Today’s featured summer travel destination has undergone a massive transformation in recent decades. Once regarded as an isolated capital on the red side of the Iron Curtain, it is now the sixth most visited European city behind London, Paris, Rome, Madrid and Berlin. Having escaped the destructive aerial bombing campaigns of World War II, it is also one of the most immaculately preserved European cities.
We’re talking of course about Prague (Praha), the capital of the Czech Republic.
The former preserve of shoestringing backpackers in search of cheap lodging and copious amounts of beer, Prague has undergone a miraculous transformation from an industrial center to a full-fledged service economy. The city is now home to most major global travel brands, in addition to the first ever Michelin-starred restaurant in post-Communist Europe (Allegro).
For architecture fans, Prague is akin to a living museum. The medieval city center, home to one of the largest castles in the world, is nothing less than picture perfect at every angle. On that note, take a quick look at some of the gallery images below, and then keep reading to learn more about one of our favorite cities in Europe.
%Gallery-123977%Local legends dictate that Prague was founded in the 8th century, though it was the 14th century golden age that graced the city with its finest constructions. Under the reign of Charles IV (1316-1378), Prague was rebuilt and expanded as the capital city of the Holy Roman Empire. New Town, the Charles Bridge and the gothic Saint Vitus Cathedral all date from this gilded era.
We fully acknowledge the importance of a well-crafted itinerary. But there is also joy in wandering aimlessly while soaking up the surrounding ambiance. And that is indeed what you should do here. With nary a modern building in sight, central Prague’s cobblestone streets wind past whimsical Baroque facades awash in muted pastels. Add to the mix soaring arches, sweeping bridges, café-lined plazas and gaggles of street musicians to help set the tempo.
You do however still owe it to yourself to check off the major tourist drawcards. The classic route takes you from New Town across the Charles Bridge to Old Town en route to Prague Castle. Along the way, stop for a cappuccino in the Old Town Square, and linger long enough to view the astronomical clock in action. First activated in 1410, the world’s oldest running clock springs to life every hour. Figurines of the Apostles present themselves to crowds below while a skeleton representing Death solemnly strikes the time.
For a bit of culture, we’re big fans of the Mucha Museum, which celebrates the life and work of Art Nouveau painter Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939). Even if you don’t know his name off the top of your head, much of Mucha’s earlier work is widely recognizable. While living in Paris, Mucha produced distinctive advertisements, postcards and theater playbills depicting beautiful young women in classical robes surrounded by flowers. His later works were more nationalistic in sentiment, and focused on the history and culture of the Czech people.
In the post-Soviet era, consumption is the main driver of the Czech economy. For the casual tourist, this means row upon row of kitschy souvenir shop selling everything from imitation Red Army paraphernalia to carved crystal knick-knacks. If you’re looking for a bit more quality in your purchases, seek out the city’s renowned ceramic wares, or peruse antique shops for rare books and out-of-print stamps. Prague is also regarded as a high-end shopping destination, which means that global luxury brands are everywhere.
If you have a bit of youthful blood coursing through your veins, be sure to explore Prague after the sun goes down. Early evening is best spent building up your energy reserves with a hearty meal and a few calorie-rich pints. But the real fun begins in the twilight hours. The city still plays host to a few industrial techno clubs that occupy converted factories in the outskirts. Of course, as with the rest of Prague, the nightlife scene is all grown up. Closer to the city center, you’ll find upscale beer gardens, chic cocktail bars, live music venues and even hookah lounges.
How to get there Direct flights on Delta and Czech Airlines connect New York City to Prague. Prague is also connected by direct flights to most major European capitals. As such, a quick stop in Prague is fairly easy to combine with longer trips to the continent. Overland trips to Prague by euro rail and inter-city buses are also feasible.
Where to stay Summer vacation on the continent attracts hordes of travelers to Prague. In order to secure accommodation, book well in advance of your travel date, particularly if you plan to visit on a weekend or any time during August. Room choice is varied, but we’re partial to the city’s excellent selection of artsy boutique hotels and apartment-style residences. Note that prices have skyrocketed since the adoption of the euro, but on the whole Prague remains cheaper than many other European capitals.
What to eat Long gone are the days of nameless sausages and boiled cabbage washed down with ten cent pints of lager. Prague is undergoing a foodie revolution, and ravenously consuming the international cuisine it was denied for so long. With that said, Traditional Czech delicacies do remain, such as potato dumplings, fried cheeses, beef goulash and roast pork with sauerkraut. Czech beer is as good as ever, even though you should expect to fork over a few euros a pint. Pilsner Urquell and Budvar (the original Budweiser) are typically on the menu alongside local microbrews.
Need more inspiration? Check out the gallery of pictures below.
[All photos and gallery images are the author’s own original work.]