Prague is a city that we’ve heard wonderful things about for years and were excited to visit. It may not be as cheap and untouched as it was 10 years ago, when American tourists started to visit by the thousands, but the city is still charming with it’s old world beauty and authentic cuisine.
Day 1 – Tuesday, May 12, 2015
The train from Vienna arrived in Prague on time despite a few delays en route. It took us a bit longer than usual to figure out how to buy street car tickets (not all of the machines have English), but once we had tickets it was easy take the local tram to the apartment where we were staying. A minute after we arrived, our host showed up and let us into the apartment which we had found and reserved through Airbnb.
After we had settled in, it was time for dinner. We decided not to go too far from our apartment and walked to some nearby restaurants we found on Trip Advisor. The streets felt old and we enjoyed some of the structures we passed along the way, including a notable round tower just around the corner from our accommodations. The restaurants we had picked from Trip Advisor did not seem casual enough for us, but we found some nice squares and read a few other menus. Finally we picked U Betlemske Kaple for dinner. Mostly, we were drawn in by their pork knee roasted in dark beer dinner special and good prices. We enjoyed the meal a lot, despite slow service and stale pretzels on the tables (which had excited us at first). But, the pork knees served with cabbage were huge and delicious.
Day 2 – Wednesday, May 13, 2015
The first order of business for us was to go grocery shopping. On the way back we stopped for Jon to buy a coffee. We spent most of the morning catching up on the computing we had missed during our short time in Vienna and planning some activities for Prague.
At 3pm, we left to join a free walking tour. We had previously taken a free walking tour (in Budapest) with a company that was a member of United Europe Free Tours and had decided to find another tour affiliated with that group. This time our tour was conducted by Prague Extravaganza. Our walk to the meeting point was our first venture into Old Town, and we stopped often to take pictures. We had signed up for the walking tour online the night before, but when we arrived our tour group only consisted of 4 people. (By the way, the Historic Center of Prague is a Unesco World Heritage Site.)
The walking tour started in Old Town Square. The guide talked about the memorials in the square including a Jan Hus statue, memorial park, a few of the medieval houses, and the two churches on the Square. At 4pm our group joined the crowds to watch the 30 second astronomical clock show. During the show, the two windows above the clock open and statues of the 12 apostles swing by. Representations of sins on the sides of the clock play the ‘music’.
From there our guide took us through parts of Jewish Town and Old Town and eventually to the Charles Bridge. At this point the tour breaks, and people can join or leave. We stayed, but the other two tourists in our group left, making us the only people continuing. We crossed the old pedestrian-only bridge and learned a bit about its history and the statues on it.
Slowly we climbed the hills in the Castle District and made our way to the royal palace and its famous church. We also went past Golden Lane, even though it was mostly shut for the night. We took our time walking home and wandering through a small vineyard outside of the castle.
That evening, we took one of our guides suggestions for dinner and ate at Restaurace U Parlamentu. Once again we had a nice meal which was reasonably cheap. This was our first meal that had pork, gravy, and bread or potato dumplings, a very popular dish in Prague. Jon also had an onion soup that was very tasty. And of course we had to have Pilsner Urquell, the local beer.
On the way back, we stopped at Hemingway’s. Hemingway’s was a very cool cocktail bar which felt like a speakeasy. The bar was quiet and dark, and the waiters wore old timey vests. There was even an antique cash register. We sat at the bar, which was a lot of fun because we got to watch the bartender make elaborate cocktails. The drinks were good and strong. When we got back we were ready for bed.
Day 3 – Thursday, May 14, 2015
With more than a week in Prague, we knew we could relax and take our time so we stayed in working again for most of the morning. Our apartment was in an area close to the river and Old Town and had cobblestone streets. From our tiny balcony, we had nice views.
After eating lunch in, we headed to Old Town. This time we followed the Bigboytravel.com walking guide. Big Boy took us past the National Library (we didn’t go in) and back to Old Town Square. This time we watched the Astronomical Clock again and entered Our Lady Before Tyn (20kc). The walking tour also took us past Town Hall, Little Square, many medieval houses, memorial park, St. James’s Church, the Medieval Spider Bar, and Celetna Lane before we stopped to have a drink.
