You’re probably wondering how beer has made its way into the title of this blog post. Well, it’s because there is more beer consumed per capita in the Czech Republic than any other country in the world, even Ireland! So beer was a prominent feature in our weekend away together to Prague in October 2016.
Travel tips for Prague:
- Expect on occasion to pay with cash, even for your hotel
- Do a Sandeman’s Walking Tour soon after arriving
- Avoid peak season: even in cold weather Prague was packed with tourists!
- Good restaurants: Kozlovna Apropos, U Medviku, Pivovarsky Klub
- Visit Charles Bridge at night: less people and a great view of the illuminated Prague Castle
- The Jewish Quarter attractions are closed on Saturdays and Jewish holidays
- Cross the Vltava river on another bridge so you can see Charles Bridge from a distance
Friday – Flight from London to Prague
The Stansted airport experience was much better than I remembered. Maybe because we left with plenty of time and somewhat enjoyed the train trip as we planned our weekend adventure. Even the additional check of our carry on bags in the security process felt relatively painless!
Our flight with RyanAir was delayed slightly to 7:55pm, but we were soon in the air on our way to picturesque Prague. We landed around 10:30pm and decided to catch a 30 minute Uber for 300kr (approximately £10) to our hotel rather than attempting the trek on different forms of public transport late at night.
We love uber. Our driver arrived at the airport within 5 minutes of our request and drove us literally to our hotel door, pulling up on the cobblestone pathway outside. Charming Prague Apartments at the Black Star was our home for the next two nights. It wasn’t clear which door to enter so we pressed the intercom buzzer and crossed our fingers. The man who responded seemed to know who we were, buzzed us in and told us where to find the keys. With the keys we found a map which led us back outside the building (after a short brochure collection stop inside), and into the next door along.
We walked to the second floor and found apartment 201. For two people we were really spoilt for space. Downstairs there is a kitchen, fridge, sofa, coffee table and TV. Upstairs is a bathroom and two beds in what feels like a cubby house with an arched doorway and exposed beams on the ceiling. Plans for tomorrow? Maybe an e-bike tour!
Saturday – Walking tour, goulash, beer and Charles Bridge
To avoid hanger in a place yet to be explored, Harry and I opted for breakfast at the hotel for 5 euros each. Unfortunately our hotel did not accept card payments so we walked all of about 10 metres outside to withdraw some cash.
As you read earlier, the currency conversation at our time of travel was around £10 for 300kr. So to pay for our accommodation and breakfast, we had quite a few thousand korunas in our hands! We offloaded it immediately back at the hotel.
Our late night planning led us to an e-bike tour departure point. Sadly it was raining and there was no-one else as silly as us enquiring about morning e-bike tours in the rain. But we did have an umbrella so after a quick Google search we were off to the Old Town Square for the 10:45am Sandeman’s Free Walking Tour.
This walking tour lasts for around 3 hours and visits the main attractions of Prague city. Our tour guide was actually American though had studied Czech history at university and lives in Prague with his Czech girlfriend. I was convinced during the tour that he must know more about Prague and its history than any local! I used Facebook Live for the first time to capture 5 minutes of the walking tour if you’d like to imagine you were there https://www.facebook.com/hofftoexplore/videos/1140102229399576/
There is so much to learn about Prague! Here are a few things we learned from our tour guide:
- The astronomical clock dates as far back as the 1400s and still operates today on the hour every hour until 11pm
- The clock was voted Europe’s second most disappointing tourist attraction
- Rudolf II was the Emperor that introduced eccentric characters like astronomers and astrologers to the city
- Prague was not damaged in the war due to its central location
- The now Czech Republic country has changed its shape and borders many times, with the most recent being the split of Czechoslovakia in 1993
- Eurotrip was filmed here including scenes of Paris and London and its easy to see why (now I have to watch Eurotrip again)
- Czechs are mainly atheist due to the constant issues with catholicism and protestant religions
- Pilsner (beer) was born in Bohemia (former Czech Republic)
At this point we stopped for a bite to eat. What did we have? Goulash of course! Goulash is a traditional Czech dish that generally comes with beef and dumplings covered in a sauce that looks like gravy. All for 175kr which is about £5. Yum.
