Enjoy magnificent architecture, great food, great hotels, great people and great prices – just a few of the things to do in Prague, one of the great cities of Europe…
By Jim Ferri
Few cities in Europe are as stunning as Prague. That’s because few others provide you with 600 years of stunning, original and authentic architecture, all untouched by war.
It’s so stunning that it’s long been a hot spot for Hollywood directors seeking authentic Old World ambiance. If you’ve seen Amadeus, Les Misérables, Mission: Impossible, The Bourne Identity, and other films, you’ve already had a sampling of the city.
Whether you’re a director or a traveler, you’ll find many things to do in Prague, which is a very affordable city. Here are the best, plus tips on the best restaurants and hotels, good day trips, using public transportation, and how to get from the airport into the city.
What to Do in Prague: Start at Old Town Square
There are many things to do in Prague, especially in the Old Town. You’ll find that the heart and soul of the city are Old Town Square, one of the most beautiful public squares in the world. It’s the best place to start your tour of Prague.
The huge square was initially a vast marketplace that somehow has remained pretty much untouched since the 10th century despite numerous foreign invaders and World War II.
On the north side of the square is the Gothic Church of Our Lady Before Tyn. Look closely, and you’ll see that the church’s architects made the south tower larger than the north one, the custom of the time. Directly across from it is the magnificent Town Hall.
Like most city squares, it’s a stage for an ever-changing cast of characters, including musicians, protesters, vendors, and others. The buildings that surround it are a pleasant hodgepodge of architecture, including Rococo (Kinsky Palace), Baroque (St. Nicholas Church), and Gothic (Tyn Cathedral). Adding to the pleasing architectural cacophony is a row of small Renaissance-style houses.
A Short Walking Tour of the Top Places in Prague
This map depicts a walking tour of the main places mentioned in this article. It is interactive; press +/- to enlarge it or make it smaller. It can also be viewed, and the route followed, on your smartphone.
The Old Town Hall and Astronomical Clock
The Old Town Hall is famous for its medieval Astronomical Clock. It’s both beautiful and ingenious, a 15th-century mechanism that not only tells time but also shows the movement of the planets around the earth, the sun, and the moon via signs of the zodiac.
Every day, on the hour, small statues dance, bells ring, and cocks crow above the crowd that gathers to watch the little spectacle. Grab a beer or glass of wine at one of the nearby cafés as you await the top of the hour.
The Prague Jewish Quarter
Behind Town Hall is Josefov, the old Prague Jewish Quarter, dating from the 12th century, a place where writer Franz Kafka spent most of his life.
It’s a beautiful area today, although it was razed at the end of the 19th century after many Jews had left and the area had turned into a slum. It was replaced with a bourgeois district, preserving only four synagogues. One is the Maisel Synagogue, a few blocks north of Town Hall, with a collection of Jewish silverwork. Further up the street are the Jewish Town Hall and the 13th-century Old-New Synagogue (Staronová synagóga). It’s the oldest in Europe and is still used for religious services.
Nearby is the Old Jewish Cemetery. First used in the 15th century, the cemetery was one of the few places available for burial of Prague’s Jews. When it ran out of room graves were added on top of one another; today it’s estimated that about 200,000 are buried here, even though the final burial place took place in 1787.
Cross the Charles Bridge for More of the Best Things to See in Prague
Prague is a very walkable city and a short walk from the Jewish Quarter or Old Town Square you’ll find the famous Charles Bridge.
The Charles is a 600-year-old, 1700 foot-long Gothic-cobblestone-bridge, built by King Charles IV. Lined with Baroque statues of 30 religious figures, it’s one of the most famous bridges in the world, one of the most popular, and one of the best things to do in Prague. As you might expect, more often than not it’s crowded with tourists, musicians and all sorts of vendors and buskers.
Praguers love marionettes and if you want to see something interesting after you reach the castle side of the river turn right and walk down the road alongside the bridge. Down the street, you’ll find Marionety Truhlář, a marionette shop at U Lužického sem. 5., Malá Strana. Drop in, and you’ll find a large variety of marionettes – beautiful and whimsical knights, animals, fairies, all sorts of things – hanging from the ceiling, walls and every conceivable spot.
They’re incredibly well crafted but, as you might suspect, not cheap. Still, though, you’ll likely find it fascinating.
