Whenever people hear the word “Prague”, you know that the words to follow will be beautiful; one of my favourite places in Europe; and wish I go back. But is that the whole story?
Prague is spectacularly beautiful. There is rarely a bad view. While you explore the central tourist areas (Prague’s Old Town, Jewish Quarter, Prague Castle and Little Quarter), you are literally immersed in history in every step you take. Most of the buildings are hundreds of years old and superbly maintained. In many areas, you walk on cobblestones and uneven paths, reminiscent of times gone by.
Prague Versus Madrid
My daughter spent 10 weeks in Prague studying for a term of College. Three of my girlfriends and I went to visit her for three days after a visit to Madrid. We loved Madrid. It was a large sophisticated cosmopolitan city in Spain with lots of history and charm. We ate at phenomenal restaurants and explored many fascinating and diverse areas. By the time we left, we felt that we experienced the city, its history and Spanish culture like a local. If you are interested in reading about our experience, please read my blog Madrid: A Four Day Itinerary Celebrating Food and Culture . We couldn’t wait to get to Prague.
Prague was a very different experience to Madrid. Prague is a small city where most of the historical and cultural attractions can be reached on foot in very defined areas. However, everywhere you go, you are surrounded by tourists. Although the city itself is a beacon of history and architecture, it is hard to feel like a local. Except for our dinners, I felt like I was one of dozens of tourists experiencing Prague at every location we went.
This is not to say that I did not like Prague, or the beauty was somehow diminished by the touristy feel of the city. We still had some incredible experiences that I would definitely recommend. We also had a lot of fun (Beer Spa Day 2)! Regardless, Prague is a tourist driven destination. It is just something you need to keep in mind when you are choosing where to go next in Europe.
Day One – Walking Tour of Prague
We arrived early afternoon in Prague and headed to our Airbnb in Old Town. It was a fantastic location within easy walking distance to great restaurants, bars and shopping.
We went on a private walking tour of Old Town and the Jewish Quarter organized through Private Prague Guide. They were excellent. We booked this tour and our tour to Terezin Concentration Camp (Day 3) through this company. I would highly recommend them as the guides and experiences were extraordinary. The tours were also very well priced.
We went for cocktails and appetizers at Jewel Cafe Bar in Old Town. The cocktails were delicious. We tried the Grand Cosmopolitan, the Citrus Bay Lemonade and the Blackberry Gin, and would recommend them all! The appetizers had an Asian flair to them and were very tasty. The restaurant changes their food menu weekly so I can not recommend anything specific.
We took an Uber to Noi restaurant for dinner in the Little Quarter district of Prague. We were warned against taking taxis in Prague. Most taxi drivers refuse to turn on their meter and will overcharge you, so when we weren’t using public transportation, we used Uber. Everything went smoothly.
Noi was a Thai restaurant with many other Asian influences. The Czech Republic has a large Vietnamese population as a result of their shared Communist past. Accordingly, Prague has many Asian inspired restaurants. Noi had excellent food, and it was filled with locals. I felt like we were part of a cool neighbourhood bistro versus an overpriced staged tourist attraction.
Day 2 – Beer Spa Anyone?
I spent the day with my daughter exploring different parts of Prague. First, I took a short ride on the subway to Krizikova train station to visit her apartment in the trendy area called Karlin. This is an up and coming part of town with hip restaurants and an edgy vibe, where you will find lots of young people. The area was severely damaged from flooding in 2002, but many new buildings and restaurants emerged from the damage. We had an amazing breakfast at Eska restaurant. It was very refreshing to be in an area, largely devoid of tourists, enjoying a different side to Prague.
From there, we headed back to Old Town and went shopping at the Palladium shopping mall. Even though this was near the touristy part of town, it didn’t feel like it had many tourists shopping in it. There were a few international and well known stores in the mall. However, for the most part, the mall was filled with local retailers highlighting local fashion. We really enjoyed shopping here and were able to find unique items for good prices. It felt like we were shopping in a foreign country and that was fun!
We walked over the Charles Bridge to Little Quarter and had lunch at Kampa Park restaurant. Charles Bridge is a major tourist attraction in Prague. It was literally crawling with tourists, street performers and vendors. However, the restaurant was nestled below the Charles bridge, on the banks of the river. It felt like an oasis of calm and relaxation as we ate on the patio, overlooking the bridge and the river. The food was upscale, delicious and expensive relative to other restaurants in Prague. However, for the view, serenity and the quality of the food, it was worth the visit.
