Each time I’ve visited Prague, I’ve felt like I was stepping into a fairy tale. Not just a beer lover’s story, but one written by those from days long since passed. Prague is surely a wonder of a city and there are so many nooks and crannies to explore that a couple days of travel just barely touches the foam of the nice brew of Czech pilsner underneath. One thing I can surely say about any trip to Prague in it’s current state: don’t believe the stories of how cheap everything is. Sure, this Central European gem is still very affordable compared to most of it’s neighbors to the west, and the beer is a special stand out on the deals you can reap while visiting. However, Prague is no longer a true budget destination. This is honestly for the best as the residents are starting to catch up on pay-scale with the rest of the EU and more money for the locals is always a good thing.
If you’re going to visit Prague, the thing I will recommend is to make sure you get some variety. The city’s old town and Charles Bridge certainly have the charm that could woo pretty much anyone, but stepping just off the beaten track you’re going to find much more authentic hospitality and further your search for the “real” Prague.
In: Getting into Prague is very easy and straight forward, however whether you’re arriving by plane or train, you’re likely going to need a bit of Czech Koruna to get to your hotel and hostel. There are a few ATMs within the airport, where if you have a debit card that offers reimbursed or no ATM fees worldwide (like from Charles Schwab) this can be your best option. Just make sure that you don’t make the same mistake that I made and accidentally take out way too much money and beware of extra zero’s in the amount your withdrawing (I thought I pushed 1,000 and got 10,000). From Václav Havel Airport — I took the express bus to the central rail station, Hlavní Nádraží. The bus is easy to catch, located outside of terminal 1, and is a fairly cheap and quick way to get into town. You can purchase your ticket online or at the airport (like I did) for slightly more, and they will give you all of the necessary information and point you in the direction of the bus stop. This bus is direct, but do watch your luggage as thieves may be about. Alternatively, you can take the normal buses pretty much anywhere in Prague or to connect to the nearby metro station Nádraží Veleslavín which is on line A and has easy access to the city center. If you’re arriving to Hlavní Nádraží, the main train station, the metro lines connect there and are recommended as the public transport in Prague is very affordable. One thing to note is that the park, just outside of the main rail station attracts lots of people, some of which seem to not have the best intentions. Like all European train stations, always keep an eye on your bags, and the park just outside is best avoided at night.
Around: Prague’s public transport is great and very cheap! However, I’ve actually never had a reason to use it within the city center as most of Prague is very walk-able for those with mobility. I would actually recommend simply getting around on your own two feet as Prague is a fascinating and beautiful city filled with small cobblestone streets and picturesque alleyways. Do not use taxi cabs in Prague. They are notorious for scams and rip-offs. If you must use a cab, have your hotel call you one from a reputable company. Also note that uber is available if you’re using international data while abroad.
Stay: One of Prague’s offerings that continues to offer an exceptional value are the accommodations. Many hostels and hotels include breakfast (just check) and rates are very affordable and the quality is pretty good. I’ve stayed once in a hostel and once in a hotel and enjoyed both. One thing to note is that because Prague is a big town for “stag parties” for students traveling abroad and people from all over Europe, most of the hostels cater to this crowd with bars and sometimes a club-type atmosphere. If you’re not looking to hear thumping music at night, be sure to read reviews and if you want to play it safe, a hotel might be your best option as you can find decent prices. Location-wise, anywhere near the old town is great, but if you’re looking further out, the hills above the train station and a bit to the south, remaining walking distance to the old-town and will still do you well. My last time I stayed at the Hotel Arkada (via a Hotwire rate) and it was a great hotel with really friendly staff.
WHAT TO SEE?
Walk across the Charles Bridge: You’re definitely going to want to bring your camera for this one (everyone else does). The Charles Bridge is the best way to walk from each side of the river (and likely on your way to Prague Castle). You’ll find artists selling things along the way and lots of crowds, but it’s something you wont want to miss and probably difficult to not do anyways out of sheer convenience.
