Prague (Praha in Czech) is the capital and largest city of the Czech Republic. Situated on the Vltava River, it is home to approximately 1.2 million inhabitants. (It can be derived from jobs statistics, however, that additional 300,000 work there without having registered as residents.)
Nicknames for Prague have included “city of a hundred spires”, “the golden city”, “the Paris of the Twenties in the Nineties”, the “mother of all cities”, and “the heart of Europe”.
Since 1992, the historic centre of Prague has been included in the UNESCO list of world heritage sites.
Prague is a popular tourist destination. There are lots of old buildings, many with beautiful murals on them. It contains one of the world’s most pristine and varied collections of architecture, from Art Nouveau to Baroque, Cubist, Gothic, Neo-Classical and ultra-modern. The Old Town centre (Stare Mesto), an area of cobbled streets around a market square leading to Charles Bridge and Prague Castle, is relatively small and best seen on foot. For wider travel within the city, Prague has an integrated transport system, with tickets valid on the metro, trams, buses and the local train system. You buy tickets from machines on the stations or from tobacco shops, kiosks and tourist information offices. 24hr and 3-day tickets are convenient options.
What to see in Prague
Charles Bridge (Karluv Most) – even if you are allergic to clichés, you can’t avoid crossing the iconic bridge at least once, running the gauntlet of street musicians, painters, pickpockets and fellow tourists who are probably also wondering what they are doing there! However if you can find yourselves alone for a few minutes, maybe in winter and at night, the historic bridge does have a romantic, magical feel to it. The Old Town Square (Staromestske) is the entertainment hub of old Prague, and the Old Town Hall (and astronomical clock) is a central landmark and meeting place. The Castle (Pražskýhrad) and St Vitus Cathedral are the most visited sights in Prague: the Malostranská metro stop is the nearest if you don’t want to walk. (The Castle opens at 09.00 all year, but the grounds are open from 05.00 in summer and are free.) Prague still has a well-defined Jewish Quarter (Josefov), and the Jewish Museum offers a chance for non-Jews to see inside four historic synagogues, as well as visiting the overcrowded (with graves rather than tourists) Old Jewish Cemetery. Not to be missed while you are in the Jewish Quarter, though less well advertised than some tourist sights, is Franz Kafka’s Birthplace and family home. The German-Jewish author of Metamorphosis, The Trial and The Castle lived here from his birth in 1883 to 1885, when the family moved to a house in Wenceslas Square.
Where to stay in Prague
If you can afford 5-star luxury, the Hotel King’s Court is well recommended. The simply stylish rooms are soundproofed, heated, air-conditioned and allergy-free. There is a Fitness Centre and Spa as well as an indoor pool. The hotel rents bikes in case you need still more exercise. The 4-star category has two interesting options, both in the centre of the city. The first is to rent one of the Salvator Superior Apartments: the two-bedroom apartment has one double bedroom and one twin; the one-bedroom apartment has a double and two singles in the same room. Both apartments are modern in style, and the one-bedroom apartment has a fully equipped kitchen including washing machine, while the other has just tea and coffee making facilities. The other interesting alternative is the Boat Hotel Matylda, anchored on the River Vltava in a quiet location only a ten minute walk from Charles Square. Standard double rooms are on the Matylda itself, while superior and single rooms are on the newer Klotylda boat. There is also a floating bar and Italian restaurant, and parking is free. Many backpackers turn up in Prague, and unlike some cities, are catered for in the city centre itself. Try the Hostel Rosemary with a range of rooms for different numbers of people, some with private bathrooms, or the Travellers Hostel, situated within walking distance of most attractions, where there is a communal kitchen and laundry.