I spent my birthday this year in Prague. To be honest, it wasn’t a place that was high up on my list. I had wanted to go to St. Petersburg, but one glance at the paperwork required for a visa quickly dissuaded me.
It turns out, Prague is an amazing, amazing city. I clearly was affected by Soviet-era propaganda, because I was expecting a ravaged cityscape, but it is honestly the prettiest city I’ve been to.
We were fairly lucky in that my birthday was just a few days after Easter, so all the Easter markets and events were still in full swing when we arrived! That made walking around even more interesting and, at times, delicious.
We spent five days and four nights in Prague, which was more than enough to see the city as well as a nearby small town and World War II-era Nazi work camp. You could definitely see the city in less time, but there’s something to be said (if you have the time and budget) for long, leisurely walks, lazy lunches and an overall relaxed approach to a city break.
With that being said, here are things I absolutely loved doing in the five days I spent in the Czech Republic.
Visiting the Jewish Museum
A visit to the Jewish Museum in Prague is a must. I like to go to museums wherever I am, in particular history museums, and the Jewish Museum in Prague has done a good job of chronicling the past as it relates to Jews in the city.
At first I was a little confused about the museum because it is actually a bunch of buildings and sites spread out across the Jewish Quarter of the city. You can buy tickets for some or all of the museum, which includes some synagogues, a cemetery and a gallery.
We went to all the synagogues and the cemetery.
The most arresting synagogue was the Pinkas Synagogue, where the names of every victim of the Holocaust from Bohemia and Moravia are written. I was taken aback by the sheer number of names, which stretched across most of the rooms on the first floor of the synagogue.
The cemetery was another favorite, mostly because I like the quiet and solitude of cemeteries. However, I will warn you, it was extremely busy and full of tourists, so it wasn’t quite the peaceful experience I’m used to.
Still, it was pretty and calming. Definitely hugely popular with tourists, which means you’ll be shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of other people, but an experience not to miss.
Walk Around Zizkov
The first thing we asked when we checked in to our hotel (we stayed at Moods, which was really nice, had thai massages available and made an awesome, filling and FREE breakfast) was where our concierge spent most of his time. Being a local, we figured he could give us good recommendations. We were right!
He told us to take a walk around Zizkov, which is a bit outside the city center (but easily accessible by walking, bus or tram). It is much quieter than the center of Prague, and has far less tourists milling around.
In case you’re looking for a cool place to go in Zizkov, we went to a cocktail bar called Bukowski’s, which was super dark inside (hence no photos of the interior) but served a mean Manhattan.
Try the Beer and Street Food
Since we were in Prague for Easter, there were several street fairs going on. That gave us a lot of opportunities to try Czech street food, which is really, really good. (Heavily meaty, but there are also loads of veggie options!)
My personal favorite is the Trdelnik, which is basically a long doughy cone covered in cinnamon and sugar. Watching it bake over an open coal pit is pretty fascinating, too.
At the street fairs there are a fair amount of other options, too, including open pit barbecue, baked potatoes and a pared down version of grilled cheese. All the portion sizes are huge and the price is pretty cheap, so its a great, cost-effective way to fill up. AND you meet pretty cool people with cafeteria style seating arrangements for all the stalls.
Another thing you can’t miss is Czech beer. We had some at almost every opportunity.
We visited one of the beer museums, which was really a glorified pub offering a vast selection of Czech beers.
We also tried all sorts of beers during lunches and dinners. Some restaurants even have their own brewery, which was a nice thing to try. My favorite was Bernard Pivo, which was in Zizkov. The food there was also really good, and affordable.
We also tried green beer, which I’m used to having at St Patrick’s Day but seemed more traditional there at Easter…
…and had a healthy (ish) amount of tank beer, which doesn’t meet air at all in the production process. That means the beer is meeting oxygen for the first time when it comes out of the tap and into the mug. It was pretty delicious, and somewhat creamier than most beers I’ve had.
Walking around is seriously underrated. Its a great way to get to know a city, though, and with a city as beautiful as Prague, it is superb for finding less trodden paths, or just following a big crowd to see where they’re going.
Everywhere I went, at any time of day, I was so taken aback by just how beautiful the city is, in almost every neighborhood. Don’t listen to the propaganda of ex-Soviet countries being war torn and austere. Prague shows you just how wrong that concept is!
My favorite walks were along the Charles Bridge, which offers great views, through the parks and along the river at sunset.
