My train ride to Prague, Czech Republic, was, in a word, miserable. I had no seat and was crammed in a cart with 10 other people, a dog, and... a toilet. A bachelor party from Düsseldorf, Germany, was obnoxiously drunk during the entire pre-noon ride, chipping away at my spirit with each sip of ale. As the train pulled into the station, I thought nothing could erase the horrors of my journey. But then I emerged from the depths of transit underground, and onto the gorgeous streets of Prague.
My friends and I were met by our shockingly kind Airbnb host—she even bought us trolley tickets—and her pleasantries, combined with the cobblestone alleyways around us, melted the stressful morning away. Our host's pride in her city was evident and made perfect sense: Prague is often referred to as being straight out of a fairy tale, and after setting foot in the historic city, it’s easy to see why. While Prague, like any other city, is not immune to its share of issues, it still possesses an almost tangible magic. Colorful buildings, picturesque bridges, and charming architecture defines a city relatively new to the chaos of constant tourists. Though it has only recently become a tourism hotspot, Prague has a storied past, playing various roles of critical importance to the history of Europe—and if it was good enough for the King of the Holy Roman Empire, it certainly merits a visit from you.
Prague has a lot to offer, but these are just a few of our favorite things. And remember: Beer is cheaper than water in this city, so drink wisely.
WHERE TO STAY
Cosmopole Hostel: While I am a rather no-frills traveler, hostels can often be more trouble than they are worth. Cheap accommodations can lead to dingy, dirty rooms lacking basic amenities, but Cosmopole Hostel, located conveniently between New Town and Old Town, was not one of those horror stories. The roof deck, facing a busy intersection and overlooking pink and yellow apartment buildings, was the perfect place to post up and work. A bed in a shared room (booked one day in advance!) was only 12€ a night. The best part is Prague has city mandated quiet hours from 10pm to 6am, so you’ll never have to worry about the six dudes in your bunk keeping you up all night with their partying.
Airbnb: If you want something a little more spacious and cost-effective, Airbnb comes at a great price in Prague. Not yet legally contested in the city, you can still find some excellent options for rentals. Before moving to the hostel, my friends and I rented a spacious studio with full kitchen amenities for around 45€ a night. Our host was very courteous, going as far as to meet us at the train station when we arrived, to ensure we didn’t get lost (it’s a small city, you won’t get lost), and provided maps, tram tickets, and toiletries. It’s almost like a hotel, but cozier. Snag a rental in New Town or Zizkov, depending on how touristy you want to get.
Boscolo Prague: Got some extra scratch to spend? Boscolo Hotel Prague is for you. Centrally located with all the traditional amenities of the hotel experience, you’ll get all the comfort and privacy desired without having to clean up after yourself—the downfall of Airbnb. Their breakfast (included!) is also top-notch. At around 120€, it certainly isn’t outrageous for a hotel, so it is definitely worth the splurge.
WHERE TO EAT
Dish: Walking into Dish to eat alone, I was relieved to see other lone diners perched on bar stools, reading over triumphantly large burgers. I was instantly reminded of New York when I was told a burger, fries, and the sauce for the fries were all separate charges, and I happily emptied my wallet for all of them. Worth every penny. Get their namesake burger—it has some killer tangy mystery sauce on it.
Clear Head: After days of heavier Czech food and beer, a “clear head” is indeed what is needed; how many days can one eat a schnitzel, anyway? This vegan/vegetarian join is tucked away in a winding alley and boasts a multi-page menu that will get you feeling human again in no time. Juice tonics, raw food, and impeccable dips make this spot a must visit.
U Krale Brabantskeho: Czech food gets a bad rep—and this place will make you immediately question why that is. Nestled on a winding brick road, literally under Prague Castle, this medieval-themed dungeon restaurant served up the best meal I ate in Prague, hands down. After a long day of exploring Old Town, treat yourself to fluffy “dumplings” to soak up gravy, beautifully cooked duck, tangy red cabbage, and a dirt cheap beer. Only visit for lunch, though, because for dinner it turns into a costumed medieval times-themed dinner show that screams, “TOURIST!”
