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Viva la vie Boheme: Prague Travel Guide

Three weeks ago, my husband and I visited Prague and Kutná Hora in the Czech Republic. Below, you will find the highlights (and lowlights) of our trip, suggestions for food and drink, and travel tips for your future visit!

Food and Drink

Restaurants

The Good

The best restaurant we visited was Restaurant Dačický, a traditional Czech restaurant in Kutná Hora with huge portions. I had the leg of duck with dumplings, which was cooked to perfection; crispy skin and juicy on the inside. I would say this was probably the best meal I had on our entire trip, and I overheard several others in our tour group make similar proclamations.

Looking for something delicious in Prague? Look no further than Mlsnej Kocour for traditional Czech dishes and quick service. I had the wild boar with dumplings and my husband had the sirloin. I really enjoyed my meal; I’ve never had dumplings like that before, and they went really well with the sauce. The meat was also very tender and practically fell apart in my mouth. My husband wasn’t as impressed with his food, but said it was still “good.” Personally, I think his cleaned plate spoke for itself.

The food and drink at the Mechanický Balet was so good, I kept eating even as a headache began to make me nauseous. I had an elderberry lemonade and the Svickova, a beef dish with (surprise!) more dumplings. My husband had the unfiltered version of their house beer and a burger because he was, and I quote, “sick of dumplings.”

Another bright spot is Trang An, a Vietnamese restaurant in the middle of the Prague Market. If you’re looking for something cheap and delicious, this should be your destination of choice. In fact, it’s the best Vietnamese food I’ve had since moving to Europe.

Unfortunately, not every restaurant we visited was so great…

The Bad

Despite it’s positive reviews, I would advise skipping the Garage Karlín, which (supposedly) serves Canadian poutine. Strangely, for a place centered around the food of an English-speaking country, this was the only place where the employees seemed annoyed that we were speaking English. That would have been completely forgivable (and forgettable) if the food was good, but it was the most regrettable meal I’ve had in recent memory. We both had the Montreal Poutine, which had shredded beef and fried onion. The gravy was extremely bland and I don’t think the meat was seasoned at all. It was basically just a lumpy mess of soggy fries, sad cheese curds, and hunks of flavorless meat.

And the…?

Feeling risky? Check out Zluta Pumpa, a Tex-Mex restaurant. The inside is colorful and vibrant, with interesting decor and friendly waitstaff. Disappointingly, they offer sides of guacamole and salsa, but no tortilla chips to eat them with. Personally, I didn’t care for my enchiladas; I don’t think the meat was seasoned, and the red sauce tasted more like pasta sauce. My husband really enjoyed his burrito. If you want to see what Europeans think Mexican food is supposed to taste like, this is the place you should go.

Cafes

Every cafe we visited in Prague had good coffee. This was a pleasant surprise, as I’m used to visiting “highly rated” cafes in other cities, only to be completely let down by awful, sour-tasting coffee.

In a city of great coffee, Kavárna Pražírna was the best. In fact, I would go so far as to say their cappuccino is the best I’ve ever had, period. It had a lovely aroma and flavor that was very unique; sweet, but without any syrups added, and a taste that was a curious mix of both nut and berry notes.

My second-place pick for the best coffee on our trip is Oliver’s Coffee Cup. Oliver’s is a cute little coffee shop situated in a small shopping center. Reviewers say it’s the best cup in the area. If you’re in need of a quick pick-me-up in Wenceslas Square, this cafe should be your first choice.

Not in the mood for coffee? I had a great London Fog at Muj Salek Kavy, and my husband had a hot chocolate that had the taste and consistency of melted chocolate. My drink was good, don’t get me wrong, but his was better; it was hard to resist taking more than one sip.

Bars

prague gin tonic bar

We ended our first night at the Prague Beer Museum, a pub with over 30 beers on tap from different (mainly small) breweries. Places like that were easy to find when we lived in Michigan, but they’re nonexistent here in Wolfsburg; so, it was an unexpected delight to experience something so familiar. I had an IPA and a blueberry lager. The IPA was very good, but the lager was awful; it tasted like someone tried to turn grape Kool-aid into a beer. All of their beers come in tasting, small, and large sizes and you can even order a flight! If you’re visiting Prague and enjoy craft beer, this should be an essential stop on your trip.