After lunch, we hopped on the tram and went up the hill to Strahov Monastery. The highlight was the exquisite library with its ornate wooden carpentry and painted frescos on the ceiling. Within a few feet of the Monastery was the entrance to Petrin Park . We meandered down through the Park back towards the river, catching glimpses of breathtaking views. There was a mixture of locals enjoying the park and tourists exploring the area.
We started our evening at Bernard Beer Spa, a short drive from the Old Town. This was highly entertaining and worth the cost! The five of us shared two gigantic wooden bathtubs filled to the brim with hot, bubbly water. That’s right…imagine lounging in tubs of frothy warm water ladened with beer hops, with unlimited and free access to delicious cold beer! Afterwards, a couple of us had massages, while others sat in massage chairs, with a beer mug in hand. At the end, we were sent on our way with, you guessed it, more beer, ensuring that we would be well supplied as the evening progressed. It was a wonderful way to start our evening.
For dinner, we went to a Mexican restaurant called Cantina. Believe it or not, it was probably the best Mexican food that I have ever eaten! Wow! The servings were enormous and the prices were very reasonable. The frozen margaritas were the drink of choice and came in multiple flavours. Of course, we had to taste all of them. I think we would all agree that mango was the best! The restaurant was found in the Little Quarter district, across from Noi. I would return again without hesitation.
Day 3 – Day Trip from Prague to Terezin Concentration Camp
We spent the day on a private tour of Terezin, a town about 45 minutes outside Prague, offered by Private Prague Guide. During World War II, the Nazis expelled the non-Jewish residents and transformed the town and its buildings into a concentration camp. Here, thousands upon thousands of Jews were imprisoned while they waited to be transported to other extermination camps all over Europe.
Just outside the town, the Nazis also converted an existing fortress into a prison. There, Socialists, Communists, war resistors, and common criminals, to name a few, were housed and brutalized. The conditions in the prison were horrific.
I have been to Dachau and Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camps on past European trips, and have stood numb and disgusted at what I’ve seen and learned. Within that context, I came to Terezin bracing myself for yet another appalling display of depravity. At Terezin, over 155,000 Jews were housed during the war, and approximately 34,000 died from malnutrition, disease, and abuse before they were even deported to extermination camps in other parts of Europe.
Extraordinary Displays of Art
However, what made Terezin different and fascinating was the Art. Jews of all ages, including children, lived in Terezin, sometimes for months at time. The children were not allowed to have a traditional education, but were allowed to participate in the arts. The Ghetto Museum displayed their original drawings and they were haunting. Some were filled with wistful memories of happier times laughing, playing and eating with their families. While others showed the dark, sombre, and relentless moments of their current life. The camp also allowed music, band, drama and other forms of art, for all Jews, regardless of age, and many of these works were also presented.
Terezin was an emotional exhausting blend of evil and the triumph of the human spirit that can somehow find light when there is mostly darkness. I would highly recommend a trip there.
For our last night, we walked to La Bottega Bistroteka for a fantastic Italian meal. This restaurant was filled with locals enjoying antipasto, pasta, and Italian pastries. The atmosphere was very relaxed and service was excellent. The prices again were very reasonable and we had an enjoyable meal!
Prague is a spectacularly beautiful city where you can easily walk, and enjoy all of its history and culture. However, it is also a city filled to the brim with tourists. Maybe that’s ok with you. Maybe you do not mind following large crowds almost everywhere you go. Regardless, you need to brace yourself!
If you would like to get away from the crowds and have experiences like a local, then you need to make an effort. There are lots of extraordinary and well priced restaurants in Prague. I have listed a few in this blog. There are also a lot of cool areas outside the main touristy parts of Prague that are easily reached by public transportation. Take a day and head out to see what there is to offer!
For an unforgettable experience, take a tour of Terezin. It’s not an easy day, but there is so much to learn about the past, whether we are comfortable with it or not. Beyond the horror that everything in Terezin represents, you have the innocence of the children’s artwork. It is humbling and confusing to witness that aspect of Terezin. Nevertheless, it is well worth the journey.
Finally, for a bit of a laugh, start your night soaking with all your friends in a large bubble bath with a cold beer in hand. You won’t solve any of the world’s problems or learn anything about the past, but you will feel like one of the luckiest people alive!
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