Prague Castle: This is the most expensive of Prague’s main attractions, but for good reason. You’ll have to hike up a hill on cobblestone streets, likely even scaling lots of stairs, but the views from up top of the hill are great (which you can get for free) and you can take in most of the city. Purchasing tickets is easy and there is a good explanation of what each tier of the ticket price includes. The St. Vitus Cathedral is stunning and the museums and other various chambers and rooms are all worth the price. I don’t recommend the audio guides unless you need a really in-depth description.
Take a stroll through the Old Town: Check out the market place and although the prices here are a bit inflated, there are a great variety of things to bring back home. Keep an eye out for pick-pockets though.
Do a Tasting at the Prague Beer Museum: I absolutely loved this and I even wrote a post about it! All brews are local Czech beers and represent a variety of styles if you’re looking for more than just the standard pilsner and lager that you’ll find anywhere in the city. They have a new old town location, but I tried the original just a little north of the city center. It was filled with more locals than tourists.
Go Clubbing / Explore Nightlife: Prague is home to some of the best clubs in Europe and if you’re looking to party on your trip, Prague is probably the best place to do it. Drinks at clubs are cheaper comparatively than other places in Europe (although certainly still hiked). Lucerna Music Bar and OneClub Prague have great reviews and Karlovy Lazne boasts itself as the largest club in Europe with five floors, each with a different vibe. Be aware that this last one can be a bit touristy.
Listen to Music at the Lennon Wall: It may be a bit cheesy to stand next to a graffit’ed up wall while some street performer sings Beatles songs. Meanwhile, the younger generation attempts to take a selfie with no other tourists in it. Pushing that aside, the Lennon Wall played an important part in the modern and free Prague and John Lennon especially is beloved by many locals, both young and old.
See the old Jewish Synagogues and Cemetery: The Jewish Quarter is loaded with a rich history of of both sadness and prosperity. Prague once had one of the largest Jewish populations in the world and visiting the synagogues and memorials are definitely worth your time!
Prague has an Eiffel Tower? The Petrin Lookout Tower is located in the tranquil Petrin Park (same side of the river as the castle) and has some nice views of the city. It’s definitely an option while in the city though I wouldn’t necessarily prioritize it as there are even better views from the sides of the castle. None the less, this quirky attraction has become quite popular.
Try the Non-Czech Food: Czech food is great! But when you’re tired of the fried pork knuckles and potatoes and want something with spice you’re welcome to branch out. There has been an explosion of ethnic food options in Prague even between the two times I’ve visited the city (2013 and 2017). I’d recommend Hurry Curry (Indian), and Pho Vietnam Tuan and Lan (Vietnamese) if you’re staying nearby.
THINGS TO KNOW
- The price discrepancy is huge in Prague. The tourist areas will have everything from a bottle of water to sit down service hiked up. Be prepared for that. Alternatively, you can certainly find much cheaper food by walking a few blocks away from the major attractions. Old Town and around the base of the castle have the worst deals, but you might find yourself hungry and with no better immediate options none the less.
- Try the street snacks. Trdelník (see right) is especially popular and tasty and can be found pretty cheap inside and outside the tourist areas. Hot Dogs are also a cheap snack, and are sold by vendors all around.
- Beware of extra service charges added to bills at the tourist restaurants. If something on your bill doesn’t seem right, ask your server. Bread brought to your table will be added to your bill if you eat it. You’ve been warned.
- Drink the beer, and lots of it if you’d like. It’s cheap here and very delicious.
- Go to the grocery stores for wallet-friendly eats and beer. You can purchase quality brews for the equivalent of 25-50 cents (USD) here.
- Just don’t take cabs unless they are arranged by your hotel. They are notorious for over charging and if you don’t speak Czech, don’t expect to be let off the hook when your driver asks for the equivalent of $50-100 dollars for a 5-10 min ride.
- Prague feels pretty safe and from my experience, walking around pretty much anytime fells relatively safe. I would however avoid narrow or dark alleyways just as you would where ever you are from. Normal precautions will do just fine.