prague, czech republic // a weekend guide

where to stay:

We stayed at the Prague Square Hostel, literally steps away from the Old Town Square.  It’s a great location if you want to meet fellow travelers and be within walking distance of all the major sites.  It’s not a great location if you highly value a quiet night’s sleep.  Prague is known for its nightlife, so if you stay near areas with bars or clubs, you’re likely going to fall asleep with those sounds as your soundtrack.  Decide for yourself whether that’s good or bad!

what to do:

Since I had done some research on the city before we left, I was put in charge of playing “tour guide” for the day.  No backwards walking was required.  These are the stops I planned in roughly the order I planned them–but feel free to mix them up or cross some off if it works better for you!

Powder Tower | The Powder Tower is one of the original city gates leading into Prague, built hundreds of years ago when “old ton” Prague was the entirety of the city.  It now separates Old Town from New Town.

Astronomical Clock & Old Town Square | Old Town Square is many attractions in one.  The main tourist draw here is the Astronomical Clock, which is the oldest still-functioning astronomical clock in the world.  At the top of every hour, it chimes and some of the figures move.  While it’s not the most exciting thing in the world, considering the clock was installed in 1410, it’s a pretty impressive feat of engineering for the time!  Even if you couldn’t hear it chime, you’d know it was ringing due to the mass of tourists at the bottom, holding their children up (very Lion King-esque) to see.  It’s a spectacle.

Old New Synagogue | This is more a sight to see for the history than the looks.  While it’s not the most impressive looking building especially when compared to the adjacent Spanish Synagogue, the Old New Synagogue is important because it’s Europe’s oldest active synagogue.  The gothic style also stands in contrast to the surrounding buildings.

The interior of the Spanish Synagogue

Spanish Synagogue | While we didn’t go inside the Old New Synagogue, we spend quite a bit of time inside the incredible Moorish Revival-style Spanish Synagogue.  So. Worth. the price of admission!  I could have spent literal hours staring just at the walls and ceiling–it takes your breath away upon seeing it for the first time.  The upper gallery is used as a museum of sorts, detailing the Jewish population from its introduction to the city to World War II and the Holocaust to relations today.

Jewish Cemetery | We meant to walk past this on our way to the next site but we somehow completely missed it!  The Jewish population in Prague was at one point not allowed to expand their cemetery grounds, meaning that thousands of people are buried in the area.  It’s apparently a beautiful and somber place, and I’m bummed that we weren’t able to see it!

John Lennon Wall | A Facebook profile picture and Instagram post classic, the John Lennon wall is a can’t-miss site in Prague!  It originated during the communist government of the 80s when young Czech citizens would use the wall to express their grievances toward the regime.  Today it is a symbol of love and peace, often filled with pleas for peace and friendship among enemies (many in the form of Beatles lyrics). Because anyone can add to the wall, it constantly changes, making it a unique time capsule of society!

While walking to the Lennon Wall, we passed by the French Embassy which was at the time partaking in a ceremony to honor and remember the victims of the truck attack in Nice.  It seemed only fitting that it took place directly across from the Lennon Wall.  It’s a reminder that though there is so much violence and evil happening around the world and in our own backyards, there is goodness that can and must prevail.

Laying flowers and candles and saying prayers for the victims of the truck attack at a Bastille Day celebration in Nice, France.

Kafka Statue | Unfortunately, we didn’t get to this site either, as we were more tired than we had expected after our jam-packed day of seeing all the major sites!  It (sounds like) a super interesting monument to writer Franz Kafka, perhaps most well-know for his story The Metamorphosis.  I read the story in high school and really enjoyed it and was thus looking forward to seeing one of the many monuments to the novelist scattered around the city.  This one, by David Černý, is a 36-foot high bust of Kafka made of 42 mirrored layers.

