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City Guide: Prague
City guide: Prague
Prague's cobbled streets, towering castle, atmospheric bridges and well-preserved Jewish quarter makes the capital of the Czech Republic one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. It is bisected by the Vltava River with its two main districts, the Stare Mesto (Old Town) and Nove Mesto (New Town).
What to do
The best way to get your bearings in a new city is by elevation, so start on the left bank, at Petrín Hill. There’s a funicular to the top where you can take in historical sights such as the Hunger Wall, Strahov Monastery, the Memorial to the Victims of Communism, and Štefánik’s Observatory. If you’re still feeling on the up and up, climb the 299 steps to the summit of the Petrin Lookout Tower, or Petřínská rozhledn. The topof what they call Prague’s Eiffel Tower will reward you with sweeping views across the city and its magical spires.
Cross the river via the 14th-century Charles Bridge, decorated with 30 Baroque statues and bustling with traders, merchants and painters, then visit the birthplace of Prague, Vysehrad. The 10th-century castle here marks the place of the city’s original settlement, and now houses the Basilica of St Peter and St Paul.
The more you walk in Prague, the more hidden streets and quiet corners you will discover. Mala Strana (the Lesser Quarter) in the Old Town, looks as if time stood still in the 18th century. Then, it was Prague’s most colourful quarter, home to artists, poets, musicians and drunkards. There are also some beautiful walled gardens here. The Wallenstein Garden (Letenska) and Vrtbov Garden (Karmelitska 25) are both charming.
The 70,000sqm Prague Castle, said to be one of the biggest castles in the world, dominates the skyline. Once the residence of the Kings of Bohemia and the Holy Roman Emperors, it dates back to 880, and is now the office of the president of the Czech Republic, and a Unesco World Heritage site.
You haven’t quite seen all of Prague’s attractions just yet. The Church of Our Lady Before Tyn is a city landmark that dominates the skyline of Prague’s Old City. It dates back to the 14th century and reaches 80m high. Its late Gothic style facade is equally as impressive as its Baroque interior.
Venture to the Old Town Square. The centrepiece is the Astronomical clock, which has been striking the hour with the aid of a skeleton and 12 apostles since the 15th century.
Where to eat and drink
The famous Wenceslas Square is home to lots of restaurants and cafes but you’ll find plenty of old-school Praha food everywhere, with dumplings, pork knuckles and potatoes aplenty. A stay in Prague isn’t complete without a beer-and-pork fest in a dingy cellar. It’s a lot more fun than it sounds. Try U Radnice (U Radnice 2).
But modern Prague also has a number of eateries where you can sample anything from excellent Italian to fancy French fare, and even Indian. There’s also a good vegetarian presence, including the ultra chic Lehka Hlava in Stare Mesto close to Charles Bridge, which is always stuffed full of hip Czechs.
The people of Prague enjoy a coffee too, and there are several nicotine-stained dens where you are likely to come across some earnest fellows debating over their espressos. One such den is at the Franz Kafka Café (Siroka 12), where wooden booths hide behind the frosted-glass windows.
But for most travellers, Prague is all about the crisp, cheap local beer (pivo to the locals). Off the main drag of Mostecka you’ll find a host of old ateliers and traditional beer halls. Or seek out a subterranean cellar bar such as Ujezd (or the Gate) at the base of Prague Castle.
If you happen to be visiting Prague between February 21 and March 31, it’s a good opportunity to follow the 400 year-old tradition of celebrating the early arrival of Spring by trying typical fair food and drink, such as Czech gingerbread, Turkish honey, freshly smoked Moravian meats, real slivovitz and Czech sausages and beer at the St Matthew’s Fair at the Vystaviste exhibition grounds, by Stromovka Park.
Where to party
Now you have a belly full of pork sausage and beer, you probably want to sample the nightlife. Prague offers some thrilling options in that department, such as one of the city’s most popular nightspots, Lavka Bar & Club (Novotneho Lavka 1, Old Town), by the Charles Bridge.
For a night that’s smoky and atmospheric, the Charles Bridge Jazz Club (Saska 3, jazzblues.cz) should hit the spot. There are concerts on every night.
Where to stay
To sleep it off, you can try the Old Prague Hostel (oldpraguehostel.com) in the Old Town or the the 4-star Designhotel Elephant right next to the bus station, near Metro Station Florenc.
Visit Kutna Hora to see the Sedlec Ossuary, where the remains of 40,000 people have been used as decorations. Known as the Church of Bones, the Ossuary is one of the most unusual chapels you will ever see. It’s nothing spectacular in the outside, just a small chapel located in Sedlec, in the suburbs of Kutna Hora. As you enter though, you will soon realize why it is one of the most amazing and unique churches in the world. The Sedlec Ossuary is artistically decorated by more than 40.000 human skeletons.
A train journey of about an hour will get you to Kutna Hora from Prague.