Alright, kids! This has been a long time coming! People who are visiting Prague keep asking me, “I have a weekend, what should I see? Where should I eat? How do I get around?” And I’m going to answer all those questions! I think I’ll do a Q&A to prepare people for visiting Prague, then I’ll outline an itinerary for a 2 day trip to beautiful Praha, my hope these past 2 and a half months.
Version 1: 11/14/12. I’ll add in here when more questions/pictures are added.
QUESTIONS, ANSWERS, AND A LONG RANT ABOUT TRAMS
Q: Do I need to speak Czech? Russian?
A: No way José. Or, uh, Jozef. English is the official second language here and to be honest, some people (particularly people under 30, due to fall of communism reasons) speak better English than some Americans. Pick up the words for Hello, Goodbye, Thank You, and Do You Speak English, and you’re golden. (Dobrý den, na shledanou, děkuji, mluvíte anglicky?) Remember that ‘j’s are pronounced as ‘y’s. If you ask someone where “OO-jesd” (Ujezd) is, you’ll be laughed at or just not understood. “OO-yesd.” And děkuji is “day-quee”. Don’t question it. Accept that you’ll make mistakes. Laugh at yourself. It’s okay. If someone doesn’t understand you, try someone else.
Q: Is the city easy to navigate?
A: In some ways, yes, in some ways, VERY no. If you’re looking for New York style perpendicular streets with names that make sense and go in order like ‘1, 2, 3, 4,’ you’ll be frustrated. If you’re good at public transport, you’ll find your way easily enough. Metro and trams can take you almost everywhere. Sometimes there are little brown signs pointing towards major tourist destinations. Some streets go less than 100 meters before ending in a three-way-intersection where you can’t see any other street names. Embrace it. Bring a map. A compass wouldn’t hurt either but it marks you as an obvious tourist. You’re probably an obvious tourist anyways.
Q: I don’t know what a public transportation is. Tell me how to use a ‘tram.’
A: That’s not a question. Okay. Prague has Metro (subway), Trams (run along tracks on the streets, attached to cables above them), and busses (if you don’t know what those are I can’t help you.) If you like walking, you can get most everywhere on Metro and then by foot, but trams will get you a bit closer in most cases. I suggest the closest tram/metro in my Itinerary below.
Tickets: There are three metro lines and you can transfer between them on the same ticket. Regarding tickets, a 24-hour pass (110 kc, about $5.50) might be your best bet, or you can try and buy half-hour (24kc, $1.25) or 90 minute (32kc, $1.50) tickets for each ride. They’re good for metro, trams and busses, but you must validate them (stick them in the little yellow boxes on trams/busses or before going down the escalator in a metro) otherwise you could get stuck with a pretty hefty fine. (When someone stops you going into/out of the Metro or on the tram and shows you a small red badge, he’s looking for your validated ticket. Sometimes they’re semi-undercover but they’ll always show the badge.) You can buy tickets at “Relay” convenience stores and at little automated ticket machines (that speak English!) at most major tram stops and all metro stops. For the machines you will need coins so go buy a soda or something and get change. You can use them for multiple trips as long as they’re still valid.
Navigation: As far as getting from point a to point b, dpp.cz, the department of transportation, has a super-handy trip planner tool. (I’ve linked you to the English version of the site, because I’m nice like that.) Most of the trams run from 5am till about midnight, then night trams take over. The night trams are the lines numbered in the 50s, so don’t stand around at high noon waiting for a number 57 tram. At any tram stop you can see which trams go there and a list of where they are going. If the stop you are trying to get to is before the stop you’re at, like you’re going from Jana Maseryka to Namesti Miru but the list says Namesti Miru then Jana Maseryka, you’re on the wrong side of the street and that tram will take you in the wrong direction. Got it? Good.
Q: Is the beer really cheaper than water?
A: Yes. Don’t expect water to be free with your meal and don’t expect drinks to be served with ice. It’s Europe. Central Europe. (Do not call it ‘eastern.’) Things are different here.
Q: Does the beer-cheaper-than-water thing mean everyone’s an alcoholic?
A: No. Pivo (beer) is a part of life here. Those who want to go out and party and get drunk, drink hard liquor just like in the United States. Those who want to chill at a pub and talk to their friends and smoke a cigarette and watch people on the street, drink beer. In those giant glass steins. Na Zdravi! (cheers. Pronounced pretty similarly to ‘nice driving’)
Q: What are the must-have dishes to try? (-CK)
A: Czech cuisine is pretty heavily meat-and-potatoes based. Goulash is a soup here, but I’ve heard good things. Knedlicky are very bland dough dumplings, do not expect them to be stuffed like Chinese dumplings, but they are excellent at soaking up sauces and juices. You’ll find duck and goose here, too. The popular meat-substitute is Smazeny Syr, fried Edam cheese. There are also soups like Cesnacka and Cibulacka. If you leave Prague without trying at least one basic beef-and-dumplings dish (okay and probably some pivo to wash it down) you are missing out. Sausage is klobasa (as opposed to Polish kielbasa) and cookies are koláčiky (as opposed to Polish kolaczki.) Can you tell I grew up with some Polish food?
