After seeing Prague featured in so many movies, I decided to spend my 40th birthday in Prague.
Instead of booking a hotel (like we always do for all our trips), we decided to book a flat through Airbnb. We chose a quiet location that was central or at least walking distance to Old Town Square. It was a very small and cozy flat that included a kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and living room. Our host was great. She left us a complementary bottle of water and two bottles of Czech beer in the fridge but we were asked to replace whatever we drank for the next visitors. She also left us a map of Prague, two subway/bus/tram tickets and a list of nearby places to go eat, dance and visit. Although I prefer the comforts of what a hotel has to offer, I'm glad I experienced staying in someone else's home. The only time I would do that again is if the hotel prices are high. We paid 110 CAD per night for 7 nights - a lot cheaper than a hotel in Prague.
Once we booked our flight and flat, we did our research on "things to do in Prague". Of course, we did the typical tourist stuff but I wish we had more time to explore outside of the tourist traps. Maybe that will be my excuse for coming back to Prague.
Prague tends to inspire wistful remembrances - its beauty, incredible history, famous beer, majestic spires and beautiful bridges but many people don't talk about the Czech cuisine. We found the food to be very heavy. There's lots of meat and where there's meat, there's always lots of gravy. With every dish, we were always served with their spongy steamed bread dumpling. It was good but after a few days of heavy meals, our stomachs were begging for something lighter. We changed it up with fish, veggies and salad. Our favorite restaurant was the Kolkovna, located on Vicenza 7 110 00 Praha 1. The food was fresh and delicious - our fish was barbecued right behind us. And of course, every beer we drank was so good!
Just be warned: like other heavily touristed cities, prices and quality vary widely among restaurants - particularly in the Old town Square tourist traps. We noticed in the tourist trap areas, restaurants charged TRIPLE the price! We walked outside the tourist traps every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner - the food was so much cheaper! In the tourist trap, be careful of some restaurants that charge a cover which is automatically included on the bill. We encountered this when we had lunch one day at Restaurace Lamberty in the Jewish Quarter. When we got the bill, they added a 50 CZK cover charge. Stay away from this overpriced restaurant!!! After that experience, we went outside of the tourist traps to eat.
The nightlife in Prague is a whole other world. The partying starts every Fridays and Saturdays at around 9pm until 5am. Most of the clubs are underground and very small. The first club we went to was Cafe 80's in Old Town. As the name suggests, it's an 80's bar with 80's decor and 80's music. Upstairs is the cafe-restaurant but downstairs in the basement is the 80's music club with an illuminated dance floor, bar and VIP lounge. The club was so overpacked - there was no place to stand or even move. People were even standing in the hallway where the bathrooms were. It took us 20 minutes to fight our way to the bar and get a drink. After a few minutes, the club was filled with smoke and a white cloud hovered over us. We drank our cocktail very fast and left. At least in Toronto, we have bouncers that keep track of how many people enter the club and when they reach capacity, they don't let anymore people in until someone leaves.
The next club we tried was across the street called James Dean. Again, the club downstairs was overcrowded and there was no room to move. We went back upstairs where it wasn't packed and sat at the bar for a few drinks. The Decor is 50's-style diner with red leather booths, celebrity motifs like James Dean and Marilyn Monroe and a menu of burgers, steaks and sandwiches. The one thing I loved about this place was the woman's bathroom - it's dominated by silhouettes of James Dean. I had to take a few pictures of this because it's not everyday you see a bathroom with vibrant decor and James Dean in your face!
After experiencing two clubs that were a disappointment, we stopped into a cocktail bar a few doors down from James Dean restaurant called Crystal Bar. This place was a little quieter, more civilized and the drinks were amazing. The presentation of drinks were so unique - our cocktails were served in cocktail glasses in different shapes and sizes. We liked it so much, we spent my 40th birthday there.
On our last night in Prague, we went to Hangar Bar. It's an aviation themed bar in the "cocktail" quarter of Old Town, aimed to recreate the exhilaration of early aviation. It's a relaxed place to drop in for a drink and the Hostesses are in Pam Am uniforms that greet you and serve you drinks.
THE CHARLES BRIDGE:
Our first stop was The Charles Bridge. It was very crowded in the afternoon and we made a second attempt the next morning but again, it was still very crowded and very difficult to take pictures of the beautiful statutes without having someone in the way. I also read somewhere that if you rub the bronze part of a statue and make a wish, it will come true!
Despite the crowds, I must say, the view overlooking the Vltava River and Prague Castle was beautiful. As well, the bridge was filled with artists showcasing their art and jewelry. Very beautiful but it felt like a tourist trap for me. At the end of the bridge, there were a few jazz musicians playing. We stopped for a bit to enjoy the sounds that filled the bridge. Once we headed off the bridge towards Old Town Square, we looked like a herd of cattle, all going in the same direction. It took us forever to cross the street into the narrow streets of Old Town Square. Trying to stop at a souvenir shop or grab a coffee was next to impossible - we were worried we would get trampled from behind if we stopped. Overall, it was an enjoyable walk and must be seen when in Prague.
