What is traveling around Europe without some medieval history? I’m not sure it exists. Exploring medieval Prague was just the dose of medicine I needed to end a very long trip. I had just traveled through Budapest and then Vienna, and then took another train to Prague in Czech Republic. I did not prepare myself for how wonderful it would be. Maybe that was part of the charm? Everywhere you look there was something new, fascinating, and yes, charming, that was the right word. As I am writing this, I am thinking to myself, when can I go back again?
The entire historic center of Prague is a UNESCO World Heritage site and commonly listed as one of the best-preserved medieval cities in the WORLD! It also has an incredibly fascinating history as it was once the capital of Bohemia, residences of Holy Roman Emperors, and very important in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Unfortunately, it also suffered at the hands of Nazi Germany occupation and subsequent membership of the Soviet Union. Today Prague is a thriving city, part of the European Union, and a hot spot for tourism.
Prague Food, Beer, and Absinthe
At this point in the trip, I was a bit exhausted after spending the previous seven days sightseeing. I was on an overload of new experiences, sights, smells, food, all of it. Once I set eyes on Prague, all of that washed away and I was just as excited as the first day of my trip. It was a four-hour train ride from Vienna to Prague, once I arrived and dropped my bags off it was dark and time for food.
I can’t remember the name of the restaurant I went to, but it was serving traditional Czech cuisine. Which I must say is perfect for how cold it was, the food is so warming and filling, and I wish I had a plate of meat, bread, potatoes, and cabbage now.
Next stop was U Fleků a restaurant/pub that dates back to 1499 and brews their own beer, Fleku dark lager, which is the only beer you can order. They often have live musical performances of Czech Folklore. While this place is full of tourists (don’t let that scare you), it also feels like you are stepping back in a time capsule and I had a lot of fun just experiencing the environment.
The final stop of the evening was the Hemingway Bar. This is one of my favorite memories even years later and I always highly recommend a visit to friends who pass through.
If you want to try authentic craft absinthe in an intimate environment this is THE place to go. The ambiance is dark and moody with a touch of vintage luxury. Candles casting shadows bounced around the quiet room as I read a carefully crafted menu. At first it can sound and feel overly romantic, but by the end of the evening it felt intentional and special.
Once sitting down, a server came to the table, and I explained that I was there to try absinthe for the first time. The server was extremely knowledgeable about all of the types of absinthe they had, where they came from, what they taste like, and provided some recommendations.
Then I got the whole experience, the absinthe fountain that contains water was brought to the table. Glasses with some absinthe and a beautiful absinthe spoon (pictured above) where you place a sugar cube. The water drips on the sugar to slowly dissolve it into the absinthe, you add as little or as much as you want.
If you plan on visiting I recommend making reservations as they are very strict about crowd control. You can also opt for their sister bar Cash Only Bar. It is a much more casual place without the performance. Although you can order it on the menu, you just won’t experience it the same.
Prague’s Castle District
The next morning started off a bit cold and snowy. Thankfully Pension Corto, where I stayed in Old Town, served a very comprehensive hot breakfast. It was affordable, the room was clean, it was central, and offered great breakfast options so a win in my book!
Off into the cold and snow, I went wandering through Old Town towards Charles Bridge, the iconic footbridge in Prague. Took a few pictures, and made my way to the Castle District (Hradčany).
Tickets to visit the Castle District vary on what you would like to see. You are able to see some things without paying, but it isn’t worth it, you are just wandering the grounds without access inside anything. The first stop in the area was St. Vitus Cathedral, which is the main attraction of the Castle District. This gothic cathedral is the biggest and most important church in the Czech Republic, it also contains the tombs of Bohemian Kings and Holy Roman Emperors.
An interesting part of the cathedral is the gargoyles on the exterior, there are over 100 all around the structure, functioning as part of the drainage system and for symbolic reasons. I am not a religious person but I appreciate the art and architecture of churches and my personal favorite is the stained glass. St Vitus’s windows were spectacular.
Now, don’t think I went to a church and did not go in the tower. Of course, I did the tower. It is an additional fee on top of the ticket you get for the castle district. Unfortunately because it had just snowed that morning there was a lot of moisture in the air but it was still amazing to see Prague from above.
The Old Royal Palace was barren. I spent a couple of minutes inside walking through quickly, and then right back out. Maybe if I went with a guided tour it would be more interesting as there wasn’t much to see, no signs or labels, so no context. Even the Wikipedia page for the building is empty. Does anyone know what has happened of significance in this building?
There are two towers in the Castle District that you have access to with the purchase of a ticket. Powder Tower is a museum for castle guard items, I walked in and right back out, not interested but maybe for others. The second one, Daliborka Tower you actually travel down into, it was a medieval torture tower and had some medieval devices in it, cool to see for a few minutes.
