Thoughts on Prague?

My husband and I are planning our first European trip for this June. After researching cities in Europe that we wanted to see and that would fit our budget, we settled on Prague and Vienna. We have about 5 days in each city, not including travel time. We are very excited about both...however, a recent conversation with a family member has us raising some questions about Prague. We take his advice with a grain of salt, because he has a very different personality (and travel style) from us. Still, it left me wondering if we had been "taken in" by tourist magazines. We don't know anyone else who has been to Prague, so we have no other personal reference to go on.

Of course, I know you all don't know us either - here's a little bit about us:

  • We are musicians - I lean toward classical, my husband toward jazz (another reason we thought Vienna and Prague would be good - we've heard there's a solid jazz scene in Prague, but can any musicians verify if it is a "real" jazz scene or a "tourist" jazz scene? We are from Chicago, which is supposed to be "home of the blues," but it's hard to find any real blues music here anymore. Is it like that in Prague, or does the city attract truly talented and innovative musicians?)
  • We prefer city vacations and like to "get lost." We enjoy the touristy sites, too, but our favorite moments are usually those where we wander off and find somewhere not in the guidebook. We stay in apartments over hotels.
  • I'm a vegetarian. My husband is not. Exploring local food is a highlight of our trips, but we usually try to prepare some of our own food as well. We like to find options that suit us both.
  • We prefer walking and public transportation to driving/cabs or flying.
  • We like to travel cheap. We'll spend where we need to spend, but neither of us is having fun if we know we're overpaying.
  • We're young (under 30), but we're not "clubbers." We'd rather have a beer at a relaxing pub than dance the night away at an underground disco.

I know this is a long post, but it really boils down to this: Is Prague a cool place to visit?

Thanks for reading and for any advice you can offer!
Julie

Posted by Joan
Gettysburg, PA, USA
359 posts

So what did this family member say that made you suspicious and how do you feel you may have been "taken in" by travel/tourist magazines?
In other words, what's the problem?
People have been flocking to Prague for years and enjoying this unusual and exciting city.
Only you will be able to tell if the experience is worth it and that can only happen once you have been there.

Posted by JJ
29 posts

I suppose I should have been more specific. He didn't have anything bad to say about Prague, just that he'd been there and didn't find it as interesting/fun as other cities (especially Vienna, which he raved about). I didn't really mean "taken in," but since travel articles are written to encourage you to visit a certain place, I was looking for opinions from people who had been there and other cities in Europe (and weren't working for the Prague board of tourism! :) That's all. I know you have no way of knowing me, my husband, or whether we'll enjoy the trip. I'm just looking for honest opinions.

Posted by JJ
29 posts

James, your response echoes much of what we heard from our family member, in the sense that he found Prague interesting but vastly preferred other cities (only instead of Budapest, he mentioned Munich). Again, I know you have no way of knowing what our individual experiences will be like, but I appreciate you sharing your experiences!

Posted by Tom
Lewiston, NY
10358 posts

My turn...

-Music: I don't know if it's "tourist jazz" or ... whatever the opposite of "tourist jazz" would be, because I didn't specifically search it out. But the street performers are quite common. Whether this is just the tip of the iceberg and there's a whole other jazz scene below the surface, I couldn't say. As for classical music, the city has it's professional orchestras and operas and it's talented amateur and student ensembles. There's nothing wrong with the amateurs, but their repetoire is rather limited. If you've had enough Four Seasons, The Moldau, and The Blue Danube, these concerts won't offer you anything new. The Prague Philharmonic, though, is one of the more esteemed orchestras from the former Warsaw Pact zone.

-Getting lost: The tourists congegrate in a relatively small area of Prague for good reason. The old city is beautiful. Outside of this area, though... either modern and indistinguishable from any other European city or typical soul-crushing Communist-era buildings. This is a case where the stuff outside the guidebooks stays out for good reason. Two complaints about the old city, though. At busy times of year, the tourist crush is a little overwhelming. And few other cities seem to have such a high per capita incidence of cheap souvenir shops.

-Food. I know of at least one vegetarian restaurant in Prague. I forget the name, but it's on the street you walk up on your way to the castle. Most restaurants are very heavy on the pork and potatos.

-Walking vs. public trans: Most of the area of interest to tourists is fairly compact. You'll probably only need to take public transportation to and from the main train station, and even that distance is walkable, if you choose.

-Cheap. I seem to recall Prague being expensive compared to Poland, but cheap compared to Germany and Austria. But that could just be my imperfect memory playing tricks on me.

"We'd rather have a beer at a relaxing pub" Plenty of places to imbibe in Prague. The Czechs are very proud of their beer- overproud, if you ask me. They make a few pretty good lagers, but nothing too world-beating The Czechs also have this unique variety of tea room that I've never seen anywhere else. . They're sort of Turkish-themed, but Turkey as filtered through Disney's Aladin.

