Following to 1989 Velvet Revolution which saw the Czech Republic freed from communism, Prague has become one of Europe’s most beloved cities and is considered an increasingly popular weekender hotspot, even more so over the past several years thanks to the frequency of flights and the overall affordability of the destination. As the city nicknamed the ‘City of a Hundred Spires’, this capital is known for its iconic Old Town, its grand castle which overlooks the city and the famous Charles Bridge. It’s a beautiful place and you can definitely have a great experience with the city in just one short weekend. I tried it, so I wanted to share a few of my top tips.
Getting from the airport
It might be a tempting solution when you’re only visiting for a weekend and want to reach your hotel check in as soon possible, but avoid getting a taxi from the airport (if you can help it). Public transport is incredibly cheap and you can use the 119 bus to get to the nearest metro station, Nádraží Veleslavín, and from there you can catch Line A into the city centre. The whole journey will cost you just 32CZK (just over £1), but don’t forget to validate your ticket before boarding or face the risk of a fine.
What to see:
You cannot visit Prague without visiting Charles Bridge and it’s a favourite attraction for many. Originally completed in 1390, this bridge was fully pedestrianised after World War II and now when you visit, you’ll find it’s packed with tourists, confined to a 500m long space which can get pretty crowded, pretty quick. What makes it so iconic is the monuments built along the bridge, including the famous dedication to St John of Nepomuk which tradition says if you rub his bronze plaque, you’ll return to Prague one day. If you choose, you can also climb the bridge towers for beautiful views of the city with opening hours varying depending on the season. But if you want to grab a picture of the bridge without the inclusion of hundreds of tourists, I’d suggest visiting early, before 9am. The scenic backdrop is worth it, honestly.
This is one of Prague’s most popular attractions and with good reason. Visible from across the whole city, the castle sits above Vltava’s left bank, and it is the largest ancient castle complex in the world. Additions have been made here by many of the monarchs or rulers of Prague over the past few centuries, making it an eclectic mix of architecture, which really is part of its charm and appeal for visitors. To visit the castle grounds is free, although you’ll get stopped and searched prior to entry for obvious security purposes. However, to enter any of the buildings, there is a charge and the full price ticket is 350CZK (just under £12), although there are several ticket options available.
Old Town Square
The Old Town Square has been Prague’s main town square for centuries and it is the centre for buskers, fashion shows and also the famous Christmas market. Featuring magnificent architectural sites including the iconic Prague Astronomical Clock and the Baroque Church of St Nicholas, this idyllic square is the perfect location for an Instagram shot, day or night. But no matter how busy you are while you’re here, make sure you visit the square as the clock strikes the hour to see the Astronomical Clock in action. Plus, if you’re looking for panoramic views of the city, you can climb the Old Town Hall Tower (or take the lift) for just 250 CZK.
As one of Prague’s largest green spaces, Petřín is a 318m high hill, perfect if you feel like escaping the hustle and bustle of the main city centre for a few hours. If you want to see its main attractions and all that Petřín has to offer, you’ll need to climb to the top of the hill either through old-fashioned way or you can use the funicular if you want to save your legs. Here, you’ll find a lookout tower which offers a much smaller alternative to the Eiffel Tower in Paris where you can climb to the top for wide-reaching views of the city. There’s also a mirror maze where you can get lost in reflections, offering some traditional fun which makes you feel as though you’re in a fairground. You can easily spend a few hours here and it’s a particularly beautiful spot in Autumn.
John Lennon Wall
The John Lennon wall is based in the Malá Strana region, just a stone’s throw away from Charles Bridge. Since his murder in 1980, this wall has become a dedication to John Lennon and has been populated with artwork, peace symbols, quotes and lyrics from famous Beatles’ hits, all inspired by the musician. Despite calls for this site to be whitewashed, the wall never stays clean for long and it has now become an iconic spot for visitors, who are all looking to catch a glimpse of the Lennon inspired artwork and grab a picture at this colourful spot.
Hanging Sigmund Freud
It would be very easy to walk past this sculpture of the hanging Sigmund Freud in Old Town Prague. That’s because there are no tourist signs to help you find him, you must simply remember to look up. It may seem like a strange piece of art to have in the city and it’s said that Freud had a number of phobias, one of which was of his own death. It’s for this reason that the artist chose to depict Freud’s personal battle but thanks to its realistic appearance, many visitors have raised the alarm thinking it’s a real person. It’s certainly an interesting sight to check out, if you can find him.
Where to eat:
On your weekend in Prague, you’ll definitely be craving coffee and pastries to keep you fuelled and Cukrkávalimonáda is the perfect place to get both of these things. Based in Malá Strana just around the corner from the Lennon wall, this is a family run restaurant boasting a pastry-shop. It showcases freshly baked produce based on the owner’s experience of Viennese confectioneries and coffee from Italy’s Lake Garda. It’s an inexpensive stop but make sure you take cash as it doesn’t currently accept card payments.
Grand Cafe Orient
Another great stop if you’re looking for a coffee and cake or perhaps a little bit of lunch, the Grand Cafe Orient is exactly that, a grand stop with a very elegant setting. Visitors will queue for the chance to dine here and sample some of the delightful cakes and small plates amongst a tasteful backdrop. But don’t let the name put you off, it isn’t as pricey as you might think and it’s well worth the visit.
As a relatively new addition to the food and drink scene in Prague, Fat Cat offers traditional Czech specials alongside your conventional ‘bar’ food like nachos and its famous burgers. But what makes this such a worthwhile stop is its beer tasting experience, the ‘Beer Gustation’, which allows you to sample six different beers on offer at the brewery. Visit here if you’re looking for a relaxing bar vibe with the chance to learn more about Czech-brewed beers.
Based in the heart of the Old Town, Beef Bar boast high-quality ingredients amongst a modern backdrop. This bistro is the perfect place if you’re looking for a relaxing meal with a steak cooked perfectly to your liking, or perhaps if you’re looking for a more modern romantic venue for your city date night. Plus, it offers wines personally selected from family-run wineries in Argentina and Uruguay, so can be a great stop for wine lovers.
U Tří růží
As you’ll know, Czech beer is world famous and this 15th-century restaurant boasts six beers brewed on site, alongside a selection of local, comforting cuisine. Drinks here are incredibly cheap, with a typical beer costing just 56 CZK, which equates to around just £1.90. If you do come here to sample their beers, I’d recommend you stay for some food too with the menu including pork cheeks braised with dark beer, roast chicken supreme and much more. If it looks busy on first glance don’t be disheartened as there’s additional seating upstairs, but just make sure you ask about it if you want the chance to secure a table.
Owned by the Pilsner Urquell Brewery, Kolkovna is a modern brand of Czech pubs, offering hearty Czech dishes which are perfect for Autumn/ Winter. Here you can order warming soups, beef goulash or chicken schnitzel served with a butter-rich mash potato. Prices here are more than reasonable and it’s a very relaxing atmosphere but offers a quick service thanks to the high turnover of visitors. There are several of these pubs dotted around Prague but I would recommend visiting the venue closest to the Jewish Museum, just from my own personal experience, of course.