I remember the first time I had ever heard of Czechoslovakia. It was my first week of year 6 and my new teacher was telling us about herself. She was born in Czechoslovakia – a country I’d never heard of before – and she told us about how her family had fled the country before it split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. I was fascinated by the fact that a country could become divided and that it would never be unified again; and I was moved by how much this single act of migration had affected my teacher, and that at over 30 years of age, she was still brought to tears by memories of this.
I never really heard more about the Czech Republic or Slovakia until my early twenties, when one of my friends mentioned in passing that she thought Prague was one of the best cities she’d visited in Europe. This surprised me – since age 11, I’d always thought of the Czech Republic as some cold, grey Eastern European city that was kind of like Russia; not a place I really wanted to visit. But since then, I’d kept hearing more friends rave about Prague and what a beautiful city it is.
When the opportunity came to travel to Prague, I responded with an enthusiastic ‘yes!’. Other than hearing about what a beautiful city it was and being told by everyone to go to Charles Bridge (seriously, everyone), I didn’t know what to expect. I did a bit of research on the city, but didn’t commit anything to memory, except for where the best coffees could be found (priorities).
My verdict? Prague is beautiful – it reminds me of Paris: beautiful architecture, fascinating history, secret alleyways and a vibrancy you can’t put your finger on. However, it’s also nothing like Paris: it’s less chaotic, the people are completely different, the food less familiar and the coffee is infinitely better.
If you’re heading there soon, or planning to go there later this year, here is my guide for 24 hours in Prague.
0830: Start the day with coffee and breakfast at mamacoffee on Vodickova, between Charles and Wenceslas Square. Keep your eyes open as its tucked a bit off the street – it’s front is all glass so look for all the hip people drinking coffee and looking happy. Prices are fair, and the highlight is the fact that the cakes are *healthy*. The soft-boiled eggs in glass is very impressive, while their lunch menu is as delicious as it is creative.
1000: Following breakfast, make your way to Wenceslas Square. It’s more of an open-air shopping mall but the gorgeous architecture is still there and it’s nice to wander around. If you walk towards the National Museum, you’ll see a kick-ass statue of St Wenceslas (whom the square is named after) and in the right light, it is quite impressive.
1100: From Wenceslas Squares, walk to Charles Bridge, or Karluv Most in Czech. Find your way to the river and take this route; you’ll spot Charles Bridge in the distance and understand why it’s one of the most visited tourist attractions in Prague. Ideally, it would be great to get here early in the morning to avoid the crowds, but you can’t expect anything less from a tourist spot! Take your time to walk the bridge and admire the statues/sculptures – they’re very interesting and so detailed.
Towards the end of the bridge you’ll see a throng of people crowding around a particular spot – it’s where the statue of St John of Nepomuk stands and there’s a plaque on the base with a picture of a gold dog. Apparently you rub the dog to bring you good luck but a search on the internet says you should rub the plaque of St John about to be thrown off Charles Bridge, which is on the right hand side of the base. Either way, it’s a cute ritual.
1200: Before you start your next adventure, it’s time to refuel. I visited in December so was lucky enough to pop by to the Christmas market at the end of the bridge for lunch, but if you’re visiting any other time of the year, keep walking straight and you’ll see a big square with some big restaurants and a Starbucks. If you veer towards the right, you’ll be in a cute street with a lot of Czech pubs/restaurants. Turn left, and you’ll be in a commercial area with hip cafes and bigger restaurants. You’re spoilt for choice so take your pick!
1330: Depending on where you had lunch, make your way to Prague Castle. If you had lunch in the cute street on the right, simply keep going straight and follow the signs to Prague Castle (Prazský hrad) – you’ll go up a slight ramp; watch out for the segways! If you had lunch in the commercial area, I highly recommend walking up Petrin Hill, following the Hunger Wall. It’s a slightly steep climb and if you’re not fit, just take it easy. The view of Prague from the hill is stunning; there’s also a Bench for Lovers so make sure you take a snap with your loved one! Then walk back down and follow the signage to Prague Castle, wandering through the neighbourhoods.
1430: Once you’re in Prague Castle (not actually a castle, but the entire complex is called Prague Castle), buy a ticket that will get you into St. Vitus’ Cathedral and its South Tower, and Golden Lane. It’s a bit pricey, which is to be expected for a popular tourist site. Start at Golden Lane and check out a historical slice of Prague. Once you’re done, visit the Cathedral and admire the stained-glass windows, followed by the 287 step climb up the Cathedral’s South Tower. It’s a steep, windy and exhausting climb but don’t give up! The birds-eye view of the Prague Castle and the city is worth the huffing-and-puffing up the stairs.
1730: As you exit Prague Castle, take a moment to admire the sunset over the city and watch it light up. Head back down the ramp and cross back over the bridge, which is even more beautiful at night. Once you’re back on the other side, cross the road over the tramline and go down the alleyway. There are so many little shops and cafes selling trdelnik, the Czech version of chimney cake which is delicious, especially when it’s winter. My favourite is trdelnik smothered with nutella – yum! Keep walking down this alleyway and follow the signs (or tour groups!) towards the Old Town Square.
1830: With all this walking, you’ll be absolutely famished now. Old Town Square, like Wenceslas Square, is more of a shopping area with a lot of high-end designer stores located here. There are however, some great Czech restaurants serving delicious food. During Christmas, the square is transformed into a glittering Christmas market. Find a place to enjoy dinner and a Czech beer, and people-watch as the square comes alive at night.
1945: Once you’ve finished dinner, follow the crowds and get a good spot in front of the Astronomical Clock, for the hourly strike, when the figures in the tower do a little dance. Personally, I found it slightly freaky and underwhelming for all its hype, but I guess it’s something you have to do to have the Prague experience.
2005: The night is still young, so head over to Namesti Republiky (Republic Square) which is the city centre of Prague, and a bustling hive of evening activity. Here, you can see some beautiful architecture and take a seat in one of the outdoor cafes and watch the world go by. If retail therapy is more your thing, they have a mall in the square which has the usual high-street chain stores we all know and love.
If you prefer to get lost in a city, then from Old Town Square head back towards Wenceslas Square and Charles Square and wander down the alleyways. There are plenty of small bars to check out, ranging from quiet wine bars to busy cocktail bars where the music is pumping and conversation is flowing. I was recommended Hemingway Bar which specialises in cocktails – unfortunately I never went in but walked by several times and it always looked like a great place.
2300: Not ready to go home yet and want to have a night cap? Head over to Globe Bookstore and Cafe, small yet popular hangout for literary and non-literary types. The bookstore might be closed at this time of night, but the cafe won’t be. It looks small when you enter; go towards the back of the cafe and there’s a spacious seating area. The owner is very friendly and chatty and the crowd it draws is equally as pleasant. Globe also hold regular events so if you’re looking for a quieter type of night, this is the place to go. It’s open till midnight on weeknights and 1am on weekends.
There are many more places I visited – this is just a small snapshot of my highlights and recommendation of what to do in 24 hours in Prague. If, or when, I visit again I would stay for a week to really have the opportunity to explore the city more and visit more sites.
If you’re wondering, I stayed in an Airbnb apartment in Charles Square (Karlov Namesti) – it was such a great spot and there were cafes, grocery stores, pharmacies, a couple of tram stops and a Hooter’s (strange? Yes) a stone’s throw away from our place.
Have I missed anything? Comment below on your favourite places to visit in Prague!