Prague is far from my favorite city in Europe, but I wouldn't hesitate to go there again if I had the opportunity.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
20925 posts

julie,

I'd be interested to have some idea what type of comments your family member with a "very different personality" had regarding Prague? I've found that travel is a very personal experience and two people can have entirely different and opposite perceptions of a place, based on their own biases, previous travel experiences, etc.

Like every other city, Prague has it's own personality and peculiarities but (IMO) it's a wonderful and vibrant city and one that I wouldn't hesitate to return to. There's a lot of history there, so lots of possibilities for sightseeing and exploring. Regarding each of the points you mentioned....

  • Music - there seemed to be classical music concerts of one sort or another taking place just about every night. I didn't look for jazz clubs, but I watched some excellent jazz musicians playing on the Charles Bridge, so I suspect there will be venues to listen to jazz (unfortunate that I can't post videos here or I could provide an example).
  • City vacations - I suppose it would be easy to "get lost" while exploring Prague, but I've never tried. Like most cities, there are probably some dodgy areas where it would NOT be a good idea to get lost, so I'd suggest some research on that point. That's one benefit of staying in a hotel, as staff will know all the local details. I always stay in budget hotels so can't help with apartment suggestion, but I'm sure one of the others will have some information on that.
  • Food - I don't recall any vegetarian restaurants, but then I wasn't looking. I doubt that it will be a problem to find vegetarian fare in most restaurants. The hotels usually provide enough of a spread at breakfast that there enough choices to suit just about anyone.
  • Transportation - Prague has good public transit and if you're staying in the old town area, it's absolutely possible to walk to many of the sights, including the Castle. If you want an interesting and unusual tour, you might consider a Segway tour. I took two tours the same day, and had a great time (sure beats walking up to the Castle)!
  • Money - I don't recall Prague being significantly cheaper than other places in Europe, but it's sometimes hard to tell without doing a mental conversion of each transaction. My impression is that lodgings may be a bit cheaper than other places, but not sure about food and other things?
  • Entertainment - you'll certainly be able to have a beer at a relaxing Pub. There are some nice Pubs dotted around the city, and of course Czech beer is excellent! As I recall, this is where Pilsner originated, but the lagers are good too.

One other very important point to mention (especially as this is your first European trip) is that Prague has a reputation for very proficient and prolific pickpockets, so wearing Money Belts and being extra vigilant would be a VERY good idea. I should add that I haven't had any problems there, even carrying around huge and expensive camera gear either day or night. The pickpocket problem is true in many other European cities as well, so you might want to do some research on that. Have a look at the Prague Guidebook for more information.

To answer your question, IMHO Prague IS a cool place to visit.

Happy travels!

Posted by JJ
29 posts

This is all helpful information - thank you! When I say "different personality/travel style," I certainly don't mean to imply there is a "correct" way to travel! He really just said Prague was "interesting," but then suggested a bunch of other places we should go instead. I know how personal travel is, which is why I tried to give you as much info on me and my husband as possible (I know it's still not all that helpful). We're really just excited to be traveling out of the country, so any place new will be fun for us. Plus, Prague looks beautiful, so I'm still quite sure it'll be a nice destination.
With 5 days in the country, what would be a good day-trip? I've heard of Cesky Krumlov, but it seems that might be too far for a short trip?
I am a bit concerned about pickpockets, only because I've been warned so much about them - however, we are city people (live in Chicago), and so we are used to being vigilant when we're out and about. I agree money belts are a must, and I don't plan to carry too much else with me (I can't stand being weighed down). We're looking at an apartment that's about a 10-minute walk from Old Town Square.
Also, I realize how snobby I sound saying things like "tourist jazz," but my husband is a professional jazz musician, so I'm just trying to get a feel for what the scene is like. :)
Thanks again!

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
20925 posts

JJ,

Cesky Krumlov is certainly one possibility. You'll likely find small booths set up all around town selling day trips by Coach, and they're quite reasonably priced. You could also check at the T.I. for information on day trips there. Have a look at THIS website which provides some information on the topic (I didn't bother searching the individual tours).

Posted by Val
Long Beach, USA
212 posts

I love both. Then, again...I have yet to visit a city I dislike very much.
I am a young professional adult and I enjoyed visiting mostly larger cities. I found Prague to be very crowded during the weekends....with tons of tourist in town just for a cheap party weekend (of course other types of tourists too). If you want to avoid that, I would suggest to go there during the week. If you cannot avoid, still go! It is stunning!
I enjoyed walking around the city very much...god and cheap food and beer...I really enjoyed the small communism museum near the city center too. Very affordable Opera tickets and other musics events.

