Keys to the City – Can’t Miss Experiences
Not everything worth doing is written in that guidebook your parents bought for you when you told them you’d picked Prague as your study abroad destination. I personally adhere to the get lost rule: I haven’t truly seen a city until I’ve gotten utterly and hopelessly lost. It is then that you find the best parks and the tastiest restaurants and the cheapest grocery stores. It is only when you get lost that you stumble across a quaint café or meet that kind family or have honest conversations with the locals. But not everyone is down to randomly wander and pray they figure out where they are eventually. So here is a collection of the things to do in and around the city that might not be in that handy dandy guidebook.
An afternoon on Petrin Hill
I wrote about it here, with pictures, but its worth mentioning again. Take an afternoon and walk up Petrin Hill. The funicular is awesome, and the top of the hill, with its tower and mirror maze, is definitely great. Especially in the spring when the flowers are all in bloom. But don’t limit yourself to the top of the hill! Give yourself an afternoon (or even better, pack a lunch and make a day of it) and walk up the hill. The paths are long and winding, and chances are you’ll end up somewhat lost. But the views on the way up are beautiful, and wandering through the woods, seeing the dogs running and the kids playing and the couples …well, … being couples is definitely worth it.
Letna is a giant park – find the metronome where the Stalin statue used to stand, and it just might be working today! A good spot for a picnic or a walk (maybe wait until spring for those!), Letna is also rumored to be the home of a fake Olympic village in February, as the Prague government is trying to get the Czechs to show their solidarity and support for the Czech athletes by standing in the cold and watching the events together instead of in their sweatpants on the couch. In all seriousness, though, there will be an ice skating rink and various Winter Olympics-related activities, so it’ll probably be some good fun.
Prague has a significant Vietnamese minority, a holdover from when the Czech government invited Vietnamese refugees into the city during the Vietnam War. People say it’s a great spot to visit, that you get to see a lot of interesting stalls and you can buy super cheap vegetables and the best and freshest seafood/the strangest forms of meats imaginable (this comes from a Czech, and the Czechs eat some pretty bizarre meats…). I plan on getting there at some point to buy the ingredients necessary for sushi, but for now I’m just imagining it.
This is something that I want to do, have wanted to do since I showed up, and have yet to do it. But it is definitely high up on my list. Vyšehrad is on the lists of off the beaten path places to visit. The cemetary is where famous Czech author Karel Čapek is buried, and is actually really nice for an afternoon walk. We go to school up here, so it should be really easy to visit the castle, the cemetery, everything. Apparently, there is a really gorgeous set of ruins from which you get a gorgeous view of the city. I’ll have to search it out sometime, I suppose.
St. Wenceslas Vineyard
Near the castle, at the top of the stairs heading down to Malostranske, a hidden vineyard hugs the edge of the hill. I haven’t been there myself, but sources say the svařak there is wonderful and the goulaš not too shabby. Perhaps I’ll take an afternoon when it is starting to warm up but not quite warm and head out there.
Everyone has heard about the Lenin Wall, where the city’s many graffiti artists and the woefully unskilled can paint side-by-side. Visiting the wall is a must for anyone in Prague – be warned though, take a guide or a really good map, because its hidden away in the alleyways. For an even better dose of fun, buy some spray paint and make your mark on the wall. A name, an image, a phrase, anything and everything is welcome. (Plus, it makes for a fun and funky profile picture!)
Go to a hockey game
Hockey is a big thing in the Czech Republic, and a lot of people are very passionate about their team. I went to a hockey game when my parents visited, and it was definitely worth it. The tickets are super cheap, so get yourself a front row seat and enjoy the game!
Visit a Butcher Shop
They’re a bit hard to find in the States anymore, but butchers are all over Prague. You can tell, because they’ve got windows filled with meat (logically). Perhaps not the best choice for a vegetarian, but they are pretty interesting and something that you don’t necessarily get to see anymore at home.
A night club and contemporary art space curated by David Černy. Černy is the most well-known czech contemporary artist in the Czech Republic (definitely check out his art pieces and installations scattered throughout the city). Meetfactory has tons of amazing concerts with international artists, interesting theatre and performance art, and when it’s just in nightclub-mode, it’s a good time as well. Don’t let its distance from the city centre deter you from going – it only takes ~20 minutes to get there when you know where you’re going!
It seems like Jazz in definitely the Prague music of choice. It seems like every other block has a jazz club; some are significantly better than others. Every one has pamphlets with their upcoming live musicians, which makes it really easy to find a particular band you like. (I strongly recommend catching a show by Alice Spring’s Band. They always have fun onstage, which means you have fun in the audience.) Each jazz bar has its own atmosphere – I’m partial to the Jazz Republic in Mustek, but I know some people like Jazz Dock better. And there’s always the jazz club below Cafe Louvre, which saw Bill Clinton on his clarinet back in the day.
Trips Further Out
The abandoned soviet ghost town in Milovice, is about a 45 minute train ride north of Praha. During the Soviet Occupation, Soviet soldiers and nuclear warheads were secretly kept there along with thousands of reinforcements. Today there are tons of completely abandoned air force bunkers, cramped apartment barracks (where they filmed the Bratislava scene in Euro Trip!) and crumbling houses of generals. It’s amazing, and not hard to find.
Karlovy Vary, also known as Carlsbad. Many people only know it as a russian spa town in the Czech countryside (Czechs HATE it!) others know it as the town Queen Latifah visits in Last Holiday or James Bond in Casino Royale. However you know it, taking a day trip is definitely worth it. Climb to the top of Diana Tower for the most breathtaking view and also check out Grandhotel Pupp and the Becherovka Factory!
Go to Istanbul
Finally, if you’re looking for ideas on international trips, literally every person I asked said they’d recommend a trip to Istanbul. I went, and I absolutely, 100%, without a doubt want to go back. The city is big enough to have lots of stuff to do, but small enough to see in a weekend. And, its different enough from Prague to feel like you’re really traveling to a different place, whereas Krakow and Vienna and Berlin are very similar in a lot of ways.