Prague can be a bit intimidating. It’s an overwhelmingly beautiful city, and to really experience its full life, all its corners and alleys and neighborhoods, can take a pretty long time. But if you’ve only got one day to go, then its best to hit the real sights. So today I present to you, the lightning tour of Prague. If you’ve got only one day to visit the city—or if you’ve got a lot of time but want to get all the tourist mumbo jumbo out of the way as quickly as possible—then this is the tour for you.
While I’m at it, I’m also going to let you know that I do have an GPS-activated audio version of this tour here. That’s only a couple of bucks, but it’s a bit more in depth and for your phone, versus the not-so-in depth version that you have now before your eyes.
Starting point: Palladium. If you’re coming from the train station, it’s a straight shot down the road. If you’re coming from the airport, take the AE bus and it will go directly here. Otherwise, find the Namesti Republiky station on the metro and tramway map and get over there.
the Prague old town square
This route that I’m showing you is not really a secret route. It was the main coronation route of Bohemian kings. They’d start from the limit of the old town, which we’ll get to in a moment, march through the town square, across Charles’ Bridge, and then up to the Castle. It takes in all the main touristic sites in just a few hours. Then feel free to linger wherever you passed.
Not quite the old town
First, you’ll need a sugar and caffeine buzz to prepare you for this jaunt, so start off at Cacao Prague, not far from the tram station. It’s a modern coffee joint full of delicious cakes and pastries. By any means, it beats a Costa or Starbucks, but it tends to get super crowded. It’s right next to the Museum of Communism, so you can get a dose of modern Czech history before strolling through the ancient and medieval.
From there, it should be easy to see a green topped building towards the old town. That’s the Obecny Dum. It was designed by Osvald Polivka to the influence of the great art nouveau master, Alphonse Mucha, whose works you’ll have thought were French. There used to be a stellar presentation of some of his work there, but no more. Soon hopefully though, they will exhibit his Slavic Epic there. A perfect house for his masterpiece cycle of paintings based of the histories of the Slavic peoples. Definitely check the website if you’re visiting and don’t miss that exhibit.
Obecny Dum at night
There’s a restaurant of the style that I like to call “First Republic”, which captures perfectly the atmosphere of the late Austro-Hungarian Empire and the First Czechoslovak Republic. It’s a beautiful place, but it’s also some of the most expensive coffee and cake in Prague. There are other beautiful First Republic places. It also houses Smetana Hall. If you can see a show there, do it. It’s the most epically insane auditorium you will ever experience. Pass on the coffee, pay for the concert.
a view of the Powder Tower, next to Obecny Dum
This building was once where the old palace where the king of Bohemia would stay if he wanted to be in the city, it was also the extent of the first old town of Prague. You can tell the edges of the town by the placements of the towers, which marked the original entry gates. The king stopped using the palace though after some riots in the 15th century, when they measured that it would probably be better to stay well-guarded and away from the pesky rabble. It fell into disuse, but the tower was kept and made more and more beautiful as time passed. It’s called the “Powder Tower” because the palace had turned into an armory, along with the tower, and they had stored a lot of gunpowder up there. It was certainly never a good defense from invading Swedish armies for this reason.
looking up Celetna Street
If you look down one street, you can find all of your favorite non-Czech stores you know and love, like Mango, H&M, and Zara. That street is called in Czech, “Na Prikope”, which means, “On the trench.” That’s because from the tower down, instead of buildings there was a big wall, and outside the wall was a trench. Fun fact.
Into the old town
Go through the old town and now you’ve started on the path that the Kings of Bohemia have been using for thousands of years, all the way since 1836. Stick on the pedestrian road. This is Celetna. It comes to a church. Keep going straight. To the right is a good area to explore though, and there was the old market, where they used to hammer rule breakers’ tongues to the post. The medieval times were good old times.
Finally, old town square! Yay!
the most romantic square in Europe
That big church behind you is called Our Lady before Tyn, which means, “Our Lady in front of the Market”, “tyn” is an old Slavic word for market. The modern Czech word for market is not pronounceable. It’s literally three consonants thrown together and coughed out.
Our Lady before Tyn was founded in the 14th century, but those beautiful spires you see weren’t finished until the 19th century. You can see the different phases of construction. It looks like each architect that was in charge had a different architectural idea that didn’t agree with the ideas of the other architects before or after him. But strangely, it all works to make one of the more remarkable churches in Europe. If you’re here just after Halloween, go for the Requiem Mass, where they do a mass to the music of Mozart’s Requiem.
Grab a beer while you’re here. Or a hot wine, called “svařak” (pronounced "svajak"). Get it from one of those stands next to the tower. A price of beer there is 50 crowns, a beer at a restaurant here is about 100. You do the math.
the Prazsky Orloj, or Astronomical Clock
That tower you see used to be connected to a huge town hall, which was burnt down by the Germans during World War II. The clock on it is from the 15th century and has been mostly ticking since. It also tells the zodiac, which is why they call it “astronomical.” This is a great place to watch Japanese and Russian tourists, as they marvel at the ancient technology of what essentially is an over-sized cuckoo clock with a skeleton and some apostles. The show itself is definitely not as fascinating as the tourists who are eagerly anticipating the clock strike while getting their pockets lightened by the friendly local pickpockets.
This is probably the most recognizable monument in all of Prague, so get your selfies here.
Lunch or Dinner?
Follow the crowds onward and you’ll find yourself in the “Little Town Square”, or Maly Namesti. If it’s already lunch time, find a small door on your left, go through it and descend some stairs. There’s a restaurant called “Las Adelitas” which is the best Mexican food in Prague. Beats the local gulash any day. Order a dark Czech beer called “Master Tmavy.” In pairs similar to Negro Modelo, but it’s an insanely better beer than anything Mexicans can do.
The road then turns left, but you’ll want to hang a right. It’s easy to see where to go because there are lots of people where you’re headed. As you walk down this pedestrian street, you’ll notice all sorts of people holding what looks like cinnamon rolls with ice cream. Those are trdelniks. I dedicated another blog about those here.
a trdelnik, or chimney
They used to be just a cinnamon roll shaped like a chimney, but then this one place on this street got the wise idea of throwing everything but their mother in one, and now it’s like that through almost all of Prague. The best are the “original” ones though, which typically cost from 50 to 60 crowns. They’re delicious. Eat one.
Look, more hot wine! Drink!
While you're eating, take note of that massive wall you're walking alongside. That's the Clementinum. It started as a Jesuit college in the 1600s and then was nationalized in the 1700s under the Empress Maria Teresa and was merged into Charles University. Check out the tour here and see the library where once Tycho Brahe and Copernicus browsed through books, and then go into the observatory tower where there's the best 360 degree views of Prague's old town.
View from the Clementinum tower
Check out the next blog to read on from Charles Bridge.