Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, is a city of Old World charm that’s captured the hearts of its many visitors. Prague has undergone a complete transformation and emerged anew from its communist past -- a past that the locals we met during our Czech travels want to put behind them.
Visitors are returning to Prague time and time again. In fact, the city has been likened to the Paris of the ’90s. To know and understand the real Prague, you need to extract yourself from the tourist path and visit the destinations appreciated by the city’s local inhabitants.
Of course, you still want to wander the pedestrian-only Charles Bridge at sunrise -- that special moment of the day when the light shimmers across the tops of the buildings and slides serenely over the River Vltava, the longest river in the Czech Republic. Take a minute to gaze up at Prague Castle -- the seat of Czech power since the ninth century -- sitting regally on Castle Hill. Breathtaking views of Prague can be had from the castle’s ancient walls or the gardens below.
A few hours after sunrise a steady stream of day-trippers will envelop the town, leaving little personal space in its many tourist hotspots. That’s when it’s time to find and visit places off the beaten path -- Prague’s hidden gems.
1. A Local Beer In A Local Park
Prague is famous for beer. But did you know that the Czech Republic tops the world’s list of the biggest beer drinkers? That’s right -- Czechs consume 143 litres per capita annually. That’s a lot of beer and you can understand why when for 2 euros you can drink a pint of their excellent Pilsner Urquell or Budva. Even if you are not a beer drinker, you could soon be converted.
Our advice: In the coolness of the evening head to our favorite local beer hut, Pivni Domecek. With a chilled Pilsner Urquell in hand, you can relax high amongst the trees overlooking the park and Prague’s new City Hall.
2. The Funkiest Hotel In Prague
Prague hotels are aplenty and as a visitor you are spoiled for choice. One of the funkiest hotels in Prague is the Vintage Design Hotel Sax. Even the name is funky. Each of its 23 bohemian-styled luxury bedrooms is unique, featuring restored vintage items from the likes of Warhol and Colani.
The design concepts are taken from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, and they showcase the city’s affinity for attractive, modern aesthetics, from the reception desk to the high-ceiling corridors on each floor. Hotel Sax’s museum-like interior features many items that we grew up with, from rotary-dial phones to Remington typewriters that are sure to bring back sweet memories.
3. A Sculpture That Turns Heads
Czech artist David Cerny created a truly one-of-a-kind sculpture that can only be witnessed in Prague. The installation depicts the head of Franz Kafka, the famous 20th-century Czech writer. Its 42 moving pieces of stainless steel make up a head that weighs 45 tons but rotates fluidly. The movement of the sculpture is a nod to the personality disorder that Kafka wrestled with during certain times in his life, and that inspired some of his most vivid writing.
Find the sculpture in the Quadrio Shopping Center.
4. Municipal Library of Prague
How can a library be a hidden gem? In this case, it’s not the library, but the installation that marks its entrance. In front of the main entrance to the Municipal Library is a vertical tunnel of books. If you peer inside the tunnel, you will encounter a seemingly never-ending array of books cleverly created by mirrors on each side. Entrance is free, but note that the library is closed on Sundays and Mondays.
5. John Lennon Wall
It’s not quite a hidden gem, but John Lennon Wall is one of the best places to visit after you’ve walked across the Charles Bridge at sunrise. Originally, this was an average brick wall in the heart of Prague, but after the assassination of John Lennon in 1980 in New York, lyrics from a Beatles song and a single image of John Lennon were graffitied here. John Lennon became an icon for the youth of Prague and the wall became a place where they could protest against the communist regime.
Over the years, the original tribute has been painted over many times, but each day text and images depicting Lennon and the Beatles reappear. Today the wall is a symbol of love and peace. When you visit, try to find the iconic image of the four Beatles crossing Abbey Road.
6. Letna Park At Sunrise And Sunset
One of the best tips we had from a local was to visit Letna Park at sunrise or sunset. Although the park is well known, it is not a tourist spot. It’s more a place where locals meet to enjoy the views, have picnics, or enjoy a beer or two. From the park you can enjoy views of Prague, the Vltava River, and the city’s many historical bridges.
7. Vysehrad Castle And Park
Vysehrad is the place to go to escape the busyness of Prague. Spend a few hours wandering through the beautiful park and the castle grounds, which are extensive and offer stunning views of the city. The 19th-century cemetery located in the grounds of the castle has the remains of famous Czech artists and musicians.
The settlement dates back to the 10th century and houses the unique Romanesque Rotunda of St. Martin and the neo-gothic church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. There is a small café at the entrance, but we would recommend packing a picnic and enjoying the peacefulness of the Vysehrad Gardens.
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