Off the beaten path in Prague: Unconventional ways to experience the City
The first time I visited Prague 12 years ago, I walked across the Charles Bridge surrounded by tourists and wondered, "Is this really all this medieval city has to offer?". This will sound familiar to you if you’ve visited places like Venice. However even if it took me over 10 years, I now know that Prague is in reality a fun and youthful city that also has quiet streets with historical charm, cozy vintage-style cafes, trendy and, most importantly, delicious restaurants and an unparalleled nightlife that would cost you a fortune in other cities.
Of course, you can't visit Prague without seeing the main gems of the city: the Royal Palace, St. Vitus Cathedral, Old Town Square (Staromestske namesti), the largest square in Europe - Wenceslas Square, the cozy Lesser Town (Malostanská), and without climbing the towers. If you're planning to visit the Czech Republic for the first time, it would be a shame to miss out on all these amazing experiences. It's like going to McDonald's for the first time and not ordering a Big Mac! So if you haven't had these experiences yet, click here to learn more.
However, to really understand this city, you need to dig deeper and learn about the events that shaped it, why Czechs may seem less modern compared to other European tourists, where those menacing Gothic spires came from, and how they coexist with gilded Baroque facades.
Let's get into the history of the Czech Republic. If history isn't your thing, skip to the next chapter where we'll talk about experiencing Prague like a local. The following is just my subjective perception, so don't get offended!
Alright, here we go. In the 9th century, a group of Slavs decided to move from the east (probably Russia) in search of a better life (now we know why). According to local legend, these folks just kept on walking until they reached a mountain called Rip. That's when their ancestor, Peter Czech, climbed to the top and said, "this is where we’ll live from now on." And that was that. No referendums, everyone just agreed. That is when they became the Czechs.
Fast forward to the 14th century when Charles IV, the man with the statue at the beginning of the Charles Bridge inherited not only Bohemia and Moravia but also the German crown, and even the Holy Roman Empire. It sounds crazy, but it's true - Prague was once the hometown of a Roman emperor.
Back in the day, Czechia was flourishing because it was mining around 90% of Europe's silver. That's when King Charles IV decided that he wanted to go all out with some major projects and build a lot, and that's how we got the Charles Bridge, St. Vitus Cathedral, and Vysehrad.
And then came Jan Hus, this rebel pastor from the 14th century who challenged the Catholic Church. This was centuries before Martin Luther (different Martin than Martin Luther King Jr,). It caused several wars between the Hussites and the mostly German Catholic Church. Speaking of Germans, they were a big part of Czech society, they represented a third of the population before 1945. Back to Hus, it ended badly for him! They tricked him and burned him alive in Constance, which is now in Switzerland. At least it was in Switzerland, right?
Back in 1620, there was a battle that determined the fate of Czechia for the next 300 years. Czechia was badly defeated and Austria gained influence under the Habsburgs, who suppressed Czech cultural traditions and eventually forgot them. However, in 1917, Czechia gained independence thanks to World War I and united with Slovakia to become Czechoslovakia.
Things were going very well until 1938, when the Munich Agreement (some call it a conspiracy) was signed. Britain and France forced Czechoslovakia to give up the Sudetenland, which was populated by Germans. The country was left defenceless against Hitler's invasion because the defensive fortification was on the border territories. Czechia fell under occupation without resistance. You know what happened after May 8, 1945, but it's important to note that one-third of the Germans living in the country at the time, who had received passports from the Third Reich, fled in one week. Three million people, that's a big part of the population.
Modern day Czechia is only about 30 years old. After leaving the Soviet Union's sphere of influence in 1991, Czechia and Slovakia separated, but remained the closest and friendliest neighbours.
I decided to share this historical context with you so we can look at Prague in a new light. Now it's not just a city with old buildings, but the birthplace of the Holy Roman Emperor. It's not just a sad old guy’s monument, but Jan Hus, the 15th-century church reformer. Locals also love to embrace their culture and history. For example, the fact that the country became known in the whole world for mastering Gothic art from the 14th century. The Czech people are also known for their stubbornness, atheism, and for gaining independence after centuries of oppression. And let's not forget the classic beer halls and Art Deco facades from the beginning of the 19th century during the heyday of the First Republic.
Okay, let's dive into the main part.
So what do locals do most often that tourists don't? Here's a short list we'll go through:
- Czechs drink freshly brewed beer, which they either make on the spot or bring in kegs;
- They avoid touristy streets, cutting through closed galleries or empty alleys;
- During warm weather, they know how to relax and enjoy the riverbanks, parks, climb hills and like to gaze off into the sunset with a pint of beer in hand;
- They combine bike sharing with boat rides, making it both sporty and romantic.
Let's talk beer.
Word of advice: if you're at a pub or restaurant and they're serving Staropramen, especially if it's packed with foreigners, it's most likely a tourist trap. You won't get to try real Czech beer there today. Even though the Staropramen brewery is based in Prague, locals tend to be pretty chill about it. They just see it as watered-down beer: it's fine, but it's not going to blow your mind.
So, where can you find the real deal? Look for a pub or a restaurant that serves tank beer, which is brewed on-site or brought in by tanker trucks. It's supposed to be stored at 5-6 degrees Celsius and have a unique taste due to its delicate foam and light carbonation. You can spot a place that serves tank beer by a sign at the entrance, and chances are it's Pilsner Urquell. Trust me, it's definitely worth a try!