Our tour continued on towards the old Jewish Quarter. Here our tour guide pointed out the cemetery and explained the belief that it inspired the Jewish memorial in Berlin (which you can see in our video here). We agreed, but I’ll let you be the judge of that.
Have you heard the story of Friedl? I hadn’t either. Friedl and her husband were Jews deported to the Terezin ghetto during the war. Here, Friedl secretly taught art lessons, encouraging students to paint their hopes and dreams. It is believed that during this time Friedl had around 600 students. Sadly Friedl’s husband was transported to Auschwitz (a Nazi concentration camp) and she chose to go with him. He survived however Friedl did not. The positive to this story is that Friedl buried the paintings before the journey to Auschwitz and when her husband returned, he recovered the paintings. Some of these paintings are on display at the Pinkas Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter.
Towards the end of the tour we saw the famous Charles Bridge, Prague Castle and Rudolfinium. Charles Bridge is quite stunning, lined with statues of saints and patron saints. The Prague Castle is large and impressive from afar and our tour guide told us that the Rolling Stones paid around $30,000 in 1995 to light up the castle at night. Random and interesting fact! Turns out they were friends with the Czech President Vaclav Havel who at the time had bigger issues to worry about and pay for. The Rudolfinium is a beautiful concert hall near the water. Another interesting fact from our tour guide was that during the war the Nazis took down the statue with the largest nose, believing it must be the Jew. In fact it was Hitler’s favourite composer. Kharma! The statue has since been returned and stands on the top of the Rudolfinium with the other three statues.
End of tour! We thanked our friendly and knowledgeable tour guide with a 600kr tip and headed towards Kozlovna Apropos for lunch. This place was completely full! And we think the waiter enjoyed informing us so. But we were determined and waited for the next available table which took no longer than 5 minutes. It was worth the wait. Harry enjoyed the duck (as he always does) and I had chicken schnitzel. It was our first Czech beer experience (in Czech Republic) and after learning about the pilsner, Harry gave it a try and I chose a dark Kozel beer. Cost? 300kr duck, 200kr chicken and around 40kr for a 0.5l beer. Yep! That’s around £1 for a beer!
It was time to explore Charles Bridge up close. You’d think in off season with a slight drizzle that maybe it might not be too busy. Wrong! The bridge was rammed with people, not to mention the people selling their jewellery and art and artists waiting to draw your caricature. Most of the statues have been there since the 1700 and 1800s and are now captured in photos as tourists touch a part of the statues for good luck.Next? Massage please. Whilst we didn’t expect to find so many Thai massage places in Prague, we were quite happy to visit one. We went to Thai World, next to Trdlo, one of the popular sweet pastry places. Cost 500kr for 30 minutes. Annoyingly we later saw a Thai massage place next to Madame Tussaud’s for 599kr for 60 minutes (always the way!) Oh well, our massage was good so if you’re willing to pay a little more, go to Thai World.
I mentioned Trdlo. It was the first time we’d seen these kind of pastries before. They look like a donut swirl around a stick and you can have them ‘as is’ or with a topping. They’re cooked over coals and served warm. We chose the ice-cream topping and despite the cold weather, Harry still ended up with melted ice-cream dripping down his jacket.
Relaxed and full of dessert we were ready for a sleep. Back at the Charming Prague Apartments we found a complimentary bottle of Prosecco downstairs on the table so we popped it in the fridge for later. After a quick nap, Harry went searching for snacks to enjoy with our Prosecco and came back with hand-cut and cooked chips (crisps). So good!
Around 9pm we thought we had better make our way to dinner or we’ll miss out! Our walking tour guide had given us the tip to try U Medviku, an old brewery (1466) offering traditional Czech food and beer. It’s quite big and feels like an enclosed beer hall with different rooms. Harry had pork knee and I had steak. Both delicious but a stomach turn for me personally, having to look at Harry’s pork knee and the middle of my steak which despite asking for ‘well done’ was still much too rare for me. I’d imagine it would be quite hard for a vegetarian to visit Prague. Cost around 333kr each plus the usual 40kr each for 0.5l beers. Speaking of which, the beer was called Budweiser Budvar and was labelled differently than the Budweiser we were used to seeing. A quick Google search showed that there has been an ongoing dispute about the claim and use of the word ‘Budweiser’. Well there you go! Harry’s preference was the Budweiser Budvar. U Medviku closes at 11pm so don’t leave it as late as us to get there.
