3 nights in Prague
Oh sweet, Prague. It was exactly as I remembered it from many years and another lifetime ago. The Charles Bridge is still as gorgeous as ever and the pastel colored houses look radiant in the beautiful winter light. Prices have gone up now that they're thirty years removed from Communism, but it's still very affordable. The people aren't particularly warm, but the charm of the city more than makes up for it.
We managed to get to the city for the last day of the Christmas markets and we loved seeing the giant tree in Old Town Square. Being that we were there in early January, it was quite cold, though we didn't get the bonus of seeing the city blanketed in snow. We had one and a half days of beautiful weather and one and a half days of very cold and rainy weather. We didn't get to all of the sights that we had hoped, but I feel like we got a good glimpse of the best of Prague.
Our train from Berlin pulled in shortly after lunch time and we got an Uber to our hotel, which was both easy and very affordable. After checking in to the Boho Hotel, we wandered over to the Old Town Square. The mood was still very festive in the square on January 6, Twelfth Night. The kids were hungry so the first stop was a trdelnik at one of the Christmas market stands. Local bloggers love to complain about trdelniks... yes, they are tourist inventions and yes, they are pricey at $4 for a Nutella filled pastry. But, ohmygod they are so delicious. Imagine cinnamon roll dough cooked around a pipe that rotates slowly over hot coals, then smear Nutella around the inside- you see what I'm saying? There are trdelnik stores all over Old Town and a lot of them look fairly gross with all sorts of fancy additives like colorful dough and ice cream filling, so my only advice is to seek out the most authentic one you can find- look for coals and an unamused vendor.
Fueled with sugar, we were ready to climb to the top of the Astronomical Clock tower, technically Old Town Tower. The astronomical clock is one of the third oldest in the world and the only remaining one that still works. You can watch the parade of the 12 Apostles from the square at the top of each hour, which I recommend early in the morning when the square isn't crowded. Thankfully the climb to the top of the tower wasn't crowded, even in the early afternoon, and it is an easy ascent. The views from above are extraordinary and you can see all the way to Prague Castle.
We had a late lunch at the most well-rated vegetarian restaurant in town, Maitrea, which is located in Old Town. Honestly the food was good and the kids would agree, but there was something odd about the whole experience (the waitress with piercings all over her face for starters) and they spent the rest of the trip laughing at me and complaining about it. Not to worry, after walking around for a few more hours and exploring Wenceslas Square, we went to Mr Hot Dog for dinner. This cool little restaurant is on the other side of the river in Holesovice and was definitely more their speed. I was pleased to find a tofu dog on the menu and honestly, it was delicious.
We got up early so that we could see the Astronomical clock strike and cross the Charles Bridge without the selfie stick masses. It really was beautiful in the morning light and the walk up to Prague Castle was also serene with the sight of all the wood smoke pouring out of the local chimney pipes.
Prague Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Sight, is a grand complex of buildings, the largest coherent castle complex in the world. We walked around the area, admired the interior of St. Vitus Cathedral, climbed to the top of the cathedral's Great South Tower, wandered down Golden Lane, and saw some of the interior castle rooms. I highly recommend the climb, though it is significantly steeper than the clock tower climb and the fact that you are constantly twirling upwards along the stone spiral staircase is slightly nauseating. The views are worth the effort. I didn't really get the appeal of Golden Lane, though you can see what traditional quarters for the castle staff looked like.
We happened to be finished with our wandering in time to see the changing of the guard at noon, which is a bit of pomp and circumstance and I can always get excited about that. At 1pm, we went to a Midday Concert at Lobkowicz Palace. A trio of musicians (pianist, violinist, and flutist) played well-known classical numbers like Für Elise and The Blue Danube. It was a very civilized and welcome break from the walking and the cold.
After exhausting the castle complex, we went to grab some lunch at the beautiful Cafe Savoy. The food was great, but the pastry selection was exceptional. The kids had a hard time choosing was to get. They are known for their award-winning vtrenik, which looks almost like a donut sliced in half and filled with cream. Delicious.
The walk back to our hotel was meandering around Mala Strana and then back across the river where we saw the famed Dancing House, by architects Vlado Milunić and Frank Gehry. The design struck me as strange and out of place, but I really enjoyed watching all the people taking trick eye photos with the building for their Instagram accounts.
