This beautiful city has managed to weather the destruction and devastation of the 20th Century’s brutalities better than almost any other Central or Eastern European centre, and has kept its rich tapestry of beautiful buildings intact and on enchanting display.
The city centre of Prague is a UNESCO world heritage site. Throughout its history Prague has twice been the capital city of the Holy Roman Empire. It has been the capital for the Kingdom of Bohemia and later Czechoslovakia; as well as a major centre in the Hapsburg and Austro-Hungarian Empires. Today, Prague is the capital of the Czech Republic. Because of this long history of being a pre-eminent city in Central Europe, Prague has spectacular examples of each epoch’s architecture. These historical buildings are accompanied by a cultural vibrancy and sense of emerging prosperity that makes Prague a delight to visit.
The Christmas Carol, Good King Wenceslas, honours the patron Saint of the Czech state, Wenceslas I: Wenceslas the Good. Wenceslas Square is one of the main squares in Prague; affectionately known as the City of a Hundred Spires. Near Wenceslas Square is the Old Town region. This is made up of a magnificent heritage square surrounded by narrow streets and lanes with surprises at each and every turn. This is a delightful place to discover authentic Prague.
Discover Prague's spectacular buildings
Despite being home to the world’s oldest working astronomical clock, inner city Old Town Prague lets you lose track of time. Looking at the heritage buildings and structures of Prague makes you feel like a kid at the beach looking at seashells. One beautiful historic building that you think is so pleasing to the eye and quirky that it transfixes your gaze, is overtaken immediately by another one, even more distinctive.
When you return at night to an area of Prague that you visited by day, you will find it hard to believe that it is the same place when viewed under lights. This is particularly true of the Charles Bridge, which has spanned the picturesque Vltana River for over 500 years, and the Jewish Quarter.
Across the Charles Bridge (spanning 620 m) from the Old Centre is the Mala Strana district. This is home to Prague Castle and St Vitus Cathedral. As you cross Charles Bridge, you can stop off on the little island of Kampa. Prague Castle has a changing of the guard ceremony with fanfare and banner exchange at 12 noon, daily.
Prague – Culture and the arts
Prague has ten major museums and galleries. Merely being out and about in the city puts you in touch with so much history and heritage. The Charles Bridge alone has 30 statues and the city has some very modern sculptures including local artist David Cerny’s works, which like all great art are provocative.
The music scene in Prague is exceptional. The list of classical composers that this city provided number in the hundreds and includes Dvorak, Smetana and Janacek. The Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and their home venue the Ruldofium are nothing short of brilliant. (Note: in Prague, you are expected to dress formally when going to a classical musical concert). The city also has a bubbling live music scene with pop, jazz and rock music catering to every taste.
As Franz Kafka’s home town and with one of the few countries in modern times to have been led by a writer and poet, Vaclav Havel, the city has always engaged in political and intellectual pursuits. Having been on the Soviet side of the Iron Curtain, Prague has a history of dissent and also of escapism through absurdity.
Dining & Shopping
Have a beer or two! The Czechs have great beer. While most of the beers are pilsners, the variety of beer is exceptional, particularly the dark lagers often favoured by Czech female beer drinkers. Prague was an early adopter of Absinthe and has recently re-established a wider presence for this most bohemian of cocktails.
The city loves coffee too.
It has long shaken off the bland cooking that stifled creativity under the communists. Pubs serve beef dishes of Prague-style goulash or the cream sauce alternative, Svickova, which accompanied by a beer is close to being the Czech national dish.
You can purchase the Prague Foodie Map http://www.tasteofprague.com/prague-foodie-map/ which is compiled by local food tour operators, ‘Taste of Prague’. This small independently produced guide is widely praised for its passion and enthusiasm for Prague cuisine and it provides a depth of information that is truly satisfying.
Czechs have their own currency still, the Koruna (CZK). It is one of the more favourable currencies to exchange for Australian Dollars. This makes shopping in Prague for goods and services produced in the Czech Republic very good value. Prague hosts the Mercedes-Benz fashion week and has a strong design culture that continues to emerge.
Prague public transport is safe and reliable; a mix of trams, buses and rail. Tickets, passes and travel planning information is located at http://www.dpp.cz/en/
Prague's historic districts are within pedestrian zones including Prague Castle and Old Town Square which are connected by Charles Bridge; these areas can only be explored by walking. This, combined with heavy traffic, limited car parking options, trams, Czech signage and zero tolerance for driving after alcohol consumption means you might be better off reserving your hire car usage for travel to the outer areas of Prague and on the highway.
Walking around Prague can become tiring. The city has a patchy record for taxis which can be very reasonably priced but take care to find a reputable supplier. The city has taken steps to improve taxi quality and fairness in tourist pricing.
River Cruises make the most of the Vltana River which runs through the heart of Prague. In summer, you can hire a paddle boat and take yourself up the river.
Two great websites for detailed itinerary planning are www.tripadvisor.com.au and www.Prague.eu, the official city tourism website.
Prague is regarded as a safe destination. It is still worth checking on www.smartraveller.gov.au for the latest up-dates.
Tipping is expected and 10% is the standard tip. In Prague, the tip is in addition to taxes so take the bottom line amount on your bill then add 10%. Also, tips aren’t left on the table, they are added to the bill’s total. Simply tell the person processing your bill to add a 10% tip for service.
Petty crime and pickpockets are known to sometimes operate in the tourism hotspots of the Old City, so take precautions and remain vigilant over the security of your wallet, purse and valuables.