Prague 101

Prague title

Prague was the first stop on our Euro trip and has long been on both of our “places I need to go” list. We arrived with high expectations and surely did not leave disappointed. Prague is one of the few major European cities to make it through both world wars unscathed, and because of that it is so incredibly full of old world charm. The winding streets, red roofs, and hidden medieval fortresses left us feeling like every corner held some new surprise. In an attempt to not be toooooo wordy (yeah right), I’m going to share the highlights of each day, followed by an all-encompassing list of favorites (with links) and helpful hints at the bottom of the post. For ease of travel, I decided to leave my DSLR at home, so all photos are courtesy of my iPhone.

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FRIDAY:
We landed in Prague at 11 AM and although exhausted, were also incredibly excited. We took a cab from the airport to the apartment where we were staying in Mala Strana, the part of the city just opposite the river from Old Town. We rented the most charming place on AirBnB and couldn’t have had a better first experience using the rental website. Our host Veronika was there to meet us, give us helpful hints, and turn over the keys. By now it was noon, so we went to the local market to grab a few kitchen staples and some pre-made sandwiches for lunch before passing out for a 2 hour nap.
We woke up refreshed from our naps and ready to explore! On the referral of my friend Hana and our AirBnB host, our first stop of the trip was the Letna Beer Garden. It sits atop the hill in Letna Park with killer views of the city. Being from Philadelphia we couldn’t believe how cheap the drinks were at the beer garden! Half liters of delicious Czech beer cost 35 koruna (the equivalent of $1.45 American)!! We had to pinch ourselves to believe it was all real as we watched the sun set over the city.


Just before dark we made our way back down the hill and crossed the bridge over the river into Old Town for dinner. It was Friday night so most places were pretty crowded, but we had no trouble finding a seat at a small little pub I read about in my Rick Steves travel guide. It was called U Knihovny and was a dimly lit, no-fuss eatery serving hearty portions of Czech classics. I had the roast duck with cabbage and Spatular had the beef goulash, both served with bread dumplings and another half-liter of beer. Stuffed from our dinner (Czech food is heavy) and tired from our day of travel, we made our way back across the Charles Bridge to our apartment to call it an early night.  On our walk home, Prague gave us one final surprise… a firework show over the river!  I’m not sure of the occasion, but it was pretty magical standing along the Vltava in Kampa park ending our first night in Europe with a private firework show.

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SATURDAY:
In an attempt to beat jet lag, I made sure we had something planned for Saturday morning so we wouldn’t stay in bed too late. I booked us a free walking tour with a company called Sandeman (they offer free tours in tons of cities and you just pay what you think it was worth at the end). The tour met in Old Town Square and lasted 3 ½ hours with a quick break for lunch in the middle. Our guide was an American who now lives in Prague and had a double Master’s degree in European history (and something else) from two Eastern European universities. He led us through the Old Town, New Town, and the Jewish Quarter, sharing tons of fascinating and shocking history about Prague during the World Wars and Communist years. We ended the tour with a much better feel for the geography and story of the city.


After a long morning of walking we stopped at one of the pubs near our apartment for a snack and a drink before heading home to take a quick nap. There was some kind of music festival happening on Kampa Island, and we woke up to the sound of music through-out open terrace tour. Talk about perfection!


After our nap we made our way down to the river and rented paddle boats to enjoy the sunset from the Vltava River. The rentals were very affordable and this was definitely one of the highlights of our time in Prague. We returned our boat and made our way into town to the U Fleku beer garden, which was suggested to us by a friend. Man was that place fun. It was a little touristy… but by that I don’t mean Americans, I mean people from all over the world! It was a total melting pot and we loved it. They only serve one kind of beer here and the waiters walk around and plop one down on the table in front of you when they see you’ve finished your previous one. I’m not usually a big fan of dark beers but this one was delicious. We also split a pork knuckle and salad for dinner. U Fleku was one of the pricier stops in Prague, but still much cheaper than the same meal at home! Our last stop of the night was U Sudu, a bar that had been suggested to us by another friend who had studied abroad in Prague years ago. You walk into U Sudu on the main floor, but there is a staircase in the back right that takes you down stairs to other bars, deeper and deeper underground. I felt like Harry Potter making my way into the Chamber of Secrets! U Sudu was an eclectic blend of locals and a few other English speakers with a nice selection of beer and fair prices. The only downside was all the smoke. By the time we left at 11PM it was like we were sitting in a cloud. We were very grateful to have the terrace back at our apartment so we could air out our jackets and clothes over night!

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SUNDAY:
For our final day in Prague we decided to explore the areas outside of Old Town. In the morning we ran the 2 miles down the river to the Vysehrad fortress which overlooks the city from the south. It was fun to see one of the less touristed parts of town and even spotted locals on their way to Sunday Mass at the Cathedral at Vysehrad. In the afternoon we climbed the steep incline of Petrin Hill (there is a funicular for those who aren’t up for the walk) and rewarded our hard work by buying Trdelnik for the first time. Trdelnik is a spiral shaped pastry that is coated in cinnamon sugar and cooked outside over hot coals. Amazing!


Once we made it to the top of the hill, we followed one of the trails trying to find the nearby monastery. On our walk we accidentally stumbled upon the most incredible lookout over the city. I wish I could tell you how to get there but I really have no idea! That’s the fun of Petrin Hill though. It is a sprawling park with tons of little trails to get lost on, so give yourself time to explore! Once we arrived at the monastery we stopped by the on-sight brewery for lunch. I tried the mushroom potato soup in a homemade bread bowl, and Spatular had the roast duck with cabbage. By this point in the trip, midday beers had become the norm. At the monastery we paid to go inside the library. It was definitely beautiful and interesting, but I don’t think I would pay to go inside again.


