Prague is a city of transformations.
It’s less than 30 years since communist rule ended in the then Czechoslovakia and now, out from under the Iron Curtain, the Czech Republic’s capital is a thriving and cosmopolitan city. Made popular by city breakers seeking a value for money getaway Prague offers much more than just affordability.
A city of stunning good looks; Romanesque chapels and cellars, Gothic cathedrals, Baroque palaces and gardens and worldly Art Nouveau buildings, Prague is a sight for sore eyes. A compact city split in two by the River Vltava it is easily explored by foot and offers something for culture vultures, shoppers and craft beer enthusiasts alike.
If sight-seeing is your thing then set off to Prague Castle taking time to linger on Charles Bridge along the way. One of the city’s most visited sites, this medieval bridge spans 520 metres, littered with 30 saintly statues and street artists selling their wares. Once you’ve crossed the bridge you’re then on a steady incline up to the Castle. The cobbled streets boast cafés and bars alive with old school charm all leading up to the largest ancient castle in the world. At the pinnacle you can take a guided tour of the historical buildings, peek at the crown-jewels, watch the changing of the guards at the president’s palace or simply take in the vistas from one of the best vantage points in the city.
Cross back over to the east bank and the Stare Mesto (Old Town) awaits. Steeped in history the Old Town Square’s ancient buildings and churches make it easy to journey back in time. Dating back to the 12th century this was originally the city’s central marketplace and it still possesses hustle and bustle aplenty with a throng of tourists passing through to see the iconic Astronomical Clock and Old Town Hall Tower.
Also worth a visit if you’ve time is the St Cyril and Methodius Cathedral, the site where the paratroopers involved in Operation Anthropoid went into hiding after their assassination of Reinhard Heydrich in 1942.
After dark soak up the atmosphere in Wenceslas Square, a vibrant area of hotels, restaurants and bars. The birthplace of Pilsner, it’s not without good reason that Czech beers are hailed as some of the finest in the world and in addition to the usual cocktail and wine lists you can also expect to find bars with beer menus – some offering up to 20 beers on tap.
A mecca for hen and stag dos in recent years, as tourism has increased in Prague so too has its prices. Legend tells tales of pints of beer for as little as 30 pence and while this may once have been the case you can now expect to pay the equivalent of around £3. Of course there are cheaper options away but from the beaten track but regardless of the cost the quality is second to none; if you’re into craft beers then you’ll be spoilt for choice in Prague.
Like its bars the range of restaurants in Prague is diverse. From Michelin starred eateries to rustic restaurants serving local dishes such as schnitzel and steak tartare, to international offerings and fast food chains, there’s a choice of cuisine to suit all palettes. If you’ve a sweet tooth then you can’t leave without trying a Trdelník. Typically sold as street food this rolled pastry is served warm and coated with sugar, nuts or cinnamon and is the perfect pick-afternoon pick-me-up.
When it comes to shopping Prague has a treasure trove of antique stores, art stalls and local boutiques selling one off pieces in addition to a vibrant High Street filled with all the usual chain stores. The aptly named Paris Street near the old town boasts a selection of top designer shops at top prices.
It’s not hard to find good, centrally located accommodation in Prague and there’s something for every budget. I stayed in the BoHo Prague, a boutique hotel perched conveniently in between the old and new towns, with all the main sites within easy walking distance. A member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World the early 20th century building has been decorated in a contemporary style and offers a chic contrast to the gothic grandeur of the nearby Old Town. Striking and minimalist, bold furnishings are balanced against an elegant neutral colour scheme. and in the lounge and foyer high ceilings and full-length windows evoke the hotel’s former life as the city newspaper office. The drawing room offers complimentary coffees and pastries all day long and the luxurious spa is the perfect place to unwind after a busy day walking the town before recharging with an expertly mixed cocktail in the hotel bar.
Famed for its Christmas markets, Prague’s festive cheer is renowned, however this city is for all seasons; its mild spring and summer make it the ideal time to explore the many parks and historic gardens, autumns are crisp and dry with plenty of fallen leaves everywhere, while its snowy winters offer the perfect excuse to warm up over a Svarak (hot wine).
Image credit: www.praguecitytourism.cz