For dinner, we went to a great Indian restaurant called, K The Two Brothers.
We started our morning at the Pinkas Synagogue and the Old Jewish Cemetery in Josefov, the Jewish Quarter. This was definitely a somber way to start our day, as the walls of the Pinkas Synagogue are covered in the names of the tens of thousands Jews murdered in the Holocaust. Seeing all of those names, so many familiar last names, was incredibly moving. From the synagogue you can explore the cemetery grounds, where renowned personalities of the local Jewish community were buried dating back to the 15th century. The topography of the cemetery is unique, as the land dips and rolls and gravestones are placed in a nonuniform fashion. Because land was scarce, there are places where 12 layers of bodies are buried.
The Jewish Museum in Prague ticket includes several noteworthy synagogues and sights and the ticket is good for several days, which was fortunate because we needed to break up our time in Josefov with a little World War II history.
We met up with Dita at Powder Tower for the two hour World War II tour, which I had booked through Get Your Guide. Thankfully we were a small group and we covered a lot of history and sights in a little time. Dita was incredibly passionate about Czech history and she was very engaging and interesting. A lot of the tour was outside and it was freezing, but despite the conditions we all enjoyed this tour very much. I highly recommend it for understanding not only the importance of the area during the war and some of the key players in the Holocaust like Reinhard Heydrich, but also the rise of Communism and the Velvet Revolution.
After a heavy morning of Holocaust and Communism, the kids convinced me that we needed to have lunch at a traditional Czech beer hall for some meat and potatoes, so we went straight to Lokal. Being a vegan in a place like Prague is not the easiest and I pretty much just had to throw in the towel and opt for vegetarian at Lokal... still no beef hearts for me. The kids loved the beef goulash, fried cheese, and potato dumplings and I will say the spinach and potatoes were divine. I'm sure the spinach was cooked in cream and butter and probably little sprinkles from heaven. I even ordered a beer, so as to have the full effect of being a local.
We saw another synagogue after lunch and then the rain started, so we headed for the hotel and curled up in the library by the fire for the rest of the afternoon.
The rain stopped long enough in the evening for us to walk to dinner at Paprika Mediterranean Bistro. The walk was past the opera house was lovely and we were happy to see a completely different area of Prague. The falafel pita at Paprika was incredible- as good as the food we had last spring in Jordan. I highly recommend a meal here when you tire of chicken knuckles, Moravian sparrows, and cow tongues.
Thankfully the rain was downgraded to a light drizzle on our final morning and we were able to go up to Vyšehrad before our outbound train left left for Berlin. Vyšehrad was a historic fort on the Vltava River. Our primary goal was to see the Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul, which has the most extraordinary paintings covering almost every wall, pillar, and ceiling. I absolutely insist that you see it if you enjoy looking at beautiful artwork.
Outside the basilica is a cemetery where many famous Czechs are buried, like Antonín Dvořák and other well-known artists, musicians, and writers. It was interesting seeing the uniformity of the Christian cemetery after enjoying the haphazard nature of the Jewish headstones in town. But truly, the real beauty is inside the church.
I also recommend walking along the walls of the fort for beautiful views of the river and the city below. I am so glad that we were able to squeeze this in before heading to the train station.
Where we stayed:
The location of Boho Hotel, just a couple of minutes walk to Old Town, could not have been more perfect. We were very pleased with our room, which was very spacious with a king bed and a pull out sofa. The library is a delightful place to spend a little time, especially in the afternoon when they offer complimentary wine and snacks. We also took advantage of the free breakfast every morning, in particular my kids really enjoyed making themselves paninis with their sandwich press. The hotel is very reasonably priced and the staff is plenty helpful, if not particularly warm and inviting. I would definitely recommend staying here if one of the grand dames is not in your budget.
Uber is an excellent way to get around, though opt for the midlevel car, as you will always get great drivers in nice cars who know their way around.
Speaking of driving, Czech drivers are insane. With all the tourists wobbling around the cobblestone streets, you would think the local drivers would be moving slowly. But no. They treat the narrow little streets like the Formula 1 track. Likewise, get out of the way of trams- they will not slow and definitely not stop for you.
Check the exchange rate before you take money out of the ATM. I only needed about $100 max, but the ATM options started at $1000, I swear. I had to punch in my own amount of Czech Koruna needed, as such a little amount was not even listed.