The first stop of my boyfriend and my trip this summer was Prague. I have divided this blog post into several sections; the first will outline our experience of Prague, the second part will provide practical information on costs, transports and key sites to visit on your trip.
We arrived at Prague Airport at around 9 am. Having decided to only take hand luggage to minimise costs on budget airlines we were easily able to meet our transfer driver within half an hour of landing. By 10 am we had arrived in the city centre and headed to a local bakery for a quick breakfast. Having devoured some pain-au-chocolat and stocked up of some well need caffeine were were able to head off for some exploring but first, Sam was able to purchase some Russian dolls painted as our local football team that he wanted from a shop round the corner of the bakery. Neither Sam or I had been to Prague before and so we decided to join a free walking tour in order to see what Prague had on offer to see and do before we went off around the city by ourselves. Walking tours are of course extremely touristy but if you can get past this they can provide some useful local information and offer a great way to find your bearings in a new city. It was possible to join this walking tour because both Sam and I had decided to take backpacks rather than suitcases for our trip, Prague is formed of many narrow and cobbled streets which you would not want to be dragging suitcases through on a walking trip! There were many walking tours available to take in Prague but we chose to go on the Sanderman’s tour because we had previously had a good experience with this walking tour company in both Amsterdam and Dublin. What we liked about these tours is you only have to provide a tip at the end for what you thought the tour was worth; as students this is great because we don’t have much money to pay for expensive tours! The walking tour also offered a great way to burn some calories before we tucked into some Czech cuisine in the evening which you should be warned is not for those on a calorie restricted diet! On the tour we visited the Old Square, Wenceslas Square the Jewish Quarter and ended in front of the Concert Hall. The tour finished at around 3pm and by this point we were very tired from walking around with our bags and getting up early so we headed to our airbnb.
After resting at the aribnb for a while we headed out for the evening, this time without the back packs! We strolled along the river until we reached the famous Charles Bridge and admired the many statues of saints and stalls selling souvenirs. It was very busy on the bridge and so we didn’t stay there long. Instead we headed into the Old Town area in search of somewhere to eat however, this was easier said than done as I do not eat meat a staple element of most food in Prague. Some very expensive and touristy restaurants seemed to have some vegetarian options available but none of these restaurants looked like they served very good food. In the end we opted to eat some street food as it was a nice warm evening. I had fried cheese with onions and Sam tried a local sausage which was served as a hot dog. For pudding we tried the famous chimney cake and chose to have it filled with Nutella. We washed all of this down with a small local beer, beer in Prague is so cheap that it will cost you less than water! However, be warned that Prague itself is not a particularly cheap city despite the low cost of alcohol. After this we headed back to the airbnb for a well earned sleep.
On our second day we woke up to find that the weather was not particularly nice, it was pretty cloudy and a bit windy. Regardless we decided to head to Petrin Hill to explore the Castle side of Prague and were lucky that the weather did improve. Petrin Hill is very steep and so we payed a small fee of around 30p to take the funicular to the top of the hill. You can use your public transport ticket on the funicular, if you don’t have one it is better to opt for the slightly more expensive ticket than the 30 minute journey as otherwise you will have to purchase a new ticket to get back down the hill. At the top of the Hill we enjoyed the beautiful rose garden and the lovely views after Prague. We also decided to pay to enter the miniature Eiffel Tower to get an even better view over the city. The climb up the spiral stairs to the top and the small charge were definitely worth it for the view however, it was extremely busy with other tourists at the top which meant a lot of pushing and shoving to actually stand by the window and look out of the tower. After climbing back down the tower we took the funicular back down the hill and found a small cafe where we were able to purchase some bagels for lunch.
After lunch we joined a tour of the castle. Usually we would not go on such tours but we were under the impression that this tour included entry to the castle which usually required queuing up early in the morning for which we did not want to do. However, the tour which we booked for €11 on the walking tour turned out only to include entry into the free areas of the castle and so we were very disappointed. There are many museums inside the castle and the cathedral contains an area which must be paid for to visit. That said for those on a budget it would be possible to see the castle grounds without paying for entry into the buildings. This tour took up the whole afternoon as the castle is very large having been significantly enhanced over the centuries.
