Prague’s reputation as a fairy tale city cannot be overstated, with it’s winding cobblestone streets, cute cafes and breathtaking castle it is exactly what one pictures when I read the stories of their youth. However, just like the original fairytales, not all trips to Prague have happy endings. These days, it’s not exactly off the beaten path and the throngs of tourists can make it feel more like medieval Disneyland. But there is no reason to take the city off your bucket list, you just need to know the secrets to being able to see it without 10,000 strangers trampling you in the process.
Be an Early Bird
If you want the money shot of the Charles Bridge with Prague Castle looming over the river, or any other pictures of the stunning Old Town or the astronomical clock, set your own time piece for 5:30 am. If you are normally a night owl and think there is no way that is going to happen, just view this as making jet lag work in your favor. Your body won’t be sure what time it is, but it will help you adjust for the rest of the trip.
It’s best to start with the Charles Bridge, as it is a thin strip and throughout the day will quickly get crowded to the point where you can’t even admire its century old statues or stunning views of the Vltava river. If you arrive between 6:00-7:00 am you are likely to have the bridge almost to yourself, and this is when it is at its glorious best. You may also get the bonus of a gorgeous sunrise depending on the time of year. If you are running late you will still find it enjoyable until about 9:30 am. After that, you might want to wait and try another day.
After the bridge, head to Old Town Square where you can wait for the city’s famous astronomical clock to strike the hour and you can watch the mechanical skeleton ring the bell while statues of the Apostles circle through the windows of the clock. Afterword, grab a breakfast at Au Gourmand, a lovely café with the best selection of coffees and hot chocolates in town and a wonderful array of French inspired savory and sweet treats. It’s located just a two-minute walk from Old Town Square.
If your noticing a theme here, it’s because there is truth in the adage that timing is everything. For some reason, the big crowds tend to hit the Prague Castle early. If you arrive after 4 pm, you can still see the highlights of the castle, but with far fewer people.
Bonus: after touring the castle head over to the Strahov Monastery. It’s located on the same hill as the castle and you can sample beers that are brewed by the monks who reside there. You can also grab dinner at the adjacent Bella Vista restaurant which features the monastery’s brews and boasts some of the most breathtaking views of the city you could ever ask for, yet goes unnoticed by many tourists.
Rent a Boat
There will be many people who try to sell you on large boat tours of the city, but if you walk along the banks on the Old Town side of the Vltava just up river from the Charles Bridge you will see paddle boats for rent at very reasonable prices. It’s a lovely way to enjoy fresh air and the gorgeous views the city has to offer with a bit of elbow room to spare.
The Loreta Sanctuary sits up on castle hill, just a short walk from the castle itself under the shadow of the foreign ministry but goes unseen by the throngs of tourists at most of the sites. It features a church and a museum and captures much of the baroque beauty of the Czech churches and architecture, along with some of its oddities. You will see some unusual depictions of Christ the Savior as well as St. Agatha the unfortunate who carries her severed breasts on a platter.
Tour with a Homeless Person
Pragulic offers a variety of tours in English or with a translator lead by locals who have been homeless, or some who still are for a variety of reasons. They will guide you through parts of the city you would never normally see, so you acquire a perspective the normal tourist doesn’t. These tours aren’t recommended for children.