One surprise highlight for us was St. James Church. St. James was more beautiful on the inside than Our Lady Before Tyn and had a cool urban legend to explain the mummified arm hanging near the church door. The locals claim that many years ago a thief broke into the church during the night. The statue of Mary at the alter grabbed him and he couldn’t free his arm. In the morning the arm had to be cut off to free him. This was a very strange thing to see in a church.
We found ourselves near Dlouha (Long street) and the Prague Beer Museum, which, despite its name, is a bar. While we were there we ordered an appetizer of Prague’s pickled cheese. For dinner that night we wanted more beer, so we tried U Medvidku which was said to be a brewery. It was very disappointing. The restaurant didn’t have any microbrews on draught, just Budweiser. We were able to order bottles of one local brew. Apparently they have 3-4 craft beers on tap in the very small bar room, but we weren’t seated there. The food was also a disappointment and over priced. I think that U Medvidku is in an old brewery building, but has since stopped producing and selling those beers.
Day 4 – Friday, May 15, 2015
Jon had a meeting at 5pm, so after breakfast we left earlier than normal. We walked across the Most Legii Bridge and through a small park along the Vltava River. The park had some statues by the Prague artist David Cerny, whose work we would find scattered across the city.
Our first stop was the John Lennon Wall, a graffiti wall which, after Lennon’s death, had been spray painted in his memory. Over the years the community began to accept that anytime the wall was painted white, more graffiti about Lennon would appear and today you can openly write on the wall leaving message or song lyrics or pictures. Like most graffiti walls we’ve seen on our travels, it was disappointing to find the wall mostly covered in tags instead of meaningful messages.
From the John Lennon Wall we slowly climbed the steep streets up to the Prague Castle. Unlike our free tour, we entered through the main gates this time. We went to a ticket window and decided to purchase a combination ticket which gained us entrance into the St. George’s and the Golden Street as well as the two attractions we wanted to see, St. Vitus and the Old Royal Palace.
As we walked in to the main square, we saw St. Vitus first so we got in the line to enter it. It surprised me that there was a line and such a big crowd. Anyone can enter the first 20 feet of the church and see the interior and take pictures. Only ticket holders could enter further and once we did that the crowd thinned out. St. Vitus is known for its 1920’s stained glass and for a silver tomb in the back of the alter. We strolled through the church and the short paragraph in our guidebook was the only information we had. We did see the silver tomb, which is massive.
When we exited St. Vitus we weren’t far from the door to the Old Royal Palace, so we toured that next. This time, some information signs were positioned through the walking route. We entered a great banquet hall from which small stone stairs took us to 2 or 3 other areas of the castle. Even though we read every sign, the biggest impact on me was overhearing another tourist remark about how the medieval interior was hidden behind a renaissance facade and how incredibly old it was.
Next we entered St. George’s church. St George’s baroque style was a big change from the Gothic churches we had been visiting in Prague. There was a long line, which we waited in, to see the small crypt area of the church.
Lastly our ticket admitted us to the Golden Lane. Our walking tour had taken us to the Golden Lane after hours when its free to enter. When we had been there before, after hours, the houses were locked and you just saw them from the outside. In the day, and with a ticket, you could enter the tiny houses along the lane. Half of them were recreations of typical shops of the day and the other half modern stores. The first door we came too had a suit of armor on stone steps leading up, so up we went. The hall at the top of the stairs ran the length of the street and was lined with suits of armor and weapons. We spent a while seeing all that we could there, including fighting our way up and down very crowded stairs on one end to a few more small and crowded rooms of displays.
When we emerged, the next door took us down stairs to a room set up like an old candle factory. The rest of the display homes only let you enter a foot or two to see how each profession would have had their store. At the other end of the Golden Street a castle tower took you down to a medieval prison and torture chamber.
By the time we left the castle complex we were hungry and knew we had to be back for Jon’s meeting soon. That meant we skipped walking through the palace gardens. We walked into streets below the castle looking for a few restaurants our walking tour guide had recommended. First we passed small stairs with a red light for pedestrians so that two people going opposite directions wouldn’t encounter each other on the stairs. Next we found Lokal where we ate lunch. Lokal was good. Jon started with garlic soup and Alexis had a chicken salad. Back in the apartment Jon had his meeting while Alexis started to suddenly feel sick; tired with a sour throat. Instead of going out again, we munched on food in the apartment and watched the 3rd Hobbit movie on Netflix.
