Any trip to Central Europe would be incomplete without a trip to the ancient Bohemian capital. A bustling market town used by traders for centuries has fast become one of the go-to-cities in Europe for city breaks as revelers take advantage of the small, walkable city and all its delights.
What To Expect
Walking, beautiful architecture, a pretty river, photogenic scenery, affordable vacationing, good beer, hearty food, nice people.
A Brief History
Given its geographic location, it’s no surprise to learn that Prague has long been a magnet for prehistoric traders who took advantage of its position in the heart of Central Europe. By the 10th century Prague had essentially grown to be a large market town, larger in size than London or Paris. At this time Prague was thriving and was home to two citadels, Prague Castle and Vysehrad. The first rulers, the Premyslids, used this backdrop to conduct many a family feud, often shedding blood in the process. In 935 Prince Wencelas was murdered by his brother and later canonised, becoming the Czech’s most famous Patron Saint (and namegiver to one of Prague more lively town squares) .
By the middle ages, Prague prospered under Roman rule. It was in this period that Prague grew into the magnificent city you see today. Roman Emperor Charles IV built many new institutions including Central Europe’s first university, the aptly names Charles University. He also has a bridge named after him; Charles Bridge. Such a modest guy.
Skipping a succession of kings, both radical and weak, the Habsburg dynasty ruled the land for nearly 400 years. In this period, Rudolph II brought the spirit of Renaissance to Prague through his love of arts and science. After his death in 1618 Prague had a Protestant revolt which led to a thirty year war and a serious decline in the cities fortunes. On the plus side, many of Prague’s finest baroque churches and palaces were born at this time.
The 19th century saw great revival and national pride. The National Museum, the National Theatre and Rudolfinum were built as the Habsburg dynasty regained it’s strength. Czech became an independent Republic and was later occupied by Nazi troops during World War II. Four decades of communism followed until the Velvet Revolution of 1989.
Located centrally in Europe, Prague is very accessible from most major European cities. From the UK, Prague makes an easy and affordable getaway from London with Easyjet, Ryanair, SmartWings and Wizzair all competing for return flights which can be grabbed for around the £35-60 mark. From Manchester or Birmingham you’ll be looking at £80-130 for a round trip whilst those north of the border will be forking out £120+ to return to Edinburgh. Often, the cheapest option is to fly different airlines on departure and return so check out your flight comparison websites before booking. Off peak flying typically avoids the school holidays and booking yourself a midweek break should be easier on your bankroll; I’m guessing March-May are preferable for price and weather.
Speaking of weather. November through March are the winter months where you can typically find snow and frost throughout the city. June through August are your typical t-shirt and dress weather (not my preferred combo but we’re a PC travel blog here dontyaknow) with average high temperatures of 24c in the summer months.
Where To Stay
There is a vast choice of accommodation types in Prague. The city is small and walkable so those on a budget can save money by staying slightly less central and enjoying a brisk walk every day (use the city breakdown below to decide Where’s best for you) . Easyhotel starts at £18 per night and similar (well rated) 2* accommodation can be available from as little as £25 per night (Mosaic House, St George Hotel) . If you’re looking to stay with a broader budget of £40-70 per night, you can have your pick of the city (Hotel Julian, Motel One, Jury’s Inn) whilst those looking at £80+ can afford the best the city has to offer; consider Pod Vezi or The Grand Mark.
Staying for a stag for or group holiday? Check out Wenselas Square to be at the hub of everything. Looking for a romantic break or something more refined? Head down to Charles Bridge or the Old Square.
What To Do
Prague boasts almost 100 galleries, 20 museums, countless religious buildings as well as being home to several palaces, markets and plentiful, pretty town squares; all within its walkable confines. This blog is probably only good for guiding you around 2 or 3 of those 6 options: we simply don’t have time on our city break to dilly-dally. We’ve picked below the things that take our fancy.
- Watch the Astronomical Clock. Possibly overrated, but nonetheless it’s something Prague is famous for. Dating back to 1410 the clock still chimes hourly and puts on a grand show for the baying tourists.
- Walk the Charles Bridge. Prague’s most famous bridge is typically crowded, so many an early visit here. Enjoy the statues of patrons that align the bridge as you take in the stunning panoramic views.
- Prague Castle. Nestled high and visible across most of the town the allure of the castle is certainly worth the trip.Dating back to the 9th cenruty it is Europe’s largest medieval castle.
- Enjoy some beers. Famous worldwide for the quality of their local Pilsner’s it would be a crime to leave Prague without enjoying some of the local brews.
- Visit the Old Town Square and Wenceleas Square. Come and view the contrasts between old Prague and the livelier, shop lined, bar filled new town. Find your Prague.
- Do it all on a free walking tour. Join one of the guided tour groups to take in all the sights of Prague with an experienced local. Discover the areas you wish to return to and plan your stay around what you learn from the tour guide.
The City Breakdown
Prague Castle (purple): Founded in the 9th century Prague Castle towers high above the city. In its enclosing walls you will find a palace, three churches, a monastery and several gardens. Rebuilding work was conducted by Charles IV, artwork improved by Rudolph I and it now houses the president of the Republic. The changing of the guard takes place hourly.
Little Quarter (yellow): Located just south of Prague Castle on the north side of the Vltava River this area has seen the least development and is still rich in Baroque architecture. The little square, dominated by the Church of St Nicholas and Charles Bridge are worth a visit as you venture to the castle.
Jewish Quarter (green): The merging of two Jewish districts in the middle ages saw the birth of the Jewish quarter. Originally a ghetto of slums it is now home to newer Art Nouveau buildings mixed with preserved synagogues.
Old Town (red): The heart of the city. The old town square was first written in 1091 and was home to many settlements that spread around the castle.
New Town (blue-ish): Carefully planned around 3 squares (Senovazne, Charles & Wencelas), the New Town is twice the size of the Old Town and has been completely redeveloped since the 1900s. Wencelas Square is the liveliest part of the city and home to the National Theatre as well as bars, shops, clubs cinemas and theatres.
Food/Drink To Try
Prague staples consist of Pork, Beef, Game and Carp which tend to be grilled or roasted, accompanied by light sauce and veg. It would be a travesty to leave Prague and not try their knedliky (dumplings), if that’s your thing.
Far more to my tastes is the sensational Pilsner beer which originated from the Czech Republic and is a style which the world has tried to adopt and copy. Pilsner Urquell, Budvar and Kozel are the outstanding local offerings and a beer Hall or two is a must for any person visiting the city.
WITH THANKS TO:
MIROSLAV PETRASKO (MAIN IMAGE)
Do you have anything to share from your own adventures in Pragues? Do you have any recommendations for food? Drinks? Things to go? Get involved in the comments section below or email me here.