While we lived in Prague for over five years, we were simultaneously awed by its beauty and frustrated by the rapacious tourism development that had swamped its old town. Recently, I've heard from travelers disappointed by their visits to Prague because of the city's tourist schlock and crowds.
Yes, there's a fair heap of that. But, there are also ways to avoid it and much more to see and experience in Prague without crowds. That's what this insider's guide is all about with tourist traps to avoid, best things to do, favorite Czech beers and pubs and where to eat in Prague.
Many moons ago, during our first month living in Prague, I remember exiting Charles University after a Czech language class and looking up at a night-lit Prague Castle and thinking, “My God, do I actually live here?”
It didn't seem real.
Even after five years of living in Prague, I could still turn a corner, catch the right light and get that feeling. Prague is a Bucket List and “Top 10 Romantic Cities” favorite — for good reason. But frankly, there's also a lot of touristy crap that can leave a casual visitor tourist-worn.
During my last visit to Prague, I played tourist for a day and forced myself to walk through through its main tourist artery — from the Prague Castle, over the Charles Bridge, down Karlova Street, through Old Town, up to the top of Wenceslas Square. Maybe it had improved since we lived there?
But all is not lost. Here are some ideas on how to minimize the tourist schlock, what to do to replace it with, local neighborhoods to explore and where to eat in Prague at the end of the day.
Note: This post was originally published in May 2011 and was updated on June 4, 2019.
What to Avoid in Prague: Tourist Schlock
1. Karlova Street
In tourist hell, right next door to San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf and Bangkok's Khao San Road is Prague's souvenir-engorged Karlova Street. If you only retain one piece of information from this post, it should be this: avoid this street like the plague.
Don't ask why, don't be tempted. Just avoid it. Your visit will be all the better for it.
Alternative: “But how am I going to get from Charles Bridge to Old Town Square?” you might ask. Easy.
When you come off the Charles Bridge (on the opposite side of the river from Prague Castle), cut through the Klementinum (look for the doorway across the street to the left of Karlova street) and enjoy a peaceful stroll through a 14th century courtyard.
2. Concerts — or anything for that matter – sold by people in period costumes
If classical music's greatest hits served up in machine-gun style is your thing, by all means head right for the guys in period outfits. If, however, you have a taste for a full symphony and the real, high-quality, accessible classical music Prague is known for, go elsewhere.
Alternative: See #2 below for where to find high quality shows and buy concert tickets.
3. Wenceslas Square at Night
Where protesters once stood up to Soviet tanks during Prague Spring in 1968, hawkers now stand up for your opportunity to patronize their strip clubs. After dark, Wenceslas Square becomes a central place for strip club touts, prostitutes, their pimps and all manner of the shady and unpleasant. Although it's not unsafe per se, it's best avoided.
Alternative: After dark, walk any of the streets parallel to Wenceslas Square or take the metro to avoid the area altogether.
4. Astronomical Clock Show on the Hour
I know I'm going to get crap for this one. Don't get me wrong, the medieval astronomical clock on the side of Old Town City Hall is beautiful and worth a look.
But really, don’t worry about fighting with the tourist hordes that gather on the hour to see the “show.” The hourly spectacle features some figures moving around, a rooster call (my personal favorite) and a dancing skeleton (Dan's personal favorite). However, it’s really not worth the elbowing and unpleasant crowds you have to deal with to watch it.
Alternative: Have the clock to yourself to admire at any time outside the top-of-the-hour. If you find yourself tiring of the crowds on Old Town Square, pop up to the rooftop terrace at U Prince hotel, order a cocktail, and enjoy the view from above. It's particularly nice at sunset.
5. Prague's Scams and Overcharging at Tourist Restaurants
Unfortunately, some touristy restaurants and taxis still hold a narrowly opportunistic view of tourism and tourists (i.e., they scam anyone who looks like fresh meat).
What to do: Don't let these places get away with it: be vigilant, mind your bill, count your change, and question or complain if you are being cheated. If you don't, you'll be doing yourself — and all other tourists who follow in your footsteps — a disservice.
