First time visitors to Prague may have an overwhelming time when doing their research before travel. There are so many things that you can do and see in Prague that information you may come across can be conflicting (or too much) thus leaving you more torn and confused.
As a first time visitor in Prague, I’ve rounded up 10 tips and must-do’s (and how to’s) that I hope you find useful.
The beautiful Bohemian capital, and also the 14th largest city in Europe, Prague is one of those cities that gets way more international visitors than its entire population.
Prague has an estimated population of 1.2 million people yet it receives an average of 4.4 million international visitors annually.
I visited Prague for the first time last October and it was immediately evident why the city draws so much visitors.
Most of Prague’s attractions and main areas of the city didn’t suffer as much damage from the violence and destruction of World War II (and other 20th century conflict in Europe) compared to other European countries.
Here’s a mix of tips, suggested ‘Czech-list’, and observations I had as a first time visitor of Prague:
1.) Prague is made for walking
While I would recommend wearing sensible shoes, let me point out that the roads of Prague are quite even, making it a very pleasant city to walk around.
Central Prague holds most of the attractions that a first time tourist in Prague would be interested in (Charles Bridge, Old Town Square, Astronomical Clock , Wenceslas Square, etc.
Though most of Prague’s streets are cobbled, it’s quite even and wide. The highest incline that I could remember was getting to Prague Castle because it is on a hill but it’s very doable and is a great form of mild exercise.
Due to Prague’s even streets, I saw a lot of segway tours (you can see a group to the right on the above photo). But I much preferred walking.
Though fun and less tiring, being on a segway may probably distract me from focusing on the tour guide’s explanations.
Besides, walking around the streets and getting to know small by-ways and alleys are great way to feel the character and vibe of a place.
2.) Stay Central
Because most of Prague’s highlights can easily be accessed in the middle of the city, it is advisable to base yourself somewhere central.
I stayed at the Aria Hotel Prague, a music-themed luxury boutique hotel situated in Lesser Town Prague, a left bank neighbourhood filled with Baroque Palaces, churches and gardens. It is also very close to (10 minute walk) Charles Bridge, Prague Castle, and Old Town Square.
Check out my review of the Aria Hotel Prague, where you will discover that the hotel itself is home to Prague’s oldest Baroque garden.
3.) Get on Higher Ground
Among Prague’s many impressive reputations, it is also famously called as “the city of a hundred spires”.
This is due to the city’s many cathedrals and pointy spires. And luckily, there are quite a number of lookout points within Prague’s attractions that allow you to see why the city is called as such.
4.) Explore the grounds of Prague Castle
Prague Castle will most definitely be one of the stops for a first-time visitor to Prague. The castle is not the usual European castle / palace setting. It’s more like a sprawled out square that has a cathedral, the castle itself, gardens, and even its own vineyard.
Most tourists congregate at the castle gates because apart from having a scenic view of the city, this is also where the changing of the guards take place.
I urge you to explore the surrounding areas. The St. Vitus Cathedral has a very interesting entrance.
According to Nataly, JayWay Travel’s knowledgeable Prague contact and guide, the three entrances of the cathedral are for the 3 kinds of people who go to church: The middle entrance represents God and that’s where priests and holy men enter. To the left is Heaven, where you enter if you’ve been good and devout the entire week. And if you’ve sinned and have been bad for the week, you take the entrance to the right, which represents Hell.
I’m so glad I didn’t live back in the day in Prague. I’d probably have my name engraved on the right entrance! 😉
Prague Castle also has a small vineyard with a restaurant and a lovely winding path next to it, so make sure to really explore the area as it seems a lot of people haven’t known about this yet (and I’m not complaining) because despite the gates of Prague castle being crowded, there weren’t that much people in this area.
5.) Explore the surrounds of the Astronomical Clock
The Astronomical Clock is definitely one of the must-visits when in Prague. Located in Old Town Square, the clock was first installed in 1410, making it the third oldest astronomical clock in the world.
Over 600 years old and still running!
And because the clock is extremely popular, it can also get really crowded. After you marvel and take photographs of the Astronomical Clock, walk around the Old Town Square, explore the shops and as touristy as they are, you are still bound to see some ‘hidden’ treasures that the normal tourist eye may not.
Such as the Clementin Old Town Hotel, the narrowest preserved house in Prague.
