Prague is one of those magical European cities that is best explored on foot.
Known for its fairytale architecture, eclectic street art and world-class pilsner, this UNESCO World Heritage site boasts a vibrant, progressive culture that is both unpretentious and unapologetically unique.
Founded in the ninth century, Prague has played host to nobility, Nazis and communism throughout the years, and was once the capital of the Bohemian Kingdom and the Holy Roman Empire. This colorful history has resulted in a diverse destination which draws scores of visitors each year (especially in the summer months), but the city is far from a tourist trap.
True, Prague has its fair share of guidebook kitsch, such as the Astronomical Clock in Old Town Square and the offbeat, albeit gruesome Museum of Torture, but the authenticity of this riverside city is also quite accessible, home to a dedicated farm-to-table scene and pop-up sidewalk markets – many of which are mere steps from the beaten path.
Whatever you’re hoping to see, Prague’s beauty lies largely in its walkability; much of the main attractions are within 30 minutes of each other on foot, and between all the ancient bridges, satirical statues and wide-ranging culinary scene, there’s plenty to see and do along the way.
Check into Mosaic House, a hotel, hostel and music lounge found in the heart of New Town. Stylish, eco-friendly and unequivocally cool, its accommodation types range from shared and private rooms to a luxury penthouse with romantic views of Prague.
Proudly one of the standout eco hostels in the city, Mosaic House also promotes a strong community environment, supporting local artists by displaying sculpture installations throughout its many communal spaces. It’s also home to La Loca Music Bar and Lounge, where guests can find breakfast in the mornings, as well as cocktails and free concerts every night.
Get acquainted with the city by swinging by the Old Town Square, Prague’s center for all things tourism, including the aforementioned 600-year-old Astronomical Clock. Treat yourself to Trdelnik, a doughy, sugar-coated regional favorite, from one of the food stalls lining the square and explore the area’s many high-end shops, specialty museums and art galleries.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite, walk to the nearby Lokál Dlouhááá, an old-school beer hall slinging homemade and locally-sourced Czech classics such as goulash and Smažený (which roughly translates to “utterly delicious fried cheese”).
Once you’ve eaten your fill, head across the street for a nightcap and mix history with hops at the Prague Beer Museum. This low-key locale carries 30 varieties of Czech beer on tap, changes the brands it carries each week, and allows customers to try several award-winning beers at once with its selection of beer tasters.
Fuel up with a hearty Czech breakfast at Mosaic House before heading out across a 659-year-old bridge. Built between the 14th and 15th century, the Charles Bridge spans the river Vltana, connecting Old Town with the Prague Castle. It’s also lined with 30 ancient statues, including St. John of Nepomuk, said to bring luck to anyone who places their hand on the brass-colored cross.
From there, meander your way through the red-roofed streets of the city’s Malá Strana district toward Prague Castle, a medieval edifice dating back to 800 and the largest castle complex in the world. Take a guided tour of the attraction’s various Romanesque and Gothic-style palaces, or enjoy a stroll through its elaborate gardens before paying a visit to the imposing St. Vitus Cathedral.
Seething in history, this symbol of Czech spirituality dates back to the 14th century. Take a moment to consider the chapel’s impossibly ornate stained glass windows before ascending the Great South Tower’s 287 steps for a rewarding view at the top.
Next, head across the Manes Bridge to the Jewish Quarter, known as Josefov. The area is a testament to centuries of prejudice beginning in the 13th century, the birthplace of Franz Kafka, and home to the best preserved collection of Jewish monuments in Europe.
For lunch, walk along the waterfront to Maso a kobliha, a self-proclaimed “whole animal restaurant” and butcher shop. A member of the Real Meat Society – which focuses on processing meat from a select group of farmers for a small group of vendors – Maso a kobliha prides itself on its snout to tail philosophy, serving up rare gourmet delicacies such as pork skin with spicy avocado and vegan Caesar salad.
Walk off your lunch with a visit to the Zizkov TV Tower. Built in 1985, it’s the highest building in Czech Republic, and is perhaps most popular for the 10 fiberglass “babies” climbing the tower. It’s also adjacent to the picturesque Žižkov district, the Old Jewish Cemetery and the century-old Rieger Gardens.
For dinner, stop by Pho Vietnam Tuan & Lan, a favourite spot for locals looking for a pho fix - and just one example of the culinary influence provided by Prague’s historically significant Vietnamese community.
Catch the sunset along Vltana, then cap the day off with some culture at the National Theatre.
Grab breakfast at the nearby Mamacoffee, a fair trade roaster café serving fresh and preservative-free pastries from its kosher and vegan-friendly bakery.
If there’s time, stop by Dancing House, a striking example of Prague’s imaginative architecture and the location of Fred & Ginger, a restaurant offering splendid views of the Vltana and Prague Castle from its seventh floor windows.
Ins & Outs
Václav Havel is Prague’s international airport, and is an hour to downtown by bus.
The 30-minute and 90-minute public transit trips cost 24 CZK and 32 CZK respectively, allow for transfers, and can be purchased at yellow vending machines and ticket offices in the metro stations. Alternatively, you can buy tickets and have them sent to your cellphone by texting “DPT24” or “DPT32” to the number 902 06.
Taxis are notorious for overcharging out-of-towners, but UBER is a popular choice for locals, and a safe way to ensure a fair rate.
If Prague is one of several stops on your list, its Central Railway Station is minutes away from Old Town, and connects to Vienna, Berlin, Budapest and beyond.
Britney Hope is a freelance writer who technically lives in Canada, but can usually be found just about anywhere else.
She is best known for her journalism work covering the Canadian travel industry, where she specializes in trade news, executive features and sustainable tourism practices.
Britney’s work has been published on Wisebread.com, PAXnews.com, in PAX magazine and in Post City Magazine. She’s the author of a travel guide for San Francisco through Unanchor.com, and was a literary short story winner in the 80th Annual Writer's Digest writing competition.
You can check out Britney’s work on her website, and follow her adventures on Twitter.