Yes, it is a very cool place to visit and yes, I was there recently...November 2013. Enjoy!!! :)

Posted by Larry
Elkins Park, PA
824 posts

You could plan an overnight in Cesky Krumlov on your way to Vienna. It is an incredibly charming and beautiful little town. CK is easily reached on Student Agency bus service, and then a somewhat longer train ride to Vienna. I can't speak for the jazz scene, but Dvorak Hall in the Rudolfinum where the Czech Philharmonic plays is one of the finest halls in the world, we caught an incredible Mahler "Resurrection" (for his 150th birthday) when we were there. For a place to get lost, consider walking down to and through Vysehrad. Historic, beautiful, and not crowded.
Ad you can enjoy a beer slowly at any small restaurant, just pick a place with a small menu that is not on the Square..

Posted by JJ
29 posts

Larry, I am JEALOUS - Mahler's "Resurrection" is one of my all-time favorites, I bet that was a spectacular experience!
I'm so glad to hear you all recommend classical music in Prague - I was so focused on Vienna for its classical scene that it didn't occur to me to look into Prague's. I'm excited to check it out!

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
20925 posts

I wasn't familiar with Mahler's Resurrection so I clicked You Tube to have a listen. That is indeed wonderful music! And what a coincidence, the link above is played by the Czech National Symphony Orchestra.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
3838 posts

Hi,

Where you will find the "Mozart hawks" is around the Stephans Dom, Karlsplatze, etc., a small area in the center. You won't see them on Kärntnerstrasse. That they inundate even the center of Vienna is imprecise. I was approached by them a couple of times, once in front of Schönbrunn and once at Karlsplatz. The music played was basically J. Strauss and Mozart, no Beethoven. Unfortunately, I had to disappoint them by turning them down.

Posted by Nancy
Corvallis OR
1892 posts

JJ,
I looked into a day trip to Cesky Krumlov from Prague but 6 hours on a bus for a few hours visit just didn't sound good to me, so we've planned an overnight in CK between Prague and Munich (took one night away from Prague to do it). Looks too wonderful to pass up.

Posted by gone
2081 posts

jj,

i travel for ME. Not for someone else. I use my own judgement and research. If someone mentions something cool like the Bone Church in Kunta Hora, im all ears and will try to plan it into my trip since i cant find something like that in the USA. If they say its not worth going to, i will probably do so anyway. They maybe right in the end, but i wont know until "I" do so.

Europe, in general, is way older than the USA so i find that many things are "cool" to me. Others may feel different, but thats "no paint off my hull".

If you like music and the other shopping lists of your likes, do some homework and see if Prague floats your boat. asking here is a start. but again, each person travels for a different reason.

just so you know, Prague is on my list this fall along with several other places. If they are "cool" or not, isnt the only criteria i used. I love horse, so guess where else im going - Vienna. I try to add into my travels as much as i can of what i like or what interests me. Sometimes it works out, sometime not, but it wont stop me from going to someplace "I" want to see.

happy trails.

Posted by Larry
Elkins Park, PA
824 posts

JJ - if you overnight Cesky Krumlov, or are thinking of it, check the dates for The revolving Theater there (also a World Heritage site) and see if you hit their season and the performance interests you. the theater is a small rotating disc in the center of the Castle Gardens, seats about 600, and it uses the while garden as a stage, it rotates.
As for that Mahler, which was led by Eschenbach, when we checked concert listings and saw we could cross with that, along with a performance in CK, we jiggered our schedule to do both (and the unintended consequence of that, done in January, was it put us in Amsterdam when the Dutch team was playing in the World Cup final, a totally surreal experience with the crowds there). Unfortunately, my wife is a school teacher and until she retires (next year!) we can only take summer trips, which makes being able to see the great orchestras and concert halls very hard to do.
As for jazz, see the reference in Rick's Prague book to Reduta Jazz Club on Narodni street next to Cafe Louvre, Bill Clinton jammed there in 1994 in front of Havel (www.redutajazzclub.cz)

Posted by Nancy
Corvallis OR
1892 posts

@Larry (or anybody else), any idea how far in advance you need to buy tickets for the revolving theater in CK? It looks like it will be in performance in July but I'm not sure when our dates will be firm so can't reserve yet. Looks like something we'd enjoy a lot. Thanks for the suggestion.

