Prague

Prague is a dark place. – Fred Durst

Prague never lets you go…this dear little mother has sharp claws. – Franz Kafka

Prague is a city with a difficult past and remarkable resiliency.  Despite dark corners of its history, from the burning at the stake of “heretical” reformer Jan Hus to occupations by the Nazis and Soviets, Prague has been able to weather these cultural and political storms throughout its history.

Out of all the cities I’ve been to, I don’t know if there is a city more architecturally attractive than Prague.  No matter which of its meandering streets you stroll down, every building is unique and beautiful; every corner revealing something new.  There is an intensity, a mysteriousness, an intrigue to Prague.

Oh, and the beer is really cheap.

So if you’re looking for a holiday that’s full of romance, intrigue, and wallet-friendly dining and drinking, Prague is the place to go.


Neighborhoods

I really enjoyed Staré Město (Old town), Hradcany (the castle district), and Josefov (the Jewish Quarter).  However, the next time I go, I will stay in Mala Strana (the Lesser Town).  Deriving its name from being beneath the Prague Castle, Mala Strana is a quaint patchwork of cobblestone streets and baroque architecture.  While much of Old Town can be crowded during summer, Mala Strana was not too congested.  If you really want some solitude while still being remarkably in the center of all the action, stay on Kampa Island.  This thin strip of land in the Vltava River right under the Charles Bridge is an oasis from the summertime crowds.  More on Mala Strana and Kampa Island later…


Highlights

Charles Bridge – The Charles Bridge (built in 1357) is one of the most iconic bridges in the world.  Flanked by bridge towers on either sides with grand arches that span the width of the bridge, the Charles is filled with activity.  Vendors and tourists share the space with natives of Prague.  This main artery connects the Old Town and Mala Strana, and offers a pleasant stroll across the Vltava River.


Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral – The dominant feature of the city is the Castle Quarter.  The Prague Castle and grand St. Vitus Cathedral can be seen from all over town.  While you will have to climb the hilly streets to get to the area, rest assured that it is worth it.


Astronomical Clock and Old Town Square – While you won’t be the only one there, Old Town Square is a must.  The square features a collection of Gothic and Baroque architecture.  If you like being in the center of all the action, I recommend grabbing a table at a restaurant in the square and enjoying a Pilsner.  Of course, you will be with many other tourists and the prices are a bit higher, but Prague is so reasonably priced that it won’t hurt your wallet too much.  The astronomical clock, first installed in 1410, features a variety of animated figures, including the apostles, “Vanity,” and “Death.”  It’s a strange but interesting sight to watch the clock turn at the top of the hour.


Mala Strana and Kampa Island– The charming Mala Strana, or “Lesser Town,” is nestled beneath the Castle Quarter.  It features meandering streets lined with Baroque architecture.  Duck into a Czech pub to enjoy traditional fare and a Pilsner, or stop in one of the jewelry stores to pick up some famous Czech garnet stone jewelry.  If you want some solitude but still be close to everything you’d want to see in Prague, get a room on peaceful Kampa Island.  It is remarkably quiet for being in between the Old Town and Mala Strana.


Czech food and beer – Speaking of Czech pubs, make sure you make a stop at one during your time in Prague.  Pilsners, pale lagers that originated in Plzeň, Czech Republic, are the national beer. They can be enjoyed (for around $1.50-2 USD!) all over Prague.  The most well-known Pilsner is Pilsner Urquell, the original Pilsner, but there are others.  Czechs consume more beer per capita than any other people in the world, so you are bound to find something you like.  You can even order a Budweiser – but not the kind you would avoid drink in the States.  The original Budweiser is from a Bohemian brewery called Budweiser Budvar.  This beer has nothing to do with Anheuser-Busch’s American beer of the same name, and for that reason, the American version is not able to be marketed as “Budweiser” outside of North America (which is inconsequential, as only Americans drink it.)  In terms of food, we really loved feasting on the Czech goulash, or meat and vegetable stew.  Typical Bohemian platters also consisted of plates with roast pork, cabbage, bread, and potato dumplings.  We found Czech food to be delicious and cheap.


The John Lennon Wall – One of the must-see sights in Mala Strana for any Beatles fan is the John Lennon Wall.  Started in the early 1980s by protesting students, the wall has various quotes and graffiti encouraging peace, love, and rock ‘n roll.


The Jewish Quarter – Dating back to the 10th century, The Jewish Quarter was originally a walled ghetto where Jews were segregated from the rest of the community.  Today, the area is a site rich in history, with medieval gravestones and synagogues.


The Petrin Hill and Observation Tower – What looks like a mini-Eiffel Tower located on Petrin Hill is a must see for travelers who crave a view (like myself).  As you stroll through the pleasant gardens between the Castle District and Petrin Hill, you can catch a gorgeous view of the gardens and the cathedral. When at the top of the observation tower, you can enjoy an unparalleled vista of the city below.  A trip to this quiet corner of Prague is highly recommended!


Overall, Prague is easily one of my favorite cities in the world.  Take a trip there and enjoy the romance, mystery, and intrigue.  Don’t listen to Fred Durst; Prague may have dark parts in its past, but today, it’s a vibrant city brimming with life.

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