Looking for cocktails? Try the Gin and Tonic Club. They have a large selection of (you guessed it!) gin, mixers, and garnishes. All of the jars and bottles of garnishes made the bar feel like a laboratory, where they’ve perfected the art of the gin and tonic. I chose an elderberry and earl gray tea cocktail, and while I’ve had a better earl gray cocktail before (shout out to the Standby in Detroit!) their creation still hit all the right notes. If you’re visiting on a weekday and you’re looking for a quiet spot to have a drink, try going during earlier evening hours; we were the only people there at 8 PM.

Things to Do

Tours

Planning on taking a tour during your visit to Prague? I recommend you book with Discover Prague Tours. There are plenty of great, free tours available (remember to tip at the end!) but the paid tours like this one are (usually) smaller and more personal. The majority of their offerings are in Prague, but we decided to book one of their day tours, which takes you an hour away to the small town of Kutná Hora.

The Bone Church of Kutná Hora

The bone church of the Sedlec Ossuary features three pyramids made of human skulls, a coat of arms made of arm bones, and a huge chandelier made of every bone in the human body.

In 1278, an abbot brought back soil from the holy land and sprinkled it onto the cemetery. This act led to a rumor that the burial grounds were an instant ticket to heaven. This belief was so widespread that even people from outside of the Kingdom of Bohemia wanted to be buried there; naturally, the cemetery expanded to accommodate the growing numbers. The cemetery grew even larger during the black plague, as the living often had no choice but to bury their dead in mass graves.

The Ossuary itself was built around 1400 to accommodate the bones of the deceased that had been exhumed from mass graves, or graves that were removed to make room for new burials. In the 1500’s, a half-blind monk was charged with tending to the bones stored in the Ossuary. Allegedly, this unnamed monk is the creator of the skull pyramids. The sculptures, meanwhile, were put together by a woodcarver named František Rint in the 1800’s. You can see his signature, in bone, on the wall.

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Church of the Assumption and St. Barbara’s in Kutná Hora

The Church of the Assumption houses the remains of two “incorruptable” saints and you can walk through the unfinished rafters. According to our guide, the monastery has been used for tobacco production since the early 1800’s. It has gone through extensive reconstruction recently, and reopened to the public in 2009.

prague church organ  

St. Barbara’s Church has beautiful frescoes that depict the secular lives of the medieval town folk, stunning stained glass, and an original medieval pew. St. Barbara is the patron saint of miners, which is why there are many nods to them in the cathedral. Mining silver was once Kutná Hora’s biggest industry, at one point making it wealthier than Prague. In fact, this now-sleepy little town tried on several occasions to become the capital.

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Our tour guide did an excellent job explaining the extensive history of Kutná Hora and the three cathedrals we visited. He was knowledgeable, friendly, and easy to understand. If we visit Prague again, I plan to book another tour through Discover Prague Tours; in fact, I already have my eye on the Ghosts and Legends tour!

Sights in Prague

prague letna park view

Towns New and Old

In terms of well-known historical landmarks and famous sites, you should walk over the Charles Bridge at least once, watch other tourists give each other confused and disappointed looks after the Prague Astronomical Clock‘s “show,” explore the Old Town Square, and have a look at the Powder Tower.

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Getting Back to Nature

One of the best views of Prague is in Letna Park, which you have to climb up several flights of stairs in order to reach. At the top, where there was once a statue of Joseph Stalin, there is now a giant metronome. Also, strangely, a collection of shoes thrown over a wire. The park also hosts the Hanavský Pavilion, a cast-iron structure from 1891, the oldest functioning carousel in Europe, and an eerily-beautiful monument to the Czech poet Julius Zeyer.

