Every few weeks we ask one of our clued-up contributors a bunch of questions about their city, from fun facts and practicalities to what to see and what to skip. This time around we quizzed Dana, our local ambassador for Prague. She runs a small local business called Prague Behind the Scenes, which offers unique small-group tours for those who want to explore the city in a less touristy way. Her goal is to lead as many travellers off the tourist trail as possible.
When is the best time to visit Prague? It’s entirely up to you and your preferences. There are plenty of things to do and see throughout the year, however some places are closed during the winter season, typically from November until April (the beautiful Waldstein Garden, the Na Valech garden and the Deer Moat, for example). Opening hours also vary during the colder months.
If I were a traveller, I’d choose May – the start of spring. The temperatures are perfect for walking and the locals are smiling more. We love the first warm and sunny days when the city isn’t that packed yet. May 1st and 8th are national holidays, with lots of events taking place in the city. September and early October are also great because it’s wine harvesting season. Locals love visiting wine festivals to taste a special Czech drink called burčák (fermented grape juice), which is only available at this time of year.
What are three things every visitor should see or experience?
1. See Prague Castle at night. It’s open until 11 pm (until midnight during the high season) and has a completely different atmosphere after dark. You also have a better chance of being there with very few people if you visit at night, which is an absolutely unique experience.
2. Enjoy Czech beer together with pickled Camembert (nakládaný hermelín in Czech) in a non-touristy pub.
3. See some controversial street art by David Černý (Quo Vadis – the walking Trabant, St. Wenceslas Riding a Dead Horse, the Hanging Man, Babies, In Utero, Embryo, etc.).
What’s your favourite hidden gem? Nový Svět because it’s the most picturesque part of the city and tourists never visit it (they all head to Prague Castle instead). It’s an extremely photogenic quarter hidden just a few minutes from the Castle’s main entrance. It’s what we call the real Old Prague – there are no shops, no advertisements, no souvenirs, no people… And if so, they’re mostly locals. While walking along the area’s winding cobblestone streets, you shouldn’t forget to look up. Maybe you’ll notice a cannonball lodged in the wall of a house – a reminder of the Prussian occupation of Prague in the mid-18th century. This is also the place to admire Prague’s solid old fortification and see how protected the city once was. The massive ramparts are absolutely impressive.
What are the biggest tourist traps? Shops selling Russian souvenirs (matryoshka dolls, fur hats with CCCP logos etc.), taxi drivers, nightclubs, strip bars, absinth shops, wax/sex/torture museums and other places like these in the downtown area. And all of the so-called authentic Czech restaurants that surround the main squares – they’re overpriced, the service is bad and the food is average.
Where can I enjoy amazing views? For a fee: Petřín Tower, the Great South Tower of St. Vitus Cathedral or the Old Town Bridge Tower at the beginning of the Charles Bridge. For free: from the path below the Strahov Monastery, from the Hanavský Pavilion or the Metronome in Letná Park, or from the Vyšehrad area.
What’s the best way to spend a sunny day in Prague? Grab a beer in a beer garden.
What do you like to do when the weather is bad? Go to my favourite café, Alchymista, or a sauna. In winter, it’s possible to visit a public sauna on a boat. It’s a bit punk, but it’s really cool! It’s located on a barge in Náplavka, which is right in the city centre. The best part? The sauna room and relaxation area overlook the Vltava river and Prague Castle. Instead of taking a shower, you can take a dip in the river (of course you can still use the shower if you wish). Being naked in downtown Prague without getting fined – so cool! Just grab a beer on the deck and relax.
Photo credit: Lazne na Lodi
I want to try authentic local cuisine. Where should I go and what should I order? Naše Maso is a butcher shop where everything is supplied by Czech farmers and everything is made according to old Czech recipes. They sell small hot and cold meals, for example tatarák, tlačenka and houska se šunkou. They even have a self-service beer tap!
What should I take home as a souvenir? Botas 66 shoes. They’re a cult brand manufactured in the Czech Republic and they have a history dating back to the 60s. Isn’t it quite unique to wear something that’s not made in Asia?
What’s the best way to get around? On foot. Prague is well-known for its walkability. The downtown area is quite compact, so you won’t need to travel from one place to another by tram or metro. If you want to travel beyond the central area, public transport is clean and reliable.
How can you tell if someone is from Prague? They don’t refer to the metro lines as yellow, red and green – instead they say A, B or C. It’s a really good way to recognise a local!
If I want to get out of Prague for a day, where should I go? Konopiště Castle is a great place for a day trip. It was originally founded as a gothic fortress, but was later converted into a beautiful Baroque, French-style château (open from April to October). Another option is the city of Kutná Hora, where you can visit a scary chapel decorated with the skeletal remains of more than 40,000 people.
Photo credit: Etnosvet
What are some great local nightlife spots? Cross Club is a fantastic local nightlife spot and entry is often free.
What do you recommend for culture buffs? The interior of Prague Castle and the Museum of Prague, which is home to Langweil’s intricate cardboard model of the city from the beginning of the 19th century. It’s absolutely amazing!
Photo credit: Tjflex2
Where can I find out about local events? I read Goout.cz to find out about local events.
Is there anything else you think visitors should know? You should always stand on the right side of the escalators in the metro. The left side is the “fast lane”, the right side is for standing. Locals are a bit sensitive about this and tend to get nervous when people stand on the left side while others are in a hurry. And please don’t put love locks everywhere! Seriously, this is the #1 touristy thing you can ever do – anywhere in a world.
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