Andrew and I just got back from Prague and we had a great trip.
For our American friends, I’d actually recommend Prague over many other European cities we’ve visited. I know that you may feel the need to visit Paris, London, & Rome, but Prague is still very picturesque and is way more affordable compared to Western Europe.
Andrew and I recently got the Chase Sapphire Reserve card💳 and it’s amazing! Not only do you get all these points and no foreign transaction fees, you get a free Priority Pass that gives you access to tons of airport lounges. Most of these airport lounges have drinks and snacks. We’re big fans. If you want to get a referral, please let us know so we can get more bonus points!
Prague metro system is very easy to understand and very affordable. We decided to get the 3-day (72 hour) transportation pass that allowed us to travel on all public transportion for only 310 CZK per person ($12 USD). I can’t believe all of our transportation for 3 days was only $12. $12 is the price of my gas, BART ticket, and parking spot back in the Bay.
We stayed at a hotel a little outside of the city center, but it was perfect. On the metro, it only took around 20 minutes to get to most of the tourist sites. I found Hotel Duo on Groupon and I couldn’t complain.
Our first meal in Prague was at Sisters Bistro to get open-faced sandwiches. Open-faced sandwiches, or chlebíčky, is one of Prague’s favorite snacks. During Czech Republic’s communist years, Czech sandwich-makers learned to use inexpensive proteins for their chlebíčky. Of course Sisters Bistro gave us a modern twist on a traditional chlebíčky on homemade bread and it was really good. The sandwiches are super pretty and you can enjoy a nice lunch (or snack) at a reasonable price. Their soup of the day was a pea soup. I normally am not a fan of pea soups, but this one was really good. I highly recommend.
We headed toward the Old Town Square and saw that a free English walking tour was starting, so we joined them for their 2.5 hour Old Town tour. If you’re wondering, the tour company was Discover Prague Tours and we really liked our guide. Of course, our guide ends up being an American (this is the 2nd time we got an American tour guide in Europe).
We started in Old Town Square where we saw Prague’s Astronomical Clock, the Jan Hus Memorial, and the Church of Mother of God before Týn. Even though the Astronomical Clock is one of Prague’s most popular tourist sites since it is the oldest operating astronomical clock in the world, but you have to go on the hour to watch the “show.” The Jan Hus monument symbolizes national rebirth. When Czechoslovakia was under Communist rule, people would sit at the feet of the Jan Hus statue as a way of expressing their opinion and opposition against the Communist rule. It was really interesting to learn that while Jan Hus (John Huss) and the Czech Republic was a key player in the Reformation (he wanted to have mass in the local language instead of Latin and spoke against indulgences), there are very few Protestants in the Czech Republic (probably due to restrictions during the Communist rule). The Church of Mother of God before Týn dates from the 1300s. If you look at it really closely, the towers are not symmetrical. Some people say that the towers helped inspire Walt Disney for Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. I don’t know if that’s true.
We walked through Pařížská Shopping Street, Prague’s most exclusive and expensive street. It’s named after Paris and was supposed to copy Paris’s Avenue des Champs-Élysées, but it didn’t happen due to lack of funds and resistance from the population.
Then, we headed toward Josefov. Josefov was Prague’s Jewish Quarter since laws banned Jews from living anywhere else in Prague. While most of the quarter was demolished in the late 1800s as part of an initiative to model the city on Paris, Hitler apparently wanted to preserve the Jewish Quarter and its cemetery as a “Museum of an Extinct Race.” The most sobering part of Josefov is seeing the Old Jewish Cemetery.
We crossed the Charles Bridge, one of the most famous landmarks in Prague to get to Mala Strana neighborhood.
I will let you in one of my hotel-life secrets. 😉 While walking around while traveling and feel the need to use the restroom, I walk into luxury hotels. This guarantees a clean bathroom. Of course, I HAD to walk into my beloved Mandarin and use their restroom. Mandarin Oriental, Prague was one of the MO hotels that I really wanted to stay in, but didn’t have the chance to when I worked for them. The hotel is built in a 14th century monastery. I was kindly reminded of Mandarin service in the five minutes I was in the hotel. Literally 5 seconds after I washed my hands, an attendant came in and replaced the towel I used.
