One of my favorite ways to get acquainted with a new city is to go on an organized walking tour. It’s the chance to stretch the ol’ legs, learn the lay of the land &, best of all, get recommendations from a local. So when I decided to visit Prague on my first big international solo trip, I knew what the first item on my agenda would be. Tours By Locals, an awesome Canadian company that connects travelers with private local tours, hooked me up with Katka, the owner of Prague Walker, for her “Prague at a Glance” private walking tour. Katka & I walked over 23,000 steps all over Prague, as she told me stories of local lore & history, shared her experience as a teenager during the Velvet Revolution & recommended hidden gems for lunch & coffee. Our route took us past all the major sites in Prague & was the perfect introduction to the city. The map below plots our basic route, along with a few highlights from our journey.
After meeting me in the lobby of my hotel bright & early in the morning (a great feature of Katka’s private walks), we headed across the Charles Bridge to find it blissfully free from tourists. Anyone who has visited Prague during the summer knows that this is rather unusual (crowds during peak season are so thick on the bridge you can barely move) & the quietness of the morning allowed us to take in each statue, learning about its history & meaning to the city of Prague. We stopped by the oldest statue on the bridge, that of St. John of Nepomuk, & rubbed a well worn section for good luck.
I had read about the Lennon graffiti wall in a few places prior to my trip, but never in a million years would have found it if it weren’t for Katka. First painted with messages in the late 1980s, the wall was a place for Czechs to express their political opinions, during a period of time when freedom of expression wasn’t very popular with the Soviets in charge. The wall has been painted over several times by authorities, & by well meaning art students, but messages always reappear within a few hours. Indeed, the day I visited a little over a month after the U.S. presidential election, the wall was already filled with messages of discontent over the winner. The Lennon Wall is a great glimpse into a difficult time in Prague’s history – the first of several on the walking tour.
After winding up hills, through the residential area of Malá Strana (the neighborhood along the west side of the Vltava river), we made our way up to the Prague Castle (there’s also a street car, if you don’t want to walk). Founded in 880, the Castle is actually part of a complex (the largest castle complex in the world), consisting of the Old Royal Palace, government buildings & the stunning St. Vitus Cathedral. There’s no cost to enter the complex & even if you only go inside the cathedral (you can poke your head in without a ticket), it’s worth the walk.
A unique characteristic of all the shops in the area throws back to a time when many people could not read, so rather than having addresses & house numbers, buildings are marked with symbols. Lobsters, violins, even a turnip – many of them are well preserved today.
One of the benefits of walking to the Castle is the panoramic view of Prague you’re rewarded with. Church steeples dot the skyline, as the TV tower looms in the background, with modern-day Prague off in the distance. There’s a Starbucks overlooking the scene, with possibly the best view of any coffee shop in the world (it’s worth a stop just for a glimpse, a little free wifi & to put a pin in their world map).
Walking back down the hill & over the Mánes Bridge, we made our way to Prague’s Jewish Quarter. A series of museums (you can visit all on one ticket) tells the story of Prague’s Jewish population, which was forced to settle in one area. During WWII & the Nazi occupation of Prague, the area was largely preserved because Hitler himself decided to preserve the Jewish Quarter as a “Museum of an Extinct Race.” It’s a sobering area to walk around, with small bronze plaques in the sidewalk memorializing Jews who lived there & were killed in the Holocaust.
Old Town Square
Arguably the most historic square in Prague, Old Town Square is anchored by a pointy topped church & one very famous clock. Our Lady before Týn, the gothic church with pointy towers, is one of the most recognizable symbols of Prague & stands proudly over the Christmas market during the advent season.
Old Town Square also is home to Europe’s oldest working astronomical clock. I will admit it: it was a little bit disappointing. The day I got to Prague I headed over to the clock eagerly ready to see its top of the hour show, crammed into the square with hundreds of other people. When it started, I kept waiting for something more to happen & it didn’t. I asked Katka if I missed out on the big show – indeed, I did not. So just keep your expectations in check!
One of the main public squares in Prague, visiting Wenceslas Square was the most poignant moment of my walking tour with Katka. For it’s here that Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution was launched – & she was there for it. She told me stories of standing in the square with her father and 200,000 other people, listening to the revolutionaries speak from the balcony that is now part of a Marks & Spencer store. It is mind-blowing that Czechoslovakia held its first democratic elections in 44 years in 1990 – that’s not that long ago! While I was hanging out in first grade, Katka was a 14 year old watching every aspect of her life & country change from what she had known her whole life. A walking tour with Katka is worth it just to hear this story.
Where to Grab a Bite to Eat
Katka pointed me in the direction of her favorite lunch place & her favorite coffee shop, which was the perfect way to end our morning tour. I had a great lunch at Pilsner Urquell brewery – the daily special & a beer only cost me €8! I’m not entirely sure what I ate, as the server & menu were in Czech, (I think I had pork), but it was darn good!
After walking around a bit more, I stopped at Café Louvre for coffee & a snack. It’s a good thing I had been walking so much, as my Black Forest ckae was a little bit bigger than I had anticipated!
Note: my walking tour was provided complimentary by Tours by Locals; however, all opinions are of course my own. I can’t wait to return to Prague & book another one of Katka’s excellent walking tours!