Try La Degustation Boheme Bohemia
For my birthday dinner on my actual birthday, I was treated to a Michelin star restaurant. We opted for the 11-course tasting menu and as much as I would love to relive every detail, I’m a bit hungry at the moment so will only go over the highlights.
The dinner started with several tastings, including kale crisps, duck egg and dill and potato. This was a very Czech-oriented menu, with several creative and modern twists to clearly traditional fare.
The first dish was actually my favorite, a sweet and creamy egg and dill soup paired with a riesling from Germany.
Other favorites were the smoked golden beet with parsley reduction and almonds, paired with a French white wine…
…beetroot, blueberries and frozen goat kefir, served with a local red made by a German who moved to the Czech Republic simply to make wines…
…onion and cream with an amazing Czech white wine…
…and mixed peppers served with a Czech red wine.
Obviously, I’m a vegetarian but here’s a look at the meat eaters menu, trout that was paired with a blanc pinot noir from Bohemia.
What I loved the most about this restaurant was the unusual wine pairings. Most of the wine is not available at wine shops or stores, so its a chance to try really great wine that you wouldn’t normally be able to have.
The restaurant is Michelin star not only because of the food, but the service and absolutely amazing wine pairings. There was also an option for juice pairings if you don’t drink or don’t fancy wine.
Go To Terezin
Terezin is located about an hour outside of Prague. We initially saw an ad for it at the Jewish Museum, and I immediately wanted to go.
Terezin was a work camp and “sorting center” for Jews and others targeted by the Nazis during the Second World War. The Nazis would take groups there to wait before being sent off to concentration camps.
We took a half day trip, which included a guided tour of the work camp and the surrounding village, and a trip to the Terezin Museum. I didn’t take many photos.
I would highly recommend going, however. It was a bit difficult to walk around, to say the least. However, the tour was extremely enlightening and seeing bunks, cells and more that people actually lived in…well, it brings things a little bit more into perspective.
Other Things To Do
There was so much else to do in Prague! I really loved the city and there was loads more that we did, I just didn’t get photos. Here are more recommendations:
- The KGB Museum: this was probably the most interesting museum I’ve ever been to, not because of the content but the method of presentation. Each hour the owner of the museum, clearly a KGB enthusiast if not an actual member or ex-member, offers very spirited guided tours. We arrived about five minutes late to an English session (make sure you arrive on the hour) and were surprised you don’t just walk around at your own pace, but are shown things by the owner himself. He has loads of interesting stories and shows you tons of spy tools. He is an extremely knowledgable man, but was a bit of a character, so come prepared for that!
- The Museum of Communism: if you can take extreme bias in your museum tours, definitely go. Its an interesting collection of historical material from the Czech Republic’s days as a Soviet satellite. The museum is clearly curated by people who have very negative views of Communism, so be prepared that you might not get the most balanced view.
- Walk Letna Park: climb the stairs or hike the hill (depending on what side you approach it) and walk around Letna park. The views from the top are phenomenal.
- Swing by St Vitas: this cathedral, part of Prague Castle, is probably the most impressive I’ve seen. You don’t need a lot of time to walk around the exterior, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get to see a changing of the guard at the castle like we did!
- Try Restaurant U Kroka: this was a highlight of our trip, in a cute little neighborhood a way back from the river. I had another amazing dill soup, and had some traditional Czech fare.
- Check out the National Gallery: set a little away from the main tourist area, the National Gallery was hosting exhibits by Brian Eno and Ai WeiWei, so I was of course THERE. I really enjoyed the Ai WeiWei exhibit, the first in Europe dedicated to the plight of refugees.
Ai WeiWei has traveled to Greece to work with refugee assistance organisations, and you can watch videos and see pictures of his experiences alongside his work.
The coolest thing about the Gallery, though, are the quotes in many different languages, from many different famous and wise people, written on the floor.
After the main exhibit, you can go upstairs and see a few of Ai WeiWei’s other work.
Tips Now That I’ve Been There, Done That
- In Prague, it seems you’re allowed to smoke in many local restaurants and bars. Choose your attire and pack accordingly unless you want to reek of smoke your whole trip like we did!
- Bring a jacket, even in the later spring months. The weather fluctuates a LOT! The first day there it was 20 C, the last, -4 C!
Prague is definitely worth a visit, whether you’re there for the views, food, history or just a weekend of drinking. There’s a little something for everyone.