If your restaurant bill arrives with extra service charges or “taxes” that are not specifically called out on the menu, refuse to pay them.
If you need a taxi, have the hotel or restaurant call a trusted taxi company in advance. I would never pick up a taxi outside the front door of the train station or hotel (these are usually reserved for suckers). If you pick up a taxi on the street, use a company like AAA or ProfiTaxi. Finally, if you've been grossly overcharged, pay what you believe is fair and walk away. We've done it.
Non-Touristy Things to Do in Prague: The Good Stuff
With the unpleasant stuff out of the way, let's focus on what to do and visit besides what we call the “Prague tourist triad:” Prague Castle, Charles Bridge, Old Town Square). The aim: to give you a feel for a living city whose history goes long beyond just a few pretty buildings. And, to help you avoid some of the tourist crowds in Prague.
You might be thinking as you read, “But that's outside the city center.” In some cases, our recommendations are outside of the Old Town City center, but they are not so far. Within a few minutes, you are only a tram, metro or a few footsteps away.
1) Vyšehrad: An Alternative Castle
Just down the Vlatava River from Prague Castle is the lesser-known 10th century castle of Vyšehrad. In addition to offering great views of the Vltava River and the city, Vyšehrad features grassy grounds stocked full of locals having picnics with family and friends.
The cemetery at Vyšehrad is also home to many of Czech greats of art and music, including Alphonse Mucha and Antonín Dvořák. The Peter and Paul church is also worth a look – neo-gothic on the outside, but Mucha-inspired art nouveau murals on the inside.
2. Classical Music Concerts and Operas
Prague's music scene is one of the things that kept us there so long. Even if you're not a huge classical music aficionado, it's still worth trying to see a concert just to experience the venue.
Go directly to ticket offices or a venue's box office for real performances. Basically, if the concert is associated with a national ensemble, you’re more likely to see a high quality concert at a lower price.
If your visit coincides with Prague Spring, try to book tickets in advance or, for last minute tickets, visit the Rudolfinum box office. Prague Spring often features top performers, conductors and orchestras from around the world.
I cannot begin to count the $1000s of dollars we would have spent on all the performances we took in had we seen the performers on their home turf. Prices continue to go up, but are still reasonable compared with Western Europe and the United States.
Suggested concert venues: Rudolfinum (our favorite venue and home of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra), National Theatre, State Opera. These concert halls not only have wonderful acoustics, but they also are just beautiful concert halls.
In addition, Prague's art and museum scene is constantly changing and evolving. Many of the galleries and events are located in interesting neighborhoods and buildings. You can check out the list of upcoming events, festivals and exhibitions here. To provide you with more flexibility and discounts if you want to visit several museums at once, consider getting the Prague City Card (2-4 days). It also includes a free river boat cruise, which is a nice way to get an overview of the city on both sides of the Vlatava River.
3. Exploring Prague's Neighborhoods
Although Prague’s Old Town (Staré Město) and Lesser Town (Malá Strana) often steal the Prague tourist show (and for good reason) with their medieval architecture, it's worth it to spend time poking around some of the surrounding neighborhoods. The Art Nouveau architectural stock in Prague's residential neighborhoods is impressive.
Walk, look up and soak it up. Architectural period melange, details, mosaics, statues, paintings, are all standard fare. Not to mention, this is the way you'll really begin to understand what modern-day living in Prague is all about.
Suggested neighborhoods to explore and to stay in: Vinohrady, Vršovice (our old neighborhood), Žižkov, and Holesovice. (Note: If you choose to rent an apartment in one of these neighborhoods in Prague, you can use this Airbnb discount link to save $25 on your first booking)
4. Prague Beer gardens
When the weather is warm (or at least un-cold and bearable), Prague’s beer gardens are the place to while away an afternoon, evening, or possibly even both. Beer gardens are casual affairs with long, simple picnic tables, a food stand or two serving greasy sausages, and — most importantly — an endless supply of freshly pulled Czech beer.
Relax with locals of all ages, from the stodgy business guy in a suit to grandpa with his dog to the young punk kids.