For dinner, we went to Lokál. There are couple Lokál locations, but we ended up at Lokál U Bílé kuželky in Mala Strana. They serve home cooked, simple Czech food and Pilsner from the tanks. We ordered roast pork leg with creamy sauce and ham with bread and potato dumplings and smažený sýr (fried cheese). Yes, fried cheese. Freaking Andrew. To me, Czech food involves meat, gravy, and carbs.
We took a day trip to Karlovy Vary, a spa town about 2 hours away west of Prague. It’s famous for its hot springs. Around 1350, Charles IV (Holy Roman Emperor) found a spring and established a spa. Famous physicians developed the area into a spa resort in the 19th century that was often visited by European aristocrats and celebrities.
We took the RegioJet Student Agency bus to Karlovy Vary and it was very affordable. It costs 160 CZR ($6.30) each way. They also have a bus attendant to help you, give you a complimentary hot drink, and free movies (and headset)! This was definitely one of our better bus rides.
I really liked Karlovy Vary. I loved its charming and pastel streets and peaceful walks along the Teplá River. I only wished we had more time (and sunlight) to enjoy it. I wouldn’t mind spending a night or two here.
We had lunch at U Švejka, an old Bohemian restaurant that serves traditional Czech cuisine. We ordered a Pilsen goulash with bacon dumplings and their roast duck with dumplings, and red & white cabbage. Andrew’s goulash was too salty for me, but the duck was very nice.
One of the places I really wanted to visit was Grandhotel Pupp, a 300-year old luxury hotel. It was the main location of the movie Last Holiday with Queen Latifah. It also appears in Casino Royale and helped inspire the Grand Budapest Hotel. Seeing the hotel was a bit of a let down. It definitely wasn’t as beautiful or as grand as the movies made it out to be.
Grandhotel Pupp has a luxury spa, but it is also home to Sansei, a Thai massage salon. When we got to the hotel, we saw a 20% off discount sign so we walked in and asked if they had any availability. They did, so we yolo’d and got an hour massage. A 1-hour Thai Massage is normally 1190 CZK and with 20% off, it ended up being 950 CZK ($37). It’s no $20 Chinese foot massage in Hacienda Heights, but I’ll take it!
On our third day in Prague, we grabbed lunch at Naše Maso. Naše Maso is modern Czech butcher shop that sells and cooks high quality meat from local Czech farmers. You could pick your meat and ask them to cook it a certain way, but we ended getting a burger and their special of the day. Both were very good.
After lunch, we headed to the Klementium, a historic building complex that was founded during the Middle Ages. It was a Dominican monastery, Jesuit college, observatory, library, and university. It’s most famous for its Mirror Chapel (where Mozart played), Baroque Library (a beautiful library that remains unaltered since the 18th century that reminds me of Belle’s library from Beauty and the Beast), and Astronomical Tower (that was designed to determine noontime and offers 360° views over Prague). You can only visit Klementium through guided tours that occur every half and hour. It costs 220 CZK per person ($8.70). The tours are in English, but we couldn’t understand our guide and you don’t actually get to walk into the famous library, but the views of Prague from the Astronomical Tower makes the (steep) price worth it.
Then, we headed to the Prague Castle, the largest ancient castle in the world. It was founded in 880 AD and consists of buildings (palaces, churches, halls, state apartments, monastery, towers, museums, and Golden Lane) of various architectural styles (it doesn’t look like a typical castle). We visited the castle complex and wandered around for free, but there is a fee for certain buildings and museums. If we had more time, it probably would have been smart to join a guided tour.
For dinner, we went to Blue Fjord, a fish shop that you can ask them to prepare your seafood anyway. We got oysters, grilled octopus (very good!), and sashimi. This wasn’t the cheapest meal, but I really like these type of concept restaurants where you can pick your meat or fish and have them cook it right in front of you.
Before we left, we took a walk around Mala Strana, a charming district of Prague early in the morning. It was so early that the streets were empty.
We passed by the Lennon Wall, a wall filled with John Lennon-inspired graffiti and Beatles’ songs. Lennon was a hero to Central and Eastern European youth during the communist era so when he was murdered, his picture was painted on the wall to defy the authorities. They also painted their feelings and dreams. The police tried to repaint the messages of peace, but people kept painting over it. It’s now a memorial to John Lennon, love, peace, free-speech, and non-violent rebellion.
Before we left, we had to walk on the Charles Bridge one last time (in daylight).
Andrew’s favorite part about vacation is hanging out at the airport lounge so we headed back to the airport extra early so Andrew could enjoy the MasterCard Lounge at the Prague Airport.