I had high expectations ahead of my first ever visit to Prague, during the last week of August, as part of a summer school organised by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). My expectations, despite the crowds – the city is the fourth most visited in Europe – were exceeded.
Prague personifies the essence of Europe in its Italian-influenced buildings, Parisian-style terrace cafes, abundance of churches and numerous artistic centres. Its location represents a nexus of eastern and western European style and in this sense, it feels more holistically European than its neighbours.
While the Old Town is often packed with tourists, to go to Prague and miss out on this UNESCO World Heritage site would be misguided. The astronomical clock, and the dozens of churches are not to be missed, alongside the world class array of architecture such as the Spanish Synagogue or the 1713 Baroque Clam-Gallas Palace.
Getting around the city is quick and easy, with just one ticket needed for the metro, tram and bus. Expect to pay a little less than one euro for a 30-minute ticket and a little more for the 90-minute version. Exploring all ends of the city is effortless.
To get out of the overcrowded centre, try a trip to Žižkov, filled with cafes, bars, restaurants and shops. A must-see is the vintage store Bohemian Retro, filled with one-of-a-kind pieces collected from all around the region. Expect to find anything from 1960s leather jackets to hats from the 1920s and even pocket calendars from the 1980s. Sitting at the till is a Florida guy called Steve, who came to the city just 15 days after the 1989 revolution after being posted in East Germany with the US army. He and his wife fell in love with the city and never left – and who can blame them.
If you’re needing a caffeine hit head to Žižkavárna Cafe, where you can find great coffee, along with anything from turmeric lattes to Prossecco. For some food, head to some of the nearby parks with some takeaway from one of local restaurants – a great place to sit and relax is the Vítkov or Parukárka parks. On Saturdays the square around the Church of the Most Sacred Heart of Our Lord has a bustling food market which is always a good option to try some of the scrumptious food Czech Republic has to offer.
To fully escape the city’s metropolitan centre, try Divokà Šàrka, a wildlife park that can trace its history back to the sixth century. Its stunning forest encapsulates a tranquil pool which is a great place to read a book and relax. Something more central and equally as stunning is the Wallenstein Gardens, close to the city’s famous castle. The city has no shortage of parks which helps establish a calm undertone to the fast-paced capital, another notable mention being Petrin Hill, with its panoramic city views.
The Vltava river carves a path through the city, decorated with medieval bridges, boat-bars and wide riverbank boulevards. In the evening, the river comes alive with locals strolling and drinking along the embankment. A must-do in the evening is to grab a drink on one of the boats on the riverside and watch the sunset over the city. If boats are not your thing, the Dancing House, a masterpiece designed by Frank Gehry and Vlado Milunić, juts out from the intricate and elegant European buildings in the New Town. A quick trip to the top of the building will land you at the rooftop bar that presents stunning views of the city, but do try and avoid peak tourist times.
If you’re feeling game for a night out, the five story nightclub Karlovy-Lazne well ensure you have a good story to come home with. Each floor of the club is home to a different genre of music and you have plenty of time to enjoy every one: it stays open until 5am every night.
For a more relaxing night out, stroll along the river and grab a traditional trdelník (a sweet pastry) from one of the many street stalls and let the flow of the city guide you around – you’re sure to stumble across a terrace bar, live music venue or historical masterpiece. The stunning Neo-Renaissance National Theatre that lines the riverbank in the New Town is another great place to spend the evening, boasting world-class opera, ballet and drama performances every night.
Wherever you go, Prague is full of wonderful twists and turns and is a great place to explore spontaneously. Just go with the flow.