Prague – at last we finally had a chance to meet! I was so looking forward to walk through your winding streets, admire your grandiose buildings, get acquainted with your medieval charm, taste your famous trdelnik and of course quaff countless pints of your quality beer! But alas, as it soon became apparent, so did the seemingly 100,000 other tourists that had also descended into the city that same weekend. This factor ranks it consistently high on the ‘most touristy cities’ list. In 2014, Prague welcomed a colossal 6.3 million tourists into its capital city putting it behind only London, Paris, Istanbul and Rome in terms of Europe’s most visited cities.
I will admit that the first day in Prague did feel somewhat of an uphill struggle. At first I couldn’t put my finger on why everything felt just so damn challenging. I didn’t usually have to work so hard to try to enjoy myself and relax in a new exciting destination. Then it dawned on me – of course I don’t usually have to work so hard! I’m usually so immersed in the culture with so few tourists (if any) in sight, I don’t have to try to understand what a place is all about, it is just there to be explored and absorbed.
So what is a person, who usually avoids crowds and touristy spots as much as possible, to do when visiting a city like Prague? Skip it all together and visit Prague’s shadow city Brno instead? Or is there another way to enjoy the city despite the tourist mayhem? I am pleased to say that despite having to work for it, it is possible to enjoy the delights of Prague with a little upfront effort and planning. So here are my top tips for making the best of Prague for the ‘introverted’ traveller who usually avoids crowds like the plague.
1.Get up at dawn to wonder around the Old Town and Charles Bridge
There is no mystery as to why these places are so popular with the hordes – they are stunningly beautiful. However, the experiencing of arriving there at 10 am with literally hundreds of other tourists is far from a pleasant experience.
I headed out around 6.30 am and the experience of hearing my footsteps echoing as I descended on the solitary cobblestone streets traversing across the town plaza without a soul in site, was simply divine. By the time I arrived at the Charles Bridge it wasn’t completely deserted but it was peaceful and there was amble time to soak up the views and morning light in relative peace and quiet.
2. Go see the Kostel Nejsvětějšího Salvátora church at night
Bearing the above in mind, there is one building that I particularly enjoyed seeing lit up at night – the Kostel Nejsvětějšího Salvátora – the church that overlooks the entrance to the Charles Bridge on the old town side of the bridge. Sure, in the day it was impressive, but there was something extra special about seeing it illuminated at night that gave it a depth I just hadn’t noticed in the day. Note – the entrance to the Charles Bridge will not be quiet at night but I think it is a fair price to pay for the view that awaits.
3. Try a beer tasting at U Kunstatu
This place was stumbled upon quite by chance but it was exactly what the doctor ordered – a quiet, historic courtyard, tucked away from the main streets of the old town where we are greeted with a choice of empty seats. The bonus is they have a tasting menu offering 6 beers to sample of which we chose a selection of light ales. These were uniquely flavoured with grapefruit and pepper notes – my two favourites being the ‘Apollo Galaxy’ which had a fruity aroma, citrus notes and a bitter hops aftertaste as well as the ‘Max 11’ Czech Pilsner which was sweet and malty.
I did notice a trickle of tourists who appeared to be on group tours who would pause at the entrance before going into the building and emerging about 5 minutes later. They weren’t at all a bother but it did make me curious as to what was of particular interest here. After enquiring with our waiter I learned that this was actually the second oldest building in Prague and they have a huge cellar in the basement that dates back to the 12th century so this is a must see if you go to visit!
4. Relax post-Kafka museum in Cafe and Club (Míšeňská 71/3, 118 00 Praha)
Franz Kafka is well-loved by my husband so visiting the museum was not optional for us on this trip. I would highly recommend a trip to the museum for literary lovers as it gives a really interesting history on his life, loves and work and the museum is well designed and curated.
After the museum, go relax in Cafe and Club. Blink and you might miss it but we stumbled upon this place, can you guess? Trying to escape the hordes on the other side of the river. This place was the perfect respite, tucked away in an alleyway, quirky with dusty vintage decor and old armchairs to relax in while enjoying a Aperol spritz (or two!) After all there is a limit to how much beer you can drink in a day right?
5. Enjoy a beer at the Náplavka river bank
Yup, you’ve probably detected a theme by now, a lot of these are places to drink but you know how the old saying goes……. I got this tip from an article I read 34 Unique Things to do in Prague as Told by Locals. The Náplavka river bank was mentioned twice as a great place to have a beer while watch the sunset over the river. True to description this was the perfect way to end the day or start the evening, however you want to look at it.
This definitely felt like ‘hipster Prague’ but was also totally laid back and unpretentious. We set up camp at a place where the DJ was playing mellow tunes, hosts were BBQ-ing and there were a scattering of people relaxing on the wooden seats and tables and a lot more sitting with their legs dangling over the edge of the river bank. It was the perfect setting to enjoy a beer and burger as the sun was going down and this was definitely the highlight of the trip for me. Nowhere could I hear English being spoken which is how I knew that this was where the locals hung out.
It is only when you get away from the tourists that you can scratch the surface of a place, get underneath the skin and understand what it is all about.