Prague: Why You Need to Visit
Our Love Affair with this Postcard-Perfect City
by Bill Lerwill
If Europe were to hold a beauty pageant of its major cities, then Prague, the Czech capital, would be in serious contention for the sash. But while it might be the promise of castles, laneways and medieval squares that draws people here, visitors sometimes find their interest snared as much by some of the city’s other charms – the art, the food and drink, the entertainment scene, the shops or the through-the-ages architecture. Prague is many things, but it’s never one-dimensional. And it’s only an hour by plane from Munich if you’re attending Oktoberfest. From its architectural heritage and picture-postcard sights to its love affair with beer, here are a few reasons why you should plan a trip to visit Prague now.
Soak Up the Old Town’s Atmosphere
Prague escaped the wartime bombings that affected so much of Europe, meaning the town center’s snaking lanes and soaring towers are as strikingly charismatic now as they’ve always been. The city’s two most celebrated historical attractions remain the Charles Bridge – stroll across it early or late in the day to avoid the crowds – and Prague Castle – the largest castle complex on the planet.
Travel Tip: Set aside at least half a day to do Prague Castle’s various palaces and chapels justice, and be sure to catch the changing of the guards, which takes place each hour.
Drink Beer, Eat Well
Not only did the Czech Republic create the first ever Pilsner beer, it also plays home to the original Budweiser. Yep, the drink that’s been imitated in the U.S. and has become an American classic. Prague takes its beer seriously, so there are some wonderfully atmospheric places to sink a few cold ones, including, U Zlaheto Tygra. And for food, Prague’s cuisine ranges from the classically Eastern European – think seasoned pork, dumplings and potato pancakes – to quality Italian, French and Asian fare. The city has its fair share of Michelin-starred restaurants, too!
Travel Tip: Need to cure your sweet tooth? The sugary delights of traditional Czech pastries can be found in most city bakeries.
Explore the City’s Art & Architecture
Prague’s buildings span a remarkable range of architectural periods, from Renaissance and gothic to cubist and art nouveau. Even if design appreciation isn’t normally your thing, you can’t fail to appreciate attractions such as the Municipal House and the near-adjacent Museum of Czech Cubism. And the Kafka Museum, not far from the Charles Bridge on the western bank of the river, does a fantastic job of explaining how Prague left its mark on writer Franz Kafka’s work.
Travel Tip: For contemporary art lovers, trace down the various works of sculptor David Cerny, dotted around the city, including our favorite, the statue of Sigmund Freud dangling by one arm above the Old Town.
Experience Prague After Dark
Prague keeps itself busy when the sun goes down. Culture vultures should check ahead for the regular opera and ballet performances at the strikingly designed National Theatre. Elsewhere, dinner cruises are an enjoyable option for visitors looking to combine a meal out with a photo op – the skyline makes for a magical spectacle when illuminated – and of course various venues offer traditional Czech evenings, complete with folk music and costumed dancing. And be bold and explore the city’s outlying districts, such as Zizkov, which have been reinvigorated with artsy bars and clubs.
Travel Tip: Visiting in May or June? Don’t miss the city’s large-scale Fringe Festival, dubbed “Edinburgh’s naughty grandchild.” It always promises lively entertainment.
Shop ‘Til You Drop
With Prague being such an established tourist destination, you won’t have to look too far for opportunities to part with your cash. There’s no shortage of souvenir shops in the Old Town, selling everything from inexpensive keepsakes to fabulous handmade crafts. But if you’re in search of something specific, such as the ever-popular wooden Czech puppets, it’s always worth trying a few different outlets to compare prices and quality. And head to Parizska Street if you’re looking for luxury items and designer clothing.
Travel Tip: Prague is best known for cut-crystal glassware. So, pick up a piece are two at Moser, located on the central street of Na Prikope. It consistently receives the best reviews.
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