Recently I spent a week in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic. After hearing and reading so many good things about the city it was time for a visit, so off I went and was very happy that a Danish friend with similar interests was able to join me there.
I arrived to a city pouring with rain and with grey skies looming. When I stopped at the reception desk to check in, after some trouble finding the hotel as the streets were quite empty of people (to ask directions from) as the worst showers came down, a small puddle of water formed around my feet. The lady behind the desk probably thought I looked miserable and immediately upgraded me to a double room and gave me a free drink ticket.
After installing ourselves at the hotel we grabbed our umbrellas and left to explore the city. At Náměstí Republiky, one of our first stops of the trip was the magnificent art nouveau Municipal House which is the home of the 1918 declaration of Czechoslovakia’s independence and today a concert venue and the place of a very elegant restaurant. We then passed the Powder Gate, an original city gate and former gunpowder storage site, and walked into the Staré Město (Old Town).
Prague’s old town is the most crowded part of the city, its narrow cobble stone streets require comfortable shoes and a good helping of patience if there on a day without rain – but when we fist came there the rain had cleared the streets of the huge crowds and it gave us a chance to really see the buildings.
In Prague in general, everywhere one looks there are the most amazingly beautiful façades. I quickly learned that one could spend the entire stay with the nose pointing towards the sky (looking at façades) and that taking photos is best done only occasionally as one could easily fill memory card after memory with photos of beautiful buildings.
Our first dinner was eaten at Hotel U Prince at the Old Town Square, looking onto sites such as the astronomical clock, the Jan Hus monument and the Týn chuch. When we’d finished our dinner it was quite late but despite the rain and our hotel not being situated on a very public street it was quite a nice walk back and I never felt unsafe or worried. It didn’t take long to feel that Prague is not too big to feel ungraspable, wherever one is in the city it’s never difficult to find the right way back to where one wants to go.
My first morning in Prague I woke up to more pouring rain and grey skies. We took tram 22 through a very scenic route with great views up to the hills of Prague Castle, a site you can easily spend a day exploring. Apart from the many buildings, exhibitions, churches and scenic walks you can make at the castle, it also remains the seat of the country’s head of state. The President of the Czech Republic has his/her official representation premises in the New Royal Palace and this part of the complex is only open during one or two holidays per year.
At Prague Castle we visited the St. Vitus Cathedral, a Gothic masterpiece that might not be as old as it looks in all corners, the St. George’s Basilica, the Old Royal Palace, the Golden Lane and Lobkowicz Palace. The Golden Lane is a scenic street of low picturesque houses along the castle’s northern wall, once housing the site’s craftsmen and guards but today home to tourist shops. All though the visit I only dared to take out the camera a few times and it wasn’t easy to handle while trying to juggle an umbrella in the other hand, hence the photo quality.
The highlight of the visit to Prague Castle, and really one of the highlights of the whole trip, was Lobkowicz Palace – the only privately owned part of the castle complex. In the most wonderful audio guide I have ever listened to, Prince William Lobkowicz, occasionally joined by other family members, takes visitors on a personal tour of the palace as well as the family’s history.
After a very long wander though the apartments of Lobkowicz Palace the rain had stopped for a short while and we sat down on the terrace of the palace’s café, featuring beautiful views down over Prague as well as excellent service and eats. We both tried the carrot cake from a family recipe and it was excellent.
Prague Castle has some very nice gardens surrounding it on the hill, I want to go back and visit more of them. We left via the royal gardens, where the Belvedere (Royal Summer Palace) is also located, and walked all the way down from the castle to Malá Strana (Lesser Town) and the Charles Bridge.
Five of the following days of our trip was spent on day trips to castles outside of Prague and we also stayed overnight in Náchod in north-eastern Bohemia, a few hours from the border to Poland. I will tell you about the castle visits in future separate posts to this one.
In the evenings, when we returned from our castle excursions outside Prague, we often had quite a big dinner as we only ate snacks during the day. One evening we went to the Café Imperial, a place with amazing art déco interior that I just happened to spot through the window when passing one day. I can highly recommend a visit there if you’re ever in Prague; it offers great décor and atmosphere as well as excellent food and service.
Picking a restaurant in a big and crowded city is never easy, especially when you just want a good meal but don’t really know what places to visit and how to avoid the tourist traps. One evening we found the Pizza Coloseum, which is part of a chain of restaurants that offer fresh western-style food, near the Wenceslas Square boulevard in the Nové Město (New Town). They had a nice view over the boulevard, a good selection of different food and good service. We went there twice and I would return again.
On the second-last day in Prague we spent the first part of the day in Josefov, the Jewish quarter. We visited the Pinkas Synagogue were 80.000 names of Jewish victims of the Nazi holocaust are written on the walls and an exhibition of children’s drawings made in Theresienstadt are exhibited. We also walked around the Old Jewish Cemetery which consists of thousands of graves in many layers and was in use from the 15h to the 18th century, and finally the Spanish Synagogue.
From Josefov we took another scenic tram and went to the Strahov monastery. On one (out)side of the monastery complex there’s a restaurant that has amazing scenic views over the city, we sat down there and had cake. Walking back down the hill we spotted the Swedish embassy, complete with a Midsummer pole that had been used for the recent celebrations. In the afternoon we went into the famous Týn Church, it can be a bit of a puzzle to find the entrance (as there’s an outdoor serving area in front of it) but we found one via a music shop on the left side of it. That evening we had dinner with a local Prague inhabitant who we know from an online forum, it’s always nice to meet people who share your interests and we all had a great few hours together.
Times flies when you have fun, which I certainly did in and around Prague. I still have a long list of places I’d love to visit and I liked the beautiful architecture, rich history and friendly atmosphere so much that I will definitely have it on my list of cities to return to in the future.
To see more of my photos from Prage (and later from the other places I will post about), do visit my Czech Republic album on Flickr.