5 days in Prague

Journal

5 days in Prague

Rob and Carol in a bridge in Prague

We weren’t intending to go to Prague ’til we decided to scrap the idea of taking a city break in New York and opted instead for one in Europe. The capital of the Czech Republic was right at the top of our list and we quickly booked flights that would give us 5 days in the city.

A few weeks after securing the flights we secured a place to stay, via AirBnB. The apartment was to the north of the city and looked about a 20-minute walk to the old town area. All-in, the flights and the apartment cost about £600, plus the spending money to come. Not cheap, but about £2,500 cheaper than the New York trip was shaping to cost us!

Once we knew the dates we were going and where we were staying, we began adding activities to a Trello board. Most of these were just cool looking bars & restaurants and we ended up with quite a long list, albeit an uninformed one. The sheer quantity meant there had to be some good ones but I began to worry that we’d end up traipsing around one dive after another.

As the holiday approached I discovered the YouTube channel, Honest Guide to Prague, which proved invaluable in refining and adding to our activity list as well as helping us avoid scams and tourist traps. The content was incredibly useful so I recommend checking that out if you’re considering a similar trip.

In our excitement at finding reasonably priced and direct flights, we opted to fly out via Edinburgh Airport. This would add over two hours to each end of the holiday that seemed like an acceptable downside to the price. However, if we were delayed by more than, say, 45 minutes on the return leg, we would miss the last train back to Helensburgh. It seemed risky but we figured that some kind person would come to our rescue if it came to it!

Automobiles, trains and a plane

On the morning we were set to head out we had two unexpected plot twists. Firstly, I’d packed a case that I discovered in the attic that, for some reason, I hadn’t used in over a decade.

It was only after I called the taxi to take us to the station that I pulled the handle clean out of the case! I was still hastily transferring the contents to another one when the taxi pulled up outside the house.

There was more stress to come before we were on our way, as when we turned up at the station we found that all the trains had been cancelled!

Fortunately, when I called my mother she sprang into action. Collecting us within ten minutes, then delivering us to Dumbarton where we were able to catch a train soon after.

Despite the shenanigans and having to change train in Glasgow, we made it to Edinburgh Airport only half an hour later than we’d planned to. With that out of the way, it was great to relax over a beer or two in the airport lounge before boarding the flight.

It’s well known that Prague is a popular destination for stag and hen parties and that was confirmed when we joined the gate queue at the tail end of a stag party. The guys all seemed jovial rather than rowdy and that was borne out on the flight – despite some bad smells they never caused any fuss!

Ready for the weekend

Once on the ground on the outskirts of Prague we took a 20-minute Uber to the apartment and got checked in swiftly by a friend of our host, Matej. He gave us some pointers on a map for places to visit and offered a few tips for places to eat and drink. One was already on our list so it was good to have confirmation that it was endorsed by a local.

After Matej left we visited the local supermarket just a couple of minutes away and bought some essentials for the next morning. That done, we got freshened up and decided to walk into the old town area.

Quietly into the night

Darkness had fallen quickly and, not quite understanding how suddenly the timed lights would go out, we ended up in the stairwell on the third floor in pitch blackness!

In our fumble for a light switch, Carol pressed the call button for the apartment next door, leading to some comedy panic whilst the shrill buzzer pierced the darkness. As it sounded I found the actual light switch and, fortunately, nobody came to answer the door anyway.

Once outside, it was a warm spring evening with only the occasional gust of wind bringing a chill. Using Google Maps as a guide, it led us through the darkest part of Letná Park in an effort to give us the shortest walk. I was a bit apprehensive but the only approach we had was from a dog who latched onto us when we passed by a group of youths gathered around some benches.

The disobedient dog seemed keen to join us and ignored calls to return as one of the party gave chase. I tried telling it to go back but my scant Duolingo progress with Czech meant I could only say “Good evening”, and the dog just looked at me quizzically!

Looking out into the night from Letna Park
Looking out into the night from Letná Park

Once the dog had left us, the walk down to the riverside was unexpectedly steep but something we would become familiar with in the days that followed. The path met the junction at the north side of a bridge which we crossed and continued on the same road into the old town area.

The stretch was similar to the “style mile” in Glasgow, lined with boutique shops with mannequins in unlikely poses sporting expensive designer gear.

