Prague doesn’t need a brochure to sell itself. Thirty years ago, Prague (or Praha as the Czech pronounce it) was a mystery to world travelers; now, however, it is becoming one of the most popular destinations in Europe, drawing about 4 million visitors each year – and for good reason. In Pakistan, all vacations somehow end up in the US or UK while the more adventurous ones go to popular (read: touristy) European destinations like France, Italy & Spain.
Prague offers a compact city center, a fascinating centuries-long history, splendid examples of Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque, Renaissance and Art Nouveau architecture, scores of palaces, churches, parks and squares, delicious local Czech beer and food, but where it wins hands down over all other European destinations is in its affordability, even for us Pakistani travellers, since the Czech currency Krona has an unbelievably good exchange rate compared to the insane Pak Rupee-Euro. As of now one Czech Krona is equal to five Pakistani Rupees, which means you can get far more bang for your rupee than any other international destination around the world (save perhaps India. But the Czech visa is, obviously, relatively much easier to obtain).
Over 600 years old, it is one of the oldest (still functioning) astronomical clocks in the world. In personally found it the most over-rated tourist attraction in Prague. I mean, great that it is so old and all – but after staring at the clock for a full minute (and instagramming a photo!) – one does have to wonder what all the brouhaha is all about.
But that photograph with the clock is a must-do to complete your visit to Prague – so get it out of the way first.
The John Lennon Wall is the Czech expression of freedom from the communist era, a colorful tribute to the Beatles singer and a symbol of love and peace.
Tucked away in a quiet street away from the touristy hustle and bustle of Prague, every inch of the Lennon Wall is filled with Lennon-inspired graffiti and Beatles song lyrics – and constantly keeps changing as visitors keep adding their messages on to it. And it’s free.
Bohemian Glass or Bohemian Crystal is beautiful and colorful pieces of decorative glass that originate from the Czech Republic and a trip to Prague is not complete without checking out the wonderful shops around town which sell hand-cut Bohemian crystal as vases, wine and champagne glasses, as well as plates, fruit bowls and many other pieces for one-third the price and much higher quality than what is sold in malls in Dubai. Get one for your home, and you have a lovely conversation piece about your trip to Prague.
There are also tours available to see Bohemian Crystal being manufactured at a glass factory – but honestly simply visiting the shops around town looking at the lovely pieces is a genuine treat.
Cruising the Vltava River
Prague is divided in two by the Vltava River, with the Castle District and Lesser Town on the left bank of the river and the Old Town, New Town, and Jewish Quarter on the right bank of the Vltava.
Vltava River, the largest river in the Czech Republic, gives Prague the aura of romance and mystery which makes one fall in love with the city on first site – enough of a reason for honeymooners to choose Prague as their destination of choice.
From renting paddle boats, to taking a relaxing lunch or dinner cruise for a few hours to guided tours in the boat – the river provides many different options for exploring the city’s sites. These can be booked from the hotel, online and even just by randomly walking to the pier under the Charles Bridge and catching a 30minute boat ride on a gondola for just Kr150 per person.
Vintage Car Tour
Experiencing Prague, in a vintage car is one of those must-do things to enjoy this picturesque city in grand style. They provide an hour-long tour of Old Prague in retrofitted Classic convertible cars from the 60s, and is not an experience we are likely to get anywhere in Pakistan.
Professional tour guides can pick you up from your hotel, and then show you around sights such as the John Lennon Wall, Old Town Sq., Jewish Quarter, Lesser Town, and Prague Castle, or alternatively you can just hire one from the Old Town Square for around Kr1000 (PKR5500) after some bargaining.
According to the Guinness book of World Records, Prague Castle, dating back to the 9th century, is the largest ancient castle in the world.
The iconic structure is the inspiration for fairy tales, films and television shows, as it is one of the most substantial remnants of medieval times. The Castle is really more of a village or small town on the top of a hill, overlooking the expansive Prague – and what a breathtaking view it is!
If you are really interested in exploring the Castle and the area surrounding it, then just keep a full day aside for it. Even if you are not taking any tours and exploring it on your own be prepared to walk and just stumble upon random places like a Museum or a Church, which are mostly free to walk into and explore.
This bridge is a 1,700-foot long medieval walking bridge that connects the two sides of Prague, over the Vltava River. It was completed in the 15th century – and today you can observe throngs of people crossing the Charles Bridge day and night.
During the daytime, it is also crowded with various vendors, street artists sketching, musicians playing and entertainers of all sorts. With ornate statues, artists, vendors and gorgeous views of the Vltava River, it’s easy to see why it one of the most famous sites to visit in Prague.
Music is everywhere in Prague, and a startling amount of it is good. Charles Bridge, Old Town Square, the entire city … is just full of musicians – and such talented ones…
Bars employ singers with guitars, cruise boats have live musicians, Churches have lovely choirs playing through out the day and even walking around the streets of Prague there are musical surprises with repertoires ranging from traditional folk music from all over Europe to unconventional original compositions. Best part – if you love their work, you can buy the CD for as little as Rs 250 (approx. Kr50).
Old Town Square
Prague’s Old Town Square is where the magic happens. Walk around it a couple of times and you will find everything you could possibly be looking for – from pub crawls and magic to breakdance shows, you will never have enough of its vibrant energy.
Restaurants, food stalls, churches, and a variety of shops surround the square with many alleyways begging to be discovered. Both the Church of St Nicholas and the Astronomical tower, two of Prague’s symbols, are also located right on the square.
Home to a wealth of history and culture, families, couples and friends alike can all have a wonderful time in Prague, no matter what their budget or the length of their stay. If you book early enough, flights from Pakistan to Prague are pretty reasonable (as international travel goes) with Emirates & Turkish Airlines being the easiest, one-stop options. Otherwise there are multiple train and road options from wherever you are landing in Europe, and the accommodation options are very affordable too.
Its architecture, cobble-stoned streets, artistic buildings, history and color make Prague one of my favorite cities in the world.
Article originally published in The Friday Times, March 21, 2014.