Prague is the capital of the Czech Republic, and one of the most popular tourist destinations in Central Europe, especially with other European travelers. It is known for its incredibly well-preserved old city, beautiful architecture, good beer, and a party environment that attracts young people from all over.
The partying doesn’t interest me, but the rest has had Prague squarely up there on my European wish-list for a long time. And now, after spending a lovely long week, I can share my experiences with you through this guide. It is important to note that Prague, like many places, has a lot going on, far more than I was able to see. I can only write about the things I actually did. It will be more than enough, however, to get you well on your way to planning a wonderful Prague holiday!
Please make sure to click on the links throughout this guide for more detailed looks at specific aspects of the city. And if you enjoy this, click here to view more of our Ultimate Guides from all over the world.
Prague is a major city, about 1.3 million, so it has a fairly large airport. Flights directly from the US, however, are few and far between, so you’ll likely have to change planes in Europe if you come by air. The airport is outside the city, though a direct bus will take you to a few different spots, depending on where you are staying.
Alternatively, you might arrive by train into Prague’s central train station, or by bus into the Florenc bus station. Both of these are on the tram and metro system, which while not very efficient will still get you to within a ten or so minute walk of most places you may need to go. (I arrived by train and departed by bus, so I have experienced both of these.)
Prague has three metro lines and a ton of trams. The trams are what you’re probably more likely to use given their prevalence. A one-way ticket is CZK30 (about $1.12 as of this writing). Tickets are only checked at random, but fines can be steep if caught without a valid one. There are day passes and weekly passes available, though you really have to be transit dependent to make them cost-effective.
The trams vary from sleek and modern to more antiquated, and you really never know which you’ll get. Some have flat entrances, while some cars require you to step up. If you have mobility issues, especially with a few stairs, you’ll probably want to check with either the city or your hotel beforehand to see if there is a pattern I missed.
As trams only skirt Prague’s Old Town, you will invariably end up walking at times. The central portion of the city is pretty flat, although cobblestones are certainly not the easiest to walk over. If you intend to visit Prague Castle, Vysehrad Fortress, or another hilltop attraction, you’ll probably want to find a bus or a taxi if you have any issues hiking up stairs or steep hills.
What to Do
Prague has a lot going for it, but any trip has to start with walking through the Old Town, centered on Old Town Square. (Click here to read more about Prague’s Old Town.) Even if you don’t go into a single building, just walking the streets and staring at the architecture is a perfect – truly perfect – way to spend a day. Remember, Prague was basically not bombed during World War Two, so unlike much of Europe, the city’s buildings have survived, and range from medieval to early 20th century art-deco.
Also on my must-do list is Prague’s Jewish Quarter and the preserved renaissance synagogues. This is something that you sadly won’t find anywhere else in the world, and it is worth the admission fees to see inside of them. (Click here to read more about Prague’s Jewish Quarter.)
Prague Castle and Charles Bridge are two of the top sights for tourists. I found both to be… fine. They are certainly impressive, although not unique, and are very crowded. (Click here to read about Prague Castle.) If you do go to Prague Castle, go early, and make sure to visit Lobkowicz Palace on the “far” (away from Charles Bridge) side.
Prague has a whole host of museums with great reviews that I didn’t have time to see. Among the highlights are museums on communism, Kafka, sex machines, and more.
If you are interested in the Holocaust, you can take a fairly easy day trip from Prague to Terezin, the site of one of the largest concentration camps. I chose not to, but our writer Sam Spector did, and you can read his article on the experience here.
If you read many of the linked articles above, you’ll see references to the Prague Visitor Pass. (Thank you to Prague City Tourism for providing me with one.) So let’s talk about it a bit more. The Prague Visitor Pass includes admission to most of the city-run sights, which is basically the historic buildings. It also includes a hop-on/off tram, walking tours, and a short boat cruise on the Vltava, as well as transit for the duration of the card’s validity. It includes very few (if any) of the modern museums, hence my not visiting any, as I wanted to take advantage of the places I could see that were part of it.
