city + travel guide // prague.

about a zillion and a half years ago, i lived in prague.

it's something most people know about me.  but in this world of the interwebs, these days, i don't mention it too much.  new friends are usually surprised to hear that's how i met my husband and ended up with this life i have today.  i always say that moving to prague was the best decision i ever made, and i still firmly believe that today.

when a friend of mine shared online that she was headed to prague and asked for some recommendations, i tried to send her over to my blog.  but when i looked through the archives, it turns out i didn't actually have any recommendations on prague there.  so i rubbed my hands together and got to work, sending her a mile-long email.  and luckily for you, dear traveler, i'm sharing it here today as well.

because this information is just going to waste, sitting up there collecting spiderwebs in my brain.  i don't get to use that part of my brain that much these days.


so.  you're going to prague, eh?  good for you.  i can tell you make good choices in life.  prague is one of those cities that is kind of... i don't know how to say it.  it's not what you think it is.  it's more beautiful than you'll imagine.  it's haunting.  it doesn't leave you.  like kafka said, 'prague won't let you go... the little mother has claws.'  and that's true.

let's start with the basics.  like, it's not czechoslovakia anymore people, it's the czech republic.  slovakia is totally different.  but not really all that different.  all jokes aside, the czech republic is a former 'second world' country formerly under soviet occupation that underwent an amazing transformation to the nation it is today.  it's fascinating stuff, and before you go i highly recommend reading up on the warsaw pact and russian occupation, prague spring and the velvet revolution.


basic info

english is widely spoken, so no worries there.  it helps to know a few basic czech phrases, such as:
     pivo // 'beer' [it's literally cheaper than water]
     prosim // 'hello' and 'please' and 'excuse me' and 'thank you,' kind of a catch-all phrase
     ahoj // 'hello'

country code is +420.

no visa is required to visit the czech republic if you are staying under 90 days.  but do make sure your passport is valid for at least 90 days after your planned date of entry, and that you have enough blank pages to rack up stamps.  for the most up to date info, check with the state department.

you must always carry your papers [read: copy of your passport] with you in case of an encounter by the police.  though it's been decades since the days of the secret police, they can still stop you for no reason and ask to see your papers [it's happened to me], especially if you're off the beaten path.  just stay calm and show the copy of your passport.

the city is filled with pick-pockets, more so than in other major cities in europe.  in prague you'll often find thieves slitting the bottom of your purse to take the contents while the purse is still on you, leaving you clueless for way too long.  keep your belongings close and your arms around your bag when you are in crowds.

while summer is the most common time to go, try spring or fall -- the city is just as beautiful [even more beautiful in spring!] and there will be fewer crowds.  and pickpockets.


getting around 

public transit is the easiest and cheapest way to get around.  between buses, metros and trams there isn't a place you'll want to go that can't be reached by public transit of some sort.

when you arrive at praha ruzyne airport, jump on the 119 bus and take it to the last stop, dejvicka.  from there you can get directly onto the green line metro, which takes you right into the city and you can transfer to other metro lines, buses or trams that will get you to the 10 districts of prague.

it can be tempting to hop on public transport without buying a ticket [public transit is on the honor system], but don't.  plainclothes policemen randomly get on and off transportation to check passes, and will almost certainly check yours if you are speaking english [especially if you're loud].  it's happened to me often and it's not worth the fine.  you can easily buy one or three day passes from any of the yellow kiosks in each metro station, or longer passes for monthly, quarterly, or annual visits from select metro stations.  check dpp for the most up to date rates.

if you plan on taking a cab [great late at night, as metros stop running at midnight and trams and buses switch to limited schedules], only take AAA cabs.  they are the only company with a good reputation and that won't rip off tourists.  even better, you can call ahead for one at 222-333-222.


sleeping

the alchemist hotel // if boutique hotels in old baroque homes steps away from the charles bridge is your thing, then i guess you'll like the alchemist.  the five-star hotel is also a spa, so definitely indulge in a massage after days of exploring the city on foot.  the hotel is located in the middle of mala strana, right next to the american embassy.  hobnob with all the best.  bonus: there's a lovely coffeeshop right next to the hotel with a fantastic view of this quiet, dedicated street.