Prague Castle and Royal Palace
If you continue along U Lužického sem., the street on which the shop is located, you’ll reach Prague Castle In about 15 minutes. If you set out for the castle from the other side of the river, you can reach it via Tram #22.
When you reach it you’ll realize that it’s not one castle, but a vast complex of buildings, about the size of seven football fields. In fact, it’s the largest castle complex in the world.
Once home to Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, the fairytale-looking complex includes churches, gardens, alleyways and the Royal residence, making it the largest ancient castle in the world. Inside its walls are the Old Royal Palace (the seat of Bohemian kings since the 11th century), St. George’s Basilica (the city’s most beautiful Romanesque monument) and numerous other buildings, including the beautiful St. Vitus Cathedral.
Much of the castle complex is free (although you must purchase a ticket to view the interiors), and the guards change every hour, with special fanfare at noon.
The Cathedral, with its distinct spires easily seen from all over the city, is the focal point of the castle complex.
St. Vitus Cathedral
Before you enter, however, first walk around to its right side to see the “Golden Portal,” that originally was the main entrance. It was named for the beautiful 14th-century Venetian mosaic of “The Last Judgment” above it, it’s still used as an entrance on special occasions.
Inside you’ll find one of the most spectacular churches you’ll see anywhere. When I first entered, I stood for a moment in total awe, just absorbing the beauty of its Art Nouveau stained-glass windows. Few people realize that Art Nouveau was introduced during the church’s construction; although work on the cathedral began in 1344, it wasn’t completed until 1929.
In addition to the magnificent windows, the church is also the repository of the Crown Jewels of Bohemia and the remains of Good King Wenceslas.
After wandering about the warren of little streets in Old Town, we walked over to the Municipal House, a place two shopkeepers told us we shouldn’t miss. It turned out to be one of the highlights of the city.
Built 1905–1911, it remains the most beautiful Art Nouveau building in Prague, thanks to restoration in the 1990s after decades of neglect during the Communist era, despite it being where Czechoslovakia was declared an independent state in 1918. You’ll find few places like it anywhere in Europe, or the world, for that matter.
At its heart is the beautiful Smetana Concert Hall, home to the Czech National Symphony Orchestra. But it was its exuberant Art Nouveau restaurants and bar that really caught our attention.
In the basement, we found Plzenska, a beautiful Old-World Czech beer-hall-style restaurant with tile walls and stained glass windows. Next to it was the American Bar, a real old-style American bar where they’ll whip you up a Manhattan, Gin Fizz or another cocktail of choice. It’s the oldest bar in the Czech Republic and, it claims, the second oldest in Europe.
But the real standout of the Municipal House was the elegant restaurant Francouzska, a veritable dining museum of Art Nouveau exuberance, serving French, Czech, and International cuisine.
Best Restaurants in Prague
Good things to do in Prague include tasting Czech cuisine, which is quite affordable and delicious. Widely influenced by its German, Polish, and Austrian neighbors, it includes plenty of meat dishes with gravy and bread dumplings. Still, though, you’ll also find a variety of international dishes on many menus.
For fine dining V Zatisi, Portfolio, and Bellevue are quite popular. Mlynec Restaurant, U Kroka, and Czech Slovak Restaurant Lounge Bar are good for local cuisine, while Wine O’Clock Shop Prague, Be Bop Lobby Bar, and Namaste India Indian Restaurant are more moderately priced. For cheap eats, Secret Garden Prague, Johnny Pizza, and Sad Man’s Tongue Bar & Bistro are good bets.
Best Hotels in Prague
You can find some excellent hotels in Prague due to the value of the dollar and euro vis-à-vis the Czech Crown (CZK). The following list of the best hotels in Prague by TripAdvisor is based on rankings by travelers, and include traveler ratings, prices, booking popularity, location, and personal user preferences. They are ranked in order from 1 to 10 and include room rates at the time of publication, which may differ depending on the season.
The 10 are: Hotel Residence Agnes ($173), Hotel Pod Vezi ($161), Golden Well Hotel ($243), BoHo Prague Hotel ($187), Unitas Hotel ($169), Aria Hotel Prague by Library Hotel Collection ($247), Appia Hotel Residences Prague ($139), Radisson Blu Alcron Hotel, Prague ($156), Four Seasons Hotel Prague ($426), Questenberk ($114).
