After all the traveling that Michael had been doing (I think he was home a total of like, 4 days in the last month), we took a very relaxed approach to our trip to Prague. We didn’t go into the trip with any sort of agenda – we ate and drank, we slept in, and we didn’t pressure ourselves to see a lot of “sights.” We didn’t go to any museums (shocker!), we took a very different approach to our boat tour, and we didn’t even climb any towers! (that one actually is surprising). We took each day as it came, walking along the river, enjoying rooftop drinks, and seeing only the things we wanted to see. And you know what? We had a BLAST!
Prague is such a cool town where you can just hang out. It’s very clean, with tons of parks and green space, and made up of colorful buildings in a mishmash of architectural styles. I loved the blend of old and new, which in my opinion, gives the city a bit of a Scandinavian feel. Outside of the tourist areas, we found the people to be very friendly (in the tourist areas, not so much) and we felt very safe. Although the city is not as cheap as it once was, it’s still very affordable and much less expensive some of the other European destinations we’ve been to. Cough, cough, Copenhagen, cough.
Do stay on the west side of the Vltava River. We actually didn’t stay on this side, we stayed in the southeast side of town on hotel points at the Sheraton Charles Square. I don’t really have any complaints about the Sheraton or its location (it was quite nice to be next to a park and away from the touristy center of Old Town) but I just really liked the vibe of the western side of the river in the southern part of the area known as Malá Strana (Lesser Town). While it’s just a quick walk over the Charles Bridge to the main attractions, it’s far enough away from all the gimmicky, touristy hubbub of Old Town that you gain a more authentic experience of the city. Lesser Town is much more chill, but with lots of restaurants, bars and shops. There’s also lots of green space, mostly from Petrin Park which offers great views of the city. I saw quite a few hotels in Lesser Town and I would look into staying over here for our next trip.
Do spend an afternoon strolling Staré Město (Old Town) and Josefov (the Jewish Quarter). This area is the capital of Tourist Central, but you have to at least walk around like we did and check it out. In Old Town, you can visit the Astronomical Clock, climb the Town Hall Tower, and marvel at the beautiful churches, buildings, and winding cobblestone streets. Today, the Jewish Quarter is home to some high end shopping as well as Franz Kafka’s house, the Old Jewish Cemetery, and several synagogues, including the Maisel Synagogue, which today serves as the Jewish Museum.
During our visit, the Old Town Square was filled with an Easter market, which reminded me so much of the Marché de Noël in Annecy! It was full of the typical trinkets: wooden toys, knickknacks and souvenirs, plus the traditional hand painted Easter eggs, crocheted doilies, and delicious food. We came through here several times on our trip to eat some sausages, browse around, and enjoy some Pilsners while people watching.
Do take an evening dinner cruise on the Jazzboat. One of our friends recommended this to us and we thought, why not? We love jazz, it would be fun to see the city at night, and I don’t need to tell you how much we love boats. It was a fun and welcome change from a typical boat tour.
The boat was small and cozy, but comfortable with lots of room in the main cabin and an upstairs outside area where you can sit in the summertime. We departed for our 2.5 hour cruise at 8:30pm. We were greeted with shooters of Hot, Spiced Wine (yes!!) and shown to our table at the front of the boat. We requested two window seats and I’m glad we did, because we had a great view of both the band and the river. We just so happened to take our cruise on a Monday night, which was perfect for us because it was “Jazz and Blues” night (as opposed to some of the other nights which offer Old Jazz, Standards & Latin, and Original Arrangement). The band, Adam Tvrdý Crossover, was fantastic and played covers of Beatles songs and jazz favorites by Brother Jack McDuff. And of course, people watching was great entertainment. There was a wide mix of guests ranging from a group of very loud 60-somethings getting wasted to a young, potentially jetlagged couple who ate two bowls of ice cream and then slept through most of the cruise.
We were a little skeptical about the 3-course dinner. We figured the food on the cruise would be really crappy and we had better bring some snacks just in case. I have to tell you, we were pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t a 5-star dining experience, but it was pretty good. Think of it as really good wedding food and you won’t be disappointed. I had a Caprese Salad, Roasted Chicken with Scalloped Potatoes and Fruit Sorbet. Michael had a Ham and Cheese Croquant, Pork and Cabbage with Potato Dumplings, and an Apple Pie. Not too shabby.
After spending a few days in Prague, it was really neat to see the sights at night, all lit up and sparkling on the water. Because the boat was constantly moving, it was difficult to capture decent pictures, but we had a lovely evening taking in the view, listening to great music, and enjoying the full bar.
