What To Do on a Weekend Break in Prague
Prague rarely fails to charm its visitors. Fortunate to not be destroyed by wartime bombing, the city is blessed with a fairy tale-like array of architectural styles, with castles, churches, towers, bridges, wide open squares, and cobbled streets at every turn. Within all this you’ll find great restaurants and bars, stimulating museums, and exquisite views. Getting around is easy — and sometimes even chrarming, from vintage trams to cavernous stations — as well. Here are some of our deal experts' favourite places to visit on a short break in Prague.
This 45-hectare complex is the world's largest inhabited castle, and has been the seat of Czech kings and presidents. Towering over it all is the Gothic Cathedral of St Vitus, founded in 1344 but only completed in 1929. The cathedral is home to the country's crown jewels, and contains the crypt where many kings are buried, plus the tomb of St Wenceslas.
The castle, which has been in use for over a thousand years, is full of historic buildings. Look out for Golden Lane, a pretty street of 16th-century brightly painted little houses that used to be home to goldsmiths. At the gates of the castle, you can watch soldiers take part in the changing of the guard on the hour. Just outside the gates is the Archbishop's Palace, with its Rococo and Baroque architecture, plus a statue of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, who became the first president of Czechoslovakia in 1918. Nearby is a viewpoint offering panoramas over Prague; across the red rooftops you can see the Vltava River winding its way through the city, plus countless historic buildings.
Just south of Prague Castle is another place where you can get far-reaching city views: Petřín Hill. This large area of parkland is a great place to wander the paths, and explore the Seminary Garden — home to more than 2000 fruit trees. The hill’s crowning glory is Petřín Lookout Tower, built in 1891 and inspired by the much-taller Eiffel Tower (although because of the hill, the top is at a similar altitude). You can climb the 299 steps to the viewing platform (there's also a lift). At the base of the hill is the Memorial to the Victims of Communism, a series of human statues representing the lives damaged during the years Prague was behind the Iron Curtain. There's a bronze plaque outlining the human cost, which included more than 200,000 arrested, 170,000 forced into exile, and more than 5000 who died, either in prison, while trying to escape, or by execution. This spot is partiucularly nice in the summer.
Charles Bridge and the Vltava
Of the many bridges spanning the Vltava River in Prague, by far the most famous is Charles Bridge, which links Prague Castle and the Lesser Town (Malá Strana) with the Old Town (Staré Město). The sandstone bridge, completed in 1402, features a defensive tower at each end and 16 arches, and is lined with the statues of 30 saints. The bridge can get very busy during the day, but dusk is a particularly atmospheric time, when the crowds are smaller and the statues' silhouettes stand out against the changing sky.
On the Old Town side of the bridge, you can board guided boat tours on the Vltava — again evening is a great time for this, when the bridge arches are subtly lit. Along the river, you'll see the grand buildings that are home to university faculties, concert venues, and hotels, plus the Petřín Tower lit up on the hillside above the city. Many tours also take you into a small backwater known as Little Venice, where there's a large waterwheel.
Old Town Square
The Medieval heart of Prague is the Old Town, whose most famous sight is Old Town Square. The square is home to several landmarks including the Gothic Church of Our Lady before Týn, the Baroque St Nicholas Church, and Old Town Hall, where you’ll find the Astronomical Clock (Prague Orloj). This complex 15th-century timepiece up on a tower jumps into life on the hour, when clockwork figures emerge — this parade is known as the Walk of the Apostles. The horological display ends with a trumpeter, standing at the top of the tower, playing a fanfare to the assembled crowds below. While you’re in the square, drop in to the National Gallery Prague in the Kinský Palace, which has the largest collection of art in the Czech Republic, or the nearby Central Gallery for modern art.
Prague's New Town (Nové Město) began to spring up in the mid 14th century. At the heart of it is Wenceslas Square, about 10 minutes' walk from Old Town Square. Wenceslas Square was an important site in the 1989 Velvet Revolution, which brought about the end of communist one-party rule in Czechoslovakia. Large demonstrations took place in the square, and prominent revolutionary Václav Havel made speeches there — he would later go on to become the country’s president. Hardened communists of yesteryear would be shocked by today’s much less austere scene of department stores and international clothing chains in the square.
Also in the New Town is the striking neo-Renaissance main building of the National Museum (Národní muzeum), which houses an impressive collection of exhibits on Czech human and natural history. A couple of minutes’ walk away is the State Opera, which hosts opera and ballet — the programme for 2022 includes "Tosca", "The Sleeping Beauty", and "La Traviata". The auditorium's interior is stunning, with its claret seats, gold detail, frescoed ceiling, and central chandelier, and if you're not going to be there for a show, you can still take guided tours of the building.
Christmas in Prague is a magical time, with twinkling lights adorning buildings and trees throughout the historic city centre. Prague’s two main markets are in Wenceslas Square and Old Town Square, and are among the best in Europe. Expect stalls selling items like ceramics, jewellery, scented candles, woollen hats, and traditional puppets and dolls. There's also carol singing around the Christmas trees, nativity scenes, and choirs and folk groups performing on stage. When you get hungry, head to the food stalls for local treats including klobása (barbecued sausages), ladké knedlíky (sweet dumplings), trdelník (the Czech take on chimney cake), and perníčky (spicy gingerbread). There are plenty of opportunities to wash it all down with a mug of hot chocolate (horká čokoláda), honey wine (Medovina), grog — a mixture of rum, water, lemon, and sugar — or a Czech beer or two.
Food and drink
Seasonal, local ingredients including wild mushrooms and game are used to good effect in Czech cuisine, and a great way to sample, and learn more about, the food is to take a cookery course. One place offering classes is Chefparade, where you can learn how to prepare a 3-course meal of Czech dishes under the watchful eye of a professional chef, including a visit to a local market buy the ingredients. At the end, you’ll get to eat your creation. Our favourite Prague restaurants include Čestr, near the National Museum, whose menu features a diagram of a cow showing all the various cuts of meat.
But whatever your tastes, you’ll find a restaurant to suit in the city, and if you’re looking for something to wash your meal down with, Prague is full of great pubs, bars, and nightclubs. The Czech Republic is known for its beers, and there are breweries all over the country. You can sample their produce in the capital’s many beer halls, which include BeerGeek, home to a bar with 32 taps, while Craft House Prague has a similarly impressive 27 beers on tap, plus more than 100 bottled varieties. Zlý časy has 48 taps, featuring beers from many small breweries. For something a little stronger for a nightcap, head to Green Devil's Absinthe Bar & Shop near Old Town Square, where you can sip absinthe until late in a slightly spooky but fun cellar. There are more then 100 varieties to choose from, plus you can even try absinthe ice cream.
Find out why Prague is on our list of top destinations for solo travellers.
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And find deals to Prague in our city breaks collection.
Nick Elvin contributed to this post.