Day 5 – Saturday, May 16, 2015
Alexis woke up feeling even worse, so it was a slow start to the day. Wanting to take advantage of the weekend (and not having to work remotely), we decided to take a day trip to Kutna Hora. The hope was that it would be an easy day of riding on trains with just a little walking at the destination so that Alexis could recover.
We checked the train schedules online, and left after 11am to catch a tram to the train station. The train to Kutna Hora left at 11:51, and other than a few minutes delay there were no problems with our trip. The train arrives at Kutna Hora main station, but the town is another 4km away, so we took a local train the rest of the way. We got off of the local train a stop too early, but luckily it put us closer stop to our first destination, Sedlec Ossuary.
Of course we were hungry by then, so we ate at one of the few restaurants we saw, Michal Basl Restaurace U Ruze. The restaurant is in a small hotel and had pictures of celebrities who have stayed there including John Malkovich. Our meal was good, not great, and cheap. The garlic soup helped soothe Alexis’s throat. The rest of our meal consisted of lentil soup, grilled chicken with vegetables and roast beef goulash with bread dumplings.
After eating we walked next door to Sedlec Ossuary. Sedlec Ossuary is more often referred to as the Bone Church (90Kc). It was a very small, unassuming catholic church. Inside the basement, however, are the remains of 40,000 humans artfully arranged into garlands, pyramids, and chandeliers of human bones. It might have been a creepy room if it wasn’t filled with loud tourists taking flash photographs despite the signs asking for no flashes and silence. Wide stairs led down to the basement past chalices made of bones. In each corner of the room was a large solid pyramid of bone. In front of one pyramid was a family crest made of bones. The centerpiece of the room were four towers of skulls framing a giant chandelier of human bones. We took photographs and before we departed we walked to the very small, completely normal looking upstairs chapel.
Our guidebook had suggested a few other things in town; some UNESCO World Heritage churches, an old silver mint, and a beer hall. We decided the other church we should visit was St. Barbara, a large Gothic cathedral whose size was greater than the one in Prague Castle. We took the local train to Kutna Hora Mestro, where we planned to have disembarked the first time, and walked through the town square to St. Barbara. Kutna Hora was actually a very cute town with a nice square and twisty cobble stone pathways. We would have enjoyed exploring it more if it weren’t for Alexis’s cold and the tight timetable to catch the 5pm train instead of waiting for the 7pm train.
St. Barbara’s is a huge Gothic church with three spires and many flying buttresses. The roof spires were very unique, and we thought they might be a modern addition until we saw them replicated into one of the stained glass windows. There were no towers flanking the church similar. Entering the church was 85Kc, but we were given a sheet of paper with a self guided tour. The tall vaulted ceiling painted with family crests was one of our favorite features.
After touring the church we knew we were cutting it close on time to get to the 5pm train. We looked for the tourist shuttle (35Kc), but couldn’t find it. Instead the girl at an information stand directed us to the public bus (12Kc) which would take us to the train station with 6 minutes to spare. We arrived at the train station at the same time as a local train which was unloading many people. The train to Prague was a little late, but we hurried on to get seats although some people had to stand. We went straight back to our apartment and relaxed for a while.
Later we headed to Standard Cafe, the closest restaurant to us that we had seen a decent review for. It was cute, but smokey. The review we read said art students from a local college hang out there, and that seemed to fit the crowd there. It was small portions, but very cheap and the food tasted really fresh and homemade. It was a very pleasant meal of carrot soup, a panini, and caprese salad.
Day 6 – Sunday, May 17, 2015
We spent another morning inside because Alexis was sick. Late in the afternoon, at 5pm, we walked to Letenske Sady Park. The park is a large space, but didn’t feel very open. The main attraction in the park is a large metronome where a statue of Stalin had once stood before being removed. Many kids (age 16-24) where hanging out at the metronome and a small stand sold beers to be sipped on in lawn chairs. Behind the metronome lots of kids were skate boarding. It didn’t feel touristy at all, just a place where locals go to hang out.