From the monastery we continued down the road to Prague Castle and St Vitus Cathedral. The complex is massive and a must-see when visiting Prague. We didn’t pay for a tour here, but just took some time to explore the free sights. We even got to watch the Changing Of The Guard which happens at the top of the hour. Here’s a hint for that: Instead of standing with the crowds outside the gates, cross into the castle complex, stand behind the guard and watch through the gate. You’ll get your own personal show and some great tourist-free photos!


For our last night in Prague we went to Krcma for dinner which was recommended to us by my friend Josh. It is cozy and charming, tucked in the basement of a building in Old Town. When we walked in, there was only one large table left. The waitress seated us at one end and a single diner at the other end. We got to chatting with the other diner and invited her to come sit with us when we learned she was a solo traveler from Denmark named Louise. It was her gap year before starting university and she had been traveling around Europe for a month by herself and would be returning home to Copenhagen in the morning. The 3 of us dined together for 3 hours, stuffing ourselves full of Czech food and beer, and swapping stories of our travels and respective lives at home. We had such a nice time with Louise that we invited her to join us for our last stop of the night, an Irish pub called The Dubliner which was showing the Eagles-Cowboys game on the big screen. At half time it was already past midnight in Prague so we said goodbye to our new friend and made our way back to our apartment.

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MONDAY:
One thing in Prague that everyone told me not to miss was the sunrise on the Charles Bridge, so instead of taking a cab to the train station on Monday morning, we decided to walk. This was a moment that we were so grateful to not have brought heavy suitcases and instead managed to just have packed backpacks because it allowed us to be able to make the 2 miles walk to the train station without any problem. And boy was it worth it. The Charles Bridge, normally slammed with people was quiet and calm for the first time all week. The sun painted the sky pink as it peaked up over the city. Once we crossed into Old Town, we found the winding streets, just like the bridge, to be empty. It was like we were seeing this part of town for the first time, and like Prague had woken up early just for us. Even if you don’t pack light like we did, I highly recommend waking up early one day to have the city all to yourself, even for just a few minutes!

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TO SUM THINGS UP…
WE. LOVE. PRAGUE.
I would go back in a heartbeat. The prices are incredible, the history is fascinating, the people are warm, and I couldn’t believe how many outdoor activities were right at our finger tips. Staying active while traveling is super important for Spatular and I, so we were thrilled when we were covering about 10 miles a day on foot enjoying everything that Prague has to offer.

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EAT:

  • U Knihovny – They don’t serve pork knuckle but just about every other classic Czech dish is available on the menu here.
  • Kcrma – I highly recommend the pork knuckle here which is enough to split between two people when paired with soup and salad.
  • Roast Duck – We were crazy about the extra crispy skin on the roast duck. This indulgent meal is perfect when served with tart pickled cabbage and bread or potato dumplings on the side.
  • Beef Goulash – Nearly every restaurant has some variety of goulash on the menu. If you aren’t familiar it is a hardy stew that comes served with bread dumplings.
  • Pork Knuckle – A giant leg of pork that is usually large enough to serve two people. It is slow roasted and served with the thick layer of skin and fat still intact. It takes a bit of work to remove it, but its worth the effort to reveal the most perfect, succulent, and flavorful meal beneath.
  • Street stand sausages – Available all over the city, and perfect for quick affordable lunches.
  • Pickled Cheese – It sounds a little strange but makes a great afternoon snack or appetizer.
  • Soup – Soup is available on nearly every menu and works as a great lunch or starter. We tried potato mushroom, ham and cabbage, and beef noodle.
  • Trdelink – A cinnamon sugar covered pastry, cooked outside over hot coals and available all over the city for about $3 American.

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DRINK:

  • The beer – its famous and cheaper than water!
  • Letna Beer Garden – The view and the prices are totally worth the trek up the hill in Letna Park.
  • U Fleku Beer Garden – A melting pot of people from around the world with delicious beer and good food. A little pricey by Prague standards, but still a steal compared to Philly prices.
  • U Sudu – Dark, smokey, and dungeon-like… but also awesome, I swear!
  • The Dubliner – an Irish pub, full of mostly English speakers, but the perfect place to go if you need to catch a NFL game.

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Prague AirBnB

STAY:

  • This is the AirBnB where we stayed. It was PERFECT and I would recommend it to anyone. The location was great and I loved starting out every morning on the terrace drinking my latte from the café next door.

Prague 10

EXPLORE:

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HELPFUL HINTS:

  • Avoid taking cabs, they love to rip off tourists. Our driver took us the long way from the airport, charging us the equivalent of an extra $10 American. Know the price a ride should cost ahead of time, and make sure the driver uses their GPS and the meter.
  • Almost everyone speaks English as tourism is one of Prague’s major industries, but it still nice to learn a few basic phrases ahead of time.
  • Be familiar with the currency and the exchange rate before you go. The Czech Republic does not use the Euro, they use the Koruna (Czech Crowns). When we went in September 2015, 24 Koruna = $1. When using an ATM, ask for an odd amount (4400 koruna instead of 4000) to avoid getting all 1000 koruna bills.
  • Watch out for pick pockets. They are fairly common in major European cities and especially in crowded tourist areas like the Charles Bridge and Old Town Square. We only had one problem with a pick pocket which turned out to be a funny story that I’ll tell you about next week in my Munich post.

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