Recommended Prague beer gardens:
5. Glass of Wine at Grebovka Vineyard
There's actually a small vineyard within Prague’s city limits. And, there just happens to be a little café (called Altan) with a great gazebo sitting right above it.
These are the makings of a perfect spot to enjoy a glass of wine and a cheese plate. For quality, we actually suggest trying the Austrian wine over the local Grebovka wine.
Address: Grebovka park is in Prague 10. Closest tram stop is Krymska on 22, 16, or 4 tram lines. Finding your way here through the windy residential streets is part of the fun; this is not a touristy area at all. Go past the Grobovka Pavillion to get to Altan Cafe.
Where to Eat in Prague: Recommended Restaurants and Cafés
1. Grosseto Marina
This is the place you come for a view of the Prague castle, Vltava river and Malá strana – it would be hard to find a better one in the city. The food here is basic Italian pizzas and pasta, but the view from and the atmosphere in this boat-restaurant make it all a perfectly good value.
Update: We have received a couple of emails and comments that the service at Grosseto Marina has gone down hill since our last visit and our readers have had bad experiences at the restaurant. Therefore, we can no longer recommend this place.
Address: Alšovo nábřeží in Old Town. Our suggestion is to call ahead to reserve a table on the deck or by a window so you can enjoy the view (+420 605 454 020).
This little Italian restaurant combines high quality Italian food (the chef once lived in Tuscany) with a friendly ambience in the great local neighborhood of Vršovice. We know because we used to live around the corner. The menu changes regularly and features daily and weekly specials. Prices are reasonable.
Address: Mexicka 7, Vrsovice (Prague 10), tel: +420 271726548
It might sound odd to come to Prague and eat at an Indian restaurant, but the food here is exceptional. The lunch menus are authentic and flavorful. The menu also features some unusual dishes like idly, vada and chaats.
Address: Keramická 3, 170 00 Praha 7 or J. Masaryka 326/36, 120 00 Prague 2-Vinohrady
Update July 2016: This was one of our favorite restaurants for continental and fusion dishes. However, it has changed focus and is now a burger and BBQ restaurant. We still hear the quality of the food is good so we've left it on the list for now.
Address: Nitranska 13, Prague 3 (right near Jiriho z Podebrad Metro and square)
5. Home Kitchen
Cozy, homey, good vibe restaurant for when your belly and spirit feel like a hug. Although it isn’t vegetarian, their small kitchen probably serves more vegetables on any given day than traditional Czech restaurants serve all week. You can count on great soups, salads and entrees at reasonable prices. The downside: because it is small, service is friendly and the food is delicious, reservations are
a must, particularly at lunch. (Note: Home Kitchen now has several locations around town so check these out as well.)
Address: Jungmannova 734/8, Prague 1.
6. Café Savoy
A beautiful Art Nouveau cafe that dates back to 1893 not far from the river and Kampa Park. This beautifully renovated restaurant will make you feel like you've gone back. Café Savoy was a favorite of ours for long breakfasts with friends, but their lunches are also quite good with hearty soups and central European fare (e.g., roasts, schnitzels, etc.). Not to mention that their cakes and sweets are also rather tempting. Just a beautiful place to spend a few hours.
Address: Vítězná 5, Prague 5, Malá Strana
For more Prague restaurant recommendations, check out: Eating Ethnic in Prague
Czech Food and Recommended Pubs in Prague
You're probably asking by now: “That's all great, but what about Czech food?”
There is definitely no shortage of hospodas (pubs) serving Czech fare throughout the city with varying levels of quality and grease content.
If you want a Czech restaurant or pub with a little better meat quality and less grease, give one of the following places a try. In addition to good Czech food, they usually serve tank beer (often, unpasteurized), making the Czech beer drinking experience all the more enjoyable.
One of the newer additions to the Ambiante Restaurant empire. This place serves up quality and hearty Czech food at reasonable prices. Be sure to check out their constantly changing daily menu. In addition, they have tank beer, meaning that it will be harder to get fresher beer in town. So good. Address: Dlouhá 33, Prague 1.