We walked a short way through the park and eventually made our way to the Letna Beer Garden. The Letna beer garden might be the most mentioned activity in our Lonely Planet guidebook and so we had wanted to see it. It was unexceptional. A shady area filled with wooden picnic tables and a small concession stand. It was cool in the shade and only the outer row of tables was filled. Most of the beer garden was empty. We sat down for a drink and enjoyed the views, but left when we got chilly to work our way towards home and find dinner.
We ate dinner at U Knihovny which our walking tour guide had pointed out days earlier. The non-smoking area in the basement was a nice atmosphere. We both ordered the roast duck with bread dumplings, which was great at first bite but by the end was so salty we could barely eat it.
Day 7 – Monday, May 18, 2015
This was one of the slowest days of our trip because Alexis wasn’t feeling well yet (sore throat and cough). In the morning Jon did some running around to get coffee, medicine, and shampoo but we spent most of the day in. Towards dusk Alexis encouraged Jon to take a run, which he did by running around Strelecky Ostrov, one of the islands in the river.
For dinner we went to Savory Cafe, which was featured on the TV show No Reservations. Savory had two menus, a cafe menu and a gourmet menu. We ordered from the less expensive cafe menu, which was still one of the more expensive meals of the trip. The pork schnitzel and potato salad were both nice comfort foods for Alexis. Jon’s meal of chicken soup with liver ravioli and the ‘light dish’ of frankfurters didn’t impress us. The soup wasn’t very special and the frankfurters were just boiled hotdogs with mustard.
Day 8 – Tuesday, May 19, 2015
Alexis’s cold was no better and Jon’s work load was picking up so we spent most of the day in. Around 4pm we couldn’t take being inside anymore and decided to explore New Town. On our phones we downloaded a self-guided walking tour of New Town from BigBoyTravel. The self-guided tour had 19 stops. Because our apartment was very near to the end of the tour, we did the tour backwards. Our first stop was a statue of a man hanging (by his hand) on a pole outside of a building. Jon had discovered this statue on his own during his coffee runs (and almost reported it to police) and was excited to show it to Alexis. The statue was one of several by David Cerny around Prague, several of which were on this walking tour.
The walking tour mentioned the Rotunda of the Holy Rood. This building was next to ours and we passed it many times not knowing what it was. Turns out it is a small chapel which may hold a piece of the cross Jesus was crucified on. The tour followed the river past the national theater and some other fountains and restaurants to the Dancing House by Frank Gehry.
From the dancing house we went to Charles Square, New Town Hall, and the Church of our Lady of the Snow before ending up in Wenceslas Square. In the Square was historic Hotel Evropa, where Nicholas Winton organized the rescue of 669 Jewish children before World War II. At the end of the promenade was the National Museum (we didn’t enter), and monuments to political activist Jan Palach, whom set himself on fire as protest against the Soviet occupation. Finally, inside a mall area was another statue by David Cerny, King Wenceslas on an upside-down horse.
Without anything else to do, we wandered around and back towards Old Town Square. On the way we stopped for a Trdelnik, a rolled pastry. For dinner we ate at Tratoria by Giovanni, a pizzeria with good reviews. We found the food to be bland. At home we relaxed and watched a horror movie before bed.
Day 9 – Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Wednesday was probably the least interesting day of our entire trip to date. Alexis was even sicker than the previous few days. We stayed in all day and didn’t do anything of note. Jon did manage to escape the apartment by running a few errands, such as buying more medicine.
Day 10 – Thursday, May 21, 2015
We had to check out of the apartment at 11:30am. Our flight wasn’t until late afternoon so we had a lot of time to kill. We walked to a Starbucks near the National Museum to relax and enjoy some hot drinks and free wifi. On the way there, Jon took us to a David Cerny statue he had discovered while doing errands. It was a giant mirrored head that moves in segments.
At Starbucks Jon worked until after his 2:30pm meeting. At 3:15pm we walked back to the apartment to pick up our luggage from storage. We stopped near New Town again to eat lunch at Restaurant Cesky Rai. Mid-afternoon, the restaurant was empty but it was one of our nicer meals in Prague. The restaurant is in the basement and we both ate chili goulash with bread dumplings. The meat was very tender although the flavoring wasn’t very chili like. After eating we took the metro to the airport where we waited for our flight to Paris.
Please see our follow up post, Prague; Travel Insight for information on visas for Americans, transportation in Prague, restaurants recommendations and more.