Photo Courtesy of Ryan Lum
Majestic and mysterious, Prague is easily one of the most beautiful capital cities in Europe. The cobbled lanes and preserved architecture are globally renowned, but visitors will also find world-class museums, cutting-edge art galleries, iconic cafes, local fashion designers, hopping nightlife venu…es, and a food scene that confidently straddles local and international cuisine. Once you’re done exploring the Old Town, don’t forget to wander around such trendy neighborhoods as Vinohrady and Zizkov to discover even more surprises.
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Unlike many Eastern European cities—nearby Dresden, for example—Prague was largely spared the demolition of World War II. The city was merely a province in the Austro-Hungarian empire, and mostly managed to avoid being rebuilt during the 18th and 19th centuries. The resulting abundance of baroque, Gothic, and Renaissance architecture makes the city a kind of open-air museum, especially around the Old Town area. Of course, a trip to Prague wouldn’t be complete without a stroll across the historic Charles Bridge to visit the city’s most impressive sight: Prague Castle.
Gone are the days when pork, cabbage, and knedliky (dumplings) were all you could find on Czech menus. The city’s dining scene has made leaps and bounds since the Iron Curtain fell, and Prague is now something of a foodie destination. While traditional Czech food is still available (in both homemade and high-end variants), visitors will find an array of international cuisine from Michelin-starred restaurants as well as dedicated vegetarian spots. To really get a taste of the city, visit the annual Grand Restaurant Festival, which occurs in winter.
Prague may not have a Louvre or MOMA as a headquarters for its cultural offerings; but there are enough sights and museums to keep visitors busy for days. The National Gallery and National Museum should be the first stops for anyone interested in Czech culture. Art aficionados cannot miss Museum Kampa, which focuses on contemporary Czech and central European art, or the more cutting edge DOX Centre for Contemporary Art in Poupetova. All travelers should catch a show at the State Opera or National Theatre as well as attend a classical concert in one of the city’s stunning churches or palaces.
Some of Prague’s most extraordinary architecture and design comes from the early 20th century. Learn how the period influenced the city and its distinctive style by taking an Art Nouveau and Modernism: Prague at the Turn of the Century walking tour with Context, AFAR’s travel partners.
In the not-so-distant past, Prague’s shops stocked only what the ruling Communist regime would allow. Fortunately, those days are behind us. Though the plethora of tacky tourist shops and outsized malls remain, they are counterbalanced by a burgeoning range of international stores and local boutiques. The glamorous Parizska (Paris) Street features the big hitters such as Prada and Louis Vuitton. Elsewhere, fashion and jewelry boutiques sell the works of local designers like Klara Nademlynska. For some real insight into the local fashion scene, visit during Prague Fashion Weekend, which takes place in spring and fall.
Summer is the peak time to visit Prague due to the warmer weather, though spring and autumn are a good option for those happy to trade warmer temperatures for thinner crowds. The city is easily accessible by planes, buses, and trains within Europe. The Prague Metro network is easy to use, consisting of just three lines designated by letters and colors. Since the Czech Republic is a member of the European Union (EU) and part of the Schengen Area, most tourists do not require a visa to visit Prague (just a valid passport, or ID card for EU citizens). The official language is Czech, and the currency is the koruna. Ten percent is the usual tip for good service. As in most of continental Europe, the electricity supply in Prague is 230v.
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Joann Plockova is a freelance writer based in Prague. Specializing in design and travel, her byline can be found in the New York Times, Monocle, Conde Nast Traveller and AFAR.com, among other publications. When not in Prague, she can be found working on her personal essays in one of Europe’s other great cities (Berlin, Paris, Vienna), or visiting family in Florida.
Paul Sullivan is a Berlin-based writer, editor, and photographer. Covering music, travel, and culture, his words and images have appeared in a broad range of international publications such as The Guardian, The Sunday Times, National Geographic Traveller UK, BBC Travel and more.