Day Trips From Prague
More things to do in Prague include the many good tours you can take in the city. They range from walking tours throughout the city to sightseeing tours in old-style autos. There are also day trips you can take outside the city.
One of the most popular day trips from Prague is to Cesky Krumlov, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in southern Bohemia. About a two-hour drive south of the city, it’s a town of winding lanes, cobbled streets, and Renaissance buildings. Above it all stands Cesky Krumlov castle, a fairytale chateau pasted on a rocky hill in the middle of town.
Below the castle, the Vitava River makes a dramatic horseshoe slice right through the middle of town. Hollywood couldn’t have designed it any better. Get Your Guide, a reputable and respected tour company, offers day trips from Prague to this beautiful city.
Another good day trip option is to Pilsen, about 1½-hours by train or bus from the capital. Pilsen is the birthplace of beer, the #1 reason for its popularity, and tours of the Pilsner Urquell Brewery are a favorite.
There’s much more to do in Pilsen, however, than just tour the brewery. You’ll find its Old Town beautiful and the Pilsen Techmania Science Center a treat for kids (and some adults, as well). If you love wine and bubbly, visit the Stary Plzenec-Bohemia Sekt plant outside the city.
Prague on a Budget
Prague is one of the best cities to visit in Europe if you’re on a budget.
The local currency is the Czech Crown (Koruna) (CSK), for which you receive about 20 to the U.S. dollar. Food is relatively inexpensive, beer even more so; a liter of local beer is approximately one dollar. The same is true for very good Czech wine.
Travel by train is incredibly cheap. First-class train travel across the country costs less than $25 (including excellent and free sparkling wine); second class is half that. The Berlin to Prague train, a four-hour-train ride, is about $50. The cost is about the same from Munich. Since a second-class ticket from Amsterdam will set you back about $149, it’s usually better to fly – since you can find deals as low as $50 – unless you have a rail pass.
How To Get To the City From the Airport In Prague
If you’re going to take advantage of all the things to do in Prague you’ll first need to get into the city. Thankfully, it’s fairly easy.
The international arrival airport in Prague is Václav Havel Airport Prague. Formerly Prague Ruzyně International Airport, which is why you still see signs with that name, it’s located about seven miles (12 km) outside the city. Taxis to central Prague are CZK 450-500 ($20.50 – 22.75).
An Airport Express bus runs every 30 minutes between the Prague central train station, which is on line C of the metro, and the airport. Cost is CZK 60 ($2.73) each way. There is also a local bus making multiple stops for CZK 32 ($1.45). There’s an additional charge on the local bus for pieces of luggage larger than 10 in x 18 in x 28 in. You can buy your ticket at the Prague Info both in the terminal or on the bus.
The Airport Express bus stop is outside door F of the terminal. For local buses check with the info desk in the airport.
Public Transportation in Prague
Prague’s Old Town is eminently walkable. If you’re going further afield, you’ll find that there are plenty of taxis, and the city has an excellent public transportation system linked by buses, the Metro, and trams.
There are two types of tickets used on public transportation: a 30-minute ticket (24 CZK) and a 90-minute ticket: 32 CZK. (Children 6-15 years: 12 CZK or 16 CZK; under 6 years are free).
Both tickets can be used on any type of public transportation and allow transfers between lines (subway to subway, tram to tram, etc.) and transfers between different types of transport (metro to tram, tram to bus, etc.) for up to 30/90 minutes from validation.
There is also tourist passes: a 24-hour pass is 110 CZK (children 6-15 years: 55 CZK) and a 3-day pass (72 hours): 310 CZK.
Depending on your plans, however, you may find the Prague Card a better deal. Priced in euros, it provides free public transportation, free entry to 50 attractions, etc. A two-day pass is €58 ($67.62) adult, €43 ($50.13) child/student; three-day pass is €68 ($79.28) adult, €50 ($58.29) child/student; and four days adult €78 ($90.94), €57 ($66.45) for a child/student.
The Best Time to Visit Prague
Generally speaking, the best time to visit Prague is in the late spring (late May or early June) and early fall (late September). The weather is usually at its best then. During the summer months, Prague can be quite hot and crowded. The winter months are cold, but it is then that prices are at their lowest.