Taking in Prague, Czech Republic
Though I visited Prague for the first time a few weeks now while on a luxury tour with Insight Vacations, it has taken me a bit to really wrap my head around how I was left feeling about it.
Prague is a beautiful city, old and historic, artistic and cultural. It is largest city of the Czech Republic as well as its capital and that of Bohemia. On a Spring day, walking through Prague is a great experience. But just as the city is beautiful, its history is heavy, forcing you to take pause from all that has happened here and the lessons humanity can walk away with after touring the many museums and memorials.
It is an art lovers’ paradise, from the architecture to the museums, best taken in by walking through the city and as I did, through guided tours where important, detailed and historic information helps to better understand and connect you with the city.
It’s hard to put into words the massive impression Prague had on me. So, I want to highlight the moments that most resonated and have stayed with me still.
The architecture of the city changes depending on what part of the city you are in. The city is divided into districts, in the same way Paris is, and they start at 1 and go up to 10. The lower districts, such as Praha 1 and 2 are the most visited because they are also the most historic and have the most attractions to offer. We spent some time touring Old Town, Lesser Town, and New Town, but Jewish Town – a former Jewish Ghetto and small section of the city – has some of the most fascinating collections and memorials honoring those tragically affected by the Holocaust. To get a sense of how impactful and important the history of this area is, you have to grasp the reality that despite how small the Jewish Town is today, it wasn’t always this way. There are only 10 Jewish communities in Prague, with 60,000 people. Before the Nazi invasion there were 123 communities with over 120,000 people. A great place to visit for more history of the area is the Jewish Museum, where our group had a private tour of the museum and surrounding area.
The Jewish Museum, formerly a synagogue established in the 1600s, is home to a memorial, established in 1959, displaying the names of 80,000 Jewish families that lived in the Czech Republic. The date of death is the most heart wrenching, as it catalogues how entire families were victimized during the war.
Prague Castle, a UNESCO Heritage site, is an iconic Czech monument and one that you must get to early to avoid the long lines and crowds. Having the luxury of a tour guide as we did is certainly the best option towards navigating through it all and learn as much as possible before exploring the surrounding area on your own.
View of St. Vitus Cathedral by Prague Castle.
It is the world’s largest castle, with its entire complex covering about 18 acres. On a clear day the views are stunning, and the changing of the guards is always a fun experience.
For a total moment of awe, you must go see the Astronomical Clock. Installed in 1410 it is not only still functioning, but remains the oldest clock of its kind in the world. There is a lot to understand about the sun, the moon, the Apostles and Death, all depicted on the clock, something which, again, is best explained by a local tour guide, who will also encourage you to hang around for the clock’s beautiful display every hour on the hour. For a small fee you can go to the top of the clock tower and get a gorgeous city view. Keep in mind, there is no elevator.
The clock is located in Old Town Square, where you are surrounded by eateries and shops and which is always bustling with people (and pick pockets, so be mindful of this during your entire visit to Prague, as we were told repeatedly that they are notorious for their stealth skills).
As a Latina, and maybe even as an American, I am a bit more outgoing and seemingly friendlier than is the norm for the people of Prague. They are, in comparison, a bit more rough around the edges, sometimes even abrupt in their mannerisms. But this is a cultural difference and one that was is evident in most areas of service as well. I mention this so that it doesn’t come as a shock or offense to anyone visiting. It is, in fact, one of the beauties of traveling – these different ways of interacting.
But before you get the impression that the people of Prague can’t be a fun and happy bunch, I recommend visiting a pub and staying awhile.
It turns out that, as is the case in almost every culture, when in an atmosphere where drinks and food are involved, the moods are lighter and smiles come a bit more easily.
The Strahov Monastic Brewery is a former monastery, turned brewery around the 14th century. Here we got to partake in some beer tastings and bond with our fellow tour group members. I would say that as a first night together, this was the perfect place to get to know each other and connect as fellow travelers. After dinner you can request a tour of the brewery, or simply step outside and enjoy the sunset views overlooking Prague Castle and the city around it.
Peklo Restaurant is not only upscale, but also very unique. It was pretty incredible to be dining in 12-century grotto, while being served delicious wine. Insight Vacations had arranged for a private dining experience for our group. If you choose to go as a couple or outside of a tour group, make sure to call ahead for reservations.
U Fleku is one of the oldest, as well as one of the most popular pubs and brewery in Prague. Located in New Town it is most recognizable by the large clock located right outside the main entrance. The place inside is beautiful. You can feel the history when you walk in. Our group was treated to music and smiles galore, and though our servers had moments where they seemed a little grumpy, I found that even they could be cracked with sweet talk and endless expression of gratitude for their service. Oh, and the food and beer? Delicious. Go with a group, it’s a lot more fun.
Of course, you can’t miss walking across the famous Charles Bridge, or place your lock and throw away the key at the gate beneath it.
Nor can you miss an opportunity to admire the famous Czech crystal or pass up on the chance to step into Karlova Crystal for a glass blowing demonstration.
Also, eat the street food. Especially those sausages-wrapped-in-bread thingies. So yummy!
Our group stayed at the centrally located Hotel Palace Praha. I loved my room there. It was cozy and sweet, very romantic. Some of my fellow tour group members ended up with rooms near a construction zone, so maybe a little noisier if you are towards the front of the hotel. My room was towards the back and I slept like a baby each night, and absolutely enjoyed the service they offer, much of which was made even easier due to the special accommodations offered to our group, such a baggage transportation and check out/check in pre arrangements. Nothing like traveling in luxury!
Overall, it took a short stroll at night through the streets of Prague to even begin to grasp it. There’s so much to take in, from history, to the visual beauty, to the flavors of their beer and food. I felt that this city was complex, as were the people, in a way that would be unfair to describe fully just from one short visit. I honestly don’t think I was there long enough to really appreciate it as much as I could’ve, but just enough to be left with a sense of wanting more.
It is certainly not the kind of destination you can take in on a superficial level, which to me is the best travel expedrience of all.
To read about all of our captures and impression of our trip, check out my #InsightMoments Storify. Also, read more about my group tour guide experience with my host, Insight Vacations and about our tour through Cesky Krumlov.
Disclosure: I ventured on this adventure as the guest of Insight Vacations. I received directive to express any particular point of view. All opinions are my own. Photography may not be used without direct consent of the publisher.
I visited Prague in 2011. Your photos and comments mirror mine. We stayed in the hotel which was formerly the insurance company where Kafka worked–really an interesting city. I’m going to pull out my pix and look at them again. I was not crazy about the food, though. Maybe we missed some of the good sports. Seeing the streetcar photo brought back this memory. One of the things I do while traveling is to ride the public transportation. So I was asking at the hotel desk about how much, etc. The clerk wanted to know where were we trying to go and when we explained no where in particular, she looked at us like those crazy Americans.
Thanks for jogging my memory!
@Claudia S: Hahaha! Crazy Americans! Yeah, it was hard getting information sometimes, I agree. You just have to be willing to get a little lost. So happy to bring back memories! Thank you for reading Claudia : )
What a beautiful city. I’d love to visit there. And the food looks absolutely delicious.
@Lamesha: The food was really good, Lamesha. Especially if you like meat and beer! LOL!