A 72-hour card like the one I was gifted costs just under $100 at current exchange rates. If you like long days of seeing things and exploring, you can get good value. For instance, it was $18 just to do the Vltava cruise, and $10 each for Prague Castle and Old Town Hall. If, however, you are the sort to do just a few things per day, and prefer to meander around, you might be better off paying for things individually. (I will say that the best side effect of having the Prague Visitor Pass was the ability to stumble across a medieval tower or something and just visit it because it was included.)
Unfortunately, using the card didn’t save any time, as it still had to be scanned at each site and paper tickets had to be issued. And scanning was not always a super easy process, though it always worked in the end. Keep in mind that this is a fairly newly updated product, so I expect those kinks to be well worked out in the near future.
One other note here: I purchased a ticket to a classical music concert at Prague’s main theatre. I was never sent the electronic ticket, my emails were never acknowledged, and the box office was unable or unwilling to help when I walked in, so I had to appeal to my credit card to reverse the charge. If you want to see a concert, buy your tickets in person.
Where to Stay
As a popular destination, Prague has hotels for all budgets. If mobility is an issue, try to stay as close to the Old Town as you can. If, however, you are ok walking twenty or so minutes each way to do an activity, consider staying outside of that central area for a less touristy and more authentic experience.
I chose an Airbnb in Prague’s Karlin neighborhood (fairly close to the Florenc bus station), and found it to be charming, with delightful cafes and restaurants all over. (The Hilton Praha was just a few blocks from me, along the river, so staying there would offer a similar feel within a block or so.) I also enjoyed walking to and from Old Town, as it allowed me more chance to admire the beautiful architecture of the city.
What to Eat
Czech food is not light. Let’s get that out of the way. This is a part of the world that experiences deep winters, so it is a protein and carb heavy diet. Some highlights: fried cheese (a firmer but stinkier cheese, breaded and fried), Czech beef goulash, potato or bread dumplings, and sausages. Prague is also known for duck, though I didn’t have any.
In addition, all over the touristy areas you’ll see stands selling trdelo, Czech chimney cakes that can be filled with ice cream. Get one. Or ten.
If you’re a coffee drinker, you might want to try something I’d never had before: an espresso tonic. Basically, it’s espresso, tonic water, and lemon, and can be quite refreshing. All the coffee shops seem to offer them.
Finally, let’s talk beer. Czech beer is among the best in the world, and a half liter is around $2-3 at most restaurants. Try one. Try a different one. See what you like.
If you’re in the Karlin neighborhood, my specific recommendations are Kafe Karlin for coffee (there is almost no seating, so you’ll probably get it and walk) and Lokal Hamburk for traditional Czech food. I also had surprisingly good Indian food at Sangam, the spice of which helped break up the monotony of the very not spicy Eastern European cuisines of this trip.
Other Useful Information
The most important thing to remember: the Czech Republic is not on the Euro, though it is part of the EU. You will find places that will not take credit cards, so you’ll need some local currency. It is currently 25 CZK to the dollar.
One unique thing about Prague is its place on the world cost of living index. On the index, cities with values over 100 are more expensive than the median, and under 100 are less expensive. Prague sits directly at 100, making it the median cost of living city in the world.
The Czech language is not common for Americans to speak. Many places offer English menus, and many Czechs speak English, but you can also try German, especially among older Czechs. Announcements of stops on trams, however, are just done in Czech.
Prague doesn’t have that singular tourist site that makes visitors immediately identify the city, like the Eiffel Tower or Brandenburg Gate. What it does offer, though, is one of the most beautiful and well-preserved cities in Europe, if not the world. It is the perfect city for a stroll, or a series of strolls, armed with a camera and GPS, and perhaps a coffee or beer. It is a good place for a few days, or a week, or even more, and I hope this guide helped you to plan a Prague getaway of your own!
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