Posted by Ilja
Seattle
1972 posts

As it's clear from this discussion the more people join the more opinions we get. Sometimes quite opposite. Each of us prefers certain things more than others. Then there are other factors: season when we went, weather which we encountered, service, bad experience (somebody stole something from us), good experience (we met somebody we liked) and so on and on, so following will be IMHO: out of cities which were discussed Prague will be # 1 in scenery. It's very picturesque with many open views across the river toward the castle and vice versa. Especially beautiful it's in May when all Petrin Hill (next to the Castle) is in blossom. There is nothing like Old Town, Little Quarters, Hradcany in Vienna, Budapest or Munich. Unlike those three cities Prague was little bombed in WWII therefore it has these medieval neighborhoods, narrow streets, old churches, squares, pubs with authentic feeling. Center of Munich was rebuilt in the old style but somehow you notice. I like beer in Prague and Munich about the same but in Prague it cost me less than half what I would pay in Munich. I noticed that people are complaining about crowds. What's crowded is so called King's Golden Way sometimes also translated as Royal Golden Way. It goes from Wenceslas Square toward Old Town Square and then across Charles Bridge toward Castle. I never walk it during a day. But if you get up early you will enjoy it without crowds which start around 9 am and after 10 am forget it. But there are so many other uncrowded beautiful places in Prague. I would mention just New Town, Vinohrady, Vysehrad. Now the other side of Prague: service is sometimes less than expected; generally you find better in Vienna and Munich (but it cost you more). There are pickpockets (but nothing comparing to Rome). In my more than 20 visits to Prague it happened to me only once: Two Polish guys (I assume they were Polish, they spoke Polish) tried (fortunately unsuccessfully) to pickpocket me at Prague Main Train Station.
Prague is a city of music, especially classical music. Quality is certainly comparable to Vienna but tickets are much cheaper. In my travels I found out the more I know about my destination the more I enjoy it. Read the guidebooks. For your short stay I would recommend Rick Steves: Prague & the Czech Republic. There is a lot of information on internet:
http://www.pragueexperience.com
http://www.praguepost.com
http://www.prague-guide.co.uk/
Google jazz in prague
A lot of useful information you find if you google expats in prague even you will be just visitors. Have a wonderful time and let us know when you return how close our advices were to reality.

Posted by JJ
29 posts

I am trying to figure out how to make Cesky Krumlov work. The way I have it now, we would fly into Prague on Monday, take the train to Vienna on Saturday. 5 days in each city. I'm wrestling with whether we want to give up an entire day to take the train from CK to Prague to Vienna. And then, which city loses the day - Prague or Vienna? Not to mention, my husband is pushing for a day trip to Salzburg from Vienna. I want to make the most of our trip, to be sure, but not at the expense of spending most of it en route somewhere else.
It looks like the Czech Philharmonic is off for most of June, sadly. I'll be sure to keep an eye out for other performances.
And Ray, when I ask if a place is "cool," I just mean is it a worthwhile place to visit on what will be one of (probably) very few trips to Europe in my lifetime. We are teachers, and our means are limited - while I would never consider any travel experience wasted, we do want to try to hit places that will grab us. I, like probably most others on this forum, rely on the experiences of others to help shape my travels. That doesn't mean I don't travel for "me" - it just means I take into account the valuable knowledge gleaned from those who have been there!

Posted by Ilja
Seattle
1972 posts

JJ, if you want to do Cesky Krumlov and Salzburg the best way to do it would be: from Prague to C.K. by Student Agency bus (so called Yellow bus). It has service (beverage, snacks, newspaper) on board and bathroom. (Not common in Czech Republic buses). Stay overnight in C.K. It's so beautiful without crowds. Although it is possible to go by train from C.K. to Salzburg it's a little complicated and long. Better will be to take shuttle (albeit more expensive) to Salzburg. Little cheaper will be to take shuttle only to Linz and from there to Salzburg by train. Salzburg is also worth overnight. You can take one night from Prague and one night from Vienna and you even save some money because C.K. and Salzburg are cheaper than Prague and Vienna. Salzburg and Vienna have frequent direct trains.

Posted by Kelly
St Petersburg Florida
951 posts

We had just turned vegetarian when we traveled to Prague and Vienna. We did not know about happy cow, a site that let's you know where vegetarian restaurants are in most major cities, including cities in Europe. We found Vienna very unfriendly for vegetarians. If there was a vegetarian section of a menu, the options were deep fried mushrooms, deep fried cheese, deep fried vegetables. Our inside joke was "I bet Vienna vegetarians are fat". We ate deep fried whatever, cheese sandwiches for 3 nights. We felt so malnourished. Yes, everything tasted good but just wasn't that good for you. Prague was different. We ate soups, salads, potato pancakes, dumplings, bean dishes, crepes, and some of the best beer cheese ever.
We didn't go to vegetarian restaurants because we didn't knowt they existed in Europe. Take a look at www.happycow.com and check out what is in Vienna and Prague. Maybe regular restaurants in both cities are now offering more veg options for veg heads, our trip was about 5 years ago.

If in both cities 5 nights, rent apartments. I love having a home to come home to vs a box (hotel). It's a great way to enjoy a bottle of wine or beer while you look at all the pictures you took.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
3838 posts

JJ,

Both of you are musicians: spend the five full days each in both Vienna and Prague as you intend. Good that you have ample time for each city, divided equally. Both places are significant in classical music, which you'll and see experience.

