Welcome to my compact backpacker’s travel guide to Prague, Czech Republic. I will be posting a lot more on Prague in the coming weeks, since it is a city I have a great deal of experience of and one that I return to regularly.
Having been going to Prague a number of times over the past six years, it always used to be a city I loathed. It is chaotic, sleazy and absolutely overrun by tourists, the amount of which remain unrivalled in any other place I have ever visited. It’s also full of rip-off joints, scam artists, thieves, beggars, junkies, prostitutes and highly irritating Ukrainians and Nigerians who follow you down the streets trying to get you into grotesquely overpriced bars (typically strip bars).
So why on earth would I bother writing a guide about Prague then? Well, the fact is, if you get to know Prague and get under the skin, learning the best places to go and the best way to enjoy the city, then you will see another side to it. This side of Prague is one of the world’s most magnificent cities, full of culture, history and sophistication.
Prague boasts some of the finest food in Europe, vastly better than many surrounding countries. It can also be extremely good value, it has a great 24h transport system, great hostels, great nightlife and an abundance of fascinating daytrips.
For years I was going to Prague just as a backpacker, since it was the easiest place to get cheap flights to Eastern Europe. For the first few years I hated it, because I didn’t have the opportunity to find what I have now come to love about Prague having lived there throughout summer of 2007. I’ve been back three times since then, and have enjoyed it every time. I hope that this guide will serve to introduce you to the better side of Prague and if you take note of it, I would highly recommend you pay this amazing city a visit.
How to Get There
Prague is one of the easiest Central / Eastern European cities to get to. If you are travelling around the region, then both busses and trains are convenient and fairly good value. Prague is well connected to a Berlin, Vienna, Warsaw, Kraków, Budapest, Bratislava and even Bucharest and many places on the way including Sighişoara, Romania. If you want to get away from the mass tourism after Prague, you can also get a direct overnight bus to Lviv, Ukraine.
I won’t give the bus and train timetables here, since they change frequently and there are far too many to list here. Check out Idos.cz for all the latest timetables and itineraries. It also has an English version.
If you prefer to fly, then Prague has daily connections to London Stanstead with the budget carrier EasyJet. They also fly to Gatwick, Bristol and East Midlands.
Within the Czech Republic, it is typically better, faster and cheaper to travel by bus, with regular connections to numerous towns and villages in both Bohemia and Moravia.
Once in Prague, you should make use of the public transport system which is extremely efficient and cheap. There’s a three line metro system and numerous trams and busses. Just make sure you have the right tickets lest you get fined on the spot.
Now there are so many hostels in Prague as you would probably expect. A look on hostelworld.com will show you this! There are far too many to write about here, so I am going to suggest that you either go with my recommendation or check out one of the hostel booking agencies for reviews of others.
My personal favourite is Sir Toby’s hostel, one that I always return to. From what I have read and the other travellers I have spoken to, it is indeed one of the most popular and full featured in Prague and while large, it does not suffer from the clinical atmosphere that many larger places suffer from.
Sir Toby’s has a wide choice of enormous and airy rooms with four to ten beds, a few private rooms, a large terrace, an underground bar, Internet, Wi-Fi, laundry and more. The only slight disadvantage is that it is not located right in the centre. You can find it in the quiet inner suburb of Holešovice, and to be honest, knowing Prague, this is probably actually an advantage. You can get a dorm bed there for 360 Kč (about £12) during the summer although prices are lower out of season.
If you are looking for a great party place and are not worried too much about getting a good night’s sleep, you could also take a look at the famous Clown and Bard hostel in Žižkov. Part of the Sir Toby’s business, there’s another very pleasant hostel in Žižkov district called the Czech Inn. If you are a big group, you may want to check out Plus Prague, also in Holešovice.
Make sure you book accommodation in advance if you want to stay in a decent place, at least in the summer months.
Eat & Drink
Prague is a paradise for anyone who enjoys their food and beer. Meals are typically enormous, bulky and full of flavour. I always rave about the food here as it is often very good value and vastly better than you are likely to find in most other countries in Eastern Europe. In fact, I could almost recommend going to Prague just for the food alone. However, it is also easy to get ripped off. Avoid just about anything right in the centre, especially in the square and although you might get good food, you can generally expect to spend twice as much as the places I recommend. Here is a list of my recommended favourites.
Plzeňský Restaurant – If there is only one place that you are going to eat out in Prague, then I implore you to check this place out. It’s an enormous establishment with cavernous cellars, a huge street-level room, a terrace and a huge bar area. It is located very near the Anděl metro stop on Nádražní street 114. It has a very big façade so you are unlikely to miss it. The food here is good value and simply amazing. The dishes are typically Czech, huge hearty meals of the finest quality ingredients. Sure, it might be a bit out of the way, but it is absolutely worth it. Oh, and the beer is great too.
Holešovice Kavárna – I love this little place! OK, so it might not look like anything special, but if you have just landed in Prague and rocked up at the hostel after a day of travelling, you are probably exhausted and want to go out somewhere locally for a few beers and a great meal for a reasonable price. This is only relevant if you stay at Sir Toby’s hostel or Plus Prague which is also nearby. However, the food here is very satisfying, a mix of local and Czech cuisine, the beer is great (as always in Prague) and the prices are very fair.
Pivovarsky Klub – This is an unmissable drinking establishment which has a huge collection of beers from around the world and several great Czech beers on tap. They also do some good food, though it is quite expensive. Amongst the interesting options they have on the menu, is kangaroo steak, which seems to be easier to get than lamb in Prague.
