Prague is a city of dichotomies: picturesque medieval buildings bumping against soulless concrete structures of Communism; castles and cathedrals rising in majesty next to city walls covered in graffiti; a primarily atheist population in a city rich with religious history and statuary.
It’s the tension between old and new Prague that I find intriguing and makes this small capital city of the Czech Republic a great destination for a city break. If you’re a newbie to Prague and only have 36 hours, here are some suggestions to make the most of your stay.
- Tour the south bank | 4pm
Starting at Štefánikův Bridge follow the Vltava River south till you reach the Dancing House (Jiráskovo náměstí 1981/6, 120 00 Praha 2) at the edge of the Jiráskův Bridge and then wind your way back up through New Town, taking in the mix of luxury and high-street shops before ending in the centre of Prague in the Old Town Square (Staroměstské náměstí, 110 00 Praha 1).
Highlights in the Square include the Astronomical Clock (Staroměstské náměstí 1, 110 00 Praha 1) with its unique carvings and hourly show; the Church of our Lady before Týn (Staroměstské náměstí, 110 00 Praha 1), the inspiration for the Disney castle you see in the opening sequence of the movies; and the St. Nicholas Cathedral (Malostranské náměstí, 118 00 Praha 1) behind an imposing memorial to Jan Hus with his Hussite followers.
- No such thing as too many beers | 6.30pm
You’ll be in need of refreshment at that point, so I recommend popping into the Prague Beer Museum (Náměstí Míru, Americká 341/43, Prague 2, http://www.praguebeermuseum.com) where you can sample up to 30 different types of beer on tap. They make the choice simple by providing tasting flights of five or ten different beers. This bar is laid back and dive-y – just the ticket for your first evening in Prague.
- Sate your appetite in Old Town | 8.30pm
You’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to dinner in Old Town, but here are two of my favourites, perfect for a casual night out – especially if you’ve got a huge appetite!
For meat-lovers, you won’t find a better experience than Basileiro (U Radnice 8/13, 110 00 Prague 1, http://brasileiro-uradnice.ambi.cz/en/#index), a Brasilian concept restaurant featuring an all-you-can-eat starter buffet along with superb side dishes. But the main appeal is the skewers of slowly cooked meat of various kinds that waiters wander the restaurant with, slicing tasty portions onto your plate.
If you fancy sushi head to Yami Sushi (Masná 1051/3, 110 00 Praha 1, http://www.iyami.cz/en/) where it’s best to leave the choice up to the chef who will put together a selection of incredibly fresh sashimi, nigiri and hoso maki served in a huge wooden boat. Save room for dessert – the green tea and sesame ice cream was divine.
- Follow the red umbrella | 10.30am
Sandeman’s New Prague Tours (http://www.newpraguetours.com) is ranked number one on TripAdvisor for good reason – the guides are entertaining, knowledgeable and truly love the city. There are several tour options to choose from, but the three-hour free walking tour will give you a great overview to the city’s main attractions and historical highlights.
5. Pick your lunchtime flavour | 2pm
Tucked away on a nearby back street is Giovanni Pizzaria Ristorante (Kozna 481/11, Prague 110 00, http://www.giovanni-praha.cz/pizzeria-in-prague.aspx). The pizza is done in true Italian style, the ingredients fresh and tasty. It’s cosy and intimate; the perfect spot to rest up from a morning’s exploration.
Alternatively, sample the delicious local street food – Lángos (fried bread topped with tomato sauce, cheese and garlic), Trdelník (sort of like a cinnamon roll dough rolled on a stick and grilled, then topped with sugar and nuts) or a skewer of fresh potato chips.
6. Revisit your favourite haunts | 4pm
No need to over-plan! Treat yourself to a couple of hours of free time to revisit the squares, backstreets and neighbourhoods that stood out to you on your tour. You may also come across David Černý’s public art in your wanderings, including ‘Babies’ and ‘In Utero’ – provocative, disturbing and seemingly designed for Instagrammers.
7. Cocktails, cigars and monkey decor | 6.30pm
In the mood for a pre-dinner cocktail? Head to the elegant and sophisticated Bars and Books (Týnská 19, Prague 1; http://www.barandbooks.cz). This NYC import has friendly staff and strong drinks. Their whiskey selection in particular is fantastic. You will leave smelling like cigar smoke, but it’s worth it, even if just to admire the vintage monkey decor.
8. A refined Czech palette | 8.30pm
There are numerous restaurants across the city elevating traditional Czech classics to gastronomic heights as well as introducing the locals to flavours and ingredients from afar.
For a special night on the town book the Michelin-starred Alcron Restaurant (http://www.alcron.cz/alcron/), with its stunning Art Deco interior and specialising in fish and seafood; or Mlýnec (http://www.mlynec.cz), with a fantastic setting overlooking the Charles Bridge and modern techniques applied to traditional Bohemian classics.
9. Explore the north side of the river | 11am
Walk across the Charles Bridge (commissioned by King Charles IV in 1357) with its 30 Baroque statues of religious figures. Continue through the neighbourhoods up into the park where the Petrin Tower, a mini Eiffel Tower, is located. It’s a steep hill climb (300m), but you can also catch the funicular railway from Ujezd. Once at the top enjoy the mirror maze, play a game of boules and enjoy the view from the top of the tower.
Next, walk around to the Prague Castle and explore the grounds, the Cathedral of St Vitus and the Gardens of Paradise overlooking the city.
10. A slow cruise on the Vltava | 1pm
From the Castle, walk back down the hill and board one of the numerous boat tours to take you slowly along the River Vltava for a farewell view of this beautiful city.
Friendly, charming and intriguing…Prague demands a return visit.