We decided to stay in Belgium for the winter holidays this year rather than fly home to the U.S. We wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to see a few new places, especially during Christmas. So, the day after Christmas we flew to Prague.
Prague is a beautiful, old European city which has been remarkably well preserved. Unfortunately, it was also very crowded with other tourists who had the same idea we had. My husband really enjoyed the city and its architecture. I can’t help but think I would have enjoyed it more if we didn’t have to share it with so many other people at the same time.
The Czech Republic has its own currency, the koruna. It’s always an interesting experiment when we have to withdraw money of another currency, like playing The Price is Right. You want to get just the right amount without going over. This ended up being extra hard to do because everything was very affordable there. On the morning we left, we took all the cash we had left and spent it on snacks for the second half of our trip (to Vienna). We didn’t have that much left, but it was still hard to spend because stuff was really inexpensive!
What We Did
We arrived the day after Christmas and stayed for a few nights. Most of the Christmas Markets were still open, so we enjoyed those in Old Town Square, Wenceslas Square, and a few other smaller squares throughout the city.
In Wenceslas Square, we ate dinner from different vendors in the Christmas market. We sat between the Jan Palach Memorial and the St Wenceslas statue. Jan Palach was a university student who set fire to himself (and died as a result) in 1969 to protest the Soviets invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.
Old Town Square
Our hotel was pretty close to Old Town Square so we passed through there many times, day and night. Because the Christmas Market was ongoing, it was hard to take in much else about the Square. Of course, it is lined with beautiful buildings and churches, but the Christmas Market was taking center stage when we were there.
The Astronomical Clock is a popular tourist attraction on the Old Town Hall Tower. We watched it chime on the hour a couple times. Much like the Munich Glockenspiel, the “show” seemed a little disappointing once we actually saw it, but I suppose it is pretty impressive to think about the mechanics behind these sorts of things, especially given their age.
Old Town Hall Clock Tower
We tried to go in and see the view from the top of the clock tower, but the line was pretty long, probably about an hour wait. It was later in the day and we had both a tired kid and a tired mama, so we decided not to wait. We took the stairs down about 4 floors and actually found an open exhibition area with a nice view over the square from windows. It wasn’t the same as an open-air view from the top of the tower, but it was a nice surprise and reward for at least trying.
Another immensely popular tourist attraction is the beautiful and historic Charles Bridge. This 14th century bridge connects the Old Town to the Castle area over the Vltava River. It is lined with statues, like that of St John of Nepomuk, whose plaque you are supposed to rub, according to legend, if you want to return to Prague. We actually found a few plaques that clearly had been rubbed a lot by tourists, so I guess there are a few legends.
We crossed the bridge many times and every time it was crowded. You see all these beautiful pictures in tourist guides of the bridge empty at sunrise or sunset and it makes you realize, people are really good at Photoshop. I can’t imagine a time when it is empty of people!
One reason to cross Charles Bridge is to get to Prague Castle. You could easily spend a whole day seeing all the sights within the Castle walls. We chose to just see a few highlights.
We visited the St.Vitus Cathedral. For me the highlights here were the unique and elaborate Tomb of St John of Nepomuk and the Chapel of St Wenceslas.
We quickly walked down Golden Lane (extra ticket purchase required), a colorful street of old houses that are now shops. Even with this being a ticketed area, it is incredibly popular, therefore incredibly crowded. If you want to enjoy the shopping here or get good photographs, be ready to have to wait or dodge other visitors. I did enjoy seeing some of the artistic details on the houses, but it was so crowded, we didn’t spend much time there.
We did not visit the Castle palace or gardens. This was just a personal choice based on time and interest.
We walked back over to the Old Town area from the Castle over Manes Bridge to avoid the crowds on Charles Bridge. This actually gave us a nice opportunity to see (and photograph) Charles Bridge from afar. This also put us close to the Jewish quarter.
There are a few ticket options for the Jewish Museum. We purchased tickets that permitted us entry into synagogues in the Josefov district and the Old Jewish Cemetery, one of the oldest Jewish burial grounds in the world.
We visited the Klaus Synagogue and Ceremonial Hall, the Pinkas Synagogue and its memorial to Czech and Moravian Jews killed in the Holocaust, and the Maisel Synagogue. We didn’t see the Spanish Synagogue or Old-New Synagogue because entrance to these required a different ticket.
The Strahov Monastery is near the Prague Castle. We spent a little time there. We were able to see inside the Basilica of Assumption of Our Lady, the beautiful monastery libraries, and enjoyed a meal at the monastery brewery.
