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Prague: city guide. Atmospheric and ancient, filled with historical architecture and Gothic spires
December 29, 2015 | By: High50
Prague. Riverside and bridge

Prague is a city of fairytale architecture and Gothic spires

Why go

Prague is one of the most enchanting cities in the world, with fairytale gothic architecture, a hilltop castle, romantic river, elaborate bridge and cobbled Old Town – and only a two-hour flight from the UK.

Add possibly the best beer in Europe and you’ve got a pretty appealing prospect for a spellbinding city break.

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What to do

Prague. Charles Bridge. Flickr CC Roman Boed

Prague at its most atmospheric: morning on the Charles Bridge over the Vltava River

The city is divided into two by the Vltava river – still, grey and eerily beautiful. A river cruise is a gentle way to see many of the city sights. Sail under the famous Charles Bridge, look up at the hilltop castle and admire the National Theatre, the proud home of ballet and opera in the city.

On dry land, the medieval Old Town and hilly, historic Lesser Town (where you’ll find the castle) are the two prettiest parts of Prague, each on opposite sides of the Vtlava.

Just above the Old Town maze you can tick off six synagogues and experience the curious ‘ghost town’ feel of the former Jewish ghetto.

The lively New Town is the most modern and commercial area of Prague and home of the impressive Wenceslas Square. Here you’ll find the National Museum and shops. At night the nightclubs and bars can get busy. If you want more evening action than the traditional beer halls can offer, this is the place to come.

Where to stay

Prague. Alchymist Grand Hotel

The five-star Alchymist Grand Hotel in downtown Prague, housed in a 16th-century Baroque house

Prague boasts some truly stunning buildings, so why not stay somewhere palatial? Luxury boutique hotel The Alchymist is exquisite both inside and out and boasts an unbeatable Lesser Town location between the castle and the river.

For those who are all about location, the Grand Hotel Praha is unbeatable, sitting opposite the landmark Astronomical Clock and Our Lady of the Tyn cathedral in the Old Town Square. Most rooms are classically decorated with antique furniture and ceiling murals. The hotel also has two apartments and a beamed attic room for those who want more space.

Prague. Hotel Josef lobby

Sleek curves, modern artwork and contemporary rooms at Hotel Josef: a contrast to the city’s history

If your tastes are more modern, Hotel Josef in the Old Town is a breathtaking triumph of design by architect Eva Jiricna, with sleek curves, spiralling glass staircase, modern artwork and contemporary rooms. It also has a famously good in-house bakery.

Where to eat

It’s not all about the goulash in Prague – although that is pretty darn good. There are hundreds of fantastic restaurants across the city, but if it’s fine dining that you’re after, the Ginger & Fred restaurant on the seventh floor of the incredible riverside Dancing House (designed by architect Frank Gehry) serves up gourmet cuisine with beautiful views of the Vltava.

For something fittingly atmospheric, the Zvonice restaurant is housed among the beams of an old bell tower – the bell dangling ominously above your head. Try the wild boar sirloin.

Prague. Peklo Restaurant

Peklo Restaurant, in a 12th-century grotto, is one of several underground restaurants

Prague also boasts some amazing restaurants housed in underground caverns. Dine under dangling stalactites at Restaurant Triton just off Wenceslas Square, in a 12th-century grotto at Peklo Restaurant or a natural cave at Svata Clara.

If it’s a quick bite that you’re after then you won’t do better for traditional grub than the city’s beer houses. U Fleku and U Medvidku are two of the most famous. You’ll find basic foods like cheese, sausages, dumplings and, of course, goulash on the menu. The atmosphere at these sprawling taverns makes up for any lack of food finesse. And the beer, brewed on the premises, is pretty good too.

Prague. Old Town Square. Prague Tourism

Old Town Square: Prague is filled with Baroque, medieval and Renaissance architecture

Getting around

The easiest way to get around within the districts of Prague is on foot. The winding streets of the Old Town don’t lend themselves well to public transport but you will find buses, trams and the metro running in the other areas of the city centre. Taxis can be expensive and slow-going in heavy city traffic.

When to go

Prague has a similar climate to the UK with cold winters and hot summers, although it gets the most rainfall from May to August. Spring and autumn offer the most comfortable conditions for sightseeing. Winters can be bitterly cold, with temperature dropping to minus 10°, but if you get snow, the city is magical.

Three things we like

  1. The architecture in Prague is a real treat, with Baroque, medieval and Renaissance masterpieces at every turn.
  2. Forget fancy cocktail bars, this city is all about the cosy beer halls.
  3. Visit from November to March and you’ve got the chance of a sprinkling of snow doing the impossible and making Prague look even more magical.

Something we don’t like

The beer and the nightlife make Prague a mecca for stag and hen dos – something that doesn’t sit comfortably with the historic splendour of the city. You’ll find that most of the raucous after-dark activity takes place in and around Wenceslas Square, so it’s pretty easily avoided.

Prague Old Town

The 14th-century Church of Our Lady before Tyn in the Old Town Square

Don’t miss

The St Wenceslas monument on the New Town square is a famous symbol of the city.

The view of the castle from Charles Bridge is iconic. It’s especially beautiful when illuminated at night.

Don’t miss the curious Astronomical Clock on the Old Town Square. Join the crowds on the hour to watch the quaint procession of the Twelve Apostles, then head to the top of the Old Town Hall Tower for brilliant views across the Old Town rooftops.

Wander the Czech National Gallery and journey from the medieval to the baroque, classicism to romanticism and beyond, into the 21st century.

For the very best views across the city, climb the observatory tower at the top of Petrin Hill. A funicular railway will take you up the hill (to heights of 318m), then you have 299 steps to climb to reach the top.

High50 insider tips

  • Wear comfortable shoes for sightseeing. Cobbles and hills are the norm in Prague.
  • Once a month the castle puts on an impressive guard parade. Check the website for dates and times.
  • Book a meal at the Ginger & Fred restaurant in the Dancing House and you’ll be invited up to the roof for after-dinner views across the river.
  • Children up to the age of nine travel free on public transport.
  • Sit down in a beer house and you can expect to find half a litre of the house pilsner put in front of you. And when that glass is empty, another, and so on until you indicate otherwise to your waiter.
  • Prague isn’t well known for its great shopping, but Czech glass is considered to be the world’s finest. Watch out for the ‘made in China’ look-a-likes, though. Moser Glass in the Old Town is one reputable place for high-end glassware.

Need to know

  • The flight time to Prague is two hours.
  • The currency in Prague is the Czech Crown. Some places will accept Euros.
  • You’ll need a two-pin European plug adaptor.
  • Prague is generally a very safe city but the area around Wenceslas Square is the most unsavoury, with prostitutes and pickpockets coming out after dark.
  • Tips of around ten to 15 per cent are expected for good service. These may be added to your bill automatically or as a cover or condiment charge. In the beer halls it’s customary to round the bill up to the next ten crowns as a tip for your waiter.