Spared destruction in World War II, Prague’s historic center remains a must-visit hot spot for any traveler cavorting through Central Europe. Less than 20 years removed from Communism, Prague has taken full advantage of it’s newfound capitalism, offering endless shopping, eating and drinking opportunities around every corner of the maze-like center.
Unfortunately, many of these opportunities exist solely for the tourists, and their atmosphere and prices reflect this. To go beyond the typical tourist trail in historic Prague, check out these seldom talked about highlights, and a get a sense for the ‘real’ Prague:
1. The Charles Bridge Tower – at Dawn
Nearly every tourist visiting central Prague will eventually stumble onto the Charles Bridge at some time or other. This landmark links the two main centers of Old Town, and is the gateway for walkers heading towards the castle. In the evening and on weekends, simply avoid the Bridge. Hoards of tourists are herded back and forth in an endless parade of mayhem. But visit early in the morning and you’re treated to something truly special. Duck into the tower on the Old Town side of the bridge and through an ancient doorway, and make your way up centuries old steps for a breathtaking view of the castle and the river that most tourists undoubtedly pass by.
2. Ancient Churches & Communist-Era Food Shopping
Take the yellow (B) line on the metro towards Cerny Most, away from the center and experience what life was like when Prague was still behind the Iron Curtain. Get off at the Hloubetin stop, go up the escalator and head right, underneath the street and up the steps. You’ll find yourself smack in the middle of a typical outer-Prague shopping center, with a video store, pharmacy, Asian food market and finally the Penny Market.
Head into the Penny market and experience the hit-or-miss food shopping experience that was the rule back in the day. Or get some cash and purchase an enormous (and enormously delicious) pear from the adjacent Asian fruit stand. Then head under the small walkway and explore a suburban neighborhood replete with commie-era cinder block apartments. A must-do if you want to experience middle-class Prague. But bring your adventurous side, because this Prague is nothing like the gorgeous Old City.
3. Arabic Coffee and Water Pipes
I stumbled upon a gem of a coffee shop while wandering around Old Town Prague one Saturday afternoon. Situated almost dead-center in Europe, Prague is a haven for multiculturalism, and this seemingly non-descript Turkish tea house is a prime example.
A short walk from the Namesti Republicky metro stop, enter through the green facade of Cajovna Šiva into another world, with tantalizing incense, mesmerizing sitar music and the best coffee you’ll taste in Prague. Head downstairs and experience the surreal atmosphere and comfy couches. Be patient though, and enjoy an entire afternoon basking in this sublime East-meets-West haven away from the tourists.
4. Wireless Internet and Cheap Czech Wine
The best Internet café in Old Town Prague is just down the narrow cobbled street from the Charles Bridge and the Astronomical Clock, yet feels light years away from the tourist scene. Hidden in a small alleyway amongst tourist stands selling Bohemian crystal and “Praha Drinking Team” t-shirts is the Kavarna Café. Best described as a café with Internet, as opposed to an Internet café, this place offers relative peace and quiet in a picturesque shop beneath some picturesque apartments. Drop in for a coffee, a salad or some excellent Czech beer and wine, and stay for a while – bring your laptop and take advantage of the complimentary wireless. Just be sure to bring cash.
5. The Local Pub
Not far from the old center of Prague is a little-known pub, in the basement of a government-style building on the castle side of the river. Follow the Charles Bridge across the river towards the castle, and head left, following the street where you’ll find many of the international embassies.
This part of town is nearly devoid of tourists, and an excellent relaxing walk to see more of the ‘real’ Prague. As you near the Norwegian Embassy, turn right and walk to the end of the street. Immediately on your left on the corner is a small door that leads down a few steps and into local Prague. Bring your Czech phrasebook and ask for a ‘pivo’, because the bartender doesn’t speak English. Relax at the communal tables and relish in the notion that you just paid 19 crowns for the same beer the tourists spent 75 on just across the river.
Picture of Prague Charles bridge originally posted by boltron-