St. Vitus’s Cathedral

Prague Castle | We allotted a full day to see the Prague Castle, but we were a little burned out from our previous day and ended up spending only a few hours there.  However, if planned correctly, it’s definitely a large enough complex to warrant a full day (or more!) of exploration.  The castle grounds themselves hold many attractions, including the Old Royal Palace, the Basilica of St. George, St. Vitus’s Cathedral, Golden Lane, and the Rosenberg Castle.  We bought a combo ticket–definitely the way to go–but only ended up going to see the Basilica of St. George.  The cathedral is beautiful from the outside (though perhaps a bit intimidating!) but the line was long and we were a little “cathedral-ed out”, something that can unfortunately happen on European travels!  We also spent some time exploring getting lost in the gardens.

Charles Bridge | If you’re planning on going to the John Lennon Wall or the Prague Castle (and are staying in the Old Town or New Town area) you have no choice but to cross the Charles Bridge.  Completely packed with tourists and residents alike at nearly all hours of the day (see below, tips & tricks), it’s lined with statues as well as street performers, artists, and craftsmen selling their wares.  If you’re at all claustrophobic or not crowd-inclined, it can be a stressful experience!

A view of Charles Bridge from Prague Castle

what to eat:

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Traditional trdelník filled with soft-serve vanilla ice cream

We basically made it an entire 72 hours in this city without eating any traditional Czech food (except for dessert).  Our only criteria for meals were that they were relatively inexpensive and had some vegetarian options!  The city is full of small cafés as well as nearly every type of cuisine imaginable if you look closely enough.  We ate at an Italian restaurant one night (Prague is inexplicably full of and known for its Italian restaurants) and an amazing Thai place the next.

You cannot leave Prague without eating at least one trdelník, a traditional Czech pastry made from dough wrapped in a cylindrical shape and cooked over an open flame before being coated in sugar and sometimes walnuts.  The inside can be filled with various sweet condiments, from Nutella to apple strudel to my personal favorite, ice cream.  We’re not going to discuss how many of these we consumed as a group over the course of our weekend.

tips & tricks:

Don’t exchange money on the streets–only at ATMs!  This was a point stressed by our hostel.  Because the Czech Republic uses the Czech Koruna, not the euro, it’s easy for tourists to get accidentally swindled.  Also, don’t stress when the bill for a group of 8 is upwards of 2,000 koruna.  That’s just the exchange rate!

You can buy a 3-day unlimited ride metro pass, which can be perfect for weekend trips like ours.  We bought the pass at the train station, used the metro to get to our hostel, and promptly did not use it again.  Because we were staying so close to the main sites, we really didn’t find the metro system necessary to use.  However, if you’re staying a little farther away from Old Town, the pass could come in very handy to get around!

Do your research before going.  I had done a bunch of research–thanks Pinterest!–on the major sites: what to see, what to skip, etc., and felt like I had a grasp on the major things I definitely wanted to see by the time we got there.  Because there’s so many things to see in Prague, doing your research before to figure out your “must see” list can save a lot of trouble once you get there!

Yes, it’s pretty cool to see the Astronomical Clock chime at the top of the hour–but about a thousand other people are thinking the exact same thing.  If you happen to be in the square when it happens definitely take a look, but don’t have that be your only view of the clock.  There’s so many people, and so many cameras and babies (not kidding) in the air that it can be really hard to take a decent photo of the clock itself!  We found that the morning–between 8 and 9 am–was a really good time to see the Old Town Square because it’s much less crowded.  Because of the prevalence of nightlife in Prague, it’s not uncommon for people to stay out until 4 or 5 in the morning–and then sleep late.  A few of us went into the square at around 9am and were some of the only people in the square, meaning we were able to take some great close-up shots by the clock tower that we wouldn’t have been able to do at any other time of day!

On a similar note, go to Charles Bridge at sunrise.   We did and it was definitely hard to wake up, but I’m glad we did, even though the walk there was…interesting to say the least, considering we were heading out when some people were still coming back from their night out. It was also pretty cloudy (and rainy) when we went, so the sunrise wasn’t the most brilliant display of colors I’ve ever seen, but it was nice to see the Charles Bridge sparsely populated and see a quieter, slower version of the city!

Finally, if you’re a student, check for student discounts everywhere–they usually exist!  This goes for all of Europe, not just Prague.  As long as you have your student ID on you, you can get discounted tickets in many places, like museums, trains, castles, etc..  It’s a great way to help cut what can be high costs of traveling!

Happy travels!

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