During our stay in Prague, we decided to watch a concert in the Spanish Synagogue. The Synagogue puts on one hour concerts every Wednesdays and Thursdays with an admission fee of 700 CZK. The musicians are members of the Czech Symphony Orchestra so you know it will be a beautiful concert and money well spent! We chose Thursday night to see Hallelujah which featured Queen: Bohemian Rhapsody, L. Bernstein: West Side Story, J. Brock: Fiddler on the Roof and L. Cohen: Hallelujah.
The Spanish Synagogue is small but very beautiful inside.The Orchestra was incredible and so many of us wished they would keep on playing! When the concert was over, we were allowed to walk around the synagogue and read about the Holocaust.
The Old Jewish Cemetery was the most interesting site we came across. All the crowded and crooked tombstones, stacked on top of each, it was obvious there was a lot of history behind these tombs. We were so intrigued with what we saw, we ended looking it up online to read the history.
We went on a two-hour boat cruise with Prague Boats. For 450 CZK, the boat sails through the historical centre of Prague, making it easy for us to see the Charles Bridge, Prague Castle, the Rudolfinum, National Theater, Dancing House, Emmaus Monastery, Vysehrad, Podoli waterworks and the historical power station Stvanice. This cruise was the slowest boat ride ever! We waited 20 mins before a narrow passageway, waiting for a boat to go by. Apparently, this passageway can only fit one boat at a time. Once we started going, the boat ride was still very slow. I would never do a boat cruise in Prague again. The views that we saw, we experienced a few days ago up close and personal so seeing these views again from the water was a nice but waste of our time and money. Not worth the aggravation of sitting in a slow moving boat either. I would have preferred spending the money elsewhere.
OLD TOWN SQUARE:
A historic square in the Old Town Quarter, located between Wenceslas Square and Charles Bridge, the most notable sights are the Old Town Tower and Astronomical Clock, Tyn Church and St. Nicholas Church. These ancient buildings and magnificent churches are so beautiful, it's no wonder, it's always packed!
Not sure what the whole hype is with the Astronomical Clock. Every hour, on the hour, crowds gather beneath the Old Town Hall to watch the Astronomical Clock in action. Death rings the bell and inverts his hourglass, and the 12 Apostles parade past the windows above the Clock, nodding to the crowd. At the end, a c*** crows and the hour is rung. Despite the underwhelming performance that take 45 seconds, the clock is one one Europe's best-known tourist attractions and a must-see for visitors to Prague. I would agree, it's a beautiful Clock but not worth sitting in an overcrowded Square under Old Town Hall, waiting 20 mins for a Clock to ring and not being able to take pictures of the Clock because everyone has their cameras blocking your view. I personally think the clock is overrated.
Since the Astronomical Clock is built into one side of the Old Town Hall, it only made sense to visit this building next. The Old Town Hall was a very unusual historical structure. Originally, the Old Town Hall Tower was built in 1338 and later in 1364, it was joined to a private house adjoining it, which in turn was knocked into other houses beside that. The amalgamation of buildings became known as "Old Town Hall".
Inside is a staircase and elevator and Prague's primary Tourist Information Centre. I can't remember how much we paid but we decided not to do the full tour but just the Tower. Of course it was busy and the lines ups were long to get upstairs. We thought taking the stairs instead of taking the elevator would speed up the tour but as soon as we got to the top, we had to wait about 30 mins to actually get into the Tower. It was a very narrow in the tower and we had to form a single line around the tower to take pictures. It reminded me of a precession line. The only problem with that is, it gets crowded and we had to wait for the people in front of us to move. Other than that, It's truly the most beautiful view of the city! Worth the wait!
During the first weekend we were there, they threw a concert in Old Time Square. This concert drew thousands of people into the Square. Not only tourists but locals as well. It featured many Czech musicians but it was difficult trying to understand what they were singing - we didn't know the language. The concert was televised live on one of the Czech tv stations. It was very fun to watch.
We originally were going to take the Tram up to Petrin Hill but the line-ups were so long, we decided to walk up. I'm so glad we did because the walk through the park from far more enjoyable. It's physically demanding but we didn't mind the exercise. We stopped to take a lot of photos and read some of the history. Once we reached to the top, the view of the city was so beautiful. Of course, we took tons of pictures of the view over Prague.The area's eclectic sight includes landscape gardens, the Observation Tower - a small version of the Eiffel Tower, a mirror maze, restaurants, St. Michael's Church.
