The view was incredible. It’s going down in history as one of my top favorite meals of all time. Plus, it was Steve’s birthday, which made it extra special. And you can order like 2 euro worth of focaccia and they will bring you a whole bunch. And I love focaccia.
Terasa U Prince – We went to this rooftop bar for drinks after dinner our first night. It’s magical. All the city landmarks are lit up in 360 degrees around you.
Bakeshop Praha – There are a couple of these around and they are so good. I miss them already. Bring me more chocolate croissants!!!!
Cafe Savoy – This is another place we mapped out ahead of time because I saw it on that Buzzfeed article about great pastry shops. They serve “Savoy Hot Chocolate” which is not the same as hot cocoa. It’s actually a drinking chocolate and it’s very rich. If you’ve never tried it, you really should. Also, I would recommend getting dessert from their counter instead of off the menu. The menu is limited, the counter has so many amazing options! Oh! And they have a pureed carrot soup that is one of the best soups I’ve ever tasted. It might sound weird but it is fabulous. You will like it. Even Steve liked it (a lot) and he is weird about cooked vegetables sometimes…
Gold Pralines – a Prague local told us these are the best chocolates in the city. I didn’t get to try all the chocolates in the city, but these ones are pretty good.
Lennon Wall – a little difficult to find on Kampa Island. But it’s pretty cool. And makes a great photo backdrop. See?
Hergetova Cihelna – A delicious restaurant. While we were there all kinds of security, including a bomb-sniffing dog, came to scope the place out. After we left, I think the Prime Minister of Israel and his entourage dined there. So basically, it’s a big deal. But you can still get a top quality steak for $30.
You know that Christmas carol, “Good King Wenceslas”? Well, apparently he wasn’t a king at all, but he was like the best person the people of Prague ever knew. Isn’t that nice? He has a whole square dedicated to him. And his story is so great that some Englishman adopted it and made it into that Christmas song we sing. In Wenceslas Square is the National Museum Building. It is one of the buildings still covered in black soot. When the Communists came and took over, they shot the building up and then demanded that the locals fix it. They did repair the holes in the facade, but with mismatched plaster, so you can still clearly see what the Communists did. Their own personal way of sticking it to the man. The city is filled with all kinds of little historical treasures like this.
Trdelnik – They make this at little carts all over the city and it is yummy. Basically, if you love pretty buildings and castles and spires and carbs, Prague is the city for you.
Additional Tips: Get yourself a map. There are very few thoroughfares. Almost no streets are straight or even go for very long by the same name. It’s easy to get turned around. So get a map and you’ll be better off.
That being said, Old Town Square and New Town Square and the Charles Bridge (and all the other bridges) are fairly easy to find, especially if you keep your map handy. You can walk to all of these destinations in just a few minutes, so don’t be afraid to explore and take different routes and you just may end up overlooking the city from a castle. And leave free time in your schedule! If we had had the time I would have loved to see a concert in some of the old concert halls. They play Mozart and many other famous pieces on a regular basis – and it’s not even that expensive! Basically, Prague is the coolest ever.
Wear shoes with thick soles. Two words for you: Cobblestone. Everything.
If you are exploring on your own without a local I would totally recommend this book: Prague and the Czech Republic by Rick Steves. I’d never heard of these books before, but apparently they are a big deal. When Robin and I explored the Jewish Quarter we followed along in the book – it’s the perfect way to learn a bit of the history and culture without being on an annoying tour or being completely inundated with tons of information. It is really well done!
Pickpockets are apparently a big problem, so be aware. Shoulder bags that zip and you can keep your hand on are better than backpacks, especially when using public transportation. Keep all irreplaceable documents (like passports) close to your body or in a safe place. When packing for your trip, jackets with inside pockets that zip are your best friends!
For me, it was important not to look too much like a tourist on our trip and to be dressed appropriately. I spent some time researching and the main thing to remember in both Berlin and Prague, is that locals are smartly dressed. In the winter they are bundled up, but there is nothing flashy or crazy going on. Think more conservative and natural. And no sweatpants ever.
Again, tap water is free and drinkable and they’ll give it to you only if you ask!