My suggestion: From Vienna do a day trip r/t to Eisenstadt in Burgenland, a very close day trip in a province traditionally Hungarian. See the Haydn Museum/House and the estate where he was under Hungarian patronage, which is the main attraction in Eisenstadt...culturally. The Hungarians "claim" Haydn as the Czechs "claim" Mozart. His visits to Prague and performances you can see delineated on a map at the Mozarts Geburtshaus (where he was born) in Salzburg, That one is much detailed than what you see in the Mozarts Wohnhaus, also in Salzburg.

Posted by Michael
Griffith, IN, USA
444 posts

There is a vegetarian cafe call country life. It is right off of the old town square. Just ask around. I found it on youtube and give it a try. Really good food. Also there are some meat dishes. Enjoy

Posted by Warren
Castlegar, BC, Canada
209 posts

We visited Prague last summer. It's a very pretty city,especially old town. The architecture is awesome and well worth a visit. However, its not a city I fell in love with. To me, It has a different "feel" to it that I have trouble putting into words. I didn't find it especially friendly, in a genuine way. People, vendors were polite, but somewhat reserved. Even one tour guide, an American expat said that the Czech people are very suspicious in nature. Maybe I was picking up on this. Please be aware that my opinion is probably biased. When we first arrived by train, I took a quick walk up to street level to see where were needed to catch our bus on our way to Munich. There were a couple of teenagers sitting on the wide stairs, so I passed them going up and then coming down. As soon as I turned the corner away from them, one said in a heavy Slavic accent, " get out of my city". I'm not sure if they were talking to me, or joking among themselves, but it struck a chord.

As far as getting lost in the city, you won't have any problems. For some reasons, I had trouble navigating the streets and got lost many times. Vegetarian food was easy to find everywhere and keeping it on the cheap was easy. We walked everywhere, including to and from the train station. Prague is worth a visit, but I have no desire to go back.

Posted by gone
2081 posts

@ JJ,

And Ray, when I ask if a place is "cool," I just mean is it a worthwhile place to visit on what will be one of (probably) very few trips to Europe in my lifetime. We are teachers, and our means are limited - while I would never consider any travel experience wasted, we do want to try to hit places that will grab us. I, like probably most others on this forum, rely on the experiences of others to help shape my travels. That doesn't mean I don't travel for "me" - it just means I take into account the valuable knowledge gleaned from those who have been there!

Thats great, but from my experience in life, i found that many things are "subjective". Travel is one of them. So take it as you see fit. My time & $$$ is limited too.

happy trails.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
3838 posts

"Get out of my city" If that remark was not intended for you, then it's a timely coincidence for you hear it. Yes, "their" city is swamped with Americans starting in June every summer and that in the early 1990s the American "colony" is Prague was close to 15,000 (if my figure is correct?) I was there once in '73, so long ago that nothing strikingly positive or negative I remember except the city and its architecture came through the war practically unscathed. That was one reason I went as a backpacker student tourist in the first place along with numerous other US backpackers then on that train. Since I've yet to see the city after the end of its commie days, it only fair and stands to reason that I should revisit the city.

Posted by James E.
USA
3036 posts

About a half million tourists hit Prague in the third quarter of 2012. Of the non Czech tourists about 50% were German and 25% were American. Warren, maybe they thought you were German.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
3838 posts

Not if "they" heard me speaking American English with the two guys speaking with their Bronx accent and seeing my Amer Ex traveler's checks in $. That tour I took in Prague with CEDOK was ca. 50% American.

Posted by Randy
Minneapolis, MN, USA
1525 posts

I wasn't going to reply, assuming several others would mention the same impression I had, but surprisingly none have. Soooo...
.
I did not dislike Prague, but it left me feeling empty. Prague is a beautiful city. It is wonderful eye candy and poses nicely for photos (assuming you don't mind having lots of tourists in your photos). The castle complex is more interesting than most I've seen, and there is a particularly pleasant and quiet little garden-on-a-hillside just below the castle. However, I found Prague to be devoid of local life. You visit central London, Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, Berlin, and almost any other major city you can think of in Europe and yes, there will be plenty of tourists. But there will also be local life on display - people taking their children to the park, grabbing some groceries from the corner shop, wearing business clothes as they rush off to their office for work, or sitting at the cafe for an extended lunch. You hear the local language spoken more than other languages. In central Prague, there was none of that, and I found it off-putting. It made the place seem like a more extravagant than usual stop around the "world" at the Epcot in Disneyworld. It is entirely possible that you might get a different impression - or that you get the same impression but it doesn't really bother you. You should still go. Either way, it will be interesting, and you will come home with some nice photos.

