Known for its unsettled history, its cheap beer, its unique hotels, and its beautiful medieval architecture, in more recent years, the former Eastern European city has risen dramatically in the popularity stakes and now basks in the spotlight as one of Europe’s premier tourist destinations. Seen all of Prague’s main attractions? To get a real local’s feel of the Czech capital and a little beyond, our guest blogger Roman Jelinek (who lives and works in Prague) has chosen 12 of his favourite non-touristy things to do…
Walk the pathways along the Vltava
After a day or two of walking the cobbled streets of Prague, a couple things happen. Firstly your ankles will become sore and secondly, you’ll grow tired of all the crowds. When it’s time for a break from the tourist hordes and uneven streets, take a quiet stroll along the Vltava River. Starting at the southwest corner of Charles Bridge you can follow the river literally for miles and miles. Soon it’s just you and the river, strolling a tree-lined pathway and leaving the packed pavements far behind you.
Go skiing in Krkonoše
This option only applies during the winter months (November to March is the Czech ski season) but about an hour’s bus ride from the centre of Prague you’ll find a beautiful blanket of snow, fresh forest air and puffing chimneys. After a full day of skiing in Krkonoše, a mountain range located in the north of the Czech Republic, warm-up behind frosted windows in cosy wooden lodge with a steaming bowl of tripe soup and a bun!
See a little of local life
To get away from the crowded streets and see a little more of local life at the same time hop on a train at Masarykovo station. Journey on a train for around 25 minutes and then stop at the nearest village. The countryside surrounding Prague is unspoilt and magnificent and is dotted with pretty villages which are perfect for exploring on a tranquil day trip. Walk around the town or village, people watch or go into a local restaurant and order a ‘pivo’.
Eat a traditional Prague dish in a deli
Filling your stomach with food doesn’t have to be complicated, but usually, it is, especially if you’re in a crowded tourist restaurant where the service isn’t up to much. There is an easier way. I would personally recommend visiting a local deli and ordering the Prague staple of a fish salad and a bun. You’ll be served quickly and can eat (at a raised table) swiftly too if you choose, you’ll also be able to see a little more of local life.
Raft down the Vltava River
If you were to put on you inflatable ring and jump off the Charles Bridge then 300 miles later you would spit out into the North Sea. But I personally wouldn’t recommend this! Instead take the three-hour train ride south to the city of Český Krumlov and rent a rubber dinghy. This is where you drift along with hundreds of others and marvel at the bohemian countryside – just make sure you check the weather before you go!
Visit the Main Train Station
Normally the main train station (hlavní nádraží) is a place to avoid. The communist era made a real mess of it and turned it into a favourite gathering place for the type of people who have no place to go, but recently the main railway station has undergone a major renovation. Visit here for the beautiful original features which are still visible, such as the lofty dome, the stained glass windows and carved faces of women representing Prague as the ‘Mother of Cities.’
Go for a coffee or a beer
You can’t leave Prague without visiting at least one coffee shop or beer house and to escape the touristy ones head down the tucked away back streets. If you’re looking for a touch of nostalgia head for the historic Cafe Slavia located only a stone’s throw from the National Theatre. Since its opening in 1884 it has seen a number of dissidents, artists and writers through its doors. Now fully restored to its understated 1930s Art Deco look, the views of the river are worth the trip alone.
Check out the main Post Office near Wenceslas Square
Post offices have become places to avoid, to be visited only when no other option is available. They are either decrepit and rundown or sterile and cold. But just a few hundred meters from Wenceslas Square is the Main Post Office for Prague. Have a look in there and take in the glory days of post offices, as they were a hundred years ago – a time when snail mail was respected. You can also visit at anytime because unlike modern post offices, this one is open 24 hours a day.
Visit where Stalin used to be
Stalin’s Monument was a massive granite statue honouring Joseph Stalin which was unveiled on 1 May 1955 after more than 5½ years of work in Prague, Czechoslovakia. It was the world’s largest representation of Stalin but it was destroyed in 1962. Strangely though I would still recommend visiting, as although it’s now more famous for being a skateboarder’s haunt, it has the best views of the Czech capital – just remember to take your camera!
Contemplate the Faceless Babies in Žižkov
Žižkov is a working-class district of Prague with the dubious distinction of having the most pubs per capita of any European district. This slightly gritty district is still worth a look though as this is where you will experience Prague as how it really is day to day – nothing shined up for tourist’s sake. It’s easy enough to find, look for the TV tower which is visible from almost anywhere in Prague. Once you are under the tower contemplating the faceless babies crawling up the side (yes really!) you might suddenly need to visit one of the many pubs!
Visit Charles Bridge at sunrise
The majesty and magical experience of strolling along the medieval Charles Bridge quickly gives way to disdain for your fellow tourists. Unfortunately during the day its loud, crowded and the guy hawking caricatures of Angelina Jolie takes away from the otherwise special experience. To release the bridge’s power to be able to transport you back to the time of kings and knights, I recommend visiting at sunrise. While everybody else is sleeping off their one too many Czech beers, you can have the beautiful historic bridge all to yourself!
Ride the Náměstí Míru Escalator
During the late 1970’s and early 1980’s the city was thought to be under the threat of nuclear attack. Whether the fear was real or not, one of the outcomes was a really long escalator at Náměstí Míru metro station. At the time someone (probably with the help of a couple Russian vodka shots) suggested that the Metro could serve as a bomb shelter should the need arise. As a result of this hasty initiative (no provisions were made for what would happen when thousands of people suddenly have to live in the metro) it takes over two minutes to ride the escalator and is quite something special!
Enjoy your under-the-radar Prague trip!
Written by Roman Jelinek who lives and writes in Prague. His Travel Prague site is where he shares his tips and advice for tourist looking to experience the local side of Prague. He invites you all to the city of a thousand spires for a plate of hearty goulash and mug of golden beer.