For 3 months they waited in anticipation, the only answers to the two clues they were allowed to ask didn’t give much of an indication of where we were headed. “What will we drink?” Sophie asked. “Beer,” was my response. “What sort of coat will we need?” Penny followed. “A lightweight or heavy puffer?” It was November after all, and the coat choice was a defining ask. Heavy puffer all the way.
It wasn’t until we got through the airport’s security gates (I even folded the boarding pass just so) and under the boarding sign that our first secret getaway destination was revealed, Prague!
I’ve travelled with the same two friends once a quarter for the last two years, so these secret getaways are now our way of travelling with a new twist, each taking a turn to plan the unexpected. “I woke up this morning and have never been so excited,” Sophie said. “So good to just show up and not have to do any work,” Penny agreed as we made our way to the airport. Lucky ducks.
To no surprise, I was thoroughly prepared and even created a Prague guidebook of sorts for the girls to get a glimpse into what was planned as we flew over from London. This blog is a combination of the best of Prague from my guidebook, and some other new-found treasures mixed in.
Prague is a beautiful, romantic city that can satisfy any beer aficionado. The “City of 100 Spires” isn’t too bad on the eyes either, with gothic churches and impressive gargoyles sprouting up on nearly every square. The bad news is that every tourist known to man can agree. In the summer, Charles Bridge can be so overwhelmed with tourists it can take up to 10 minutes to cross its 515 meters. Holidaying in November was bliss for us though. Mulled wine around every corner, we’d arrived just before the Christmas markets opened, so the city was still and quiet (and grey) as we drank its beer, got lost amongst the cobblestones and ate goulash in abundance while meeting friendly locals.
Where we stayed:
Our huge family-sized suite set the standard at this 4-star hotel situated over a fun and social brewhouse. It’s cheap and the food here, an authentic menu that changes daily with breakfast included, is amazing, which made it an excellent stop before we set out exploring on our first day. As they have their own Pilsner Urquell tanks, my mouth dropped after taking my first sip of lager. I’ve been to Prague before, but I didn’t remember the beer being THIS good!
Also, a plus, they are conveniently situated at the base of Charles Bridge, making access to the Old Town super close, but just in case they also offer guests complimentary smartphones so you can navigate the city and book in reservations without roaming!
What we ate:
I’ll admit it without embarrassment, I ate goulash every single day. It’s likely because I created an obsession with the almighty potato pancake. Because I chose to favour this one meal, it meant that I really slacked in my Czech cuisine exploration as I didn’t even have pork knuckle or duck, standard Czech dishes. And as for my vegetarian friend Sophie, food options were tough at the best of times. While the common solution is to order dumplings filled with fruit, a simple serve of fried cheese was enough for Soph at nearly every stop.
Hands down my favourite dish, this savoury stew made of meat and onions in a thick brown sauce with paprika is typically topped with dumplings (potato or bread), making this Czech staple (despite not originating in the Czech Republic) a must have at nearly every meal in town.
Perfect with a glass of pivo (beer), camembert is typically fermented and pickled in oil, with garlic, chilli and other spices and served with crusty bread. Trust me, it’s way more delicious then my description makes out, worth trying at least!
Trdelník – Chimney Cake
You can’t cross a street in Prague without witnessing one of the biggest tourist knocks offs in the city. Not even traditionally Czech, these sweet treats of hot dough covered in sugar and filled with ice cream or Nutella, make the perfect Instagram. If you’re going to do it, look for ones with long lines as some can be left out for hours so be sure it’s fresh!
Where we ate:
Word of warning, if you’re keen to get in anywhere half decent, book in advance. On the plus side, credit cards are pretty much accepted everywhere and free Wi-Fi is plentiful.
Luckily, I had identified a few places in advance that I highlighted in my guidebook. Others we were able to visit on our Eating Prague Craft Beer and Food Tour which I highly recommend you check out.
Part of a chain of restaurants operated under the Pilsner Urquell brand, this casual brewpub was perfect for devouring goulash over a few pivos. Despite the restaurant looking fairly empty, we were told that no tables were available without a reservation. Thankfully bar tables were free, because the potato pancakes were so full of spice they were out of the world, awesome. A bit pricier than other places, but well worth a visit for traditional Czech grub and enough Kozul (dark beer) to keep you satisfied.
Velkopřevorský Mlýn (Priory Mill)
While this beautiful pub, referred to as the ‘flower pub’ throughout our trip, is pleasing on the eyes (in more ways than one) and makes for some great snaps, the food is overpriced as it’s very close to the tourist spot, the John Lennon Wall. Actually, dishes were nearly double some more authentic spots we visited, the goulash less than average and bread bowl quite small. It’s okay though, the fur seats, view overlooking the mill and hot waiter (and I mean like model HOT!) made it worthwhile.
Uniquely, Pilsner Urquell is served from their own pipes on the premises, only 3 meters travelling from the tank to pour, ensuring the beer doesn’t make contact with any air to not damage its perfect flavour. Known for their large pork knuckle dishes and savoury duck, it can be described as authentic and reasonably priced, and a good excuse to escape the Old Town to experience a gem.
Also try: Lokal Inn, Sisters, Maso a kobliha, Nase Maso, Zvonice, Bistro No 19.
Where we drank:
There were two big takeaways from my drinking exploration of Prague. Firstly, there’s a lot to learn about Czech beer so definitely check out my review of the Prague Craft Beer Tour. Places like Lod’ Pivovar (a brewery on a boat!) and T-anker (amazing city views) are two beer spots you must Czech-out. (See what I did there?) Secondly, the cocktail bars were the biggest surprise of all! We somehow managed a cocktail crawl in this beer haven of a city.
Cocktail bars of Prague:
This 1920’s NYC themed speakeasy is a place you can comfortably stay for hours. We were lucky to meet Michael, who was the perfect host, talking us through absinthe to whisky based cocktails. We were there too late in the evening to try their food, but if you’re exploring the Old Town this is an absolute gem to settle in to for great service, cocktails and locals.
Centrally located in the basement of U Prince Hotel in the Old Town just across from the Astronomical Clock, this eclectic, gothic-themed cocktail bar was recommended by friends but was a big disappointment when compared to some of the other low key and sophisticated cocktail bars popping up all over the city. Book in advance, but we warned, no photos are allowed which is a crying shame. In a nutshell, it’s a bit touristy and gimmicky but a quirky stop off if you’re in the area.
Cash Only Bar
What a treat to find! Small setting upstairs, with an intimate, arty basement downstairs specializing in cocktails, hot dogs and surprisingly, amazing salted almonds. The vibe screamed all around “cool”. It was recommended to us by Michael at Bonvivant, the staff were friendly, talking us through an array of cocktails, Sophie specifically really enjoyed an absinthe and champagne combo, who knew! I loved the huge block of ice in my Old Fashioned with a $ embedded in it and we were even awarded a free shot called Bohemian Sluts (was that some sort of innuendo?)
The Alchemist Bar
One of the city’s newest cocktail bars, velvet red chairs, gothic tapestries and burning candles set the vibe for our last stop on our unplanned cocktail crawl. It was surprisingly quiet and friendly, despite it being in a big touristy hostel neighbourhood with lots of clubs. My favourite part was trying Becherovka, a local herbal liquor that to me tasted like the cinnamon bear candies I’d eat at my grandmother’s as a kid, or others like to call it the original Fire Ball. But I think the most special moment was ordering the ‘Choose Your Fate”, in which Sophie and Penny picked a tarot card out of the deck, and a robed and beak-masked man delivered their drinks in a smoking old chest. It was all a bit bizarre but in a good way.
Nearly every evening ended back at Lokal Inn, where it was very easy to settle in amongst the long benches and drink one more ‘oh so good’ pilsner with the locals.
For more cocktails try: Parlour, L’Fluer, Bugsy’s Bar, Anonymous Bar
For beer, also try: Riegrovy Sady, Letna Park Beer Garden, U Fleku, Pivovarsky Klub, Fat Cat
What we explored:
Just like Ed Sheeran’s latest single, Prague also hosts a magnificent Castle on the Hill. We visited both at night and during the day, to get two very different perspectives of the city’s most popular tourist attraction. Entry to the grounds of the Castle is free but some buildings such as the St Vitus Cathedral, Basilica of St George and Golden Lane can only be visited with an entry ticket. Hot Tip: The statue of the boy with a golden penis is called “Youth” and it is located in the courtyard in front of the Toy Museum. People say rubbing the boy’s penis brings good luck so of course, we gave it a go.
While in this neighbourhood there are two other great finds. The first, Svatováclavská vinice (St. Wenceslas´ Vineyard) is literally a vineyard at the base of the Castle. It was closed while we visited and the vines were in hibernation for winter, but in summer I would totally nab a seat and enjoy the sunset for one of the arguably best views in Prague. Talk about romantic!
Strahov Monastic Brewery
When heading down from the Castle, another popular stop off is Strahov Monastic Brewery, dating back to the 17th century and still brews beer using traditional recipes from back in the day. Here you’ll find an overpriced brewpub, restaurant, and a lovely outdoor patio but also tour groups and unfriendly service. It’s an easy stop off to rest your legs but don’t make an afternoon out it. If you do though, it’s also a great place to try the famed pickled cheese.
Talk about a city made for Instagrammers. The John Lennon Wall is special to me, as 10 years before in 2007 I visited and took the exact same snap with a different group of friends while travelling throughout Europe. Strange to think a big puffy jacket lined with fur is still a requirement. As a symbol of peace, the graffiti-clad wall was first used to protest against communism in the 80s, and every day individuals and artists contribute to its powerful message with lyrics and images.
Old Town Square & Astronomical Clock
The tourist heart of the city, the Old Town Square has remained relatively untouched in terms of architecture since the 10th Century despite many invasions. The many outdoor cafes and restaurants that line the square give the hordes of tourists a reason to time their visit to watch the spectacle of the famous clock marking the turn of the hour. Definitely worth a walk by for a snap but then I recommend having a pivo in a quiet corner of the city.
I’m not referring to graffiti, but interesting and different art installations all over this pastel shaded city. Finding these unique and interesting representations is a fun way to explore some of the back streets, avoiding the marionettes and uncovering the uncommon treasure.
The most famous include:
Embryo Drain Pipe
A bit odd, a fetus is trying to get through a narrow pipe attached to the side of a building. Rumor suggests it refers to how difficult for artists it is to be understood by narrow-minded people.
Hanging Man by David Černý
The sculpture, installed in 1997, can easily be overlooked but if you find Husova Street and look up you’re in for a treat. Don’t worry, Sigmund Freud hanging above your head looks surprisingly realistic but is just a statue.
Giant Head of Franz Kafka
The sculpture is worth trekking across town for to witness 42 constantly rotating and moving layers of the famed writer Franz Kafka’s head. I recommend to video or even Boomerang this one, as it’s hard to describe otherwise. Hint: it’s just behind a shopping mall if you need to stop off while in the neighbourhood.
And of course, don’t forget to cross Charles Bridge, you won’t forget it!
Getting back to our secret getaways, the girls gave excellent feedback on the concept as we all really enjoyed our time in Prague. Now the biggest question is, where are we going next? And will I be able to stand the anticipation in much the same way when someone else is planning and I’m left in the dark? I’ll find out in only a few short days where I’m off to next!