By Mark Laiosa
With some of the oldest monuments and towering spires reaching to the heavens, Prague fosters a make-believe wonder like few other cities. The cobblestone squares and gothic architecture make you feel immersed in a classic fairy tale. Visitors also experience centuries-old Czech traditions mixed with modern-day culture, from street musicians playing traditional Czech songs on cobblestone streets to glimpsing couples as they enjoy an evening drink atop Milunic and Gehry’s Dancing House (affectionately known as Fred and Ginger).
In 1989 Czechoslovakia experienced the “Velvet Revolution,” a transition from Communism rule to a representative parliamentary system. Then, in 1993 Czech and Slovakia would part ways in a “Velvet Divorce.” Twenty-five years later, Prague remains a gem—not at all touristy, with plenty of attractions and restaurants to see, and is affordable. All great reasons to visit the Czech Republic’s capital.
You can tour Prague by foot, bike, or hire a chauffeured old-timer car. Maybe even rent a foot peddle boat and explore under the famous Charles Bridge and changing cityscape. The historic center is walkable and has an extensive tram system. (Tip: Purchase your ticket before boarding and validate once on board).
• Old Town Prague’s Royal Palace was built on Castle Hill in the 13th century. Over time, new additions signified the growth and wealth of the kingdom, seen in the massive golden mosaic showing the Last Judgement over the portal of St. Vitus Cathedral. Holy relics of St. Wenceslas are housed in a private chapel within the cathedral. Continue on your tour of the city to admire the restored Astronomical Clock in the Old Town Square. The mechanical clock is the 15th century equivalent of a Smartwatch. On the hour a statue rings a bell, and a crowing rooster welcomes the Apostles passing by windows. A trumpeter blasts a fanfare from the clock tower to greet the new hour.
• Old Jewish Quarter (Josefov) Established in the 13th century when Jews were restricted to living within the area, it expanded over time. You’ll notice The Old Town Hall has two clock faces, one with Roman numerals; the one below with Hebrew numbers with hands that move counter-clockwise. The Old New Synagogue is the oldest in Central Europe with a nearby cemetery. The Pinkas Synagogue has an excellent installation containing the names of over seventy-seven thousand Jews killed during the Holocaust lining the walls of the museum.
• Music Reigns Music has a special place in the hearts of all Prague’s citizens. Indulge in living history at the Estates Theater, where Mozart conducted the premiere of Don Giovanni in 1787. Little has changed since the opera house was built in 1783 with its detailing of curves and filigree still adorning the theater. You might recognize the interior; it was used in the film Amadeus. The Antonín Dvořák Museum, surrounded by beautiful gardens, contains works of everything pertaining to the composer’s life and work. A collection of his music and correspondence, period photographs and other documentary materials.
• Serenading The Saints The Charles Bridge completed in the 15th century spans the Vistula River and is lined with statues of saints. Today contemporary saints and sinners perform music from historical times to modern beats.
• The Arts Known as the creative center for the arts, Prague was the birthplace of writer Franz Kafka. His museum is interactive; the installations capture the atmosphere of his writings. Photos, letters, and sketches give additional insights. Lovers of Art Nouveau will find buildings with floral and straight-line motifs throughout the city. Admirers of Alphonse Mucha will be delighted by the collection of posters, paintings, and photographs of the artist.
• Shopping Who doesn’t love to discover unique shops in a foreign city? Prague satisfies that quest. Locals enjoy sharing their crafts with pop-up shops and street markets. Standouts include Hugo Chodi Bos (hugochodibos.cz) which creates traditional Czech toys. And if you’re looking for original hand-embroidered peasant clothing, then Antique Ahasver (ahasver.com) is the place to be. The Saturday Farmer’s Market is where you’ll find vendors selling everything from local cheese, handmade sausage, and other delicious specialties. Relax and enjoy the scene with a cup of coffee and pastry. Later, pick up a bottle of local wine.
Once a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Czechs still consume old-time favorites like goulash, schnitzel, and potato salad. A typical Czech dinner might start with steak tartar served on toast brushed with garlic clove and followed with kulajda, a potato soup with forest mushrooms, dill, vinegar and a poached egg. The main course might include duck confit with sauerkraut and dumplings. And speaking of dumplings the Czechs have a unique main course, seasonal fruit-filled dumplings coated with poppy seeds and sugar, served with melted butter and farmer’s cheese. Of course, many Czech restaurants are creating healthier alternatives and a modern interpretation of Czech favorites. However, some things never change: No meal is complete without a local Staropramen brew. So good is this quality beer it might be the reason why Czechs are the largest beer consumers per capita in the world.
THE RADISSON BLUE ALCRON Opened in 1932, The Alcron was one of Prague’s first luxury hotels and designed by Maria Vafiadis. A major renovation of the hotel has restored its brilliant Art Deco elegance. The crystal chandeliers sparkle and the dramatic white-marble staircase is bound to impress. All guest rooms are comfortably furnished with some sweet touches, like the fringed lampshades—which reflect the hotel’s origins. Although there is no spa, the fitness area is a boon to those who work out; it’s one of the best-stocked gyms in the city. The Radisson’s real trump card is the Michelin-starred Alcron restaurant. Stellar food matches sumptuous surroundings. La Rotonde, the other restaurant at the hotel, offers weekend brunch and a casual dinner on the terrace in warmer months. Info: radissonblu.com/en/hotel-prague.
For more information on Prague, visit czechtourism.com.