Do rent your own Paddleboat. Alternative Boat Tour Part II! As soon as I learned that you could rent your own Paddleboat (or rowboat, or kayak, or motorboat) to cruise the Vltava River, I knew we had to do it, regardless of the weather. And man, did we have some crazy weather – in a single day, it snowed, stormed, and was sunny! Luckily the weather perked up towards the last few days of our trip and we were able to get a great afternoon for our own personal, private boat tour.
If you go down to the island Slovanský Ostrov, just south of the bridge called Most Legií, there are several different places you can go to rent boats. We went down to the first one on the right (with a little bar connected to it!), paid our 200 CZK (about $10) and were off for the next hour! We had a great time pedaling around and taking in the spectacular views. There is a very specific and well marked area you need to stay in with the Paddleboats to stay safe. Basically you can go around the island Střelecký Ostrov (but you can’t dock there) and to the bridge called Jiráskův Most. I thought my legs might get tired from pedaling, but it was super easy! We would pedal to a location, hang out for awhile, and pedal to the next one. It was great! I was so happy that we got to spend so much time of our trip on a boat, and it was really fun to do different kinds of “boat tours” in Prague.
The next day, we even saw a group of Paddleboats enjoying some live music – that’s on our list for next time! Take a look at this website that lists many places throughout Prague where you can rent boats.
Do visit the Prague Castle. This place is huge!! I mean, it is the largest ancient castle in the world. Dating back to the 9th century, the Prague Castle housed Kings, Holy Roman Emperors, and Czech Presidents. Inside the castle walls are 4 churches, several palaces, galleries and museums, courtyards and the Royal Crypt. All of these buildings represent countless architectural styles and it we loved seeing the juxtaposition of forms and genres. We made a bit of a mistake by showing up late in the day, which ended up being good and bad. Everything was basically closed, but it was relatively empty which was nice. We didn’t plan on visiting any of the museums anyway, so it wasn’t a total loss, but I would have liked to go inside the St. Vitus Cathedral to see the interior and climb to the top of the tower. If you want to get a full Prague Castle experience, I’d recommend setting aside an entire afternoon to fully explore the space.
We spent some time walking around while taking in the awesome views, we watched the changing of the guard, and wandered through Golden lane, the ancient street on the north side of the Castle. We exited through Letná Park on the northeast side of the Castle, which was a lovely way to see something new on our way back into the main part of town.
Do cross the Charles Bridge at night. A lot of the guidebooks recommend visiting the Charles Bridge very early in the morning or at dusk to avoid the throngs of tourists. Obviously we are not morning people, so we opted to cross the bridge in the evening and I just loved the way all the lights came up in the city and created a beautiful reflection on the water. At dusk, the 32 statues that line the bridge seem almost illuminated. There will still be quite a few people on the bridge at any time of day of course, but most of the vendors are gone in the evening giving you a little bit more room and eliminating a lot of the hassle.
Do have your drinks with a view. With so many bridge-side cafes there are plenty of places to go and grab a drink while taking in the city’s gorgeous panorama. And if you look closely, you can find some rooftop sites too. I’ll talk about these in the Eats/Drinks section of the post, but I highly recommend the rooftop bar at Hotel U Prince (stunning views), Hergetova Cihelna (right next to the Franz Kafka Museum) and Kampa Park (if it’s good enough for Johnny Depp, it’s good enough for me). And if cafes aren’t your scene, just buy a bottle of wine and take down to the benches by along the Vltava River. You won’t be sorry.
Do look for shows. I just had to throw this one in there because, as total concert junkies, we couldn’t help but notice that some pretty great bands are going to be playing in Prague over the next few months! One show in particular that we were really bummed to miss out on is Medeski Martin & Wood, who is playing this coming Monday. We also saw that Animal Collective will be playing in May, Eagles of Death Metal in June, and this pretty awesome looking festival in July.
Don’t visit the Old Jewish Cemetery. Unless you also plan on visiting the Jewish Museum, Robert Guttman Gallery and nearby Synagogues because, tickets to the cemetery are only sold as part of an expensive package and not separately. Let me be clear, I was really excited about visiting the cemetery because of its historical and spiritual significance, but I just couldn’t justify spending $30+ for the two of us walk around the small space with hundreds of other tourists for all of 15 minutes. Instead, we walked around the outside, peeked in the windows and read about the cemetery from our guide book. I was pretty disappointed not to fully experience the cemetery, but I think we found a decent alternative. If you feel that 300CZK/person is a fair price, or plan to make the other sites in the package a part of your trip, then I definitely do recommend visiting the cemetery. It’s small but very beautiful and moving. An estimated 100,000 people are buried here, with gravestones dating back to the 1400s.