Posted by JJ
29 posts

I found this interesting blog post in my searching, in case anyone else is interested:
http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/2011/05/prague-tourist-traps-sites-restaurants/
She makes a few suggestions outside of the normal "tourish crush" (though I'm sure there are still plenty of tourists to be had). Here's what I've figured for our trip:
- 4 days in Prague
- Overnight in CK
- Overnight in Salzburg
- 4 days in Vienna
I think with some planning and intentionality, we'll be able to find some "local life." It may help that we'll be staying in apartments, for the most part.

Posted by Nancy
Corvallis OR
1892 posts

Wow, thanks JJ for sharing that link, great information to have before we go to Prague this summer. No matter how touristy or schlocky it might be, I would never take it off my itinerary. After going there I may be disappointed and agree with those who don't like it, but I'll never know unless I go.

Posted by James E.
USA
3036 posts

I guess going to stick my neck out here. I bet despite Randy's impression (that I sort of share), Randy like me will say it was worth the visit to Prague and if you are in the neighborhood you should definitely spend some time. The key to Cesky K. that quite a few have noted is to spend the night so you can see it when the day tourist are gone. I've shared my photos of the place with a few here and if they will note there are very few tourists in the photos. Also has something to do with the time of the year. July and August are going to be the most crowded, but I think the weather is better in late September and early October and you get much smaller crowds. Finally at the sake of repeating myself, you will get out of it what you want to get out of it. Keep and open mind, walk outside the tourist trails a bit and you will have a lovely time. If for some reason it isn't working for you leave a day early and head for Cesky K. but my guess is you will love the entire trip.

Posted by Randy
Minneapolis, MN, USA
1525 posts

Yes, I do agree with James!
.
And we also spent TWO nights in Cesky Krumlov, so that we would have the entire day between to see stuff and to do a float down the Vltava river. Admittedly, CK does have some of the characteristics of a "tourist trap", but unlike Prague, where the Czechs probably live in communist-era apartments miles from the city center, in CK, they live just a couple blocks up the hill from the town center. We were there during the heart of the tourist season, but in the evening had no trouble finding a table at one of the river-front restaurants where we had a hearty and relatively inexpensive "Bohemian" meal. The town seemed rather peaceful in the evening.
.
Perhaps interestingly; Our family float down the rive was very enjoyable and I remember thinking how odd it was that I found this so pleasant when I would never do the same thing at home in the US where the natural scenery would have been almost identical. I think the reason was the history residing in those woods along the way - a couple of thousand years of human drama vs. a couple of hundred here in the US (unless a roaming band of native americans happened to pass through at some point). The float ended in another Czech village and I stumbled upon a little church where I stuck my head in (I think I was the only one there) and got a couple of my all-time favorite photos.
.
FYI; we took the Student Agency bus there from Prague (nice) and then a shuttle van south to Linz, Austria, where we caught the train back to Munich (or you could go to Vienna, or almost anywhere). There are at least three shuttle van services in CK that get people to the fast train station in Linz or even to Vienna, Salzburg or Munich. Just google it...

Posted by Ilja
Seattle
1972 posts

Yes JJ and Nancy, it is a great website. I don't think that you have to totally avoid Karlova Street or astronomical clock but do it early morning. After you see Castle (preferably early morning before crowds) walk through the medieval streets of Hradcany neighborhood: Uvoz, Cerninska, Novy Svet, Kapucinska. Very beautiful and almost no tourists. Or go by US embassy up Vlasska Street toward Strahov Monastery. On the way up you have to turn and look back to enjoy wonderful views of downtown Prague. From the monastery you can walk toward Petrin Tower - Prague answer to Eiffel Tower. It really looks like it only much smaller but being on the Petrin Hill the views are stunning. Or walk the Karlov neighborhood. A lot of Charles University buildings. The University was founded by king Charles IV in 1348. Of course not all buildings are from that time. Nearby you can find a famous pub U kalicha (At the Chalice). Good soldier Svejk (read Shveyk) said "We will meet there after war." This is from the well known book by Jaroslav Hasek: Good Soldier Svejk. The book is also translated into English. That pub is a little touristy but mostly Czechs. Not too many foreigners read the book. There are many other authentic czech pubs I will mention some: U dvou kocek (At Two Cats) in Old Town, U zlateho tygra (At Golden Tiger) also in Old Town very close to Karlova Street (when Clinton was in Prague they drank beer there with Czech President Havel. You can see the pictures of them there). Pub U hrocha (At Hippopotamus) is in Mala Strana (Little Quarters) on Thunovska Street right under the Castle. You can meet there among other Czechs Czech senators (Senat is nearby) and musicians from Symphonic and Philharmonic orchestras. They know where to drink excellent beer. Despite being in touristy area of Prague you won't meet many foreigners in these pubs.
Reading the posts above it seems that some people expect to find many locals in Old Town and Little Quarters. Yes, people used to live there. But after regime change invasion of foreign tourists started and prices skyrocketed. People could not afford rent there anymore and those who owned something used it rather for business catering to tourists. Of course if some people think you can see Prague in two days then you are running with tens of thousands similar thinking tourists and your impression could be that there are only tourists there, no locals. Go little farther, I don't mean to outskirts, just walking distance from the downtown and you will find otherwise. In season try beer garden in Rieger Park. Try wine in Havlickovy sady (Grabovka). It does not have to be Austrian (as is mentioned in the link provided by JJ). South Moravian wine is at least as good as Austrian and certainly cheaper. (Moravia is eastern part of the Czech republic). Of course there is so much more to see in the C.R. besides Prague and Cesky Krumlov. But most of us Americans have such short vacations that we go where most of us go and then we are surprised that we see mostly tourists and very few local people. If you have time and interest in local culture read Culture Shock! Czech Republic by Tim Nollen. My edition was printed 1999. I assume they should have something newer by now and maybe they also have Culture Shock! Austria.

