Explore Prague like a local
More than anything else, I have discovered language is the key that transforms the ordinary tourist into a temporary local. Nothing will make a native citizen smile quicker, and instantly become more helpful, than visitors doing their best to communicate in the native tongue.
When planning travel in a foreign country, one of the first things I do is make a notecard filled with essential language phrases and pronunciations to carry. Nowhere did this open more doors than in Prague. On more than one occasion, we “lucked into” the last table with no reservation and often got the “last two seats” at popular bars. With so many visitors pouring into the city, speaking even the most rudimentary Czech words quickly differentiates you from the throngs of tourists.
After the fall of communism in 1989, Czechoslovakia peacefully spilt into the independent countries of Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993. Tourism has climbed ever since, and Prague — the “City of a Hundred Spires” — ranked sixth in Tripadvisor’s world list of best destinations for 2016.
As one of our Uber drivers, a 25-year expat from Ghana shared, “Czech is not a language for the lazy.” Thus, mastering even a few key phrases can pay handsome dividends.
Orientation & top attractions
Until about 1800, Prague was actually four distinct towns, complete with their own town squares and fortified walls. Today, each of the four areas maintains unique charm:
• Old Town (Staré Město) and Jewish Quarter (Josefov): This is the busy, commercial center of the city, home to the Astronomical Clock (operating since 1410), the Powder Tower (an ancient city gate where all of the old city’s gunpowder was at one time stored), Old Town Square, and, of course, the unmistakable twin-spired Týn Church.
• Little Quarter (Malá Strana): The iconic Charles Bridge crossing the Vltava River connects Little Quarter and Old Town. Here, you’ll find Baroque façades, garnet and Bohemian crystal shops, and the Petřín Hill Lookout Tower
• Castle Quarter (Hradčany): Visible from several vantage points in the city is the Prague Castle. St. Vitus Cathedral is also here, along with the Czech crown jewels.
• New Town (Nové Město): Location of the busy and historic Wenceslas Square, National Museum and the National Theatre.
While Prague is a vibrant city of stunning architecture, and a phenomenal amount of disco music, it was the delicious food varieties that surprised us most. With the swell of tourists, reservations are a must for dinner and highly recommended for lunch.
Top restaurant recommendations
Table for two, please? Stůl pro dva, prosím (Stool prohd-vah, proh-sieem)?
• Potrefena Husa Hybernska: Our gastronomic tour began with lunch at Potrefena. Featuring a menu that changes daily, we were treated to delicious Hungarian goulash, warm goat cheese and beet salad, and succulent roast beef in gravy with frites. There are several beverage choices, including draft and bottled beer (pivo – peee-voh), cocktails and wine (red wine: červený - chair-vee-knee/white: bílé víno - bee-lee vee-noh).
• Indian Jewel: Located in the heart of Old Town, the Indian Jewel has to be one of the finest Indian restaurants outside of India. Low, arched ceilings and warm, spice-scented air beckon you inside, where a haven of decadent dishes await. The service and atmosphere are top-notch, as even the stars of Hollywood know; Anthony Hopkins has been spotted here.
• Las Adelitas: Down an assuming flight of stairs in Old Town, lies an explosion of authentic Latin, Mexican and Central American flavor. On the menu, you’ll find ceviche, chicken tinga, mouth-watering cochinita pibil tacos, plus margaritas and more to cool off your taste buds. Another (Další – Dahl-shee)!
• Restaurace Mincovna: Aptly named for an 18th and 19th century coin mint, the Mincovna is a real treasure. With a modern presentation of traditional Czech dishes, we found the restaurant so delicious – we ate dinner here two nights in a row. Reservations are a must for dinner, you won’t get a table without them. Unless you charm the seating hostess with Czech, like we did on the first night. But we did make reservations for the second visit.
• Irish Times, Bar & Restaurant: An Irish bar? You betcha. Featuring a great atmosphere and fantastic winter “warm-you-up-in-a-hurry” drink specials, this Irish bar is a big win. Don’t believe me? Ask for the hot chocolate and Baileys. Plus, the restaurant often features live music.
• Black Angel's Bar: Ranked among the 50 best bars in the world, the Black Angel’s Bar is a classy prohibition-style speakeasy, complete with glittering chandeliers and a decadent cocktail list. Although food is available, the cocktails are the real stars of the show. Try to get a seat at the bar to watch the masters at work. TIP: Like a true speakeasy, no photos are allowed. And do your best to greet the host/hostess in Czech, you might not get in if you don’t.
Top tips for visiting Prague
• If you’re driving to the Czech Republic, you will need a vignette for your car.
• Local currency is the Czech Koruna (Czech Crown). Cash is widely used, but ATMs are not easy to find. Hotels are good bets for getting cash.
• City directional signs for top attractions are in Czech. Have the English translation handy to make travel easier.
• The city can be flooded with tourists, making top sights like the Charles Bridge and Castle unmanageable at times. Touring these sights in the early morning or evening dramatically cuts down on the crowds. At 10 p.m., we had the Charles Bridge to ourselves.
• Driving in Prague is manageable, just be mindful of uncontrolled intersections that share railway lines with trams.
• Many tour books warn of unscrupulous taxi drivers and sky-high prices. No problem: Uber is plentiful in the city. Download the app on your phone, no cash necessary.
• Learn more at the official tourism website for Prague.
Cheers! Or even better – Na zdraví (Nahz-drah-vee)!