The last stop in the Castle District is Golden Lane, a series of historic houses, some of them were set up to recreate different time periods and how it would be used, and others are souvenir shops. It is rumored that alchemists used to live here and tried to discover a reaction that could create gold.
While I absolutely loved visiting the Castle District I would highly suggest to get a guided tour because you would get a lot more out of it. I recommend checking out this private half-day tour that can be personalized.
Below are a few photos showing the outside, the street, and inside these homes. Either people were very small then or now we just love to take up so much space. That bed was as narrow as it looks.
Street Wandering and a Medieval Pub
After I got my fill at the Castle District it was off to explore the city via aimless wandering, my favorite type of wandering. I could wander these streets for hours and never get bored, all of the buildings were inspiring, I felt like I was inside of a storybook.
While I was on this side of the river I stopped by U Krale Brabantskeho a medieval pub. It is lit mainly by candlelight, no wifi, they brew their own beer, and in the evenings, they have fire dancers and swordsmen, definitely something for me to check out next time I go. For me, hiding in this tavern was a way to warm up as the locals do, with enormous glasses of beers at the end of the day.
Klementium and the Astrological Tower Tour
On my last day in Prague, I started with stopping by the Prague Astronomical Clock in the Old Town Hall. For a small fee, you can go on top of the tower. I really enjoyed that I could see the city from so high up from various angles. Also, look at this clock! It is so beautiful and intricate it really is a sight to see. It was installed in 1410 and is the oldest functioning astronomical clock in the world. The details are so small, but on the bottom portion, along the edges is a church calendar with 365 saint names.
Next up was the Klementium, Baroque Library, and Astrological Tower tour. I had no idea what I got myself into, but it was really interesting. The tour was based on the history of the Klementium and of the astronomers that worked from there. They had authentic tools that they used to measure and document about the stars, planets, and weather. One of the main reasons I did this tour was to see the Baroque Library which contains astrological globes. Absolutely breathtaking. Sadly, in favor of preservation, no photos are allowed, the library which is a room is full of very old books, paintings, and these globes. So I guess you will have to go to Prague to see it for yourself!
The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering around Prague and I spotted the famous Dancing House and I even spotted Zavěšený mu (Man Hanging Out). This is a statue made by Czech sculptor David Černý. It is meant to be Sigmund Frued and symbolize Černý’s uncertainty with intellectualism, although of course there are multiple interpretations. Talk about modern art..
If you wander to the Wenceslas Square here you will find the National Museum. If you haven’t been to Prague before I found the experience of walking down Václavské náměstí to be very memorable. The street is so wide, the building lining it colorful and tall, and the National Museum sits at the end pulling you in closer and closer. Wenceslas Square has been around since the 14th century where it was once used as a horse market.
Prague Food Experiences
The best part of travel, the food! Well, in my opinion at least. Czech cuisine isn’t a household staple for many so what foods should you be on the look out for while wandering Prague? Here are some local dishes to treat your tastebuds:
- beef tartare (yes, raw beef – trust me, it is worth it!)
- kulajda (potato soup with mushrooms and a poached egg)
- weiner schnitzel (it is central Europe it is a staple here!)
- vepřo-knedlo-zelo (roast pork, bread dumplings, and stewed cabbage)
- smažený sýr (fried cheese)
Try a food tour to take you around the city exploring the history and cuisine side by side!
While there is a lot of disagreement about where Trdelník originated I had one of the best ever right on the street in Prague. It is a cake done on a spit and topped with sugar and walnuts. The perfect midnight snack!
Czech Republic is also known for its beer so why not take a beer and food tour around the city?
The picture above is from my final meal; meats, potatoes, bread, cabbage, all of the good Czech food (vepřo-knedlo-zelo). These dishes felt more like home than most food I have had in Europe so I enjoyed it, but it was definitely meat overload. Yes, the beer came in a liter!
Day Trips From Prague
If you have a chance to visit Prague and have a day or two to spare there are some amazing day trips that you can take from the Czech capital. Here are some recommendations:
- Half-Day Trip From Prague to Karlstejn Castle – A 4-hour tour of the stunning Karlstejn Castle built in 1348 with pick up and drop off in Prague!
- Day Trip to Kutná Hora – Visit this small town east of Prague and tour the famous Sedlec Ossuary, a Roman Catholic Church that used human bones to make artistic furniture. Yes, it is as creepy and interesting as it sounds.
- Day trip to Bohemian Switzerland National Park – For the nature lovers, take a day trip to a Czech National Park to explore. This tour will take you all around stopping at five or more different locations giving you ample time at each as well as lunch at a local restaurant!
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Are you planning a trip to Prague?
After writing all of that I feel like I convinced myself to return to Prague to explore it in warmer weather and definitely to dive deeper into their cuisine. I’d love to try a food tour!
Owner of wanderinghelene.com. Anthropologist, content creator, castle explorer, coffee drinker, and lover of markets and very old places!