The capital of the Czech Republic is one of the oldest city destinations in all of Europe. As early as the Middle Ages, traders and pilgrims praised the shimmering sandstone towers of “Golden Prague.” Nowadays up to 30,000 people tread the well-known tourist paths through Staré Město, the Old Town.
Prague’s history as a European trading settlement began with the fortification of the castle hill, Hradčany, in the year 916. What followed was the building of churches, monasteries, palaces and the famous Charles Bridge, with its saints’ statues. It links the castle with the Old Town on the other bank of the Vltava. The Old Town Hall tower is considered a medieval highlight because of its astronomical clock. Every hour, on the hour, everyone on the square looks up when the clockwork figures of the twelve apostles appear.
Prague isn’t known only as the “Golden City,” but also as “Little Jerusalem.” The Josefov, or Jewish quarter, is one of the oldest centers of Jewish culture in all Europe: with six synagogues, the Jewish Town Hall, on one of whose two clocks Hebrew numerals run counterclockwise, and the Old Jewish Cemetery, with its tightly packed gravestones.
More than 1000 years of European history can be easily traced in today’s cityscape. Newer styles haven’t covered up older ones, so that artistic treasures and historical buildings from the Gothic, Baroque and Art Nouveau eras often stand strikingly next to each other.
Art Nouveau stained-glass windows by Alphonse Mucha adorn the Gothic architecture of St. Vitus Cathedral
Not least, Prague is a hotspot for beer-lovers and party tourists: alcohol flows down throats by the liter in the brewery restaurants and beer bars – for many, the perfect prelude to Prague’s vibrant night life, with its many discos and jazz clubs. The former working-class neighborhoods of Žižkov, Karlín and Holešovice are hip, but not overcrowded.
A perfect weekend
There are 1200 important buildings and monuments from all eras in Prague’s historical center alone. What can and should you see in 48 hours here? DW presenter Meggin Leigh found out. She checked out Europe’s most exciting cities and introduces them in the series “Meggin’s Perfect Weekend” on DW-TV’s lifestyle show, Euromaxx.
Here are Meggin Leigh’s personal tips for Prague:
Get to know the work of the Art Nouveau artist Alphonse Mucha in the Mucha Museum,
Panská 7, Nové Město
Try dumplings and duck with beer in the brewery restaurant U Medvídků, Na Perštýně 7, Staré Město
Relax in the Bernard Beer Spa, Štěpánská 33, Nové Město
20th century museums and memorials
The Mucha Museum is just one of the museums devoted to the 20th century in Prague. Visitors can also see how productive that century was in the city in the Museum of Decorative Arts. Among other things, it exhibits furniture by Czech Cubist designers and, with more than 160,000 glass, porcelain and ceramic objects, it has one of the largest glass collections worldwide.
The writer Franz Kafka, a Prague icon, was a contemporary of the artist Alphonse Mucha. Since 1989, artists have been creating monuments in various places around the city that evoke this author, renowned for his enigmatic and eerie narratives.
Kafka made his breakthrough with the short story “The Judgement”, which he wrote in a single sitting. You can follow his footsteps all over the city. In the house where he was born, near St. Nicholas Church, there is now a cafe. He wrote his novel “The Castle” in one room in the Josevov district, with a view of the castle hill, Hradčany. His house at Golden Lane 22 has long been more than an insider’s tip among Kafka fans. And since 2005, the Franz Kafka Museum has been shedding light on Kafka’s relationship with his home city.
In contrast, the memorial to the resistance fighters who, in 1942, succeeded in assassinating Reinhard Heydrich, the highest representative of the Nazi regime in Prague during the German occupation, commemorates the people of Prague’s desire for freedom. After the attack, the assailants hid in the Saints Cyril and Methodius Orthodox cathedral in Prague’s city center. The memorial is now in the church crypt.
At first glance, the Lennon Wall is cheerful, although it, too, was a political memorial. During the Cold War, despite an absolute ban, graffiti artists sprayed it with lyrics from songs by the British musician John Lennon.
On Wenceslas Square, the boulevard for the event-hungry, stands the National Museum, a universal museum with collections on nature and history. In front of it, a memorial serves as a reminder of the communist era: it marks the place on Wenceslas Square where a student, Jan Palach, immolated himself on January 16, 1969, to protest against the invasion of Warsaw Pact troops.
Cuisine: More than beer
Hearty and fatty: that verdict has dogged Bohemian cuisine since the 19th century – and justifiably so! The national dish is roast pork with sauerkraut and dumplings in numerous variations – potato, bread or bacon dumplings.
But in addition to that classic, it’s worth discovering traditional Czech cuisine. “Soup is the basis,” says an old Bohemian rule of cookery. Moravian sauerkraut soup with potatoes and some meat is typical, but so are beer, garlic, potato and pea soups. Breaded fried carp was once the traditional Czech Christmas dinner.
The picture of the absinthe drinker in Cafe Slavia, once a fabled meeting place for intellectuals and artists
Flour-based pastries as desserts or with coffee are a regular feature of Prague cuisine, so they’re often served in the many coffee houses. Typical desserts include Zwetschgenknödel, plum dumplings with poppy-seeds and the curd cheese known as quark; buchty, jam-filled yeast buns; kolache, pastries with puffy dough surrounding a fruit filling – the main thing is that they’re made with flour and eggs and are extremely sweet.
Prague is a beer metropolis. The next pub is never far away. The alcoholic national drink is drunk from half-liter glasses as a matter of principle – locals scorn smaller amounts! Of Prague’s 42 breweries, the largest is the Staropramen brewery in the former working-class district of Smíchov. In the oldest, U Fleků, beer has been brewed since 1499. Its special 13° beer is served in attached restaurant. The degree classifications, between 10° und 13° everywhere in Prague, indicate the sugar content of the original wort.
If, on the other hand, you’d rather try many different and international craft beer specialties, you should go to a beer bar. There, as in the BeerGeek Bar & Pivotéka with its 32 taps, beer brands are sold in rotation.
The love of beer remains a constant. Where meals are concerned, food trucks like those in other European cities offer an alternative to dining in a restaurant. Czech cuisine can be best explored on the riverfront, where every Saturday morning the Náplavka farmers’ market is set up. Sometimes there’s also live music, and, of course, a refreshing “pivo,” a beer, right on the banks of the beautiful Vltava.