Just a block away from popular Wenceslas Square, but with a different feel from the high-traffic tourist areas. Try to go during lunch as there are inexpensive lunch menus and you’ll be enjoying your meal with locals on their lunch break from nearby office buildings. Address: Politických vězňů 13 (parallel street to Wenceslas Square), Prague 1
This restaurant is right at the Staropramen brewery, so you know the beer is fresh. Hearty food, too. Address: Nadrazni 84, Prague 5 (Smichov)
Nice Czech pub serving both Czech and continental specialties. The changing daily lunch menu (11:00-3:00) offers hearty traditional Czech fare at reasonably prices. Address: Vítězná 7, Praha 1 (Ujezd)
Favorite Czech Beers and Prague Bars
If you are a beer drinker then you will be in heaven in Prague. Czech beer is that good. Even the big national brands like Pilsner Urquell, Budějovický Budvar and Gambrinus are really good, especially when you can find them pulled fresh from a tank. However, there are also lots of smaller label beers that are worth seeking out like Bernard, Svijany, and Krušovice.
And, every region of the Czech Republic seems to have its own small breweries and specialties. These micro-brews are becoming easier to find in Prague. Not to mention, the craft beer scene has exploded in the last few years so it's worth experimenting.
Below are some of our favorite Prague bars with a wide variety of Czech beers and craft brews on tap. Some of the places below also serve snacks and food, but beer is the main show.
It's not really not a museum, but it does serve close to 30 different beers on tap from small to medium breweries across Czech Republic. This is the place to learn about Czech beer the old fashion way — by drinking it. The owner is meticulous about buying only small kegs, keeping the keg lines clean and changing the beer menu every three months. Just be careful and pace yourself — mixing heavy beers can have a devastating effect the next day.
Address: The original Prague Beer Museum on Dlouha street is now closed. But, the Prague Beer Museum pub has opened up at Náměstí Míru (Americká 341/43, Prague 2) that is bigger and has a full menu. In addition, there's a second location at Smetanovo Nabrezi 22 in Prague 1 (Staré Město). So you can have your fill of hearty Czech food to go with all those great beers.
In addition to a good selection of beers on tap, this place offers a minimum of 240 beers (Czech and international) in bottles on the menu. Ask the waiter for advice if you get paralyzed on what to order. This place also has good and reasonably priced Czech food, too. Address: Krizikova 17, Praha 8 – Karlin
This isn't so much a pub as it is a mill that has been turned into a café near Kampa Park. It's quite close to the touristy areas, but is a local place that serves wonderful unfiltered Bernard beer. Address: Všehrdova 449, Prague 1
One of the recent additions to the Czech craft brewpub scene with an impressive list of craft beers on tap. A bit outside the center in Prague 4, but worth the effort. Address: Čestmírova 5, Prague 4
Fresh Markets in Prague
Fresh markets are always one of the first things we seek out when we visit a new city. They are a relatively new thing in Prague, but their popularity is growing, as is their selection of local food specialities. They are fun to visit just to get a better feel for Czech food, and also to interact with locals. Most also have street food and wine/beer stands so you can also time your visit to eat a meal there or pick up snacks for a picnic.
Here is a good overview of Prague's main farmers markets.
If you can only visit one market, this should be the one. The location is right on the Vltava River so you have a view of both the Prague Castle across the river plus Vyšehrad Castle up above. On sunny days you’ll find lots of people out enjoying themselves in boats on the water and stocking up on fresh, local food for the week. Plus, there's live music every Saturday as well.
Schedule: Saturdays, 8:00-14:00 with live music from 11:00-13:00
Address: On the river bank just near Palackého bridge and square.
This fresh market right on the popular Jiřího z Poděbrad square (in front of the funky church) is a great excuse to spend time exploring the back streets of Vinohrady. This small market has its share of fruit and vegetable stands, but also cakes, coffees and handicrafts. It also features live music.
Schedule: Wednesday – Friday, 8:00-18:00, Saturdays 8-14:00
Address: Jiřího z Poděbrad Square (take the metro to the stop with the same
name), Prague 2 (Vinohrady)
Recommended Prague Tours and Activities
You can see all their Prague tours here and read customer reviews. Here are few select recommended Prague river, food and other tours.