Posted by Nancy
Corvallis OR
1892 posts

Hi all - I didn't start this thread (thank you jj) but I have gotten some wonderful helpful information that will help me a lot on my trip this summer.

Thanks to all who had constructive things to add to the discussion.

Posted by Judy
Adelaide, SA, Australia
828 posts

I spent 4 days in Prague in 2004. I really enjoyed my time there. Loved the architecture, the history and found it at that time to be relatively inexpensive. I can recommend the Reduta Jazz Club for a genuine jazz experience. It is one of the oldest and well known of many jazz clubs in Prague. Took a guided day to trip to Kutna Hora which I really enjoyed.

Posted by VS
Palo Alto, CA, United States
677 posts

My wife and I spent four nights in Prague at the end a two week trip that started in Budapest and also visited a number of smaller towns in between. Prague is definitely a great place to visit, but you should have realistic expectations. It will be mobbed with tourists. We still enjoyed our trip there which was in May 2011, but the hoards detracted from the experience. We chose to go there on what was probably our twelfth trip to Europe after we had been to Paris and Rome a few times each (we like both so well). I do not yearn to return the way I do so many other cities, but we will certainly go back. I preferred Budapest because while the sights are not off the charts, we really felt as if we were off the beaten path. Weird in a big city, I know, but we met almost no other American tourists, there were few if any crowds. Prague could not possibly have lived up to its PR, relative to that it's overrated. But it is a great stop. If that's the place that speaks to you, definitely go.

Posted by P Hedgie
Prague
34 posts

We live in Prague, so it's always very interesting to hear what visitors think about Prague and what they experience here. Except for the pickpockets, who target everyone, not just tourists, our experiences as residents are often quite different. Despite good guidebooks, it seems hard to really come prepared to find what you want.

I would recommend 2 websites for insider tips, aimed at locals, which might answer many of your questions:

1)The website of IWAP, the International Women's Association of Prague. Just enter "IWAP Prague" in your search engine. On the home page, click on Member Recommended Events. You can also view the scheduled member-only events for ideas, though you need to join the association to attend. Interesting little concerts and gallery exhibits are often in these 2 sections.

2) For a website that has seasonal tips for our local expat community and their friends and relatives who visit, search "hedgie eu Prague" and look in the Events section. E.g. Mardi Gras/Masopust parades and celebrations which are publicized in Czech only are translated and posted now.

Among many other tips, links to recommended jazz venues are there. There are so many different kinds of jazz and so many local groups and international groups visiting in the city year-round it would be impossible to catalog them all. There are classical concerts specifically for tourists, playing the same old "favorites" repeatedly, but to my knowledge there is no such industry in jazz.

Cheap eats: Go to a restaurant for locals at lunch time. Nearly all restaurants cater to locals weekdays at lunch with specials that cost less than $5. Usually there is a daily lunch menu in Czech (ask for the "polední menu") with 3 choices. Sometimes one is vegetarian. If not, order a salad, but one without chicken or shrimp! You may need to have some Czech words at your finger tips to understand the menu, though younger people in Prague generally speak some English now. Sometimes order a Czech beer other than Pilsner Urquell, which is no longer Czech-owned and has become the most expensive Czech-brewed beer.

The historical area of Prague is what visitors are drawn to. You can walk from the Castle across the entire historical area in a few hours if you don't stop to see anything. You can also wander around exploring it for 10 years and still not see everything.

Yes, the crowds of tourists in summer can be daunting. Many insist on joining walking tours of 50. It sometimes feels like an invasion. Get off the main routes of the tours and you can walk on the sidewalks! :-) The Charles Bridge is very festive with crowds on a sunny day. If you want to see it almost empty, go at 5am for summer sunrise. There will only be a few photographers, people walking to work, and all the others who acted on this tip. :-)

Note re friendliness: Starting any conversation without a respectful greeting is felt as offensively rude. Your friendly American tone does not carry the intent you assume. Rick's advice about greeting the French with "Bonjour" before you make your request goes doubly for Czechs. Say "Dobrý den" and look the person in the eye with respect. Pause. Then ask whether they speak English. Then ask your question. You should get a good response in nearly every local place. Asking for help or advice humbly will get nearly any Czech on your side.