Literární Kavárna – This is a great student place right in the centre of town, just a short walk off the clock tower square yet somehow miles away from the mass tourism and loutish stag parties that tend to frequent the area. Located on Týnská street, this place has a nondescript entrance leading into a series of street level rooms with vaulted ceilings and a great courtyard. This place is ideal for drinking and they have a few snacks available too. Very sociable, it is also a good place to meet local people. There is a choice of very good value beer and wine on the menu, though I personally prefer to drink wine here, which is a bargain even for Prague.
Restaurace Zvonařka – Located in Vinohrady on Šafaříkova 1, this place might look posh, but it is actually very good value. With a huge terrace with amazing views and a very enticing menu, it is well worth a visit. You can walk there from IP Pavlova metro station in about fifteen minutes. Though it is a bit out of the way, the general area is very pleasant and well worth a walk around.
Letná Beer Gardens – This is a good place to spend a hot summer afternoon, an enormous terrace full of beer stalls and long tables overlooking the city in all its splendour. It is very cheap and not difficult to get to.
Fast Food – Prague is full of hotdog stands and other fast food, ideal if you are hungry after a night out drinking and clubbing. Prices are very low, but make sure that you get the change as the industry is full of people who will try to take a tip of a few hundred percent at any chance they get.
This is where Prague can get complicated. While famous for its extremely diverse and vibrant nightlife, Prague is also dodgy in the extreme and unless you go to the right places, you can end up spending far too much money and having little or nothing to show for it. Keep in mind that Prague is a Mecca for stag parties, and if you are a backpacker like me, you probably want to avoid this. This means going to certain places, places which are popular amongst locals too. There are plenty of them, but it is imperative that you know what you are doing.
When in Prague, do as the Czechs do – do NOT take any notice of the creeps who constantly hassle you when you are in the centre at night. These people will promise you free drinks and end up taking you to a strip joint, emptying your wallet and probably beating you to a pulp if you don’t pay them. I am absolutely serious about this, but if you completely ignore them, they will eventually give up and you will have no problems. The streets of Prague are generally safe at night, and the area is well policed, but just be aware that people will try to hassle you. Avoid them. The worst areas are the Clock Tower square and Wenceslas square.
Popo Cafe Petl – This is a great student place which actually owns a few bars in town. However, the best place to go for a bit of a dance and some good, cheap drinks is on Újezd 19, right in the middle of a town. A fun spot, they do fantastic cocktails at great prices and play some wonderfully cheesy music. It’s a fun and easygoing place popular amongst local students. Don’t go there if you are in a large group however, since it is quite small. Don’t be put off by the clown on the street outside the entrance – he’s nothing to do with this establishment.
Lucerna Music Club – Oh, what a joy this place is. Like nothing I have seen before elsewhere, this place is truly amazing and unique in a number of ways. They also own a similar joint in Smichov. It only costs about £3.30 to get in, and is only open on the weekends, but this place is a lot of fun. It has several bars and plays the most shocking eighties and nineties cheese fest imaginable, all with the music videos playing on a cinema-sized screen which is actually in sync with the music! I remember getting extremely excited one night there when they played Ozone, Dragostea din Tei followed by Aqua, Barbie Girl. Good times. Just be aware that the drinks are not very cheap – it is best to have a few beforehand and stick to Frisco (a beer like the Mexican corona) which is a reasonable price there.
Karlovy Lázně – This place is horrendous. Full of stag parties, extremely crowded and not a great deal of locals, but if it’s a Saturday night and you are already well tanked up, this place can be a lot of fun. It’s quite expensive, but its an enormous and memorable place with five floors each playing different types of music. It even has its own Wikipedia entry. Worth a try just for a laugh, but be warned, it’s hardly typical Czech.
Things to do in Prague
I’m not really sure where to start here, since Prague is a large and bustling metropolis with countless attractions. I would recommend a minimum of four days in the city, allocating at least one day for a daytrip. You can simply walk around the city for many hours, exploring beautiful alleyways and quaint old fashioned suburbs. While any visit to Prague would not be complete without a visit to the main drag such as the Clock Tower Square, there is much more to this fine city than that.
The national museum, a particularly grand building at the end of Wenceslas square is worth a visit. You should also have a wonder around Náměstí Míru and the surrounding area of Vinohrady, a very pleasant residential suburb. Žižkov is the centre for bars, restaurants and various forms of entertainment and it’s also a pleasant place to wander.
The Charles bridge is also worth a look, but go there very early in the morning if you can, since it has a wonderful charm to it at that time of day and is not teaming with swarms of coach parties and tours. Up from the bridge is the way to the castle but be prepared to climb a lot of steps. The castle and cathedral complex is unmissable and if you have the energy, it’s worth climbing to the top of the tower of St. Vitus Cathedral a few hundred steps and getting some amazing views of the city.
Prague is full of magnificent buildings, churches and museums and it is simply impossible to get bored there. If you occasionally like to do something completely cretinous (as I do), then have a word with one of the clowns in the centre waving around storm lanterns and wearing great big trench coats. These guys will take you on the ghost tour, something that is rather popular for tourists.
If you want to participate in a slightly more cultured event, then Prague also has an abundance of concerts, ballets and theatre productions on offer at any time of year.
If you are going to Prague, you should allow at least one day for daytrips. The best daytrip in my opinion is Kutná Hora, about an hour by bus out of the city. This delightful medieval town is famous for its magnificent cathedral and quaint old fashioned town square. Also, be sure to visit the Sedlec ossuary, a church decorated with the bones of tens of thousands of victims of the Black Death. Unique indeed, but well worth a look even if you have to get a bus out of town a bit.
Another pleasant daytrip is to Karlštein castle, a magnificent fairy-tale castle about half an hour out of town. There are many more, but this is one of the more impressive.
When in Czech Republic, there are many other towns you should consider adding to your itinerary too. Český Krumlov is my favourite and I will be adding a guide about it too in the near future.