The monastery’s library actually has two beautiful library rooms, connected by a hall of “curiosities” and other museum-like, library displays. If you want to take photographs in the library area, you must pay an extra fee, which I did! These pictures are legal!
Museum of Miniatures
On the site of the monastery, there is a one room Museum of Miniatures which we passed through in about 15 minutes. It is home to micro pieces of art, like sculptures on sewing needle eyes and strands of hair. All must be viewed through microscopes. It is totally random and the museum room itself is not impressive, but the works of art truly are. It was a quirky little stop that entertained our son in the middle of a long day of touring.
I don’t usually do a whole lot of shopping when we travel, but I do like to find nice shops to buy keepsakes and “souvenirs” of our trips that aren’t the typical, crappy tourist souvenir shops. A lot of times I will just shop in the gift shops of the nice museums or other attractions we visit. In Prague, I was happy to find a few locations of the craft shop Manufaktura. They sell Czech made beauty products, but also a lot of local crafts like wooden toys, ceramics, linens, housewares, etc.
Like most of our city trips, in Prague we got around mostly by walking. We did use the tram a few times and found it to be user-friendly.
One unique feature of Prague that I really enjoyed seeing while we were walking was all the unique architectural details on houses. In some areas, prior to the use of house numbers, houses were identified by paintings or sculptures outside their doors. So instead of living at house number 2, for example, you lived at the house with 2 fishes. It was fun to spot these throughout the city and making it a game of “I spy” could be fun for travelling kids!
What We Ate
We ate all our breakfasts at the hotel. They had a nice selection and as always for us, it just makes life easier.
As I mentioned above, we enjoyed a lunch at the Strahov Monastery Brewery restaurant, Klasterni Pivovar Strahov. I had the brewery’s goulash with dumplings, my husband had the pork schnitzels, and our son had the pulled beef meat in a bun. It was all good, but I think I had the best pick for a traditional Czech dish.
We had another lunch of traditional Czech dishes near the Charles Bridge at Plny Pekac. My husband had the goulash there, while I had roasted pork with dumplings and sauerkraut. Our son had a beef hamburger.
I was a little surprised by the Czech dumplings. I was expecting something more soft-doughy like a Polish dumpling, but they are more like pieces of bread, sliced flat and not as heavy or filled with anything like a Polish dumpling.
On our first night in Prague, we had a hard time finding a traditional Czech place with seating, so we ate at Bauman Burger and Pizza near our hotel. I was a little disappointed to be eating pizza on our first night there. I wanted more local cuisine, but the pizza was good and the lady serving us was nice. The restaurant was small. She had a bakery counter as well, so we picked out a piece of cake for dessert.
For the next two nights we ate dinners in the Christmas Markets in Wenceslas Square and the Old Town Square. We enjoyed sausages, roasted pork, potatoes, bread, and for dessert, chimney cakes. We had these in Romania where they were called kürtőskalács. In Prague they are called Trdelník or trdlo. Otherwise they were the same, dough covered in sugar, wrapped around a wooden dowel and cooked over coals. In Prague I got mine filled with soft serve ice cream which really took it up a level in deliciousness.
Where We Stayed
We stayed in the Hotel Myo Mysterius. It is a quirky hotel converted from an old apartment building, so the rooms are suites. It was in a good location close to the Old Town Square and Jewish Museum. We could hear a lot of street noise from our room. Some of that was quaint, like church bells and horse carriages. Some of it was no so quaint, like late night crowds of tourists on a bar crawl. But that didn’t happen too often, so it was okay.
Things we Missed
We did not visit Petrin Hill which has a replica of the Eiffel Tower, a mirror maze, and a funicular. It is supposed to be a good park area to go with children. We could see it from the Castle area, we just never made it over there.
I regret not seeing the Memorial to the Victims of Communism.
All over the city there were advertisements for live orchestra and choir concerts and marionette shows. I would have liked to have seen one of those, but it just didn’t work out with our schedule.
On the Old Town Bridge, we did not go into the Tower.
The best time to visit, the worst time to visit
With only a few days in Prague, there was a lot we didn’t get to do, but I think we hit some really good highlights in the city. It was lovely to be there during the Christmas markets, although that also made the city quite crowded. While it was nice to experience the Christmas market vibe, I think that took away some of our ability to enjoy parts of the city, namely some of the squares that surely have a different vibe when the markets are not happening.
Prague is a beautiful city with unique, charming architecture. While it was special to visit during the Christmas season, I found it a bit hard to enjoy because of the crowds. My husband enjoyed the city more than I did, whereas I found myself enjoying our next stop, Vienna, more than he did. Still, I am grateful for this chance to see another beautiful European city!