Eventually, it met the picturesque tourist magnet of the main square, which we cut through before meandering down the narrow streets. The architecture here was spellbinding, as it is in most of central Prague.

In search of a place to eat, we stumbled upon Fat Cat, a bar & restaurant that was high on our list so in we went in and found a table at the back. The waitress presumed correctly that we spoke English and our beer order was taken promptly before she returned to take our food order.

Like most of the places we’d eat and drink in over the weekend, the beer was cheap and the food was less so, but delicious. We could get used to the servers speaking excellent English too – something that always makes me feel slightly ashamed at my own poor efforts to learn second languages.

As we have a history of getting carried away on our first day visiting anywhere, we attempted to show some self-restraint and headed back to the apartment at a sensible time. There was plenty waiting for us in Prague the next day, plus the forecast looked like the weather was to turn at the weekend so we wanted to make the most of Friday.

A fun-filled Friday

Prague, looking south from Letná Park
Prague, looking south from Letná Park

In the morning the weather was incredible with beautiful blue skies and a welcome warmth after a cold few weeks back in Scotland. We were up at a decent time and, with the best of intentions, went for a short run around Letná Park.

Due to the cobbles around the city, I’d joked with the guys on my skateboarding group chat that Prague was a city full of skate-stoppers. But on our run, we discovered a massive DIY skate park beside a giant sculpture of a metronome. I kind of wished I had my deck with me to give it a try but I’m not really a street skater so the notion didn’t last long.

With the temperature climbing, we were exhausted by the time we got back to the apartment. In hindsight, the run was a mistake. We did so much walking over the course of the holiday that forcing ourselves to do extra kilometres only led to tired bodies and feet.

Once showered and changed we headed out to explore without any particular agenda. Matej had suggested we head around the northwest side of the river and explore that part of town, so we did just that, cutting back through Letná Park but staying on the high path instead of descending to the river. This route led to some great views over the city and some interesting architectural finds as we meandered through the streets.

For early April it was surprisingly warm and sunny, so we took our time and gave the obvious tourist traps a wide berth. Passing regular crowds of folk waiting on riverboat tours and pushbike or electric scooter excursions, we eventually chose to cross the river at Charles Bridge.

The views from the bridge were fantastic, with riverboats passing serenely underneath the bustling throng of tourists taking selfies above. After the relatively quiet walk to that point, the crowds here were jarring and we quickly crossed the river to slip through the quieter side streets away from the clogged main arteries.

A beer train at the railway restaurant
A beer train at Výtopna Railway Restaurant

It was already lunchtime so we made our way to the Výtopna Railway Restaurant. I’d been told about it by a friend at work who said drinks would be served on model trains that ran around the restaurant. He was right, too – the entire restaurant was encircled by tracks that brought all manner of model trains to their designated stop with a fresh order of drinks.

Carol hadn’t been enthused about the premise of the place beforehand but it was undeniably cool in reality and good fun watching for an approaching train to see if it was the one bringing your beer.

After a few rounds and a delicious meal, we reluctantly left to carry on with our day’s exploration. We had so many places to visit on our list that I couldn’t really justify going back there over the weekend but, if I find myself in Prague again, I’ll be making a return trip to Výtopna Railway Restaurant for sure.

Well-fed and slightly tipsy from the beer, we spilt outside into the emerging Easter market activity on the wide street below. It didn’t quite look like it was all in place yet but there were a good number of stalls selling traditional local delicacies, like sausage, alongside stuff like churros.

It was a couple of weeks before Easter and, looking down the hill, I could see the market was quiet enough that we could easily walk down between all the stalls. I imagined this area being bustling and vibrant at the height of the holiday weekend and I was glad we could cut through without being jostled by the crowds.

We wanted to do a vlog over the course of the holiday and it was here we chose to fire up the camcorder and record an intro. The rest of the holiday is well captured by that, so if you’re interested in seeing the result, you can watch it here on YouTube;

Travelog: Five days in Prague

After I bought a hat from what turned out to be an expensive hat shop, the rest of Friday afternoon was taken up by meandering our way back to the apartment. The sky had become overcast and the temperature had dropped a wee bit, so we took a rest stop in an almost empty restaurant for a couple of drinks before tackling the final stretch.

