A Short & Beautiful Trip to Prague

21st Mar 2016

There are some destinations you hear about excessively from people around you and there are some that are absolutely unheard of but will leave a mark on you. For example, a person who has travelled to Spain will highly recommend the Catalonian city, Barcelona but it will be highly unlikely that he/she spent a couple of nights relaxing in the exquisite small town known as Begur. Prague, despite being quite popular falls short of the praise the other high profile destinations receive.

Prague was one of the five cities/countries on the top of my bucket list. During my one year course in Manchester, I luckily found a group of friends who either shared a similar mindset regarding the city or were convinced at the first sight of the Prague photographs when we began our research.

We encountered two difficulties prior to our departure - firstly, in our excitement while researching and subsequently booking our flights and accommodations, we slightly overlooked the fact that we should have coordinated our trip as per our visa appointment date. The Czech Republic embassy in the UK had no availability for a group of 10 people that would allow us sufficient processing time. Somehow, we managed to squeak it through via controversial means. Secondly, two of our friends did not manage to get the Schengen visa. (The one positive was that we had extra space in the accommodation now)

Day 1

We landed in Prague on 21st March expecting a better climate than we encountered in Manchester. Although there were no British rains to deal with, the weather was pretty cold for Europe in March. On the bright side, the apartment we had booked on Airbnb turned out to be better than we expected. A lush yet inexpensive apartment five-ten minutes away from all the major landmarks in the city, at least those that we intended to cover.

Photo of Prague, Czechia by Ayaz Moez Ali

Usually, any trips that I plan have a chronological list of things to do and the day that we should cover it in. For this specific trip, although we did make a list of the best experiences the city has to offer, we kept it open to surprise us instead of sticking to a schedule. The first night in Prague exemplifies our thought process.

Multiple figures hanging outside our apartment

Photo of A Short & Beautiful Trip to Prague by Ayaz Moez Ali

After checking in in the evening, we spent the night roaming aimlessly around a market place, Prazska trznice. Wandering around we dined at a local restaurant just to try a famous Czech dish, Guláš. Originally part of the Hungarian cuisine, Goulash has been adapted to the Czech food culture with the difference primarily being the ratio between meat:vegetables (more meat in Czech, more vegetables in Hungary). Unfortunately, none of us really left the place feeling satisfied. Whether it was the dish itself or the restaurant, we striked off the dish from our list.

A ten minute walk later, we found ourselves on the banks of the river Vltava that runs underneath the Charles Bridge. Karlův most, as the bridge is called in the local language, is the primary spot to visit in the entire country. It's a simple bridge right at the heart of the city, sandwiched between the Prague castle and the old town. The busiest side of Prague was at night deserted, with just a five-story club and a dance bar attracting any visitors. We instead sat underneath one of the statues in the middle of the bridge, with a few drinks and a speaker. As the drinks wore us down, the night became livelier to us. Bollywood music, a serene atmosphere and a few strangers enjoying with us was the kickstart to our amazing trip.

Prague Castle

Photo of Charles Bridge, St.Charles Bridge, Prague-Prague 1, Czechia by Ayaz Moez Ali
Day 2

The next morning we headed to Wenceslas square, a strip in the more recently developed side of Prague that includes the National Museum. The square is the commercial hub of the city featuring high end restaurants, branded retail outlets, a few nightclubs, a local market in the centre of the strip and the starting point of our bus tour across the city. The tour in itself was moderately good, nothing out of the ordinary as we covered the stretch from Wenceslas square to the Prague castle and back to the old town square.

Wenceslas Square

Photo of Wenceslas Square, Prague 1, Czechia by Ayaz Moez Ali

Although we did not visit the interiors of the castle as such, the bus tours offer a chance to move within the confines of the walls and a chance to overlook the city from one of the cafes built inside. Right outside the cafe, a few stalls were setup offering local food favourites and souvenirs. This is where we first came across a sweet dish called Trdelník. It is somewhat like a wrapped pastry plastered with sugar and cinnamon on top of it and stuffed with different kinds of fillings. It sounds a lot like an altered donut, but there was something different and extremely delicious. We initially bought just one, but ended up buying a dozen more from three different places in the next hour itself.

Trdelnik - A famous sweet dish on the streets of Prague

Photo of A Short & Beautiful Trip to Prague by Ayaz Moez Ali

Once we were dropped back, we explored the vibrant old town square and the surrounding markets. Mid day, the old town is a heavily crowded destination. Cluttered with tourists are the lovely boutique shops, street performers, high-end Italian restaurants, coffee shops and the astronomical clock. As street performers entertained, the crowd got extremely excited at the sound of the clock reaching the hour mark, a vastly popular sight that should definitely be overlooked.

In the evening, thanks to a friend's recommendation, we found that one thing that would remind us of the best there is in Prague and one of the best experiences in any of our trips in fact - a Mexican restaurant called Pepe Lopez. If I had to, I would gladly write an entire article on how delicious the food was here. But in short, all I'd say is we ended up repeating our entire food order - at least 15 dishes between seven of us.

On day 3, we once again took it slow, leaving in the afternoon for lunch and followed by an extremely long stroll to the Petrin tower on the side of the Prague castle. The tower is relatively less famous but features a prominent observation deck giving an alternate overview of the city. More than the tower and the view, the climb upwards and the scenic walk back down made it a memorable experience.

The walking path underneath the Petrin tower

Photo of Pepe Lopez, Na Příkopě, Prague, Czechia by Ayaz Moez Ali

On our way back, we stuck around the Charles bridge for the sunset, a real pleasing sight even with all the innumerable tourists vying for the good spots for a photograph. Another stroll through the old town square ensued and another round of Trdelník followed.

In the night, we headed down to Karlovy lázně, the five story club. The club is structured in such a way that all the levels have a different genre or artist on the DJ podium. In fact, the basement features an ice bar experience room, a spacious (compared to the ice bar in Amsterdam) lounge but with no real exciting offering. While the music on the upper levels was good, we did not stick around for a long time since we were pretty exhausted from the extremely long walk earlier in the day.

We were scheduled to leave the following day around noon, but we did manage to complete two more fascinating things on our list. Sunset on the bridge was good, but waking up at 5 to witness the sunrise was a vastly better experience. With dew and silence in the atmosphere and a dull light blue sky in the backdrop, we headed out to the bridge and the effort was definitely worthwhile. To top off our trip, two of us managed to squeeze in time for one of the most amazing hot chocolate that we had ever tried. Cafe Louvre, as grand as it was, served a simple but supremely rich hot chocolate. As you can guess, we reordered for ourselves and even packed one for the others busy packing up. In all, in the little time that we spent in Prague, we managed to fall in love with this small, quaint and magnificent city. It is a must visit destination and one that you could cover primarily on foot.

To summarise, I'd like to highlight the experiences that are a must in this beautiful city and the things that can be avoided.

Must do's:

- Segway city tour (although we did not actually take a segway tour, it was one of the things we regret. Segway > bus tour)

- Watch the sunrise around the Charles Bridge.

- Mexican food at Pepe Lopez.

- Hot chocolate at Cafe Louvre

Things to avoid:

- The astronomical clock: The mechanism is fascinating but its an overhyped tourist spot. The rush is intense, and the hourly motions are over before you know it.

- Petrin tower: The view isn't great, it's better from the Prague castle. But the walk underneath the tower is fantastic.