Q: What kind of subcultures thrive in Prague? (-RMJ)
A: Graffiti is HUGE here. Starting at the Lennon Wall when still under Communist occupation, the Prague graffiti scene grew as an art form and now covers a lot of ‘legal sites’ (graffiti artist Point negotiated with the mayor to legalize some walls and areas for street art) and of course some non-legal sites as well. You can find musical subcultures like punk and metal here just like everywhere else, but it’s unlikely they’ll be speaking English. For EDM check out Cross Club, Yes Club, Roxy and SaZaZu. International touring artists seem to hit here a lot- I saw Bassnectar, Above & Beyond, and Zeds Dead, friends saw Nervo and Excision was going to come here before visa problems. The big artists will probably be supported by local artists. There’s also a festival or street fair almost every weekend: Burger Fest, DIY Fest, Genderf*ck Fest (yes that is a thing,) Apple Fest, Pumpkin Fest, you-name-it fest.
Q: I am out of questions for now, let’s go on to this 2-day Itinerary. But if I have another question, I will put it in the comments section, e-mail you, or contact you via facebook.
A: Well thank you, imaginary reader. (I made up most of the above questions, but they and similar have been asked by people coming to Prague. So please feel free to contribute more and I’ll add them above.)
DorothyAnnWrites’ Guide to Prague in 2 Days!
Note: this is sort of written assuming you’re a student, backpacker, or other penny-pinching breed of tourist. I don’t know the fancy and expensive restaurants, etc, because it’s just not my experience.
Getting into and out of Prague:
Taxis are relatively cheap and depending on where you’re coming from (if jetlag is a factor, etc) you might appreciate their ease. Bus #119 takes you from the airport to Dejvicka metro stop, from there you can go pretty much anywhere on the metro. See Public Transport and Tickets, above. I’ve gotten from Namesti Miru (the opposite side of ‘downtown,’ as it were, from the airport) through the metro, through the bus, through check-in and security, to sitting in my terminal bored in less than an hour, but you probably want to give yourself some padding on that.
Day 1: Prague Castle and Pretty Views.
–Breakfast at Cafe Louvre. I wrote about this place for my CEA blog. Delicious, pretty cheap, pretty pretty, and pretty famous. Take Metro to Namesti Miru or Karluv Namesti and then tram 22 to Narodni Trida. There is a metro stop at Narodni Trida but as of writing, it’s closed.
–Charles Bridge. This is one of the most famous sites of Prague. Take tram 22 to Malostranska Namesti (the same direction you were going before) and walk to the bridge. Take all the pictures. There are tourists here 24/7 but less early in the morning, so you might switch this with breakfast if you want photos without German school groups in the background. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
–Lennon Wall. You may skip this if you’re not into graffiti or the Beatles but it’s a pretty cool sight. When Prague was still occupied by Communists somebody snuck out at night and painted Lennon’s face on this wall, now it’s a legal site for graffiti so the original face is long gone but you can bring an industrial-strength Sharpie and leave your mark. It’s walking distance from the Charles Bridge.
–Prague Castle. Back on the 22 going in the same direction to Prazky Hrad. If you are super-broke, you can walk around the castle area without paying for any tickets and take pictures of the outsides of things. I recommend the ‘short tour’ ticket (not a guided tour, just a ticket) that lets you in the big fancy cathedral, the castle itself (which is largely empty but there’s a defenestration window where some Catholics got tossed out for heresy) and Golden Lane, that used to house merchants, goldsmiths, and other various castle-but-not-royalty people. If you’re REALLY into history you can get the ‘long tour’ ticket but that’s valid for two days for a reason- you can spend hours and hours in the castle grounds on just the short tour, but the long tour lets you into exhibits about the castle’s history and the castle guard. The guard changes every hour, by the way, in a nice little ceremony with saluting and rifles, and you can’t make them laugh without doing anything illegal.
–Petrin Hill. Get back on the 22 going the same direction and get off at Pohorelec. That takes you pretty close to Strahov Monastary, which you may or may not visit, depending on your visit. Follow the Hunger Wall up Petrin Hill and hopefully you will get to the Eiffel Tower. Yes that’s right. There’s an Eiffel Tower replica there, and since it’s up on a hill, it’s technically taller than the real Eiffel Tower! Or, higher above sea level at least. There are great views and a cafe up there if you’re hungry. According to my father, their hot dogs taste just like American hot dogs. Take the funicular back down to Ujezd- it’s covered in your tram/metro ticket/day pass.
