A First-Timer’s Guide to Prague, Czech Republic

Though it’s certainly not a hidden gem these days, Prague is a great destination for travelers who want to experience some central European charm. With stunning architecture, a great culinary scene, and prices that are a lot more budget-friendly than more popular western European capitals like Paris or Amsterdam, Prague is a city you won’t want to miss.

Though I have traveled to Europe many times, our visit to Prague was my furthest foray into eastern/central Europe. And I truly loved it, despite the frigid weather we encountered during our November trip!

We visited Prague as part of a 16-day European adventure that covered Paris, Bratislava, Vienna, and Budapest as well. Prague was our second stop, and we were only able to spend three nights in the Czech capital. So, while our exploration was far from exhaustive, we were able to cover a lot of the “must-visit” places and try a nice array of delicious local dishes.

Here is our guide to what to do, see, and eat in Prague.

What to do in Prague

Prague Castle 

Dating to the 9th century, the collection of buildings that comprise Prague Castle is one of the top attractions in the city. With an area of 753,474 square feet, it is the largest ancient castle in the world. A highlight of our time at the castle was visiting St. Vitus Cathedral, which has some stunning stained-glass windows. (Interesting fact: though construction of the cathedral began in 1344, it wasn’t completed until 1929!). Be sure to visit the Basilica of St. George as well.

Ticket prices vary depending on the type you select (different tiers allow access to more buildings) and discounts are available for children, students, and senior citizens. We paid CZK 350 each for a full ticket that was valid for 24 hours.

Side note: be sure to dress warm (if traveling in winter) and wear good walking shoes, because a visit to Prague Castle is exhausting and requires several hours (at least) to see thoroughly.

Also, we recommend eating prior to visiting the castle, because the food and drink options on-site are slim and highly priced. There aren’t a lot of great options nearby either (that we saw), as the castle is perched on a hill.

Charles Bridge 

One of the most iconic sites in Prague is the beautiful Charles Bridge, which was the only link between Prague Castle and the Old Town until the 1700s. Expect crowds, but don’t let that stop you from taking time to enjoy the beautiful views. When we visited, we enjoyed watching several street musicians and artists. (Visiting early in the morning may help you avoid the densest crowds.)

Old Town Square/Astronomical Clock

No (first) visit to Prague would be complete without visiting Old Town Square and catching a glimpse of the famed astronomical clock. Wondering what an astronomical clock even is (just me?)? Well, It’s a clock that displays not only the time but also astronomical information regarding the sun, moon, and planets. When the clock in Prague was built in 1490, the technology was cutting edge. I mean, that’s a seriously impressive accomplishment for people who believed attaching leeches to a sick person would actually lessen the invalid’s suffering. More interesting (at least to me) was watching the four figures move at the top of each hour. Arrive a few minutes early to have a good view!

While you’re in the area, take some time to wander around Old Town Square.

Jewish Quarter

Home to some of Prague’s darkest history—including the massacre on Easter Sunday of 1389 that left approximately 900 Jews dead—is the Jewish Quarter, or Josefov, a former Jewish ghetto that has housed a significant portion of Prague’s Jewish population for more than 800 years. Though much of the area was torn down and rebuilt in the early 20th century, many important synagogues (including the beautiful Spanish Synagogue) and other historic buildings remain.

A must-see in the Jewish Quarter is the Old Jewish Cemetery, a haunting and eerie graveyard where approximately 100,000 bodies have been interred. (Entry to The Old Jewish Cemetery is included in the Jewish Museum admission ticket.)

For my fellow book nerds, be sure to check out the statue of Franz Kafka, who was born in Prague, on Vězeňská street. It is just as weird as you might expect.

Vojanovy Sady 

We stumbled across this lovely park by accident, and we were glad we did, despite the bad whether! Aside from being a lovely respite from the city, Vajonovy Sady is also noteworthy for its brightly plumed residents. Claire enjoyed watching the beautiful peacocks that roam freely throughout the park.

Shakespeare & Sons Bookstore

I make a point of visiting at least one bookstore in every place we visit, and we found a truly great one in Prague. Shakespeare & Sons is a charming foreign-language bookstore with a wide selection of books. It reminded me of the Shakespeare and Co. bookstore in Paris, which is basically the highest literary compliment I could give!

While you’re in the area, pop into the nearby Bake Shop for a delicious treat.

Foods to Try in Prague

Disclaimer: following the suggestions below may not make you skinny, but they will sure make you happy! Consider yourself warned.

Trdelnik (Chimney Cake)

A regional favorite, trdelnik is sort of like a hollow cinnamon bun. The pastry dough is wrapped around a dowel and then grilled. It is served with a variety of toppings/filling ranging from cinnamon and sugar to chocolate, whipped cream, or even ice cream. You will find stands selling this traditional treat scattered all throughout the city, especially in the more touristy Old Town. I never learned how to pronounce the name (or eat it more neatly than a toddler who saw spaghetti for the first time), but I certainly enjoyed eating them!

Grilované Klobásy (Sausage)

I admit, sausage is one of my very favorite meats (even if I don’t always know what kind of “meat” it actually is…in fact, I find it’s often better not to know). And the sausages in Prague—as in much of Europe—are completely delicious. They are also a great quick meal for days when you don’t have time to sit down for a long lunch or dinner, as they are often served by street venders. We broke our rule about not eating in or near big tourist attraction and got one from a stand near Old Town Square (despite having literally just eaten dinner minutes earlier. I told you, I really have a thing for sausages), and it was very yummy. Ask for the brown mustard, unless you want to settle for a subpar existence. I didn’t discover it until later. #Regret.

Knedlíky (Dumplings)

Another must-try in Prague are the dumplings! They are available on most restaurant menus and are often paired with meat. They are both delicious and filling.

How to Get around Prague

Luckily, getting around Prague is super easy.

Walk

Many of the city’s attraction (especially around Old Town) are walkable, so be sure to pack comfortable shoes!

Public Transit

Prague is fairly easy to navigate via public transit. We opted for a 72-hour pass, which we purchased from a machine in the metro station for CZK 310. It allowed us unlimited use of the metro, trams, and busses. If you don’t plan to use public transit often, it might be cheaper to buy single-ride tickets (also available in the metro station).

We were surprised that there were no turnstiles in the metro stations, so be sure to validate your ticket before getting on the train (the validation box is big and yellow. It was at the top of the stairs before going down to the tracks in the station where we validated ours). If you see lots of people rushing past it, that’s because they have a multi-use pass and have already validated theirs; it’s not a sign that validating is unnecessary! We almost made that mistake!

For multi-use tickets, validate before first use only.

Ride-Sharing 

Ride-sharing services like Uber are a good choice of transit in some cases, especially if you are traveling in a group or prefer to be dropped off directly at your destination. We used an Uber to take us from the airport to our apartment because we arrived at night, it was freezing, and we didn’t want to navigate public transit in the dark with a sleeping baby.

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