It already felt like it had been a long day when we got back but we planned to head out to a nearby restaurant that Matej had told us about, Locale. He said it was quieter than the one in the city and said that if we couldn’t get a table we could message him and he’d recommend alternatives.

It was a good 15-minute walk there but, upon arrival, we swiftly got a table bigger than we needed and promptly ordered beer and food. Whilst we waited on the food we switched tables with a large crowd of young men who very politely asked us in good English if we’d swap.

The tapas-style food was great, as was the beer, but our plan was to head to into the old town for Cafe 80s – another bar with an obvious theme!

With tired legs from the day, I booked us an Uber for the 10-minute ride to the bar and it cost less than £4. However, the cheap ride was offset by the fact there was a cover charge for men to get into Cafe 80s.

Me at Cafe 80's in Prague
Me at Cafe 80s in Prague

That paid, we made our way through the bar, perched on some Rubik’s Cube replica chairs at the back and surveyed the semi-authentic surroundings. Posters and other wall art were on point, with a large Back to the Future display on the wall behind us. Strangely, the music seemed to drift from the 80s into the 90s now and then, but it was still a decent effort at a 1980s theme bar, I thought.

However, after sampling a variety of the tasty cocktails we were really flagging and decided to head home rather than going downstairs to the busying club area.

Going for goulash!

The next day we got going late but our only mission was to “get goulash at some point” and visit a few more bars on our to-do list. Heading out through Letná Park on a more direct route into the old town, the weather was kind to us once again.

Carol and Rob in Mike's Restaurant
Carol and Rob in Mike’s Restaurant

We passed through another Easter market site on the way – clearly, these were going to be big tourist hot spots when the time came. Meandering through the narrowing main streets, we skirted the crowds watching street performers until we filtered down the alleyways. In the maze of those, we found a place called Mike’s Restaurant where we had a really delicious plate of goulash & dumplings.

Rob & Carol in Fat Cat
Rob & Carol in Fat Cat

A bit more wandering after that and we returned to Fat Cat to sample more of the beer we’d enjoyed on the night we arrived. Really we just wanted to take the weight off our feet and Fat Cat was tried and tested.

After leaving we re-found Giallo Rossa, an Italian bar & restaurant that I’d noted when we passed by earlier in the day. We only went in for a drink and to use the toilets but the scent of the delicious food being served up tempted us into ordering a pizza to share. It was fantastic and once we were done with it all we wanted to do was head home for a nap with the intention of heading out later.

That never came to anything as we were just too exhausted after two days walking around the city. After conceding that we weren’t going out into the city, I ventured out to visit Base Camp, a craft ale shop a few blocks away. The man serving me in there was a gent and recommended a couple of porters once I told him what I was looking for. If we’d been there for a week I’m sure I’d have made repeat visits to Base Camp!

With the intention of being fresh for a trip to the zoo in the morning, we hit the hay reasonably early. From Google Maps the zoo looked massive so we’d need our energy restored to make the most of it.

A day at the zoo and a night in the old town

Heading out in the morning we walked towards a transport hub that Matej had marked on the map. Apparently, we could get a tram there but we couldn’t really work out the instructions or timetable so I just booked us an Uber instead of messing around with trams and busses.

Upon arriving at the zoo, the line for the ticket office was already busy and it took maybe 15 minutes until we got to the desk. Carol’s student ID meant she got in even cheaper than me and it wasn’t that expensive, to begin with, considering the sheer scale and quality on offer.

An ocelot at Prague Zoo
An ocelot at Prague Zoo

I won’t bore you with the details of us traipsing around the zoo but I can confirm that it’s the best one I’ve ever visited. There were so many cool animals kept in superb environments that the hours we spent there were well filled. Plus there were flamingos toward the end which is a golden stamp of quality in my view!

Despite an exhausting day at the zoo we somehow regrouped and found the energy to head back into the old town, visiting Speijle, a unique restaurant where everything was on a stick. The food there was brilliant and I highly recommend it.

After dinner, we took a walk to Batalion, a comic book-themed bar, which we were enjoying until a rowdy stag party drove us out. From there we headed back through the old town square to see what we could find that wasn’t mobbed.