-Depending on the weather and how long it took you to do the first part of this ‘day,’ you might want to sit at a cafe for afternoon coffee or go out to dinner. I’ll leave that one up to you.
-Nightlife: Cross Club, SaZaZu, or Karlovy Lázně. Or a pub crawl if you’re into that, I guess. Karlovy Lázně is famous for being five stories of differently themed clubs/bars, but infamous for being packed (I mean packed) with slightly unsavory dudes. SaZaZu has an Asian-fusion restaurant attached and a big dance floor, sometimes they host DJs or bands. Cross Club is for you alternative types, it’s decorated with machinery and moving parts of cars and…. gizmos, I guess. They seem to have a variety of Electronic Dance Music acts over two stages and several pubs/restaurants in the huge building. Remember to check your night tram schedule before going out- Metro stops after midnight, so unless you’re planning on being out till 6am….
Day 2: Old Town Square and Jewish Quarter.
Today is the big walking day so I hope you’re ready.
–Old Town Square/ Astronomical Clock. Take the Metro to Staromestska and walk to Old Town Square. Here you have:
(Gosh, I just CAN’T get the formatting right on these pictures! I’d like the first two to be in a row, then the second two, then the following paragraph, but I can’t make it work. If I know any WordPress wizards please help, otherwise I’ll keep messing with it. Sorry, readers!)
There is lots to do in Old Town Square, a tour of the Old Town Hall can also take you underground to see some of what Prague looked like in the Middle Ages. Sadly when my parents were in town, there weren’t enough English-speakers on the tour so we were lumped in a tour in French and German. They do give you a handout in English so you get some information, but it would have been nice to have an English tour. You can also see several churches including one that has a huge chandelier from the Tsar of Russia, and one that has a mummified arm, because someone tried to steal the jewelry off a Virgin Mary statue and she came to life, grabbed his arm, and wouldn’t let go… or so the story goes.
–Jewish Quarter. Conveniently walking distance from Old Town Square, this is one of the best preserved Jewish Quarters in Europe: Hitler had planned on using it as a museum of the ‘extinct’ Jewish peoples. If you’re hungry I recommend stopping at Kolkovna Restaurant (it’s halfway between Old Town Square and the Jewish Quarter by this statue of Kafka ->.)
In the Jewish Quarter there are several synagogues (men may need to cover their heads or rent/borrow a yarmulke) including the Pinku Synagogue that has thousands of names of Holocaust victims written on the wall. There is also an old (as in 1300s old) cemetery. I’m not sure about the physics of this, but bodies were buried in layers and somehow the earth settled to allow the older/lower gravestones to pop up next to the newer ones? So there are hundreds of gravestones really close together, it’s quite a beautiful sight. The rabbi who raised the golem (story here, but it’s not related to Gollum) is buried here. To get into these synagogues and the cemetery you can buy one ticket that covers them all (except the Old-New Synagogue, where the golem supposedly lurks in the attic) and maybe an audio guide if you’re into that. [Pictures will go here if my mom sends them to me- the Spanish Synagogue was particularly beautiful]
-Zizkov Television Tower. We’re going all over Prague today. Take the metro to Jiriho z Podebrad, you may need to backtrack to Staromestka metro station (I said you’d be doing a lot of walking today!) or take a tram to another metro station. Zizkov is a working-class district but the TV tower is strangely beautiful, plus there are big metal babies crawling up it. People complained when it was built that it ruined the skyline and the radio waves would hurt their babies, so when an artist was commissioned to decorate it… big metal babies. You can go up the tower for a fee or eat in the restaurant up there if you’d like. Otherwise it’s off to a….
–Beer garden. There are lots of parks south of Zizkov, in Vinohrady (vinyard) district. Some rustic restaurants in parks serve traditional Czech food and of course, cheap pivo. Beer Gardens might be perceived as a German thing, but they’re quite popular here too. This would depend on the weather, obviously.
So that’s my two-day, speedy tour of Prague. There is a lot of walking involved.
Optional things (if you have a 3rd day or if you power through the above really quickly):
–Museum of Communism. My dad was disappointed that there was no Reagan but if you want to learn what life was like in Prague under the occupation, go here. There’s also a film about student rebellion and the Plastic People of the Universe, a folk band that kept getting arrested because they had long hair and an English name. It’s at the bottom of Wenceslas Square (Mustek Metro station), where I didn’t send you on the 2-day trip because it’s not close to much, but the other sites there are a big statue of Wenceslas on a horse and a very modern shopping area.
–Kafka Museum. I haven’t been here myself yet but if you’re into Kafka, I’ve heard it’s good. My guidebook (the Let’s Go! Budget guide to Prague) has a whole walking tour called Cavorting with Kafka, but it’s not one of my interests. It’s by Malostranska metro and supposedly decorated with surreal projections, tunnels of mirrors, etc.
That’s all for now folks!