Pounding Pivo in Prague
Prague was one of our favorite cities in Europe and beer (or pivo in the Czech language) is only part of the reason why.
Hot Take: A backpacker’s dream of history, culture, walkability, beer, and low-prices, Prague is enchanting and one of Europe’s best capital cities. (5.0 stars)
Pro Tip: Take a few beers to the Old Town Square at night, walking around with an open beer is seemingly encouraged and a couple extra beers makes it easy to find new friends.
Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic as well as its largest city with a metro area population of 2.6 million, is a melting pot of central and eastern Europe peoples and culture. Prague popularized the modern beer making style (invented in nearby Pilsen) and the Czech are quite proud of it (in fact, they love beer so much that it is not taxed as alcohol, so ~$1 buys you a beer at most bars/restaurants…it’s cheaper than bottled water!). Long known to the backpacker set, Prague is much more than just cold brews and good times as the city Prague was once the capital of the kingdom of Bohemia and the main residence of several Holy Roman Emperors. Originally settled in the Paleolithic age, modern Prague’s architecture (which mostly survived WWII better than most) is a blend of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Neo-Renaissance, Neo-Gothic, Art Nouveau, Communist-era, Cubist, Neo-Classical and ultra-modern style highlighted by a wonderfully historic Old Town. The city further benefited from the non/less violent Velvet Revolution that (mostly) peacefully ended Communism without plunging the country into civil war (like in the Balkans) which preserved lives, buildings, and culture as well as easing the transition into a capitalist country (the Czech Republic is basically the shining star of post-Communist economic transition). As further evidence of Prague’s success, one of the city’s restaurants was the first to receive a Michelin star in the whole of the post-Communist part of Central Europe. It’s no wonder that Prague welcomes almost 10 million tourists annually (however, while it’s busy, the city does a good job in welcoming the hordes of tourists). We had a marvelous 3 days in Prague (which is about right for a fast ‘sampler’ visit, but there is plenty of content to spend an extra day or week)…here were our highlights.
Free Walking Tour
It’s no secret that we (especially Matt) love a well-executed free walking tour. In Prague, we had a real gem of a tour with Good Tour. Michael (an American who left for a backpacker trip after completing a degree in history at Arizona State and ended up staying for 7 years) gave us an amazing 3 hours with history, stories, humor and insights that deepened our Prague experience. If you plan on visiting Prague and want an excellent guide Michael was one of the top five guides we had during our entire year abroad (so make sure to book with him). Of course you can wander past all of this stuff yourself, but having a great guide helps the traveler discover the spirit of a city. For us, the stories of defenestration (the people of Prague’s technique of throwing people they disagree with out of a window), revolution (religious as well as political throughout the ages), and struggle (including the frequent atrocities endured by the Jewish residents) made Prague come alive for us. Prague is one of the few European cities whose structures have survived WWII - the blend of old architecture mixed with modern makes wandering through Prague a marvel. While it was bombed by the Americans who had mistaken it for Dresden there was very little damage done to the city as a whole. According to our guide one dark fact is that Hitler loved Prague and wanted to preserve the Jewish Ghetto so that some day he could show it as a museum of a people that no longer existed. Yes, Hitler was undoubtedly evil, this decision is why Prague is one of the only European cities where you can see a Jewish quarter as it was pre-WWII.
The Astronomical Clock & Old Town Square - We were beyond excited to see this mythical clock and historic clock that has a world renown reputation for its accuracy and beauty. Unfortunately for us it was under renovation during the time we visited. In fact, many of the major sites that we aspired to see throughout our European travels were under renovations - so it’s best to check online before your trip to see if any sites you have your heart set on seeing with be under renovation.
Al Fresco Beers in Old Town Square
The beating heart of Prague is the Old Town Square. Teeming with humanity during the day (mostly jostling to see the world famous astronomical clock), at night the square becomes a relaxed open air meeting place and bar where locals and backpackers rub shoulders. BYOB (bring your own beer) is the name of the game and bring a few extra (they are very inexpensive here, but very high quality) for making new friends. Unfortunately, at the time of our trip, the astronomical clock (first installed in 1410 and oldest one still working) was under renovation…but since it is now reopened, it should lend even more atmosphere to the scene.