In a classic pub, they'll give you a sheet to keep track of how many beers you've had in the evening. The norm is considered to be 8 mugs. It's not a lethal dose, you can still walk, but you might feel it in the morning.
And for the enthusiasts, I recommend trying "cut beer" - it's when half of the beer is dark and the other half is light.
For all the true beer connoisseurs out there, you can even customize your beer by choosing the amount of foam you want. The classic way is called 'hladinka', but you can also go for 'mlíko'. It's all up to personal preference, so feel free to experiment and find what suits you best.
Avoiding crowded streets.
It’s pretty unlikely that you'll see empty streets in Prague, unless you're dealing with some serious jetlag and don't know what to do with yourself at 5 AM. Walking around the streets during low season is ideal! You would not want to end up in Prague around Christmas Eve. Being stuck in a human traffic jam is not the most pleasant experience, so let me share a couple of detours with you:
- Head to the passage between Hooters & Harley Davidson, which leads to Bartida Degustation Bar. I definitely recommend checking it out if you're down to tryCzech spirits made in-house. Once you exit onto Kožná street, turn right, walkpast Pizzeria Giovanni, and voilà – you've made it to Old Town Square.
- For some reason, people tend to enter the Lucerna Gallery from the side of Vaclavske namesti stop, even though there are exits from all four sides of the quarter.The main trick is to get to the statue of Saint Wenceslas, who is sitting on anupside-down horse. The statue was made by contemporary artist David Černý. You may come across his creations more than once. I'll tell you this, if you find yourself in awe in front of a sculpture or installation, it’s likely to be the handiwork of David Černý. You could spend all day touring the city to see his art without growing tired.
- Františkánská zahrada (Franciscan Gardens) is located across from Lucerna and you can combine these two routes. It's best to enter from Vaclavske namesti stop, but you need to go through the passage to the right of the Svetozor cafe, where locals love to eat chlebíčky - a kind of sandwich with various fillings. Then go straight and turn left at the end. If you're in Prague during the warm season, sit on a bench surrounded by roses and enjoy the moment. When you feel like having a beer, it's time to go.
- There's this passageway in the Koruna building at the bottom of Wenceslas Square. It's not the most charming spot, but it's definitely a shortcut that locals use all the time to get around the city.
Now, let's talk about chilling out in Prague.
The warm season starts pretty early here. The weather can sometimes be nice around March, whereas in April it will be warm without a doubt. Locals love to spend their evenings outdoors, often combining sports with socializing.
There are hip areas on hills and along riverbanks where you can find beer gardens to grab a pint and a quick snack, sit among a buzzing crowd and enjoy the fading sunlight.
One of the best spots for this is Letna Park. It's a bit of a climb if you're coming from the city center, so if it's a hot day, you might want to consider taking a taxi. Look for Letensky Zamecek for orientation, and you'll find a big grassy area under chestnut trees with breathtaking views of Prague.
On the second place, we have Riegrovy sady, which is located in Prague 2. It's an extremely popular spot where locals like to go to can catch an amazing sunset view. Just sit back, relax on the grass and enjoy the last rays of sunshine.
Another spot to check out is Naplavka. It's a 2 km long riverfront that stretches from the Dancing House upriver. This place is popular with the younger crowd, and during warm weather, it's perfect for hanging out by the river or grabbing a quick bite at one of the many restaurants.
Bike sharing! In Prague
There are four different bike-sharing services in the city, and two of them, Rekolo and Next Bike, are budget-friendly with two free rides up to 30 minutes included in the annual pass for public transport. If you're a tourist, you can get a monthly pass for about 5-10 euros but be sure to check the terms and conditions for any ride duration restrictions. Riding a bike is an awesome way to explore Prague, especially when you want to avoid the crowded public transportation.
For the more tech-savvy tourists, there are Lime/Uber and Bolt bike-sharing services that are perfect for cruising along the riverfront. These bikes are electric and cost about 0.25 cents per minute, which adds up to around 15 euros per hour. But it's totally worth it! Plus, you might already have one of the apps on your phone.
As you ride along the river, you'll come across a few free ferry crossings that allow bikes. If you have a valid pass for public transport, you can ride the ferry for free. Otherwise, the ride costs around 1.2 euros. These ferries have a set schedule, so be sure to check it beforehand .
For a cool biking adventure, I recommend taking a circular route starting from Podskalí to Dvorce, then crossing over to Lihovar and biking up through Císařská louka island before returning to Naplavka. Don’t forget to stop along the way if you see any spots that catch your eye. Have fun exploring Prague on two wheels!
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With an unwavering love for Prague 🇨🇿 , I have dedicated myself to sharing the wonders of this destination with the world 🗺️. Through my travel blog, I aim to provide valuable insights and practical tips that help tourists feel more at ease during their visit 🍺.
No matter what city you visit, there are times when you fall in love at first sight and keep coming back, or on the contrary, there are barriers of misunderstanding and unpleasant associations. I hope this article will help you fall in love with Prague when you arrive by using simple tips that are gathered in one place.
If you're an inexperienced tourist, you might get the impression that there's nothing to do in Prague except for strolling around and munching on local food. But fear not, there are a few ways to spice up your day or night: