Last weekend, Jet2.com organised for me and a friend to spend three nights on a Prague city break. Perfectly timed to coincide with the start of the Christmas markets, our holiday included flights, transfers and accommodation at the modern and quirky arts-inspired NYX hotel. Located on a street parallel to Wenceslas Square, we were within walking distance of all the main attractions, and a hearty buffet breakfast had us prepared each day for the crisp winter weather.
If you’re also planning to Visit Prague, here are some of the top sights and activities to consider.
One of the most recognised landmarks in Prague is the Charles Bridge. Connecting the Old Town to the Castle approach, it’s a hugely popular route with a virtually continuous stream of two-way human traffic. Walking across is like being caught in a tidal current so, if you’d like to take the time to appreciate the 30 baroque-style statues that line both sides, it’s best to arrive before 9 am. For a more leisurely stroll, head along the western banks of the Vltava River. Just north of Charles Bridge is a great spot from which to view the Old Town and its Bridge Tower, only this time you may have to battle with swans instead of people for a place to stand.
JOHN LENNON WALL
Just around the corner from the Charles Bridge on the west side of the river is the John Lennon wall. This colourful mural is a great place to snap a photo, and the fact that it’s constantly changing makes it an interesting landmark to peruse. John Lennon himself never visited Prague. Instead, the name has its roots in political history. Communist authorities used to ban Western pop songs that glorified peace and freedom and, especially following his death in 1980, the pacifist youth in Prague would paint his picture and lyrics on the wall as a symbol of defiance. Despite the efforts of the secret police to cover it over with whitewash, the graffiti kept returning. Now owned by the Knights of the Maltese Cross, it’s become legal to leave your mark on the wall. If you fancy having a go, one option is to join the Riverside Parties tour, which includes unlimited beer and sangria, dinner, a tour of some of the more unusual sights of Prague and the chance to draw, cut out and spray paint your own stencil design.
With the city straddling a scenic stretch of the Vltava River that’s fringed by historic buildings, it’s no surprise that boat trips are hugely popular with people on a Prague city break. If you’re on a budget, you can spend just under an hour exploring the narrow waterways known as ‘Prague Venice’. This trip comes with a beer, ice cream and entrance to the Charles Bridge Museum beside the dock. Other options include dinner with live jazz or a private wine-tasting tour.
The Dancing House has a refreshingly unique style and is well worth a stroll along the river south of the Old Town. While there will undoubtedly be a few people snapping photos from a traffic island opposite the building, you can escape the crowds in this part of the city. The Dancing House is currently used as a hotel, with a leading international restaurant on its rooftop. Nearby are some restaurants on boats that are very popular in the summer.
Foodies will be pleased to learn that Eating Prague Tours (part of Eating Europe) offer an incredible four-hour guided walk through Prague, which includes sampling seven very different dishes, as well as learning in-depth facts about the city, its culture and history. As dishes such as goulash have crept into Czech cuisine from neighbouring countries, identifying traditionally Czech food can be a challenging task. Starting in a gingerbread house, you’ll learn a recipe that doesn’t even contain ginger, before sampling a variety of beautifully presented open-faced sandwiches. The tour also includes mystery soup in a bell tower and the Czech dumpling dish svičková in a restaurant where Franz Kafka and Albert Einstein are known to have dined.
The Jewish Museum includes a cemetery, five synagogues and a ceremonial hall, and various ticket options enable visitors to choose which monuments to visit, the priciest coming in at CZK 500. The gravestones in the cemetery date from 1439 to 1787 and their proximity clearly indicates a lack of space. Out of respect for those already buried, new layers of soil were added on top of the old – sometimes up to 12 times, which is why the gravestones are so clustered and the cemetery is surrounded by high supportive walls. Just a short walk away, the uncharacteristically ornate Spanish Synagogue is two storeys tall, with balconies on either side, a gilded arabesque and a stained-glass window. The upper level has an exhibition of Jewish history in the Czech Republic. The museum also houses one of the largest collections of Jewish artefacts in the world, most of which were amassed by the Nazis with the intention of showcasing items from an ‘extinct race’.
In much the same way that the Jewish Museum has separate entry gates to each of its main sites, you don’t need a ticket to walk around the outer grounds of Prague Castle. In fact, it’s free to enter the vestibule of St Vitus Cathedral, which is the most impressive of the historic buildings. For CZK 350 you’ll have access to all of the exhibitions, as well as the Old Royal Palace, St George’s Basilica, two towers and the picturesque Golden Lane where defenders of the castle used to live. Today, there are some quaint souvenir shops; museums showcasing the lives of some of the lane’s past inhabitants; and a cannon tower that was used as a prison and torture chamber. One of the routes back down to the river passes through a vineyard, but note that the dripstone Wall of Faces in the Wallenstein Palace gardens is closed in winter.
Few cities can compete with Prague in terms of the sheer number of random museums. As you wind your way through the cobbled streets of the Old Town, there’s a quirky collection of artefacts around almost every corner. From a history of Apple computers to Czech beer, Lego, torture instruments and even sex machines, there’s something to suit everyone’s tastes. The city is also famous for its risqué sculptures created by Czech artist David Černý. Those with a more cultured palate can view the works of Kafka, learn about the country’s communist history or take in a classical concert at the Czech Museum of Music.
In the Old Town Square is the rather elaborate 600-year-old astronomical clock. One of the most famous clocks of its kind in the world, this medieval masterpiece comes to life on the hour every hour to the delight of crowds of tourists. As a figure representing death rings his bell and turns over an hourglass, 12 Apostles pass behind the windows above the clock. It’s comically underwhelming, but nevertheless worth seeing. Ironically, you can’t rely on the clock to tell you when the hour is approaching. It shows the movement of the Sun, phases of the moon, equinoxes, seasons, days and zodiac, but not the actual time.
One of the main reasons people chose a Prague city break in December is the selection of Christmas markets that pop up throughout the city. The two main ones are in the Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square. Usually you can climb the Old Town Hall Tower for a birds-eye view of the Christmas festivities, but at the time of writing it was undergoing repairs. Don’t expect the stalls to deliver all of your Christmas gift inspiration. The main enjoyment comes from sampling the hot wine, sausages and trdelník and soaking up the atmosphere.
If you’ve booked a Prague city break, it pays to plan how you might spend your evenings. With gimmicky tourist traps like beer spas and black light shows vying for your attention, you might end up missing out on some really special experiences. For an exquisite Czech or international evening meal on the west bank of the Vltava with views of Charles Bridge, look no further than Hergetova Cihelna (pictured above). The ambience is sophisticated, but not pretentious and the service is second to none. For premium cocktails presented in inventive ways by impressively knowledgeable mixologists, Hemingway Bar is a must, but make sure you book a table in advance. Poison Bar is a great venue for karaoke. Get there early on weekends to guarantee a table and a chance to sing, and try a few shots of the local liquor Becherovka if you need some Dutch courage.
Jet2 organise a wide range of short trips throughout Europe, including luxury breaks and Christmas markets in over 30 different cities. Flights depart from nine UK airports and you can keep track of all your bookings online.