A bottle of Prosecco and a few beers in, we were ready for a pub crawl. It was difficult to judge the inside atmosphere from the outside with the cold weather and doors tightly shut. For one reason or another (probably the sound of music) we ended up at the Dubliner, an Irish pub. There was a band playing all the old favourites and people attempting to own the dance floor around the tables still in place from dinner time. We stayed for a beer then went to see Charles Bridge and the Prague Castle at night. The bridge was much more roomy at night time! We even had the opportunity to touch the statues for good luck and I might have said hello to a dog that was part of a scene on one of the statues. Our legs decided we had walked enough today, so we returned to the Apartments for a rest before doing it all again tomorrow.
Sunday – Jewish Quarter, Pivovarsky Klub and John Lennon Wall
Good breakfast spot: La Bottega di Finestra. If you’re feeling like an old faithful such as eggs benedict this place is for you. Bellies full, we scooted off towards the astronomical clock with around 5 minutes to spare before 11am. It really is genuinely disappointing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s interesting, but you can see why our tour guide made the joke about locals enjoying watching the tourists’ faces when it’s all over and they expected more. Seems like an unfair expectation of something built in the 1400s!
With the Jewish Quarter attractions like the Pinkas Synagogue closed on Saturdays (and Jewish holidays), we planned to visit there today instead. Our walking tour guide pointed out the ticket office yesterday so we knew exactly where to go. Cost is 300kr for entry into selected buildings in the Jewish Quarter and 280kr each for the audio guides.
The most interesting for us was the Jewish cemetery where around 100,000 Jews are buried on top of each other in about 10 layers. This is the site that our walking tour guide said was the inspiration for the Berlin Jewish memorial. There were gravestones on top of gravestones, at different heights and some leaning on or over others.
And remember Friedl? The Pinkas Synagogue was the other place included in our ticket that left us with a lasting impression. The student paintings are not only of hopes and dreams but of what it was like living there during that time. It’s scary to think that all this happened around 70 years ago. Less than a lifetime! We handed our headsets back in at the ticket office and made our way to see the Municipal House. It’s another one of Prague’s beautiful buildings, worth stopping and admiring even if just for a moment.
Lunchtime! Another tip from our walking tour guide was to visit the Pivovarsky Klub. Here they have 6 different beers on tap from small breweries, changed on a regular basis. The place itself has beer bottles lining the walls and if you love your beer history, there’s plenty to see here. For me I was happy about the lunch special. 105kr for goulash. The meat was fattier than the goulash on our walking tour stop, but it was still good. Harry tried a Benedict Imperial Pilsner, and I tried another dark beer (so good I can’t remember the name of it). Cost? 290kr total including lunch and 1 beer each. So £5 each plus a tip. Bargain.
Our flight back to London was not until 9:55pm so we still had plenty of time to explore. We tried to find Lokal for a beer, another recommendation from our walking tour guide. When we found it, it didn’t look that exciting. Lokal is a restaurant in a few different places around Prague so maybe the others are better. Or maybe it’s not your typical ‘beer only’ type of hangout. Instead we walked across the river on the next bridge up from Charles Bridge.
It was nice to see Charles Bridge and the statue silhouettes from a distance. When we reached the riverbank on the other side, we also just happened to find where all the swans hang out. They’re so used to people you can walk right up to them. A lady was feeding the swans bread and they were eagerly tearing off big chunks at a time.
As we were walking past a pub, the pretzels on the tables caught our attention. Another 20 metres later we literally turned around, entered the beer garden and made ourselves comfortable at a table. The pub is called Svejk and if you’re looking for traditional Czech food and beer, this is another place to try. A few pretzels (15kr each, not free so don’t get too carried away!) and beers later, we walked on to see the John Lennon Wall.
Having seen the John Lennon Wall marked on the map, I didn’t know what to expect. Getting closer, we could hear an acoustic guitarist and see people taking selfies with the beautiful colours and messages behind them on the wall. Nearby there is also a bridge with loads of the very popular love locks.
It was time to collect our bags from the hotel before 7pm. With 100kr left to spend, we went to O’Che’s, yet another Irish bar. For 100kr in an Irish bar, we had one option only. Two 0.3l beers for 45kr each. Just as the live music was getting started, it was time to meet our Uber – destination airport!