Some cities are so ornamental, so historic and beautiful, that it’s hard to look beyond their histories to the modern hive of activity humming behind the facades. Prague is one such city. With its Baroque buildings, cobblestoned streets and beer – oh so much beer – you could spend weeks in this Czech city, and it wouldn’t be enough. If you’re a little low on time, we’ve planned the perfect 48 hours in this city of multitudes – or you could give one of our day tours a whirl, it’s really up to you.
Day one: Prague food and beer
Head out of the old city past Wenceslas Square and the National Museum to Kavárna Kaaba. This cafe is worth visiting just to check out its interior – the current owners decided to retain the 60s-style furniture, fittings and floors when they took over the space. It now feels like you’re stepping back in time to a mid-century vision of the future – Jetsons-style. Get your fix of scrambled eggs or porridge and leaf through the assortment of magazines – all in Czech of course – that line the tables. Finish up with a good coffee to prep yourself for the day ahead.
Yes, it’s touristy, but every visitor to Prague needs to see the famed Astronomical Clock do its thing every hour on the hour – it is the world’s oldest working clock of its kind, after all. If you think it’s a bit underwhelming, put yourself in the shoes of the citizens of Prague seeing it strike the hour for the first time in 1410. Pretty mind-blowing, eh?
Get the lay of the land by climbing to the top of the Old Town Hall tower that rises above the clock. You could catch the lift, but then you’d miss out on learning about the history of the building – from its construction in the 1300s, to its near-destruction during the Second World War, and its later reconstruction. Once you get to the top, take your necessary selfies, and gaze down upon the spires of the city.
All that walking probably made you hungry, yes? On your way to your next stop, pick up a trdelník from one of the many stalls that line most streets of the old town of Prague. This rolled dough, coated in sugar and filled with anything from cream with stewed apples and cinnamon to ice-cream with nutella, is the perfect mobile snack as you walk to your next destination: the Charles Bridge, which, like the Old Town Hall, began construction in the 1300s. Check out the Catholic sculptures that line the bridge, and the painters and jewellery stalls flogging their wares. Once you’re almost at the end you’ll see some stairs to the left going down. These will take you to a small island, separated from the ‘mainland’ by a canal. With its little alleyways, pubs and parkland, it’s perfect for a stroll along the river before your next stop, the Lennon Wall. A memorial to the legendary muso, fans of The Beatles, Lennon, and everything the bespectacled muso stood for (that would be peace and love for those playing at home), it’s sadly been taken over by gangs of 18-year-olds who’ve probably never heard ‘Imagine’ guernsing for a selfie, but is worth the visit if only just for the very talented Beatles buskers that congregate here.
Lunchtime! Head over the Legii, or Legion Bridge, adjacent to the Charles Bridge. A couple of streets back from the river you’ll find Švejk Restaurant U Karla, a super-trad Czech restaurant. With local goodies like beef goulash with bread dumplings, and pork neck with sauerkraut and potato dumplings, it’s good hearty, filling fare.
Now, you could head to the gothic cathedral of St Vitus, or perhaps climb to the top of one of the Charles Bridge towers – you could even visit the Petřín Lookout Tower, famed for its resemblance to the Eiffel Tower. These are all very worthy pursuits, but may we recommend something a little different? The Dancing House is a Frank Gehry-designed office block. It doesn’t sound particularly exciting – Gehry’s work pops up all across the globe, after all. But once you’ve had a squiz, you won’t regret forsaking the historical sights… its curved architecture set among the antique buildings of Prague is a true standout. If you’re feeling cashed up, head up to the top for a meal at the Fred & Ginger Restaurant. On a backpacker’s budget? It’s just as cool from street level.