Don’t worry about seeing the Astronomical Clock. Part of the Old Town City Hall, the medieval Astronomical Clock was constructed in the 1400s and is a well known landmark in Prague. I have to laugh about this because before we came to Prague, I told Michael that I thought it would be fun to see the “performance” when the clock struck the hour. On the first day, we just so happened to be at the clock about 5 minutes before 8pm, so we decided to wait and see what would happen. Here’s what happened: not much. Two little windows above the face of the clock open up and the 12 Apostles are rotated through the opening. Four figures on the sides of the clock, representing the evils of vanity, greed, death, and corruption wiggle about. Finally, a real live person at the top of the tower plays a little trumpet, which was the most exciting part of the performance. If you blink, you’ll miss the whole thing. The funny part is that somehow, every single time we walked by that clock during the next few days, it was a few minutes to the hour. We really could have seen the performance like 15 more times, so my point is, it probably isn’t necessary to make a special trip. And if you miss it altogether, you’re not missing much.
Don’t make a special trip to the Lennon Wall. Named after John Lennon, the wall is across from the French Embassy in Lesser Town and used to be a site of written political messages, grievances, and Beatles lyrics supporting democracy, freedom, and counterculture during the Communist regime of the 1980s. Although the wall would frequently be re-painted by the government, people continued visit and re-paint their messages. Today the wall is more of a space for graffiti than political messages, and while I found it kind of interesting (since I do love me some street art), Michael was not impressed and frankly, I wasn’t really either. It’s a cool thing to check out if you’re nearby, but I wouldn’t include it in your absolute must-sees for Prague.
Don’t forget to specify your smoking preferences. Is Prague the only place left in the world where you can still smoke inside restaurants and bars? I’m kidding, obviously, but is it? I was really surprised to find that in such a clean and beautiful city, you could still be forced to enjoy your meal with a cigarette in your face. We found it very helpful to always have a dinner reservation and to specify that we wanted to sit in non-smoking. Fair warning: just like the days of yore, the smoke still lingers even in the non-smoking section and this option usually does not exist in bars. Drink with caution.
I have to admit, for whatever reason, I had pretty low expectations about the food in Prague. I think I was still coming off my general disappointment in the restaurants of Amsterdam, so I told Michael that we should probably go into this trip planning to eat a lot of street food since I wasn’t sure about the restaurant options. Boy was I wrong! And I couldn’t be happier about that! I was very pleasantly surprised by all the lovely meals we had in Prague. I think we had a nice mix of local, traditional Czech food and international cuisine. I highly recommend each and every one of these places and, if you can, always make a reservation for dinner.
I found there to be a nice mix of beer, obviously, but also cocktails at the local cafes. Plus, I had the best hot chocolate of my life. There’s something for everyone!
Even though the restaurants in Prague turned out to be top notch, we still had to indulge in some street snacks at the Easter markets! Of course we had some sausages, but we also frequented the booths with numerous “dumpling” options, which were more like potato salad or spaetzle.
My favorite was the Potato Dumplings with Smoked Pork and Sauerkraut. Yum, yum!
We also loved the Fried Cheese Sandwich (literally a brick of cheese, deep fried and placed atop bread) and Trdelnik. Trdelnik is a rolled pastry cooked on a rotating spindle, that is coated in vanilla, toffee, cinnamon and sugar.
We found one booth that put Nutella inside theirs, so obviously that’s the one we went with.
I found out about this place on a Chowhound thread and it was amazing! It’s a large pub/beer hall that serves some mouth-watering traditional Czech food made with fresh and local ingredients. Servers walk around with trays full of beer and you just grab as many as you want. We started our meal off with some Prague Ham, served with rye bread and creamy horseradish sauce that was somehow light and airy. We moved on to the Pork Schnitzel with Potato Salad for me, and Pork Neck with Onion Gravy and Potato Dumplings for Hub. My schnitzel was perfectly fried, not greasy at all, and the potato salad was out of this world! I’m not sure what all was in it, but it tasted like onion, carrot, pickles, potatoes, egg and a bit of mayo. Michael’s pork was also fantastic, although I found the traditional Czech Potato Dumplings to be way too dense and heavy for my taste. I couldn’t even finish one!
My friend Bob recommended this place because it has a huge outdoor terrace where you can drink their home-brewed beer in the sun. We went for a drink after riding our Paddleboat (it’s very close to the island) and were sad to learn that the terrace isn’t open yet. (Maybe in May?) We decided to have a drink inside instead, and that’s when we saw all the amazing plates of hearty food being served. Since we’d already eaten lunch and it wasn’t time for dinner, we decided to share a Potato Soup and listen to the live accordian music.