The width of the house is 3.28 metres. And with only 9 rooms, this can possibly be Prague’s smallest hotel.
Ok before I proceed with the next 5 tips, let’s take a break and watch this highlights video of our time in Prague:
6.) Do not miss the Klementinum
The Klementinum is a complex of historical (not to mention stunning!) buildings. This is located just next to the Charles Bridge so it is also in the heart of Central Prague.
We took a 50-minute guided tour of the Klementinum which took us to see the Mirror Chapel (above), a beautiful small concert hall which still holds live concerts to this day.
The tour also included going up the Astronomical Tower, which was a very interesting climb as some parts of the stairs (especially the top most level) were kept original – thick , wooden steps that are over 600 years old.
Once you finish climbing all 172 steps, you get a bird’s eye view at 52 metres high and you get a stunning view of Prague. Of course, it isn’t called Astronomical Tower for no good reason. Hundreds of years ago, Jesuit scholars and their students used the tower for astronomical and climate observations. And some of their original observation devices ( sextant, maps and charts) are still there.
But one of the best reasons to visit the Klementinum is…
7.) The World’s most beautiful library is there
Opened in 1722, the Klementinum Library is a perfect example of the beauty of Baroque architecture.
It was originally part of a Jesuit university based in the Klementinum. It currently houses over 20,000 volumes of books (mostly foreign theological literature). The collection dates back from the early 17th century until the present.
To get to the library, you need to get tickets to the 50 minute tour inside the Klementinum that includes the Mirror Chapel and the Astronomical tower. Though no one is actually allowed to enter the library itself, it is open for batch viewings and just getting a glimpse of the library is enough reason to enter the Klementinum complex.
You really have to show respect to a city that holds this much appreciation for books!
8.) Prague is even more amazing at night
By day, Prague is already quite enchanting as you are surrounded by Baroque style architecture in broad daylight.
However, you’ll find that it can be hard to photograph (or enjoy in solitude) the more popular attractions such as the Charles Bridge and the Astronomical Tower.
Prague is so picturesque it’s not surprising to see photoshoots , such as this rather entertaining one that we encountered:
After 10AM, Charles Bridge is guaranteed to be really filled. So either visit it real early in the morning, or wait when most tourists are having dinner or heading back to the hotels and head there at night.
It definitely feels like an entirely different world when you take the time to explore during night time. The atmosphere is different, the streets have considerably less people and the lights coupled with the Baroque grandeur of Prague, just creates a more romantic mood.
9.) Prague is a foodie city
If you are a foodie, there’s a great chance you may want to relocate in Prague. This city has a penchant for food festivals! In September alone, Prague had a Wine Festival, a Foodparade Food Festival, a Bohemian and Bluegrass BBQ Festival, and a Burgerfest. All that in just one month. Any other months, you may find all other kinds of foods celebrated: Cheese festival, raw food festival, beer festival, among many many others.
Vegetarians won’t feel left out in the city famous for its meats. Prague has a lot of modern and multicultural restaurants , and I myself was able to get a seitan wrap for dinner right in Old Town Square.
Here’s JayWay Travel’s recommendations of vegetarian restaurants in Prague for those who are curious.
10.) Take a private tour in Prague
A huge part of my enjoyment of Prague is due to the fact that I toured it privately. I went with JayWay Boutique Travel, specialists in private travel around Central and Eastern Europe.
In every city, they have a dedicated contact person. I spent my 3 days with Nataly, JayWay Travel’s go-to and lady-in-charge in Prague. She is a local of Prague so she knew best when and where to take us to avoid rush hour and unnecessary queues.
Having a private tour also ensured that we toured Prague the way we wanted it to be. This means time was not wasted waiting on other people. No flags or umbrellas to be followed.
Prague is increasingly becoming a more popular tourist destination so it’s little wonder that we saw tour groups in most attractions we went to.
Prague is definitely one of the most romantic cities in Europe. It’s aesthetically beautiful, it’s tourist-friendly and has history dating several hundreds of years back that is still very evident today.
If you’re about to head to Prague, I hope this list will help you narrow down the things you would like to do (and how to do it!)
Have you been to Prague? If not, what do you think you’ll enjoy the most in Prague (given the above)?
We travelled to Prague as guests of JayWay Boutique Travel, but all thoughts and opinions are my own.