As the nights began to draw in and the weather was becoming increasingly drab, I couldn’t help but give in to the desire to escape on another adventure. My latest trip and the final break of 2017 was to the Czech capital, Prague. It may not offer the sunshine I’ve been longing for since the summer came to a close, but I think the bright chilly days of late November simply added to the charm of the city. Plus, wrapping up warm in a bobble hat and a wooly scarf never fails to make me feel festive in the lead up to Christmas!
In fact, I booked the trip on the last weekend of November in the hope that the Christmas market would be up and running in Old Town Square, as Prague is known for hosting the largest Christmas tree in the whole of Europe. Alas, we were a week too early! There were a couple of smaller Christmas markets taking place in other areas of the city and it’s a beautiful city to explore regardless of the time of year, so the lack of giant tree was quickly forgotten about.
The gothic theme that runs throughout the city is immediately noticeable as you enter the city centre, a myriad of black church spires standing tall above the city skyline (hense it’s nickname, the city of a hundred spires). In my opinion, it’s the diverse architecture found across the city which gives Prague such character. Where there are baroque palaces and gothic cathedrals in one direction, you’ll fine art nouveau buildings in the other. When witnessed from up high, you’d even be forgiven for thinking the blanket of red rooftops, grand buildings and church spires resemble Disney Land.
One reservation I had about the city before I visited was its reputation for being a hot spot for stag dos and those simply after a beer-fuelled weekend. I was pleasantly surprised by how picturesque and well-kept Prague is, however, and I don’t know if we were a bit late in the year for stag dos, but unlike my previous trips to Dublin and Amsterdam, I wasn’t overly aware of this going on around the city. I thoroughly enjoyed visiting as a couple and would 100% recommend that others add it to their travel check list!
Wandering Through Old Town Square
Having awoken at an unearthly hour on Saturday morning for our flight, we arrived in Prague just before lunchtime, meaning we had plenty of time to explore the city before checking into the hotel. Our hotel was situated just off Wenceslas Square, so after dropping off our bags, we were in the perfect spot to enjoy a stroll right through the centre of the city through Old Town Square and to the riverside.
Upon arrival in Old Town Square we were overwhelmed by the number of tourists. We knew it was a popular city for tourism, but definitely weren’t expecting the hordes that filled the square, many being led by tour guides speaking in a multitude of languages.
Standing regally in front of the Old Town Hall is the famous Prague Astronomical Clock. Installed in 1410, it is the oldest operating clock of its kind on the planet, marking not only the time but also the months and astronomical position of the sun and moon. Thanks to the movements of the tourist swarm, you can’t really miss it, with dozens of people gathering in front of the building in anticipation of the clock striking the hour and launching into its magnificent mechanical performance.
The Our Lady Before Týn church also dominates Old Town Square and could be described as Gothic architecture at its finest. Unfortunately it is closed to the public on Sunday afternoons and Mondays, so we missed our chance of exploring the inside of the grand building, however, guests are welcome to take a peak from the entrance and what we did catch a glimpse of certainly didn’t fail to impress.
Also attracting crowds, are the plethora street performers found in the square (some talented, some slightly disturbing – weird man in a pram, I’m looking at you) and a number of food vendors, selling traditional Czech food and drink. The Trdelnik was a personal favourite of mine, which I had served with melted chocolate. Delish!
Delving into Prague’s History at Prague Castle
Though it’s not a castle in its conventional form with large turrets and a drawbridge, Prague Castle is the largest castle complex in the whole world, covering an impressive 70,000 square metres. Perched on a hill on the left-bank, it is more like a small town than a traditional castle and boasts some of the best views in the city.
Inside the complex, you’ll find a number of buildings including St. Vitus Cathedral, the Grand Palace, museums, galleries and Golden Lane, a picturesque 16th-century street that was once home to the royal goldsmiths and other workers. Hidden between the old homes and workplaces of a fortune teller, a goldsmith and more, you’ll also find a selection of small crafts shops, selling hand-painted glass, old books, pottery and handmade wooden toys.
Taking a Stroll Over Charles Bridge
Decorated with 30 statues representing saints and a gothic tower at each end, Charles Bridge has been standing since the 15th century and connects the old town with Prague Castle. One particular statue commemorates Saint John of Nepomuk, who was drowned in the river below and touching the statue is rumoured to bring the individual good luck in their life.
Though you should definitely take a stroll along the bridge itself, I’d also recommend walking along one of the other bridges that run parallel to Charles Bridge, in order to catch a glimpse of the striking historic structure from afar. At sunset, it looks particularly breathtaking, with a backdrop of red-roofed buildings climbing the hill and a beautiful dusky sky.
Attractions such as the John Lennon tribute wall and the elegant flock of swans residing on the banks make it well worth a walk along the left bank of the river Vltava.
Enjoying a Pint or Two…Or Three
One thing for sure is that the Czechs love their beer. In fact, they drink more of it in the Czech Republic than any other country on the planet. Pilsner Urquell is the best known Czech beer and can be found in most bars and restaurants across the country. The best thing, beer is cheaper than a bottle of water in Prague!
You can find a number of micro-breweries around the capital, as well as specialist beer bars that offer up to 30 beers on tap. The Prague Beer Museum is one of the most popular stops for a good pint and we were sure to make it our very first and last stop of the trip!
Feeling Cultured at the Gallery of Art Prague
Unfortunately, the heavens opened on our first day in the city, so having spotted a sign for the Dali, Mucha and Warhol exhibition at Gallery of Art Prague, situated off Old Town Square, we decided to check it out.
Not that keen on Mucha’s work, we just bought tickets for the Dali and Warhol exhibitions and were pleasantly surprised at how much there was to see. Set on three floors, each artist had a floor dedicated to their work. Dali’s ever-changing art from throughout the decades sprawled the walls and shelves of several rooms, made up of mad pencil sketches, as well as his most famous pieces, including The Persistence of Memory and The Elephants.
Warhol’s iconic pop-art featured on the top floor, along with documentation of the many album covers he created as a commercial artist. There is even a small workshop, where guests can have their own pop-art inspired t-shirt made, which I think is a nice touch.
All in all, I think it was one of my favourite European city breaks and I’ll definitely be paying Prague a visit again in the future!