Prague used to be a quiet, inexpensive place to travel in Europe compared with other, more popular attractions that crowd every traveler’s bucket list. Today, the secret is out. Prague is now high up on that list, attracting tourists from all over the world who enjoy the majestic architecture, the charming cobbled streets, and the inexpensive alcohol (which attracts bachelor/bachelorette parties, an unfortunate side effect).
Whether you’ve been to Prague before or not, it’s hard to pass up a visit to the standard tourist attractions, which are what drew people to Prague in the first place. These are best visited very early in the morning while most tourists are still sleeping. I took advantage of my jet lag - when I woke up at 4:00 am, I slipped out to walk the Charles Bridge and encountered only a few early birds.
Old Town Square (Staroměstské náměstí)
Stroll through the Old Town Square to see the Astronomical Clock on the Old Town Hall. Dating to 1410, it’s the oldest astronomical clock in operation in the world. Arrive on the hour to see “The Walk of the Apostles,” a mechanical march of figures, including Death itself. Have a gander at the statue of Jan Hus and the sharp spires of the Church of Our Lady before Týn. You can also avail yourself of lots of knick-knack shopping and over-priced food at the shops and cafes on the square. Beware - this is an extremely busy place and while Prague is known to be a very safe city, you’ll need to stay vigilant against pickpockets.
Charles Bridge (Karlův most)
Beautiful at any time of day, it’s especially enchanting at sunrise and sunset, with views of Prague Castle to the northwest and the city all around. Each day, artists and musicians set up along the bridge span to draw caricatures and busk for onlookers. It spans the Vltava River where tour boats, fishing dinghies, and pedal boats alike cruise all day and evening. Construction began on the medieval stone bridge in 1310, but it wasn’t finished until the 15th century. It’s lined by 30 unique statues and punctuated at either end by stunning bridge towers. Once again, watch your wallet while you’re snapping pictures!
Prague Castle (Pražský hard)
This castle is more of a complex of fort, castle, and cathedrals. Built in the 9th century and home to kings of Bohemia and Holy Roman emperors, it’s still home to the President of the Czech Republic and the crown jewels. Marvel at the Basilicas of St. George and St. Vitus and wander through the castle and gardens. At the first courtyard entrance at the top of every hour, witness the changing of the guard (best at noon when the spectacle includes flags and trumpets), and enjoy the street musicians playing traditional Czech music.
National Museum (Národní muzeum)
Whether you visit the museum itself (a repository of natural history and Czech history, arts, and music) or not, stroll up Wenceslas Square to see the statue of St. Wenceslas. During the Prague Spring of 1968, it’s said that Soviet soldiers mistook the museum for an official government building and it was pounded by heavy machine-gun fire, damaging sandstone pillars, panels, and statues. Many of the bullet holes were plugged with a lighter-colored sandstone, so they’re still visible today.
Prague Jewish Quarter (Židovská čtvrť)
The heart of Prague’s Jewish community for nearly 1000 years, it was originally a walled ghetto where Jews were required to live. It wasn’t until 1850 when the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II emancipated the Jews and gave them equal rights that they were allowed to live outside what is now called the Jewish Quarter. Sadly, most of Prague's Jews were sent to concentration camps during WWII. Hitler wanted to establish a “Museum for an Extinct Race,” so many Jewish artifacts from across Europe were brought here by the Nazis. See the Old Jewish Cemetery, the five synagogues, and the must-see Jewish Museum. Along the way, you’ll see a statue of Franz Kafka in front of the Spanish Synagogue which has an interesting design and story.
Off the Beaten Path Prague
If you’ve got more time, expand your horizons a bit and get a little deeper into the culture.
Take a Food Tour
Food is arguably one of the best windows into the soul of a culture. In Prague, you’d have to include beer in that survey, as beer is a major part of Czech culinary heritage. While you can certainly find your own way around Prague’s food scene, I can highly recommend taking a tour with Prague Food Tours.
