It’s not often you are awarded the opportunity to look back at the culture and familial roots that have defined the course of your life. Both my father and mother’s family lineage are largely from the Central Europe region formerly known as Czechoslovakia, known as independent countries Slovakia and the Czech Republic since 1993.
The city of Prague in the Czech Republic is known for its historic baroque architecture, picturesque location on the Vltava River, compelling thousand-year history, and world-famous Czech lagers. In fact, did you know that the Czech Republic consumes more beer per capita than any other country in the world?
While traveling for business to Switzerland, I decided to arrive the weekend prior to spend a few days exploring the breathtaking city of Prague on my own. Read on about my three-day adventure in this exceptional European city.
DAY ONE // FREE WALKING TOUR AND THE OPERA HOUSE
I arrived in a rainy Prague after an eight-hour flight from Newark with a transfer in Vienna. I took a car service to my residence for the weekend, the Grandior Hotel. The hotel is perfectly situated in the center of the Old City of Prague within walking distance to all major sites. I had a difficult start to the trip with some ATM issues and the hotel room not being ready, but after storing my luggage with the front desk I was ready to begin touring around the city.
On my walk from the hotel to Old Town Square, I ran into some family friends from back home in New Jersey. What a small world it can be! We made a promise to meet up for dinner the next night, and I continued on my way.
Old Town Square is Prague’s most central area with busy restaurants, pubs, and street performers. One of my favorite ways to explore European cities is to take advantage of free walking tours. I met with a tour guide in Old Town Square and made new friends with a couple from Texas and a group from Australia who I would spend the morning with. One of the best advantages of travel solo is how it forces you to be more open when making new acquaintances.
Our tour guide was a bit bland, but he had an incredible knowledge of the city and was able to provide more context to the tumultuous history of the region, including the survival of its Nazi occupation during World War II. During the tour, we saw most of the city’s most famous sites, including the Astronomical Clock, Charles’ Bridge, Prague Castle, St. Vitus’ Cathedral, and much more.
After the tour, I walked to Café Slavia across the street from the National Theatre. I waited for a window seat and enjoyed views of the Vltava River and watched the locals stroll by. Traditional Czech cuisine is heavily meat-based but is also quite diverse. I opted for the beef goulash and a glass of red wine. I try my best to eat local when traveling abroad as it’s another great way to really immerse yourself in the culture.
Prague has a long music tradition and I thought there no better place to go to the opera. I had evening tickets to see The Barber of Seville and thought myself conveniently located to be at a café across the street from the National Theatre. However, when I arrived, I learned the show was actually at The Prague State Opera which was a 20-minute walk uphill. I had to huff it in the rain and made it right as the show was starting. I had a box seat and when I entered there was no seat left for me. I had to get a theatre attendant to bring in another chair and made such a scene while the play was just getting started.
After my embarrassment subsided, I was able to look around at the stunning Opera House, which I later learned has been open since 1888 and was one of the most beautiful German theatres in Europe at the time. It still retains much of the rich ornate décor in the interior that can only be seen in historic European architecture. I was a classically trained vocalist at college, so I enjoyed hearing many of the familiar songs from my studies. The show was amazing and a once-in-a-lifetime experience that only this city could provide.
As much as I enjoyed the play, the jetlag and a busy first day started to take its toll, so I snuck out at intermission and headed back to the hotel for some much-needed shut-eye.
DAY TWO // PRAGUE CASTLE AND PETRIN TOWER
Breakfast was included at the Grandior Hotel and the breakfast buffet spread was impressive. I’ve had many European breakfasts that were nothing more than some salami and cheese plates, so this was a nice surprise. It even included live music by a talented pianist which was such a relaxing way to start another busy day in Prague.
After breakfast, I walked to the Old Town City Center for a Prague Castle walking tour. Go figure, my tour guide for the day was actually an American named Keith who was living abroad, but he was very charismatic and knowledgeable about the history of the country. Here are some fun facts I learned during the tour:
- The Charles Bridge is actually the third bridge that stood in that spot. The first two washed away from floods. When King Charles commissioned the building of the third bridge, he wanted it done on a lucky day. His advisors chose 135696531 – built in 1356 on the 9th of July at 5:31 a.m. The bridge has stood there ever since.
- John of Nepomuk was a big hero in Prague. King Wenceslaus was a tyrant and asked Father John to tell him what his wife said in confession. Father John refused and was tortured then thrown in the Vltava River to die. That night, it’s said that there were five shining stars over the Charles Bridge, so now every image of St. John has five stars over his head.
- There was a man protesting outside of Prague castle for 2,050 consecutive days because he lost his home after the communist regime ended and his landlord had to hand over the building to its rightful owner.
- There is a changing of the guard at Prague Castle every hour from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
- NASA was hired to help renovate and seal a portrait on the outside of St.