U Sadu: A favorite haunt for locals of all ages, this laidback eatery and bar is a time capsule of a Prague that only recently began to (rapidly) change. Smoke still lingers in the walls from days when you could chain smoke indoors. Eat some lamb, or just drink your lunch with their vast beer selection instead. And yes, they actually accept Bitcoin as payment. Why not.
WHERE TO DRINK
Bukowski’s: Don’t get me wrong—there are a TON of bars and clubs in the tourist-heavy footpaths of Old Town and New Town, but if you prefer a scene less overrun with 21-year-old screaming drunk dudes, go here to Bukowski’s. A divey yet somehow sexy looking bar in Žižkov—“Prague’s Bushwick,” an ex-pat told me—is lively and cool, but, most importantly, it’s cheap. Come on a Sunday and get a pitcher of beer for 350 Kroner (till the keg runs out).
JazzDock: For what it lacks in atmosphere, it makes up for in music. JazzDock can be found floating on the river, a quick walk from Legion Bridge. With live music every night, it’s a great spot to hear jazz ensembles from across the globe. I went with friends, but it’s an easy spot for a solo traveler as well. Grab a glass of white wine and allow yourself to be mesmerized by some exceptional musicians. Book tickets online in advance to save yourself the hassle.
Cross Club: Arguably the most famous spot to party in Prague, Cross Club has something for everyone. This multi-floor watering hole’s steampunk vibe and decor have made it Insta-famous, but it's good for a night out as well. If you fancy dancing with friends, chilling in the garden with a beer, or having dinner, you can do it all at Cross Club.
Riegrovy Sady Beer Garden: Riegrovy Sady is a massive park with tons to do—including an extremely affordable beer garden. Stop in for a pint and some pub snacks, catch a movie screening, or watch a sports match with the locals. While you are in the park, make sure to catch the sunset from the top of the hill nearby (you’ll know it when you walk past it). It has the perfect view of the river and Old Town, and there is nothing comparable to watching the sunset behind a literal castle.
WHAT TO DO
Letna Park (Metronome): Letna Park, located not too far from Old Town, offers some of the most spectacular views of the city. Weave your way through the park’s winding paths and up to the Metronome, the highest point with the clearest view of the town. The Metronome is a spectacular structure in itself, constructed after a previous monument to Stalin in that space was torn down. Letna Park is also home to the biggest skatepark in town, so take a break from sightseeing and watch some kickflips.
Prague Castle: It is easy to forget that Prague is as old and historic as it is beautiful, which makes Prague Castle a must-see when in the city. The castle grounds are immense, with immaculate cathedrals and small villages within its walls, making it an unmissable destination. My favorite part of the Castle visit was the Golden Village, where servants and the like lived when working in the court. Check out Kafka’s old home, a torture chamber, the Castle psychic’s lounge, or shoot some bow and arrows (at the amazing price of 50 Kroner!). Pending your budget, you can access the grounds at varying levels, so the price point shouldn’t scare you away. Bring a student ID as well if you have one, the discount is huge!
Charles Bridge at Dawn: The Charles Bridge might be the most famous site in Prague—and the amount of foot traffic on the bridge backs that up. Visiting during the day makes for a less-than-idyllic excursion, so how do you take that beautiful stroll without it feeling like a trying to walk through a mosh pit? Easy. Get up at dawn. Yes, I’m serious. I rolled myself out of bed at 5am and hoofed my way to the bridge, and it was 100 percent worth it. The only people out in that hour were joggers, a handful of photographers, and some party-goers who were still up from the night before. With a nearly empty bridge, you can enjoy the sunrise behind New Town and bask in a quiet moment on the beautiful Vltava River.
DOX: One of the greatest joys of travel is visiting art spaces, and coming face-to-face with work that might never come through your home city. My favorite museum/gallery space in Prague was DOX Centre for Contemporary Art. Though the number of exhibits is modest, they are thoughtfully curated and provoking. I enjoyed “Big Bang Data,” an exhibit that features numerous artists’ exploration of data, ranging from public domain data to information tracked by the artists themselves. While this was a temporary exhibit, DOX always hosts an architecture exhibit on the museum’s roof so the entire city can see it, merging an artistic structure into the skyline.