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Help for first trip to Prague

I am in the initial stages of planning a trip for next summer. Total days will likely be 14-16, not including flights to and from the US. I have a couple of guide books, previous posts on this forum, and of course Google, but would love some advice. How many days should I give Prague for a good first look? Any highly recommended day trips I should consider? Is there another town/city that you love that I should give some time to? Any great websites that would be helpful in planning? I do plan 2-3 nights in Herrnhut, Germany (possibly at the start) and 3-4 nights somewhere in Italy at the end of the trip.

I enjoy wandering small towns, history, nature, and architecture. I like art in small increments if a knowledgeable guide is available. I am an experienced traveler in Europe but have spent most of my time in Italy, with occasional forays into Spain, Switzerland, and Portugal. I usually use trains and buses but am not averse to driving, especially outside of the cities if it is necessary to access desired locations. This will likely be a solo trip but I may convince someone to tag along.

Any advice you have for me would be greatly appreciated!

Posted by
4615 posts

First time in Prague - at least three days that means four nights. If you have time for more - even better. Recommended day trips: Kutna Hora, Tabor, Terezin. If you like castles: Karlstejn, Konopiste, Krivoklat. Many American tourists want to see Cesky Krumlov. It's a real gem but very crowded in season. IMHO it's too far from Prague to do it in a day trip (3 hours one way). If you go there, stay overnight. C.K. under night light and with very few tourists is really magic. Foreign cities nearby: Dresden 2 hours by train, Nuremberg 3 hours by Deutsche Bahn bus, Vienna 4 hours by train, Munich 5 hours by train. With the exception of Dresden all too far for a day trip.

Posted by
4558 posts

You might consider the classic Prague-Vienna-Budapest axis - very easy to do as one trip by train. Fly into Prague, out of Budapest, or vice-versa. I did it in nine nights, though I tend not to dwell. (I had four nights in Prague - I loved it.) With say twelve you could do those three with ease, maybe including your start in Germany.

If you want to stick with Czech Republic, there are a lot of options. A few years ago, I spent some time in Poland, then trained to Brno and rented a car and drove from there through Telč and into southern Bohemia, which has some neat towns and castles. (Cesky Krumlov the most well-known to Americans as mentioned above.) I dropped the car in Prague (my second visit). Driving was easy outside of the cities.

Note that Prague has become extremely popular and busy. As much as I loved it, personally I would never go in June myself now - just wouldn't want to deal with the mobs and mobs of people. I'd love to go back, but I'll try for off-season, maybe January or February when, I hope, it might not be so crowded!

Posted by
54 posts

Thank you so much for your responses!

Ilja - I will check out the places you mentioned. And I will think about combining with somewhere in Germany, hadn't thought about that really. If you were to recommend one castle, which would it be? Is one of them more characteristic of castles in the region? Or are they all unique?

Andrew H - I will also look at your suggestion of including Vienna and Budapest. I can only travel for a more extended time in the summer, so unfortunately I need to sometimes deal with the crowds. As I generally travel in Italy, I have learned to cope with crowds by visiting less traveled, smaller towns and spending less time in the large, popular places. Are the crowds comparable to the main Italian sites? And would there be a significant difference between travel the last several weeks of June vs. July?

Thanks again for your advice!

Posted by
4558 posts

Andrew H - I will also look at your suggestion of including Vienna and Budapest. I can only travel for a more extended time in the summer, so unfortunately I need to sometimes deal with the crowds. As I generally travel in Italy, I have learned to cope with crowds by visiting less traveled, smaller towns and spending less time in the large, popular places. Are the crowds comparable to the main Italian sites? And would there be a significant difference between travel the last several weeks of June vs. July?