Finally, if you want to join locals of all ages, stroll through one of the big parks such as Letna or Stromovka. Stop for a beer or glass of wine and just enjoy the relaxed ambiance. Perfect for a warm June day.

We hope you find what you want!

Posted by P Hedgie
Prague
34 posts

To Warren re the "Get out of my city" remark:

Being a teenager, he may have been showing off both his "attitude" and his English to his friends. My instinct in that situation would have been to treat it with humor. Turn around and look at the kid with a smile and a laugh, "OK, I'm going, I'm going!" See what he says. My guess is that the response would be positive.

Others have commented on the background to that remark: The changes wrought by the inundation of visitors since 1989. Many tourists are extremely rude and demanding. Some tourists act here as they never would act at home. Many get falling-down vomiting drunk. British stag and hen parties were the bane of our existence for years, shouting and singing all night, demolishing artworks in the street. This year Prague arranged for Danish police to accompany huge groups of Danish students who came to Prague specifically on tours for the cheap beer and nightclubs. Last year they trashed things and even stabbed each other in knife fights! For residents, prices for rents and ordinary things have skyrocketed, especially if one lives in the Center. Certain national groups still look down on Czechs, treating them as a lower "class." This is quite obvious in interactions and guaranteed to earn a very negative reaction in any setting. Let us say that patience with visitors sometimes gets worn thin.

Nearly all Czechs respond to being treated as equals in whatever setting. Waiters, for example, do not see themselves as any less valuable or human than businessmen or orchestra conductors. They appreciate the genuine good humor and respect of their customers.

Teenagers, watching American TV shows in translation, are less inhibited than their elders, who were raised to keep quiet and keep their heads down (under Communism and Nazi occupation, as well as Habsburg rule.) They are louder, more rebellious than teenagers were here 15 years ago. However, I don't think they are dangerous.

If one keeps these things in mind, a door can open to wonderful interactions with ordinary Czechs.

Posted by VS
Palo Alto, CA, United States
677 posts

A couple of additional thoughts on Prague. The cathedral was very memorable, as was the Lobkowicz Palace/Museum which is down hill from the cathedral. The latter reminds me very much of the Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon, and the Unterlinden in Colmar, although exactly why I would have to think about. I guess it just had a very strong emotional impact for me, nicely displayed and with a real story behind it. The audio guide was narrated by the owner, if I recall correctly an American who returned many years later to reclaim his Czech heritage after having lost the property during or after WWII. Walking down from the castle complex, there is a stretch along the path where you pass by a field of grape vines - pretty amazing an unique for a big city and major tourist hub. On the negative side, Prague has a seedy underbelly that is not appealing. By this I mean, lots of gambling and um, adult dancing establishments. Many cities have these things, but in Prague these things are close to the tourist center. Probably a byproduct of the fact that groups from other countries in Europe like to come there to have crazy wild drunken parties before someone gets married. To end on a positive note, the Mucha museum and Museum of Communism were very authentic, a little rough around the edges perhaps but really give you a sense of the country in a way that sanitized, world class museums of western Europe do not. On our last night we walked up the hill in the Little Quarter, and found it very charming. We found what appealed to us in this very interesting city, and I am sure you will do the same!

Posted by James E.
USA
3036 posts

Another positive is the Jewish neighborhood. The Germans preserved the area to become a museum to a dead race. It holds the oldest synagogue still in use another very magnificent synagogue turned museum and the Pinkas synagogue which has a very profound statement that make any trip to Prague worth the efforts.

Posted by Mira
Midwest
285 posts

I'm not a musician, or knowledgeable about music in any way so I can't answer that piece. However, I did enjoy Prague immensely. In my experience, it's a city made for wandering…in terms of "must see" sites, it's well below, say, Rome, but it has a great atmosphere. I went in October, which was great. If you're going in the summer, I hear it gets very, very crowded, which could diminish enjoyment. I found hotels cheap…but I flew in from London, home of expensive hotels. Food on the main tourist squares was rather expensive, but wander off a ways and it gets much better. Overall, I would consider it moderate price, cheap compared to London and Paris.

I would advise a day trip out of the city, with 5 days you have time. Cesky Krumlov is the obvious choice, but I'm sure there are other options

Posted by David
Florence, AL, USA
2637 posts

This posting developed into a long one, with long essays.

When asking about a subject, first Google it. Prague Jazz has a bunch of jazz joints and a jazz dinner cruise listed. Such European cities often see the big name American jazz artists touring.