Coffee Shops and Sightseeing in Praha
After leaving my parents in Munich, Bryan and I made our way to the Czech Republic via a long train ride. On our way to Prague (aka Praha!) we could notice the landscape change from clean and manicured German train stations to the dingier Czech stations surrounded by abandoned shops. We were a bit weary of what to expect from our time in Praha. I watched our location on the map as we approached our destination train station, only to realize we could get off one station earlier than our ticket specified and be closer to our AirBnb! So, that’s exactly what we did—hopped off earlier and made our way to our AirBnb. We have stayed in our fair share of AirBnb’s in Europe over the past 6 months as they are most of the time cheaper than private rooms or even smaller dorm rooms in hostels. So, we’ve had all types of check-ins, from self-check-in lock boxes to meeting in person to even having someone remotely unlock the door from their phone! This check in may have been the most fun though because there were so many obscure steps that it felt like we were on a scavenger hunt—walk across the street and below the second window from the left you will see a black box…
Anyways, after finally finding the treasure—I mean key—we made our way to the prettiest apartment we have stayed in yet! It was not only sparkling clean but also had a decorated kitchen worthy of any home design show. It reminded me of an antique French countryside style in all white, with some antique pieces on display. We happened to be one block from an Italian place that had not only a restaurant, but a bakery and a specialty grocery store, so we gathered some primo Italian ingredients and made a delectable pasta dish washed down with some velvety smooth red wine.
Do you need 6 days to do all your sightseeing in Praha? No, but we also like to do some rest days where we work on our blog and planning our future travels. Is December in Praha cold? Yes, but not unbearable. Plus, Bryan and I decided it was more charming and vibrant of a city with all the advent season lights, decorations, and Christmas markets that peppered the street corners and pedestrian plazas. We were delighted with sipping some warmed glühwein or mead and pursuing the unique craft stands unlike ones we had seen in Austria or Germany. From blacksmiths to unique lace crafts to people weaving their own fabrics on looms, each market had something new to offer. Come to think of it, Prague’s Christmas Markets kind of have a Renaissance Festival vibe to them. We also loved the twirled cinnamon bread made over the open fires! I almost convinced Bryan to share some freshly barbecued mushrooms, but he’s still not a total mushroom lover like me!
Founded in 880, this UNESCO monument is no longer a traditional castle housing a King and Queen, but rather a collection of government buildings and preserved areas that visitors can tour—for a price of course. We opted to walk around the courtyard for free and took in the various architectural styles from the 10th century Romanesque style to the 14th century Gothic cathedral smack dab in the middle (every European city must have a Gothic cathedral!). If you’ve read our blog, you may notice European countries like to distinguish their castles from all the others with a most “fill-in-the-blank” award. Praha’s castle is the “largest coherent castle complex in the world” according to the Guinness Book of world Records. If this is your first European castle/Gothic cathedral then it’s worth it to pay to tour the inside. For your 10th European castle/Gothic cathedral visit? Enjoy the free stroll on the outside and move on to some of Praha’s more unique sites!
St. Vitus Cathedral
A part of the Prague Castle complex, the cathedral makes a demanding presence with some of the most dramatic Gothic architecture we’ve seen so far. The main tower is 337 feet (102.8 meters) tall! The size of the cathedral grew over the centuries of course, with humble beginnings as a simple rotunda in 930 with a sole purpose of converting the prominent pagan population within the Prague Castle complex to Christianity. As the congregation increased over the centuries, the extravagance and size of the once humble church expanded to what you can see today. We didn’t go inside as we could enjoy the gorgeous architecture from the outside for free, and again—cities in Europe love having prominent Gothic cathedrals, so we’ve pretty much lost our interest on what’s inside and just briefly admire the towers before moving on to other charms the city holds.
Spanning over the Vltava river, Charles Bridge connects Prague Castle to Praha’s Old Town. Initial construction began in 1357 and finally finished in the early 1400’s and was the only means of crossing the Vltava river until 1841. You will notice the double line of 30 statues adorning the bridge edges watching over you as you cross the river. I loved seeing the pictures of misty mornings on this bridge, as the figures look like eerie shadows waiting to haunt you!
Prague Astronomical Clock and Old Town Square Christmas Market
While enjoying the large Christmas Market in the Old Town Square, we came across the largest Cuckoo-esque clock we’ve seen so far! Built in 1410, it is actually the oldest astronomical clock still in operation. The clock has an hourly show showing figures of the Apostles walking and even a skeleton (representing Death) striking the time—very ominous.
Petrin Hill Park
For a dose of Praha history and exercise at the same time, follow the winding pathways of Petrin Hill Park up to the summit. The first thing we came across was the Memorial to the Victims of Communism. You can’t help but feel emotional when looking at the emaciated figures walking towards you with a look of hollowness. The further the statues are, the less of each man is sculpted, with lost limbs and bodies that appear to be breaking open—symbolizing how Czech political prisoners were affected by Communism from 1948 to 1989.