I haven't actually been to Europe in the summer. But, I have heard plenty of anecdotes about Prague in recent years. My friends visited Prague in June two years ago and said it was just mobbed. I'd guess it's not better in July. I was last there in September 2012 and it was crowded enough then. I'd compare it to Venice at its worst. Trying to get across the Charles Bridge anytime after mid-morning into the little maze to the old town square means navigating crowds of people shoulder to shoulder sometimes. But if you are prepared for that, having been to Italy enough, I wouldn't stress over it - just set your expectations, and maybe it won't be as bad as you imagine.

One benefit of including Budapest is that it is known to be much less touristy than Prague. (I was last in Budapest in 2005, but I have heard anecdotes to that effect from recent visitors.) Vienna is probably touristy too, but I don't remember it being as crowded as Prague (I've been there only once).

I'd read up on Vienna and Budapest more and see if they interest you. But if your other option is say to explore the smaller towns in Czech Republic like I did on another trip, then it may come down to choosing between big cities and smaller towns. Some of that is just a personal preference. I think I would enjoy my original Prague-Vienna-Budapest trip from 2005 less now than I did then, because I don't enjoy big cities as much as I used to. And staying more in Czech Republic might give you more time to soak up the "Czech Experience" instead of seeing big cities in three countries over two weeks. There's nothing wrong with either option - really depends on what you want to do.

Yet another option to consider: doing Prague and Krakow. There is direct train service between them now, though it's about a 6:30 hour ride. (also direct flights - but if you are going to fly, you can fly anywhere in Europe really.). I love trains, so the prospect of a 6:30 hour train ride sounds like more fun than tedium - another personal preference thing. Anyway, Krakow is another lovely, charming town, also pretty touristy but maybe less so than Prague. And it is close to Auschwitz, if a visit there interests you at all.

Posted by
4615 posts

A lot of people on this forum are complaining about Prague being mobbed. And it is - obviously for a reason. It's the fifth most visited city in Europe - after London, Paris, Rome, Istanbul and it's the smallest of them. But I developed a strategy to avoid mobs. The worst is from Old Town Square to Charles Bridge and up to the Castle - so called Royal Golden Way sometimes also translated as King's Golden Way. Do that at 7 am - no problem no crowds whatsoever. Everything else is much less crowded and you can do it any time. I consider Florence and certainly Venice more crowded. You got almost another year before you go. I recommend Rick Steves book: Prague & the Czech Republic. Description of all three castles I recommended are there and also the day trips towns with the exception of Tabor which was founded in 1420 by religious rebels Hussites. It's a pretty town with Hussite Museum. To have some knowledge before you go - you would enjoy your visit more - I recommend to read a little about it. Google Hussites, Jan Hus, Jan Zizka and look at these websites: http://reformation500.csl.edu/bio/jan-hus/ and http://www.badassoftheweek.com/zizka.html
All 3 castles are unique - very shortly: Karlstejn -most visually stunning, Konopiste - the most interesting, history, hunting trophies, most modern - flushing toilets, furniture etc., Krivoklat - setting in deep woods, in almost original shape. To get more information read Rick Steves book. There are of course many more interesting castles and small towns. If you are interested in something specific I can try to help. I was born in then Czechoslovakia and lived there half of my life and now go there about twice a year.

Posted by
54 posts

Thanks again! I have a lot of reading to do! I will likely return with more questions when I have done so. Thanks for the web links, Ilja. I will check them out. I actually know some about Jan Huss as I grew up in the Moravian Church and, believe it or not, he was a bit of a hero to me. This is one of the reasons I wanted to visit this region. As a child, I felt a kinship with Czechoslovakia and considered it part of my personal history. I'm excited to finally visit!

Posted by
162 posts

If you think its getting crowded and you want out, then just walk into the next alleyway, passage or courtyard that you come to. Guaranteed the crowds will disappear and you'll find things not in the guidebooks. I do this for a living so yes, by all means start early if you can but you're mostly only a block away from relative peace and quiet even in peak times. Sometimes getting a bit lost in a city as small as Prague is one of the best ways to explore it.