Not liking the look of any of the bars in the main tourist areas we finished up the night at Hangar – yet another theme bar. The place is modelled around the heyday of air travel with Pan-Am logos and memorabilia adorning the walls. I loved the atmosphere in here – it was really chilled and the bar staff, wearing pilots uniforms, were really attentive and friendly.

I remember noting when I went to Maastricht a couple of years before, that there were three bars I’d love to take home to Glasgow with me. For Prague, it would have to be Výtopna Railway Restaurant, Fat Cat, and Hangar – they were a cut above.

Happy Monday

Watching wrestlemania in Letna Park beer garden
Watching Wrestlemania in Letna Park beer garden

Monday ended up being a recovery day. We had walked so many miles since we arrived that sitting in the beer garden at Letna Park to watch Wrestlemania on my laptop didn’t feel like we were wasting our time in the city. It was supposed to be a holiday, after all.

Sun-kissed and merry from a day in the park, we made a quick pit stop at the apartment on the way to the local stadium to watch Sparta Prague play Zlin. The atmosphere around and inside the stadium was vibrant, but the area our tickets were in wasn’t too busy at all.

The first half was a bit scrappy with some near chances and it was good enjoying the atmosphere as a neutral. By the start of the second half we were Sparta’ fans to the core, celebrating wildly with the locals for each of the two goals scored right in front of us!

Carol and Rob at Sparta Prague
Carol and Rob at Sparta Prague

When we left the stadium we saw jam-packed trams and long lines for them as we headed back to the apartment, glad we were within walking distance.

Grabbing the laptop once again we went to a nearby noodle bar to eat and watch some more Wrestlemania. Suddenly realising that the place was in the process of closing for the night and we were keeping the staff waiting, we left and went round to a bar we’d visited on the way home from the zoo.

We had a couple of beers in there before it became obvious they were also closing and wanted us to leave, so we packed up again and walked to Locale. That was open a bit later and we finally finished up at around 1 am. Not bad going considering we’d been outside all day.

One last walk around the old town

Unsurprisingly, our last day was off to a slow start. Carol wasn’t feeling too good and the checkout time for the apartment caught up with us before we were ready to leave. Our host knocked on the door to come in and clean the place but was very understanding when I opened the door, dripping wet in a towel to confess that we were running late!

She messaged us saying it was okay for us to stay in the apartment and to leave our luggage during the day if we wanted. This extra flexibility meant we could really get out and enjoy our final afternoon in the city without having to drag our cases around with us.

Wandering back down our now familiar route to the bridge over the river, we’d once again been lucky with the weather. In the old town area, we went in search of souvenir trinkets to take home for the kids, weaving through the streets and passages like a pair of seasoned veterans now.

There was a street market on the go and while the stalls were brimming with the usual tourist tat, we wanted to avoid anything that would end up as landfill. After doing a lap of that we did a circuit of the surrounding area to see if we could happen across anything better but eventually returned to the market to pick up a couple of small items with what cash we had left.

Our final meal was at the Locale restaurant in the city, which was a delicious plate of goulash & dumplings washed down with a large stein of beer. It’s funny getting a meal in a restaurant to find the drinks bill is almost completely inconsequential to the final price. It did make a pleasant change to the eye-opening charges for drinks in restaurants back home.

After a brisk walk back to the apartment, recording a vlog outro on the way, we were packed up and ready to jump in the Uber to the airport in good time.

Leaving the apartment clean and tidy, our host would later compliment us for our efforts in her AirBnB feedback. It was the least we could do considering how kind she’d been in letting us use it for a few hours extra.

The driver took what I can only guess was the super scenic route to the airport. Beyond the football stadium, I didn’t recognise any of the trip from the one that took us to the apartment. We seemed to meander through every dense, narrow street on the way but at least the price was set and we still arrived in plenty of time for our flight.

Completely spent, we slept most of the way back and then had a bit of a scramble to make our train after accidentally getting off the tram a stop early. Arriving back home super late at night really stretched out that last day and we were glad of our beds when we got home.

Me, I dreamt of being back in Prague in that warm spring air, exploring the passages and visiting random bars for a cold refreshment. It had been a fantastic long weekend in a wonderful city and I hope to go back again someday.