miss sophie's // if your budget is more in the hostel range, or if you're looking for a longer stay and are interested in an apartment, this is the place for you.  miss sophie's rents out apartments in a gorgeous old building across the street [where i once lived!] in a quiet residential area.  you'll be a few blocks from wenceslas square and public transportation is easily accessible.

hotel josef // this design-forward hotel is a must if you're looking for modern digs.  though it's not technically in josef, it's off a quiet street filled with shops and restaurants in the middle of namesti republiky, the city's posh area.  you'll be close to the nightlife scene off a cobblestoned street, and, you guessed it, close to public transport.

the mandarin oriental // the best you can get.  tucked away on a quiet side street a few blocks off the charles bridge, the mandarin is the epitome of privacy, quiet and luxury.  also situated in mala strana, the views are unbeatable.  it's not far from the lennon wall and lovely restaurants, or from public transport.


eating  
note: these are restaurants off the beaten path where i ate regularly when i lived in prague.  they aren't filled with tourists or the kind of food you may be used to seeing.  they are truly places for locals.  also, avoid anyplace advertising a 'traditional czech meal' - that's local speak for 'tourist trap,'  where the food will be mediocre and overpriced.

u sadlu // if you're looking for where locals go for authentic czech food, u sadlu is it.  it can be a little hard to find, but it's worth it once you take a look at the extensive menu.  the kitchen serves up hearty servings of local meats, vegetables and old-world cuisines.  don't miss the croquettes.

cafe slavia // for this one, it's what's on the outside that counts.  the inside might look like a european-style diner, but the authentic czech food in the gorgeous old building with a view.  after dinner, walk across the street to take a leisurely stroll along the vltava.

jama // if you're over the local food, if you can't see one more croquette or plate of goulash, stop in jama for a burger and a pint of pivo.  just off wenceslas square, you'll find locals and expats alike at this pub.  they have late-night grub, too.

cafe louvre // divided between a low-key downstairs coffee shop and internet cafe and lively, vivacious czech restaurant upstairs, cafe louvre is lovely.  make reservations for upstairs and go for dinner, but pop into downstairs for a quick latte and slice of honey cake [soooo goooooood] anytime.   plus, free wifi.

radost fx // off the beaten trail for tourists, radost is the perfect place for a meal if you're tired of heavy, meaty czech food.  radost boasts an entirely vegetarian menu, rich in mediterranean flavors, that changes every week.  the decor is unique -- expect floor pillows and cozy couches.  bonus: there is a downstairs club in the evenings that hosts live shows, so come back on a weekend night and explore the cocktail menu.

bohemia bagel // the best breakfast place around and an expat haven.  this was our 'central perk' of prague, where we'd run into friends and meet up unannounced.  expect fluffy cream cheese, doughy bagels of all flavors, and great sandwiches and salads for lunch and dinner.  though the less touristy locations have closed, the spot off the charles bridge is convenient and has wifi.


playing 

prague castle // duh.  this is at the top of everyone's

the museum of communism // it's the most fascinating museum i have ever seen, hands down.  i recommend going on your first day.  it will give you a better sense of the nation, its people and what they have been through.  all the information you never learned about the cold war will be there.  just off wenceslas square on na knizici.  seriously.  go.

old town square // again, duh.  all the picturesque photos you've seen of prague, the fairytale spires, the astronomical cloch, this is where it all happens.  wander through it as often as you can.  or, even better, find an outdoor table to grab a cafe or pivo and watch the city stroll by you.

the lennon wall // this little known spot is just steps from the charles bridge in mala strana.  inspired by -- you guessed it -- john lennon's encouragement of peace, notes and drawings have been left here since the 80s.  colorful, full of positivity, and unexpectedly modern in the middle of an ancient city.

karluv most // perhaps the most well known sights in prague second only to the prague castle, the charles bridge is iconic.  once the only way to cross over the vltava river, the bridge made prague an essential stop on the european trade route.  today it's filled with statues, artist and people.  while it's gorgeous during the day, walk over it at night like a local and you'll find no other people and a city all lit up just for you.

