At dawn, before the crowds have arrived for the day, the Charles Bridge becomes cinematic and magical. Visiting Prague and walking the bridge at this time of morning transports you back to an era before the cobblestone walkway was crammed with tacky trinket stands and bouquets of selfie sticks. In silhouette, the famous statues that line both sides of the bridge loom larger than in broad daylight, their faces partly in shadow.
The bridge is Prague, encapsulated: rich in history, architecturally beautiful and wildly popular. Yes, it’s crowded, and yes, certain unscrupulous types will try to unfairly divest tourists of their holiday spending money. But the good news is that Prague—with its wealth of culture, art, and literature—still enchants.
Visiting Prague: Day 1, morning – Prague Castle
For your first morning visiting Prague, make your way from the Charles Bridge uphill to the entrance of the Prague Castle, the largest such complex in the world. The castle grounds are located above the Malá Strana. This “little side” of the city, more commonly referred to as the Lesser Town, lies on the slopes below the Castle and borders the Vltava River on its southern edge. Most of the architecture here is High Baroque, lending the area an elegant flair. It’s also dotted with regal green spaces, including the palatial gardens at the Wallenstein and the Baroque terraces of the Vrtba Gardens. However, the origins of this area go back much further, to the Middle Ages. To get our bearings and acquire a foundation in this part of Czech history, we recommend a Prague Castle District tour. This is the perfect environment for learning about Charles IV, the 14-century Holy Roman Emperor whose love for Prague ignited a Golden Age of prosperity in the Czech lands. Thanks to his passion for arts and education, the city enjoyed a period as the de facto cultural capital of Europe, easily rivaling other rising cities such as Paris. Charles’ legacy is traceable still today in details of city planning, significant architectural works, and in the name of one of Prague’s eminent post-secondary institutions: the Charles University.
Stop for lunch at the bottom of the Lesser Town in a cozy spot like Lokál U Bílé kuželky, where the soup is hot and the sausage and dumplings homemade. Czech cuisine is traditionally heavy and hearty, characterized by cured or grilled meat, potato dishes and pickles of all varieties. Vegetarians have historically had a hard time of it in Central Europe, but meat-free eating is making inroads in major cities like Prague. Traditional restaurants can still be carnivorous; veggie-only establishments like Clear Head, on the other side of the river, are offering alternatives.
Visiting Prague: Day 1, afternoon – Communism in Prague
After a bite to eat, head to the National Memorial atop Vitkov Hill. Although oppression under the rule of external political powers was nothing new to the Czech lands, life in Prague during Communism was again transformed. From here on the hill, look out over the surrounding neighborhood of Žižkov and search for the brutalist suburban buildings in the outer city districts. Visiting Prague today, you can try to imagine how the city looked before the arrival of the Communist administration. But as years pass, those traces can become harder to spot. If your curiosity is piqued, our Prague Communism Tour can take you deeper – first, into the underground laboratory hidden beneath the memorial, complete with relics of Soviet-era technology, and then down into the city again to discover how this 20th-century history is written across Prague’s streets.
Even during the week, Prague’s nightlife stays lively. As much as the historical districts of the Old Town and Lesser Town are stunning after sundown, the Žižkov and Vinohrady areas are a better choice for rubbing shoulders with locals. Head to these working class districts for a pint of good Czech lager and a taste of hearty Bohemian pub fare. There’s nothing pretentious about neighborhood spots like Pivo a Párek, where the bartender will pull a draught of whatever’s on tap that evening and serve it next to a plate of sliced sausage – either cooked or pickled, depending on how you like it. Beer aficionados can also indulge on a beer tasting and brewery tour that takes visitors behind-the-scenes at a local, operational brewpub. Learning the ins and outs of the whole process, followed by tastings of IPAs, amber ales, or lagers, is a guaranteed highlight while visiting Prague. But remember, with the world’s highest beer consumption per capita, the Czech Republic is a nation of people who don’t stop after just one pint. An empty glass at a pub is automatically a signal to the bartender, an unspoken “bring another!” Just wave them down to let them know when you’re on the last round.
Visiting Prague: Day 2, morning – Jewish Prague
In the morning, acquaint yourself with the city’s Jewish history. Under the reign of the Habsburgs, the demographics of Prague developed in three distinct but interrelated cultural identities: German, Czech, and Jewish. The legal emancipation and subsequent assimilation of Czech Jews allowed a cultural flourishing that left an important mark on the city. However, the 20th century brought a wave of tragedies that nearly wiped out the community here. Make sure to visit the moving Holocaust Memorial inside the former Pinkas Synagogue and read some of the nearly 80,000 names of victims from the traditional Czech lands of Bohemia and Moravia. Figuring out how to visit the Jewish Museum in Prague can be daunting, but you won’t regret it. A walk of Jewish Prague will also take you further into this history, including the marvelous interior architecture of the Spanish Synagogue. Don’t forget to ask about the eerie tale of the Golem, a monstrous reanimated creature tasked with protecting Prague’s Jews.
Luckily, after a morning of exploring, you’re already right in the thick of Prague’s emerging foodie scene. An appetite for creative and sustainable cuisine has taken hold in the Josefov neighborhood, as new bistros and restaurants crop up. While visiting Prague, duck into one of these hotspots for a midday meal. Home Kitchen offers Czech comfort food with an upscale twist, and in a Williamsburg-worthy interior.
Visiting Prague: Day 2, afternoon – Prague’s Café Culture
Trekking around the city for a day and a half will leave most visitors ready for a slower pace by now. Continue enjoying Prague’s culinary side with a hot chocolate in the Cafe Savoy – perfectly smooth, not too sweet, not too bitter. If it’s the heat of summer, you can substitute with something on ice (but come back in the autumn or winter for the hot version, because it’s worth it). This classic coffeehouse also boasts a stunning interior and a history of venerable patrons, which makes it an ideal starting point for a Prague café tour. Continue with tastings at a selection of the Savoy’s counterparts, like the Cafe Louvre. The dozens of Art Nouveau cafés that once provided a backdrop for turn-of-the-century gatherings of Prague’s literati are sadly reduced in number, but a few are still in operation. Over a series of savory snacks, coffees, and cakes, take the opportunity to soak in the atmosphere of Prague’s finest interior architecture and encounter stories from the city’s Art Nouveau heyday.
Before returning to the airport or catching an outbound train, sip a finely crafted cocktail at Hemingway Bar, a leader in Prague’s burgeoning mixology culture. They win major points for creativity of flavors and detailed presentation – not only of the drinks themselves but of the bar’s entire atmosphere. A cocktail here, like Prague itself, leave a great aftertaste.