We decided to forgo The Petrin Observation Tower because it was busy and we were tired from walking up Petrin Hill. Instead, we bought tickets (90 CZK) to The Mirror Maze. On the outside, The Mirror Maze resembles a small castle, but on the inside, just before the hall with distorting mirrors, there's a very famous diorama depicting a scene from the 30 Years' War, when the Czech resisted the Swedes invasion on the Charles Bridge in 1648. The most popular part of the labyrinth is the "hall of laughter", a room full of weirdly shaped mirrors. Every mirror makes you look different. We've never laughed so hard in our lives. We have the pictures to prove it!
On our way down from Petrin Hill, we took the Tram. We were too exhausted to journey down the Hill again.
ST. NICHOLAS CHURCH AND THE TOWN BELFRY BY ST. NICHOLAS' CHURCH:
The Church of St. Nicholas is a Baroque church in the Lesser Town of Prague. We paid 70 CZK but it was worth every penny! Without a doubt, it's the greatest Baroque Church in Prague. The architecture and decoration is absolutely stunning! The interior of the church is decorated with statues, paintings and frescoes by leading artists of the day. Particularly impressive is a fresco of the Celebration of the Holy Trinity by Franz Palko, which fills the 70m high dome. We saw the Baroque Organ that has over 4,000 pipes up to six metre in length and played by Mozart in 1787.
After visiting St. Nicholas Church, we went to the Town Belfry. At a glance, it may seem that the tower belongs to the Church of St. Nicholas; however, it never belonged to the church because it has always been the municipal property of the Lesser Town. In the 1960s, the purpose of the building became the observation post of the state police, which monitored the western countries embassies residing nearby.
We paid the admission fee of 90 CZK and we were on our way to the top of the tower. The tower is 65m high and may be accessed by 215 steps. It did get a little scary as we climbed higher but it was the most incredible experience we had. You do have to be physically fit to climb the stairs. We had a few people start the journey but had to call it quits after 2 flights of stairs. For some reason, there weren't a lot of people taking the tour. I think for 2 reasons - the Belfry Tower was very hard to find AND the climb was a little scary for many. Once we got to the top, it was only my friend and I there. We were able to take pictures at our leisure, soak up the view with nobody else there trying to climb over us to take pictures. I do have to admit, it's very scary going up and going down. There were a few times where my heart skipped a beat. Definitely not for the faint at heart or the unfit.
According to the Guinness book of Records, Prague Castle is the largest ancient castle in the world! Occupying an area at about 570 meters in length and an average of about 130 meters wide. The castle buildings represent virtually every architectural style of the last millennium. Prague Castle includes Gothic St. Vitus Cathedral, Romanesque Basilica of St. George, a monastery, several palaces, gardens and defence towers. Nowadays, the castle houses several museums, including collection of Bohemian art, exhibition dedicated to Czech history, toy museum and a picture art gallery of Prague Castle.
We read on trip advisor that it's busy all the time and the best time to go is in the morning. Honestly, I don't think it matters what time you go, it's always packed! We took the advise of some trip advisor comments and went in the morning. It was packed. We walked to the top of the castle entrance and stopped to take pictures of the view overlooking Prague. Once we got inside the castle entrance, we started looking for the ticket office. There were no signs anywhere directing us where to go so we decided to follow the herd and see where they were going. We finally saw a line-up at a building and realized that was the line-up for ticket purchases. Although it was a long line-up, it moved relatively quickly. We bought the circuit A ticket for 350 CZK. This ticket gave us access to the St. Vitus Cathedral, Old Royal Palace, exhibition The Story of Prague Castle, St. George's Basilica, Golden Lane with Daliborka Tower, Powder Tower and Rosenberg Palace. We had to go to a separate line to rent an audio guide. As we started our tour, we felt we didn't need the audio guide because the castle was so packed, we couldn't stop and listen to the audio to explain what we were seeing in front of us. We had to kinda follow the crowd. Again, it was very hard to take pictures because everyone was trying to take pictures too.
The castle is massive! We knew we needed at least 5 hours to see everything we wanted to see. We skipped the gardens and focused on the Cathedrals and museums. In Golden Lane, there was a crossbow range. We decided to try it before the line-up got too long. It was fun but I missed the bulls eye by a long shot! My friend actually got the bulls eye.
It started to rain on the day we went but that didn't stop us or anyone else from taking the tour. Tour guides came in droves with tourists which made it harder to enjoy the courtyard. Other than the large crowds, it was a great experience and I'm glad we did the tour. I have to say, everyone there was respectful and there was no shoving or pushing. If you were taking a picture, some tourists would stop and get out of the way.
Overall, Despite my complaints about Prague being overcrowded with tourists, It is a very beautiful city with beautiful architecture and stunning views. The food is a little heavy for my liking but very fresh and cheap if you go outside the tourist traps. I think the next time I come to Prague, I will skip the touristy stuff and do the "off beat" tour of Prague.