What’s a trip to Prague without a visit to one of its beer halls? Hops have been grown in what is now the Czech Republic since the 12th century, and its citizens drink more beer per head than anywhere else in the world. We suggest you dip your toe in at U Fleku, which is not just one beer hall, but eight, and only a 10-minute walk from the Dancing House. It also houses its very own micro-brewery. From there head to U Medvidku, which has been brewing beer since 1466. Here the beer is cheap and it will fit several hundred of your friends. If you can still stand, stumble to Double Trouble, a beer hall in a Gothic Cellar. The bar draws locals and tourists, and the one thing they all have in common is they love to drink beer.
You’ve already tried classic Czech cuisine at Švejk Restaurant U Karla. Now it’s time to give contemporary Czech food a whirl at Nota Bene. Here, the menu changes daily depending on the availability of produce, and there’s a focus on six microbrews if you want to keep the party going. The menu is short and sweet, so you won’t need too much time to try and figure out what you’d like to order .
For a nightcap walk for about 15 minutes to another beer hall, U Pinkasů. This old-school local haunt has had one of its pilsners, Pilsner Urquell, on tap since 1843. Spread across three storeys, this historic pub’s cellar used to be the crypt for the church next door. They’re real serious about beer here, so throw back a couple before hitting the hay.
Day two: Jewish Quarter and Prague museums
Have a lie-in to work off last night’s beer, then head to Cafe Louvre for a bite. This eatery has been kicking around since 1902, and was a favourite of luminaries such as Franz Kafka and Albert Einstein. Though the communists ravaged the place in the 1940s, it was restored to its former glory in the early nineties. Other than history, though, the Louvre does a roaring trade in good coffee and even better food. Everything from croissants to scrambled eggs, goulash and pancakes are served for breakfast here. We recommend the ‘Northern Breakfast’… mainly for the sparkling wine served alongside it.
For some reason Prague is home to many, many wonderful and wacky museums. We suggest spending until lunchtime exploring them. There’s the Apple Museum – a collection of Apple computers from 1976 to present – the Museum of Historical Chamber Pots and Toilets, which is exactly what it sounds like; the Sex Machines Museum; the Museum of Medieval Torture Instruments; and the Gingerbread Museum. Or, if you’re after something a bit less weird, a bit more educational, there is also the Museum of Communism and the Kafka Museum.
Josefov is the old Jewish Quarter of Prague, and well worth a visit. Bohemia Bagel was opened in 1996 and serves American-style bagels; a good place to start your visit to this former Jewish ghetto.
Spend the afternoon wandering around the Jewish Quarter. Filled with historical buildings, its pavements echoes with the history of the Jews from all over Europe who were forced to live shoulder-to-shoulder in its cramped conditions. The Spanish Synagogue was opened in 1868, and was built in the Moorish Revival style with oriental motifs and gold galore. The Old Jewish Cemetery is also worth a visit; it’s the largest Jewish cemetery in Europe and packed with historic monuments. Cheer yourself up with a baked goodie from Bakeshop, which is full of fresh cakes, biscuits, meringues and more.
Before dinner, have a gander at Luxor Bookshop. While most of its four (yes, four) floors have only Czech-language books, head to the bottom level. Here you’ll find a good selection of English-language books, including plenty of classic Czech titles translated into English.
They also have a decent assortment of English-languages magazines from England, America and Australia among others. Also check out the facade of the nearby Europa Hotel – it’s abandoned now, but its exterior still retains a certain bygone glamour.
Feeling fancy? Go to La Degustation Bohême Bourgeoise for dinner. Here, locally sourced ingredients are turned into several degustation courses with Czech wines. The restaurant has one of the country’s three Michelin stars. Budget travellers should try out Klub Architektů, where they can get a top-notch pasta or perhaps a confit duck liver for under AUD$15.
The Prague National Theatre is the perfect place to round out a day of exploration and culture. Built in the late Renaissance style, with a sprinkling of sculptures of famous Czech figures, on any given night you’ll find opera, drama or a ballet. The theatre also hosts a number of bars and restaurants to while away the intermissions.
Want to get the most from Prague? Explore the city with a local leader on one of our Czech Republic small group trips.