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By Mike Ashcroft
We often travel with friends, and spotted a deal that was too good to turn down. Part of this deal included a 3-night stay in Prague, Czech Republic. I had been 39 years ago when it was firmly behind the Iron Curtain, and was intrigued to see what had changed. For my partner and our friends it was their first visit.
Put simplistically, Prague is divided into two halves – the Old Town side and the castle side – on each side of the River Vistula (which changes its name to the Elbe once into Germany). I won’t even try to spell or pronounce the Czech names!
Travelling around Prague is simple and very cheap. A ticket covering all buses, Metro, and the cute old trams costs less than $5 for 24 hours, and the service was excellent. We stayed at the 3.5-star Hotel Merkur, located close to the Old Town, and the only thing this hotel was lacking was a bar/seating area to enjoy in the evening – other than that it was friendly and good value.
1. OLD TOWN SQUARE
The Old Town Square features a romantic and beautiful area which is most famous for its Astronomical Clock. People gather every hour to watch the animations and bells on the medieval clock – make sure you get there on the hour so not to miss the display (9AM to 9PM).
The Old Town Square is even more magical at night with everything illuminated.
The area (in fact, all of Prague) is liberally scattered with bars and restaurants. Even in late November, when we went, you can sit in an outside bar, as they all have powerful heaters, and people watch whilst you have a mulled wine or an excellent Czech beer, and bargain prices.
2. PRAGUE MUNICIPAL HOUSE
Just outside the Old Town Square, next to the Gothic Powder Tower, is the magnificent Prague Municipal House. This Art Nouveau masterpiece took our breath away. Go inside and eat in one of the beautiful cafes and restaurants, especially the one on the basement. It is also possible to attend a musical concert at one of the halls located inside the building. Truly unique.
3. WENCESLAS SQUARE
On the same side of the river as the Prague Municipal House, is Wenceslas Square – famous from the gatherings at the time of the Revolution from communism. I have to say I was disappointed by the square, as it is mostly just brand name shops. But if you go just a few steps down a side street, you will find Art Nouveau arcades. These arcades haven’t changed much, and have a wealth of design and quirky detail – such as the pastiche of the stature in the square, but with St. Wenceslas riding an upside down dead horse.
4. CZECH EATERIES
One delight in St. Wenceslas Square was finding two typical Czech eateries.
Paul is a lovely bakery with freshly made bread and cakes, a perfect lunch stop. And, for an evening meal, on the other side of the Square, near the statue was Café Svateho Vaclava. We had an epic meal here, with Czech speciality food, and lovely drinks. I had the Knee of Pork, which will leave not even the greediest of you wanting more.
There are many other sights on this side of the river, so get a good guide book and study hard before you arrive.
5. PRAGUE CASTLE
Cross the river by walking over the famous and romantic Charles Bridge. During the day, but especially at night, it offers a fantastic view of Prague Castle (Czech: Pražský hrad) on the top of the hill.
6. CHURCH OF ST NICHOLAS
As you reach the other bank, keep walking straight ahead, and about 200 yards in front of you is the magnificent Church of St Nicholas. This Baroque gem looks nothing special from the outside, but will blow you away once through the doors.
7. FUNICULAR RAILWAY & PETRIN OBSERVATION TOWER
A short walk to the left takes you to the Funicular Railway which travels from the Lesser Town up to the Petrin Observation Tower (a mini version of the Eiffel Tower in Paris) at the summit of Petrin Hill. When we were there, the funicular was closed for repairs until March 2016, so I volunteered to stay in a bar at the bottom whilst the others climbed the hill, and then climbed the 345 stairs up the Tower. I enjoyed the bar!
8. PRAGUE CASTLE AND ST VITUS CATHEDRAL
At the top of Petrin Hill, and visible from the whole city, is Prague Castle and St Vitus Cathedral. This enormous castle covers a huge area, and there are many things to see in the castle, including the awesome cathedral.
9. JOHN LENNON PEACE WALL
As you are about to cross the Charles Bridge back towards Old Town again, there are stairs that lead down towards the river. Look for the Prague watermills wheel. This will lead you to the Lennon Peace Wall and the John Lennon Pub, which I can also recommend.
One or two words of caution. Almost everywhere in Prague you have to pay an entrance fee, and to pay to use the toilet, so make the most of any you find in a café, etc.
So, I hope that gives you a taste of a city rich with history, fantastic architecture, and all at great value prices. The only thing I would have changed was maybe to go in the spring or autumn for better weather.