Oh my gosh, this soup was incredible. When you think of Potato Soup, usually you think of something creamy and heavy, but not here. This soup was light and brothy yet rich and delicious. We knew we had to try more, so we decided to go back on our last day in town for a traditional Czech lunch before heading off to the airport. I’m so glad we came back for a real meal because at that point, I could have cared less about the terrace being closed. For me, U Fleků is about the food! After Michael did the obligatory shot of Becherovka (the staff is insistent about this!) we ordered the following:
For me, Pork Sausage with Boiled Potatoes and Sauerkraut
For Hub, Goulash with Bread Dumplings and Speck Dumplings. I realized that I like Bread Dumplings much more than Potato Dumplings. The Bread Dumplings were light and spongy, soaking up all the awesome sauce in the Goulash.
Hot Apple Pie!
Many of you know about our long-standing tradition of having a big Indian dinner on Easter. Last year, Easter Sunday happened to coincide with our first weekend in Montpellier, so this was the second year in a row that I was faced with finding a fabulous Indian restaurant in a new town. I’m proud to say, I’m 2 for 2 because Dilli Dehli was perfect! It’s set pretty far outside the tourist areas, in a more residential part of town which meant we had the place virtually to ourselves. Our server was so nice and attentive and the food was delicious! We almost wanted to veer off course and order something different, but we decided to stick with our usual favorites: Samosas, Chicken Korma and Lamb Vindaloo. This ended up being a great choice because the way the dishes were prepared resulted in slightly different flavors than we were used to: the Korma was a little sweeter and the Vindaloo, while still spicy, had a stronger taste of cinnamon and cloves than we’ve had in the past.
We really loved the food and the whole experience. The location is kind of out of the way for most travelers, but if you find yourself in Prague, desperate for Indian food, this is an excellent choice!
In a part of Lesser Town that feels very local, Noi is a chic lounge and restaurant serving up some tasty Thai food. I was really craving some Thai, so we came for lunch one afternoon, and while it wasn’t the best Thai meal of my life, the food was pretty darn good. The interior of the restaurant is really beautiful and they were serving homemade Lime-Mint Iced Tea that was incredible. We ordered a Yam Neur Yang (spicy beef salad), Kang Khew Wan Neur (beef in green curry) and Phad Thai Kai (chicken Pad Thai), which was the standout dish.
We passed Cantina on our way to Noi and once I peeked in and saw real Mexican food (something that is not available in Montpellier) I demanded we go for dinner. Was it perfectly authentic Mexican food? No, but it was damn close! We went all out from the Strawberry Margarita, to the chips with guacamole, to the enchiladas. Michael got a chipotle pork dish, which he declared The Spiciest Meal He’s Ever Had in Europe. I’d say the evening was a success.
To continue the theme of eating foods we just can’t get in France, we went to this top-notch breakfast joint virtually every morning. Very popular with the younger (I’m assuming student) crowd, there are a few locations of Bohemia Bagel throughout the city. We went to the one by the Old Town Square and satisfied our need for a good old fashioned American style bagel sandwich with eggs, bacon, tomato, and cheese. The bagels were great, the eggs were freshly made and real, and they were served nice and toasty. I miss them already.
Mama Coffee Café
I just loved this 2-story, hipster coffee shop right by our hotel and on the way into town. In France where most places use the little pod machines, I sometimes forget what real coffee tastes like. Mama’s Coffee uses fair trade beans and lovingly prepares each cup. They raised an eyebrow when I recited my somewhat annoyingly complicated latte order, but they made it anyway and it was fantastic. You can also buy yummy looking pastries, sandwiches or quiches to enjoy. Upstairs is a large bar serving wine, beer, and cocktails and with plenty of space to hang out with friends and relax. The best part? It’s a non-smoking café!
Café U Cerného Beránka
This is it. The place where I had the best hot chocolate ever. Of course they serve other things like coffee, beer, and crepes, but really. Just come for the hot chocolate – it’s that good! Just over the Charles Bridge, it’s a great place to get a caffeine boost in Lesser Town.
Hotel U Prince
At the tippy top of this Old Town Square hotel is a rooftop terrace where you can enjoy a very large array of beer, wine or cocktails. They also serve food, but seeing as it’s smack in the middle of tourist central, we only came for drinks. The sun had finally made an appearance in Prague and we wanted to make the most of it, even though it was cold. Not to worry, we were kept warm with blankets and heat lamps. I can only imagine how packed this place gets in the summer!
You’ll find this cafe/restaurant right next to the Franz Kafka Museum, at the northwestern base of the Charles Bridge. We spent an hour or so here basking in the sun, enjoying some drinks, and listening to the violin music wafting from a performer on the bridge.
Tretter’s New York Bar
We met a lovely couple at Lokal our first night, and the four of us decided to pop over to Tretter’s. Our new friends had been earlier in the week and said that, although it was a strange scene, they had great cocktails. The vibe was much different this Saturday night, more lively and convivial, and the four of us browsed through the very long, somewhat overwhelming drink menu before settling on some interesting choices. This place got really crowded (and very smoky) towards the end of the evening, so I would suggest going early unless you reserve a table in advance.