- The King of Prague would not pay the Italian architect who built Prague Castle enough money, so at the entrance instead of writing “Anno” which means “the year,” he wrote “Ano” which means butthole. Ha!
- It took over 1,100 years to build the whole castle. It is the largest castle in the world.
After the tour I was frozen, so I took the tram to visit the Church of Our Lady Victorious where the famous Infant of Prague statue resides. The trams are a convenient way of getting around and it is great way to see the city. They can be a bit tricky to navigate at first but after a few short trips in the wrong direction, I got the hang of it.
After visiting the church, I hopped on the tram again to the Lesser Town area near Petrin Tower and stopped into a nearby café for lunch and some coffee to warm up. Note that “dumplings” mean something entirely different in the Czech Republic than in the U.S. It’s essentially roast pork, sauerkraut, and bread with gravy.
After lunch, I took the funicular railway up the hill to Petrin Tower. I climbed up the 200+ steps of the Petrin Observation Tower for spectacular views of the city. After the descent, I stopped at the base of the tower and enjoyed one of the best hot chocolates of my life. It was finally starting to warm up, so I decided to hike down the hill to the tram. It’s a beautiful place for a walk except for the area has stray dogs everywhere. After another little unexpected tram detour, I made it back to the hotel to change and take a little rest.
Marina Ristorante served as the perfect location for dinner with friends. Located on a converted riverboat, the nighttime views of the city along the Vltava River were stunning. Great company and great food. I continued my adventurous eating with a pumpkin risotto with duck which was delicious, and there was plenty of red wine to go around. I successfully hopped the tram back to the hotel (finally!) and said goodnight to another wonderful day in Prague.
DAY 3 // VYSEHRAD, RIVERBOAT CRUISE, AND THE MUSEUM OF COMMUNISM
After another awesome breakfast at the hotel, I took the C train to Vyšehrad. I found the subway much easier to navigate than the tram.
Vyšehrad is a fortress that serves as the perfect escape from the congested city center. I think Petrin Tower offers a better view of Charles Bridge and Old Town, but Vyšehrad provides a better overall 360 view of the city of Prague.
While there, I stopped in at the Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul, which I think is one of the most stunning churches I’ve ever seen. When traveling abroad, I like to stop in at a church and light a candle and sit and say a prayer for my family.
Outside is the Vyšehrad Cemetery which is where all the most famous Czech politicians and celebrities are buried. Each tombstone has a huge statue or piece of artwork above it, so it has become somewhat of a Bohemian exhibition as well. I enjoyed a leisurely walk down to the tram where I rode back to Charles Bridge.
I had heard that one of the best ways to see the city is by riverboat on the Vltava. At the Charles Bridge, there were people with signs promoting a riverboat cruise, so I thought I’d give it a try. I must say I was a bit disappointed with the quality of the tour. It was a pre-recorded audio and a small loop on the river. However, there was the most adorable Italian boy sitting in front of me who kept chatting and singing songs so that was the highlight for me. I have no idea what he was saying but he was so sweet and reminded me of my nephew Connor, so that kind of made my day. I do think a riverboat cruise is a great way to see the city, but I would recommend researching some more established tour options before arriving.
I walked to the 100-year-old Café Louvre for lunch and had some yummy pumpkin soup to warm up (did I mention it was freezing there in March!). For dessert, I had another delicious hot chocolate. I don’t know what they put in their hot chocolate there but it’s addicting!
The afternoon was spent exploring the Museum of Communism, which provides a view of aspects of life in Communist-era Czechoslovakia. This museum gave me a much better understanding of my Czech heritage and the tumultuous history of the city. Preserved videos of the protests during the communist regime were a highlight as you could actually see the conflict as it was during that time. I was happy to have done this museum towards the end of my trip, as I was better able to visualize many of the city’s charming landmarks during so many years of Nazi occupation and police brutality in the streets.
I had a strong feeling of pride being an American in the Czech Republic knowing that our country helped secure freedom from the communist rule that threatened this region. The Czech people share an appreciation for America, despite all of the negative propaganda communicated from the Nazis.
After the museum, I did some shopping and bought my husband a beautiful leather briefcase. I stopped back at the hotel to change and then enjoyed one last stroll of the City Center. My final meal was at the ADELE Restaurant and Bar where I enjoyed a seat by the window where I could watch the city go by. Europeans have the most effortless style.
Prague exceeded all of my expectations and was a safe, enjoyable European city to explore on my own. Traveling in the month of March was chilly for touring around as the best way to see the city is by walking, so if I was to return I would prefer to visit in some warmer weather. I also heard that Kutna Hora is a great day trip from Prague. Kutna Hora is a medieval center with architectural monuments and the well-preserved gothic Cathedral of St. Barbara.
What are your favorite vacation memories and sites in Prague? Share in the comments section below!