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The Royal Treatment

The park connects to the Royal Gardens, which then connects to Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral. It’s free to enter the gardens, but you will be subject to a search with a metal detector. St. Vitus Cathedral and the castle both cost money to enter, and my husband and I chose instead to just explore the outdoor portions of this highly-trafficked area.The architecture is stunning, to say the least; I regret not going inside the Prague Castle, as the reviews for it are glowing.

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Iron Curtain Meets Bronze…Babies?

If you’re fascinated by Soviet-era relics, head over to the Žižkov Television Tower. Unlike some former Eastern Bloc countries, the Czech Republic made a concerted effort to remove any and all traces of their years behind the Iron Curtain. The tower is one of the few remaining structures from that period of history that retains its communist-era appearance. Once you’re close to the tower, however, you will see that there have been a few small additions: the “Miminka” (babies) installation by David Černý. The babies have been riveted to the sides of the tower, to give the appearance that they’re crawling all over it like ants. These same baby statues can also be found in the Royal Gardens, where you can get up close and personal with their horror-show faces and lovingly-rendered behinds.

Zizkov Television Tower Zizkov Television Tower david czerny babies miminka david czerny baby miminka

Rubbish for Sale

Unless you’re stopping by for a meal at Trang An, I recommend skipping the Prague Market. Picture the most touristy area you can, and now imagine it spread out like an outdoor farmer’s market; that’s the Prague Market. Every stall was full of off-brand clothes, shoddily-constructed luggage, useless knick-knacks, and other miscellaneous junk.

Other Landmarks and Places of Interest

The Smallest Street in Prague ended up being a major disappointment. It’s not really a street; it’s just a narrow space between buildings that leads to a restaurant (AKA an alleyway), complete with a gimicky traffic light.

I was similarly unimpressed with the Lennon Wall. The wall was a source of consternation for the old communist government, as young Czechs would write their political grievances on the wall, along with inspirational Beatles quotes and lyrics. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) graffiti has been allowed to continue, so the original mural and quotes are now covered under the paint of decidedly less-inspiring graffiti.

We also spent a lot of time in the “hipster” neighborhoods of Vršovice and Karlin. These neighborhoods were a welcome break from the main tourist hubs. The streets were less crowded, the shops had actual goods instead of “I <3 Prague” merchandise, and the food and drinks were a little cheaper.

If you can, take the time to walk around the city instead of taking public transport; we came across a lot of interesting things we otherwise might have missed, because we walked everywhere. We also almost got attacked by a homeless person’s dog while in a more remote area of the river walk, though, so please be aware of your surroundings!

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Museums

We visited the National Technical Museum on our last full day in Prague. We both found it to be a little underwhelming, but that’s unsurprising; it turns out that we actually missed about half of the museum! There is an entire lower floor of exhibits that we missed. There is a large and obvious 4-level exhibit with cars, motorcycles, bikes, and aircraft that you can see all the way from the main desk. The rest of the exhibits, however, were behind closed doors. We only went into the photography and movie exhibits because the doors were open, which leads me to believe that we missed the other exhibits simply because the doors were shut.

Would I still recommend that you visit the National Technical Museum? Maybe. If there is any place in Prague that will give you a feeling of stepping back into soviet times, this is it; you have to pay extra to take pictures, employees watch your every move, and half the “try it for yourself!” exhibits were broken.

Miscellaneous Tips

  • Get your money from an ATM once you arrive. Although the Czech Republic is part of the European Union, they still use their own currency. There are many currency exchange businesses (especially in tourist areas), but you will get a much better rate if you withdraw from an ATM. If the machine asks if you want “local” or “home” currency, choose local to get a good international rate from your own bank.
  • Don’t expect Prague to be cheap. Prague is a major tourist destination and prices reflect this reality. Although beer and most food will be cheaper here, material goods (like clothes) are more expensive.
  • Try the ice cream wrapped in a trdelník, a spit cake that’s grilled and topped with a mixture of sugar and walnuts. Or, better yet, skip the ice cream and just have the trdelník; it’s delicious!
  • Prague is often listed as one of the safest cities in the world, but you still need to be careful; use common sense safety practices that you would in any other major city.

 

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