the municipal house // called obecni dum in czech, prague's municipal house is part cafe, part restaurant, part concert hall and part civic building, and entirely gorgeous.  you can tour the whole building for a fee, or just sit in one of the cafes, sip your cocktail and admire the art nouveau around you.

josefov // the city's jewish quarter is tiny and hauntingly beautiful.  stop by franz kafka's birthplace and the quarter's cemetery.

memorial to the victims of communism // beautiful statues.  haunting.  right in the petrinske skalky park.  stroll over most legii after a meal at cafe slavia and watch the statues become more human as communism fades away.

alfons mucha museum // perhaps the czech republic's most famous artist know for his art nouveau posters of sarah bernhardt, this museum is one of my favorites.  the museum is open daily -- and don't miss the shop, where you can take your very own mucha poster home.


drinking

herna non-stops // there is not one of these.  there are a hundred.  you'll see signs all over.  these are bars open 24 hours that allow gambling in the form of slot machines.  they are smoky.  they are dark.  they might smell.  but if you want to have a drink with a local, here's a spot to do it.

tretter's // if you are into cocktails, this is your spot.  dress sharply and grab a table for the night -- no dance floors or crazy crowds here.  a grown-up cocktail bar.

absinthe time // absinthe has been all the rage in prauge for hundreds of years, so don't leave without spending a night with the green fairy.  try it the way locals have been drinking it or the french style.  just trust me -- don't drop your sugar cube on the floor.

nebe // across the street from absinthe time is this underground bar, translated as 'heaven.'  theme nights, loud music and a small dance floor keep things simple.

roxy // dance club where anything goes.  the upstairs is part art gallery and part internet cafe that's open late.  the downstairs is for when the sun goes down.  if you want an eastern european dance club, this is it.


day tripping

karlovy vary // if it's where queen latifah wants to spend the last few weeks of her life, who says it's not good enough for you?  but all jokes aside, czechs, russians and germans alike flock to this quaint spa town known for it's 'healing waters' or hot springs.  it's beautiful in winter and summer alike.  indulge in an authentic czech spa day while you're there... that's the whole point, after all.  the train is long [over four hours], but a bus is more direct and gets you there in just over an hour and a half from the florenc bus station.

*kutna hora //  if you are into buildings made out of bones, this place is for you.  kutna hora is home to the sediec ossuary, which contains teh skeletons of 40,000-70,000 people.  there are other sights there to see, but the ossuary alone attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year and is worth the day trip from prague.  trains or buses in prague are easy to come by out to kutna hora.

*cesky krumlov // a castle you say?  guarded by grizzly bears?  count me in.  that's the main draw of cesky krumlov, though the town is idyllic and charming enough to go for the scenery alone.  the historic city centre is a UNESCO world heritage site, largely unchanged in the last five [!!!] centuries.  the town is now the country's second largest tourist draw after prague.  at roughly 100 miles south of prague, you can easily catch a train daily from hlavni nadrazi and be there in about 3 1/2 hours.

plzen //  [a european capital of culture in 2015] visit the birthplace of pilsner!  plzen is the home of the pilsner urquell and gambrinus breweries.  but for a lesson on the history of beer, visit plzensky prazdroj brewery.  also visit the lovely st bartholomew's cathedral if you aren't in the bag.  trains are less than two hours from hlavni nadrazi.

*brno // for castles, cathedrals, quaint city squares and far fewer tourists, head to brno for the day.  brno has undergone a cultural rebirth in the last 20 years, and today hosts cultural festivals tat feature local wine, clothing, food and music.  buses and trains leave daily, though it's around a four hour trip.
southern moravia // the region in the czech republic mostly known for it's wine, come for the vineyards and stay for the free wine tasting at the vineyards.  there are four wine producing towns -- mikulov, slovacko, velke pavlovice and znojmo -- so pick your favorite or visit all four for a longer trip.  this trip would be a little better if you can stay overnight before returning back to prague and would be especially lovely to rent a car and drive to enjoy the scenery.  perfect for piggybacking on a trip to brno.

*these indicate UNESCO world heritage sights in these villages.