As we continued up the hill we noticed a wall running straight up the hill. This wall is about 14.5 feet tall and was originally built between 1360-1362 by order of Charles IV as a defensive wall. Its name was given after a 1361 famine, when the construction of the wall provided a source of income for the city’s poor and allowed them to have enough money to eat.
Once at the top, the first thing you’ll notice is what can only be described as a small Eiffel Tower, or the Petrin Lookout Tower. At 208 feet, this tower is still quite high, and the only way to get to the top is by climbing the 299 stairs that wind upwards inside the structure. As you go up you’ll hear but never see people coming down at the same. This is because there is a twin set of stairs for those only going down. These two sets form a double-helix structure. The Lookout Tower was built in 1891 after the Club of Czech Tourists saw the real Eiffel Tower at the Paris world exposition in 1889. It offers the best views of Praha, so we would recommend visiting (and hey, your glutes will thank you for the little extra workout!).
Also built in 1891 was the Mirror Maze. This maze of mirrors leads to distorting mirrors which provided Bryan and I with quite a few laughs. We thought the “maze” however was not really a maze since there was only one way to go and no alternate paths that could get you lost. While the distorting mirrors were interesting, the maze was not worth the price of the ticket—skip it!
The Lennon Wall began as a response to the 1980 murder of John Lennon, when an unknown artist painted an image of John Lennon and some lyrics. The wall continuously changes and is painted over filled with John Lennon inspired graffiti and Beatles’ song lyrics. We didn’t get a chance to see the wall, but if we ever go back, I’d love to see it.
Museum of Communism
This museum was most definitely eye-opening and packed full of information about Prague’s Communist-era of Czechoslovakia—from post World War II Munich Agreement to the 1968 Russian occupation to The Velvet Revolution in 1989. It gave in depth information on daily life, politics, the military, education, propaganda, etc. It was a very grim era in Czechoslovakia’s history, and the museum does good job of providing in depth exhibits and information on every aspect of life then. The museum took us about 2.5 hours to go through, but if you’re not someone who enjoys reading it will take you much less time. Bryan and I found it incredibly interesting and we read just about every word in that museum. The 1968 Russian occupation was the saddest part of the exhibit for us—Czechoslovakia was just waking up and wanting to come out of Communism. The Russians caught wind of this and exponentially increased their military presence in Czechoslovakia to stamp out this growing revolution. I can only imagine how hopeless and desperate the Czechs must have felt then.
Alright, on to lighter and jollier things---specifically Pilsner beer. Did you know the Czech’s inspired Pilsner beers? Pilsner Urquell has the claim to be the first Pilsner brewed in 1842. We didn’t do the brewery tour, as we’ve done our fair share of brewery tours, but Pilsner Urquell is served in most pubs around Praha. If you’re interested though and have the time to travel out to the brewery (it’s outside of Prague), I would encourage you to go for it!
Bryan found this great place to sample craft beer in Old Town Prague. Hidden at the end of a cul-de-sac, this bar offered an escape for us after being bumped and pushed around in the crowds of Old Town’s busiest streets. This place has close to 100 beers (tap and bottle) from small to mid-size breweries, and all of them are Czech beers at that. After getting overwhelmed by the menu, our knowledgeable waitress helped us narrow down our selection to 6 flights to try. From smoked lagers to hoppy IPA’s to sour to dark and malty porters, we tasted a wide range of beer types and loved most of them! I think the standout of the night though was a black pepper lager!
This bar was closer to our AirBnb (across the river from Old Town), and it gave us a glimpse of a great local sports bar. Loud but friendly, sports fans gather hear for a large (and cheap!!) mug of pilsner, some hearty Czech food, and to catch up with friends while cheering on their favorite team. For the experience of a local hangout this bar is a must!
Our first night in Prague, Bryan and I walked to this Italian market, and I fell in love with it. A unique concept restaurant, it consists of a large dining area where you can order food and surrounding this dining area are several different stalls and storefronts where fresh products are made—such as breads, desserts, and pasta. We went to the grocery area where you can buy Italian food products (think high quality pasta and sauces) as well as fresh produce and even premade takeaway products.
The first coffee shop Bryan and I visited served fantastic coffee and great breakfast. We whipped out our computers and happily spent a few hours working on our blog uninterrupted. I think this place would be great for breakfast or brunch on its own—it seemed to be a local favorite.
The decor in this cafe was an Instagrammer’s dream come true, but the coffee was great as well (and their teas too!). We each had a drink and plopped down on a comfy couch. Each customer can only access their wifi for 2 hours, so our time working here was short. The highlight was the little dog running around with a tiny tennis ball in his mouth hoping someone would play fetch with him.