George and Leona are young entrepreneurs who will not only put plenty of local food and beer in front of you, but also heap on a big dose of history, culture, language, and weird-but-true facts and figures for you to chomp on while you saunter through Prague from places like the traditional Imperial restaurant to beer hall Lokal to modern fare at Eska and dessert at Mysak. These tours are well worth what you spend and are a great introduction to the city in general.
Bike to Karlštejn Castle (Hrad Karlštejn)
Biking in and around Prague is an easy and inexpensive activity that can give you a wider view of the region while also giving you a much-needed workout after that day-long food tour. Look no further than Transphere Bike Rentals and Tours - George will set you up with a very reasonably-priced bike that fits your frame plus give you advice on where to go and when. We opted for a day-long, 45-mile, out-and-back tour to Karlštejn Castle along the Vltava and Berounka Rivers. Most of the trip is on pedestrian-only paths, passing through Prague, the countryside, and several small towns.
It was hot the day we chose to bike, so we jumped in the Berounka a couple of times and availed ourselves of the handy, path-side pubs for the occasional ice-cold pilsner along the way. Don’t want to ride all the way back, take your bike on the train. BTW - Google Maps is useless for biking directions, but George turned us on to Mapy, which does a great job of keeping you on track on two wheels.
David Černý Art Tour
Sculptor David Černý made a name for himself when he painted a Soviet tank pink and was arrested for his efforts. His barcode-faced babies on the Žižkov TV Tower and at Kampa are both creepy and adorable (incidentally, I’ve also seen his babies in Palm Springs, CA, where they are on loan to the city),
and his parody of the statue of St. Wenceslas, with the saint sitting on the belly of a dead horse strung up by its hooves in the Lucerna Passage, are popular. A rotating, mirrored, multi-layered head of Franz Kafka adorns the Quadrio Shopping Center. Many more Černý sculptures dot the city, so put on your walking shoes (or saddle up on a bike from George at Transphere) and make your own tour.
This wall has been a popular place since the 1960s for students and reformers to post anti-regime messages against the Communists because it sat opposite the French Embassy. Such close proximity deterred police from actively cracking down on protesters writing on the wall, lest they seem overly sensitive against such criticism under the West's gaze. When John Lennon was assassinated in 1980, an artist painted an image of him and some lyrics. Since then, the wall has become a tribute to Lennon as well as struggles for causes from freedom to racial equity to climate change. Make your way across the Charles Bridge into Malá Strana (Lesser Town or Little Side) and you’ll find it on a quiet street just southwest of the end of the bridge. After you see it, amble around Malá Strana’s narrow streets a bit. You won’t be disappointed!
Střelecký Island (Střelecký ostrov)
What do locals do on a warm summer evening? Some of them head south to the embankment (“náplavka”) along the Vltava River, where they sip pilsner and cocktails in the fading light. Others make their way to one of the Vltava’s islands, like Střelecký ostrov, where we quaffed a pivo, had a tasty snack from one of the food trucks, and bobbed our heads to some pretty funky (and good!) music performed by an Australian trio.
Families lounged on blankets near the water and kids fed the geese, swans, and muskrats competing for attention along the river banks. One island over, at Slovanský ostrov, you can treat your sweetie to a romantic, rented pedal boat excursion. This is laid-back Prague, where, on the right summer evening, after an afternoon thunderstorm, the National Theater lights up like a movie set.
Vyšehrad is a historic fort just a couple of miles southeast of the main action in Prague. Inside, you’ll find the soaring Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul, plus a cemetery filled with many famous Czechs.
As musicians, we were most interested in the graves of composers Antonín Dvořák and Bedřich Smetana, composers of the symphonies “From the New World” and Má vlast ("My Fatherland"), respectively. A walk through the grounds is in order, as is a picnic on the shady lawns here. From its hilltop perch, views north to Prague and Prague Castle are well worth the journey.
While no list of Prague attractions and activities can catch everything, these will easily fill a week. But don’t overload your itinerary - my advice is to take your time, open your eyes and mind, and savor every moment you’re privileged to experience in this spectacular destination.
What did I miss? Have any Prague favorites you’d like to tell readers about? Let us know in the comments below.