Following our tour of the castle we headed back down to Charles Bridge where we looked in the many souvenir shops and even stumbled upon a vegan restaurant which served goulash without meat. Since I wanted to try such a famous local dish which usually contains meat we ate at the small vegan restaurant and then headed back across the bridge for another chimney cake this time with cream and strawberries. After this we watched the astronomical clock. Upon every hour the figure of death pulls a chain and the apostles circle the clock from above while the other figures move slightly. The clock although actually rather boring is amazing because it was created in the medieval era and would have been one of the most skilled examples of mechanics at the time.
Following this we took a walk suggested in our guidebook of the Velvet Revolution, Czechoslovakia’s transition from Communism to Capitalism and eventually to the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Having studied the fall of Communism and especially the importance of intellectual dissidents such as Havel I was eager to see the sites I had read so much about in Historical analysis. On this short walk we were able to view sites where Charter 77 meant and where the end of Communism was announced. If you are interested in this walk you can find it in the lonely planet guide book under the best walks section towards the end of the book. After this we headed back to the airbnb and packed so we were ready to leave the next morning.
The next morning we took a return transfer shuttle bus to the airport from where we were dropped off and then flew to Budapest. My guide to Budapest will be included in my next post about the trip.
Transfers: Prague airport is situated close by to Prague but is not easily reached by public transport. You may take a taxi from the airport to your destination but this can be expensive and may not suit your budget. An alternative is to book a private transfer from the airport which will take you to your hotel and also pick you up again upon your return. A slightly cheaper option is to book a shared transfer from the airport. We chose the later and used PragueAirportTransfers. The company was very reliable and provided you with a free guidebook of Prague, the option to book a free walking tour with them and water. We chose to be dropped and picked up in the city centre but you can also be taken to your hotel. The other great thing about the bus is that you are able to book in advance but do not have to pay until after the journey. The cost of the transfer was 280 Kroner each way which at the time of travel was £9.50, this was the price for two people.
Food: In general most specialities are meat dishes such as pork knuckle, sausages and goulash. However, that said there are a few vegan restaurants which seem to be opening up in the Old Town area and by Charles Bridge. The best is Countrylife which unfortunately was shut during my time in Prague. Chimney cakes are also a must try as is the local beer if you enjoy drinking.
Costs: In Prague you can often pay in Euros instead of Czech Kroner, personally I would avoid this as the exchange rate is often highly unfavourable unless it is with a large tour company or travel site. Another warning should be made about getting out local currency in Prague. Many ATMs will ask you to accept unfavourable exchange rates when you withdraw money and souvenir shops will charge high commission. Ask your hotel for a reputable currency exchange and definitely come with a substantial amount of Krouner to last you the trip. Prague may surprise you in that whilst the alcohol is cheap not much else and so you will need to plan for this. We found that many places required multiple entrance fees and did not offer student discounts. Having said this public transport tickets were amazingly cheap for such an efficient service- just don’t forget to stamp your ticket on trams and buses and the designated points or you will be fined!
Attractions: Prague has both inside and outside attractions being an all year round destination. As such you can visit many amazing museums such as the Jewish museum which included entry to the synagogue and the cemetery or the many castle museums. Alternatively if you are strapped for cash there are plenty of free outdoor activities such as visiting the Old Town area, Wenceslas Square, Charles Bridge and simply strolling around Petrin Hill on foot and admiring the Jewish Quarter from the streets. Good guide books will offer a list of attractions and up to date prices as well as advice on how long queuing will take you. Whatever your budget you are sure to find plenty to do.
A final piece of advice is that Prague is very safe but like all busy cities pick-pocketing can happen. A great way around this is to take a small bag which you can carry your valuables is and put a small lock which requires a code on the zip to avoid spoiling your holiday!