Prague Castle Complex Walking Tour
After our terrific experience with the free walking tour, we paid $15 each to use the same company (Good Tour) to take their 4 hour “Castle Tour”. Note: we actually did both tours on the same day, but we would recommend doing them on different days since it is a LOT of walking. The Castle Tour starts with a bus ride from the Old Town up to the Prague Castle complex where the guided walk begins and works its way (downhill) back to the Vltava River. Construction of the Prague Castle began in 9th century and (according to the Guinness Book of Records) Prague Castle is the largest ancient castle in the world, occupying an area of almost 750,000 square feet (70,000 square meters). In its past, the castle was the seat of power for kings of Bohemia, Holy Roman emperors, and presidents of Czechoslovakia. The castle today is the official office of the President of the Czech Republic (amongst other things) and is a wonder to behold, especially the awe-inspiring St. Vitus Cathedral and the adorably quaint Golden Lane. While in St. Vitus Cathedral make sure to take a look at the stained glass window by Alphonse Mucha.
Heavy on meats, starches and carbs, the Czech food is designed to be washed down with prodigious amounts of beer. One of the best places to eat is Lokal where they have amazing unpasteurized Pilsner Urquell on tap as well as some of the best beef tartar we have ever had. Having a Chimney Cake in Prague or eastern Europe is a must! The locals call it a Trdelník which is basically a cylindrical churro. Many places will then line the inside of the Chimney cake with chocolate and fill with ice cream (we recommend sharing one of these with one to two people) they were so delicious we didn’t even take any pictures of it! Prague also has fusion foods that make it a true foodie destination. In fact, one of the Czech peoples’ secret weapons against the ‘brown monotony’ of Central Europe is their love affair with the chile pepper (spelled ‘chilli’ in the Czech Republic) that would even make a New Mexican blush (Kelly is a native New Mexican and her people definitely love them some chile!). Despite only being imported after the discovery of the new world, Prague now boasts some of the top chile restaurants in the world, serving some of the world’s hottest peppers. We had a lovely dinner at Chilli Point and were thrilled to have chile infused breads, gravies, desserts and beer.
Charles Bridge at Night
The Charles Bridge is the most famous of the historical bridges that cross the Vltava River in Prague. Constructed beginning in 1357 and standing as the only means of crossing the Vltava (which divided Eastern and Western Europe) until 1841, the Charles Bridge was the most important connection between Prague Castle and the city's Old Town as well as an important trade route. Today, this 2,037 ft (621 meters) long iconic stone pedestrian bridge is a must for every sightseer to Prague, which means that it is generally crammed with people. However, at night the scene totally changes as musicians fill the night air with song and the soft lights of the city bounce off the water to make for a relaxed walk soaking in the atmosphere of a bygone era. If it sounds like we’re romanticizing it…well we are, because it was crazy romantic! The bridge is mostly known for the statues that line it, among them the statue of Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV. A fun fact is that it was constructed in perfect alignment with the tomb of St. Vitus and the setting sun on the equinox. Walking over the bridge at night has an air of gothic romanticism and for Kelly felt like something out of the world of Harry Potter. Hurry and get there because repairs are scheduled to start in late 2019, and should take around 20 years to complete.
One of the more unique things to do in Prague is to take a soak in one of the city’s world famous beer spa tubs. As a splurge treat (the cost for a private room for an hour with 2 beer soaker tubs was $65 each at Beer Spa Rybna), Kelly (correctly) made the decision that this was something that we simply had to try. Basically, a beer spa is a jacuzzi tub (made from wood) that holds hot water. At the start of your hour, a beer maiden fills the tub with the ingredients of beer (yeast, powdered grains and hops, etc)…she leaves so you ti hop in the beer-brew water. While you soak, you are given beer bread to eat and unlimited access to draft Czech beer which is served straight from the taps that are conveniently located next to your tub. After 30ish minutes of soaking (and drinking), you then rest/pass out on a bed of raw straw. We don’t know if it was the ingredients, the bubbles, or the beer…but we loved our experience and left with much softer skin (and quite a buzz).