Prague, the capital and largest city of the Czech Republic, and historical capital of Bohemia proper, was founded circa 885 AD. Overall, the city is quiet and resembles a smaller version of Paris. The Czech state, formerly known as Bohemia, was formed in the late 9th century as a small duchy around Prague, at that time under the dominance of the powerful Great Moravian Empire. After the fall of the Empire in 907, the center of power was transferred from Moravia to Bohemia. From 1198 to 1918 the state was known as the Kingdom of Bohemia, from 1918 to 1968 Czechoslovakia, after which it was the Czech Socialist Republic, and finally in 1993, the Czech Republic. After all the power changes, the Bohemian roots are still evident in the architecture, lifestyle and multitude of infamous Absinthe stores/bars.
City size: 192 sq. miles. (But the center is more like 32 sq. miles)
Transportation ease: very easy (walk/trolleys/bus)
Currency: Czech koruna (Czech Crown)
Exchange rate:1USD = 19.2 Crowns
1 Euro= 25.66 Crowns
Money Denominations: 1, 2, 5, 20, 50 are coins; 100, 200, 500 are paper (which means you will have a pocket full of jingling change, as you will constantly get change in coins)
Purchasing power of dollar (according to me): fairly good. Ex. A beer in the center of the city (Praha 1) roughly $2.50; dinner, roughly $18.00
Time: Central European Time Zone (6 hours ahead of NY time; EST)
I started off my trip by arriving at the Prague Václav Havel Airport, coming from Kiev, Ukraine. My first impression was quite profound, noticing the English being accompanied by Czech, as well as Russian and Korean. Why would anyone place signs in Korean, in the middle of Europe you may ask? Well, turns out that a Korean airline has bought out a large share of the airport and is planning on making it its main transfer hub in Europe. Shortly after landing, I have arrived at my hotel, Gallery Hotel SiS, which is infamously known for its Absinthe Bar. Before I get into the location of the hotel, it is important to know that Prague is divided into ten numbered districts, with “Praha 1” being the cultural center of the city. Gallery Hotel is located in the Praha 4 district, which is a 20-minute walk or 10-minute trolley ride from Praha 1.
Arriving to Prague on a Sunday has a weird feeling associated with it, as all the street were empty, with people coming out of their homes only around 4 pm.
The cultural part of the city is divided into a few parts: Mala Strana (Lesser Town), Stare Mesto (Old Town), and Nove Mesto (New Town). Trying to list all of the places to see here is virtually impossible as the city is teeming with landmarks and architectural wonders, so I will list a few most notable ones, the ones I have personally visited. As I was walking from my hotel over to Praha 2, the first thing that has caught my attention was the National Museum. Founded in 1818, it houses numerous exhibits ranging from paleontology to theatre.
Walking around the Museum, an astounding sight of the Wenceslas Square is revealed. Wenceslas houses numerous hotels, shops and restaurants and is one of the top spots to hang out and shop in Prague.
Walking down Wenceslas Square, and making a right will lead you past a Burger King, Money Exchange and Western Union place and iWorld, to Vltava river and the beautiful National Theatre.
National Theatre is also known as the Alma Mater of the Czech opera. This beautiful building was completed in 1881 and houses the Czech ballet, opera and drama.
Making a right at the river will lead you to the famous Charles Bridge. Its construction started in 1357 under the auspices of King Charles IV, and finished in the beginning of the 15th century. The bridge replaced the old Judith Bridge built 1158-1172 that had been badly damaged by a flood in 1342. As the only means of crossing the river Vltava until 1841, the Charles Bridge was the most important connection between Prague Castle and the city’s Old Town and adjacent areas. This “solid-land” connection made Prague important as a trade route between Eastern and Western Europe. Charles Bridge houses many medieval era statues along both sides of it, which make the walk across a true travel through time.
Coming back over the bridge from Mala Strana to Stare Mesto, you can walk straight into the city to see the third oldest and the only working Astronomical Clock, which was instituted in 1410.
If you went left at the National Theatre instead of right, after a few long blocks you would see the Milunić and Gehry’s Dancing House, and a beautiful view of the Vltava river with the Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral on the top of the hill.
Some interesting things to know about Prague:
1) The Wenceslas Square and streets around it close from around 9AM to late at night, making it possible to walk around the Town Square and adjacent streets with ease.
2) If need to change money to Czech Crowns look for 0% commission exchange which are mostly located in the center of the city, as for hotels, most do not change money. Commission can kill your exchange rate.
3) Many public bathrooms are available in the metro stations and underground crosswalks, at a 5 Crowns charge.
4) Although I didn’t mind walking, you can use trolleys and buses for transport around the city, from I remember its 24 Crowns for a 30 minute ride, 32 Crowns for a 90 minute ride, and 110 Crowns for a 24 hour access to the public transportation. These passes can be bought at any “deli” type stores, metro stations or yellow colored automated ticket dispensaries. Public transportation arrives every 3-5 minutes during the day and 5-10 minutes at night, so there should not be a problem hitching a ride across town at any time. It took me 15 minutes to get from Praha 4 to Praha 1 by trolleys.
5) If you’re a fan of trying out different national dishes when traveling, as I am, I suggest ordering “Pork Knee.” Pork Knee is what it states to be, a piece of pork, on skin, marinated in dark beer and prepared in red sauce with consists of tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, etc.
If you are not a fan of pork, you can try out a virtually endless variety of beef steaks, which are equally as good, and will clearly depict Czech culture through your taste buds.
6) Beer! There are too many to explain each one, and they are all great! From the original pilsner, Pilsner Urquell, to a multitude of lesser-known microbrewery brands, beer is king here. Well what would you expect from the home of the original Budweiser! The king of beers.
Overall, this is an amazing city. If I could sum it all up in a few words, glorifying architecture and great beer!
*Image of Prague Castle after sunset via Shutterstock