Context Travel offers a series of walking tours in Prague with a strong focus on history, culture and architecture. While we haven't taken a Context walking tour in Prague, we have taken several in Berlin and were very impressed by the expertise of the tour leader and learned a ton about a neighborhood that we thought we already knew well. Use this discount link to get 10% off your Prague walking tour with Context.
Where to Stay in Prague: Recommended Neighborhoods
Although booking accommodation in Prague's Old Towns — Staroměstská or Malá Strana — will put you in the middle of the city's main sites, we actually prefer staying in one of the nearby neighborhoods. They provide a more local feel with more non-touristy pubs, cafes, restaurants and shops. Recommended Prague neighborhoods to stay in include: Vinohrady, Vršovice, Holešovice, Žižkov, or Dejvice.
Special Booking.com Discount for our Readers
We use the Booking.com often when we travel to easily look for available accommodation within a neighborhood or area where we want to stay. It also is good for last-minute discounts. So, we're excited to be able to offer our readers a special Booking.com discount so you can save money on your hotel booking in Prague. Just use this link to get $30 off your next booking of $50 or more on Booking.com.
Airbnb in Prague
Finding your own apartment in one of the recommended neighborhoods above is a great option if you are planning to stay in Prague for more than three or four days. If you're new to Airbnb, sign up using this discount code to get $25 off your first stay.
Recommended Prague Guide Books
Prague: Artel Style – If you're looking for a quirky and personal guidebook for Prague, check out this beautifully written and designed book by Karen Feldman. In full disclosure, Karen is one of our friends. Regardless, her book is nothing short of a work of art, collector's item. She knows the city very well as she's lived there for over a decade. It's hard to beat her eye for design, quirk and the finer pleasures that Prague has to offer.
Time Out Prague: We used to give this to our visitors when we lived in Prague to help them explore the city while we were at work. We've enjoyed using Time Out Guides in other cities in Europe, and their Prague guidebook is no exception for good advice on neighborhoods, cafes, restaurants and hotels.
Update: You can now buy our Prague: A Beginner's Guide with all the information from this site plus lots of extra details, restaurant and Czech beer recommendations, practical tips, and other goodies in an easy ebook that you can download and take with you.
Our Prague Recommendations in a Podcast
If you're still curious about what else we recommend to see, do and eat in Prague, listen to this podcast interview on Prague we did with Chris Christensen of Amateur Traveler.
Practical Prague Travel Tips
1. What to Take With You
If you forget anything at home, you can probably find a replacement for it in Prague. Shopping possibilities are endless. For those coming from North America, be sure that your electronics can take 110-220 volts so that you don't blow out your gear.
Much of Prague is covered in cobblestones and stone sidewalks, so beware of high or thin heels that can get easily stuck between the stones. You'll be doing lots of walking so invest in comfortable shoes.
2. How to Get Around Prague
Public transportation in Prague is truly wonderful. If you're going to be in Prague for several days consider buying the 3-day pass for unlimited travel for 310 CZK. Otherwise, you can purchase individual tickets for either 32 CZK (90 min) or 24 CZK (30 min). Be sure to validate your ticket before starting your journey. You can plan your journey by public transport here.
If you do need a taxi, be wary of picking one up off the street, especially near train stations or other highly touristy areas. Have the hotel or restaurant call one in advance for you. We recommend AAA Taxi or ProfiTaxi. Or, call an Uber.
Consider booking a Prague airport shuttle so that you have someone waiting for you when you arrive and don't need to deal with any taxi games.
3. Money and Tipping
ATM machines are everywhere in Prague and almost all of them take international bank cards. We recommend using these to take out local money instead of using currency exchange places. If you must exchange money, avoid using the currency exchange places along Wenceslas Square or Old Town as they are known to charge high commission fees or exchange rates. Some have multiple exchange rates depending upon how much you want to exchange. If you do need to use one, ask in advance how much in Czech crowns you would receive for your dollars or Euros. Don't be afraid to walk away if the rates are atrocious.
Credit cards are accepted in most restaurants and shops. Euros are also often accepted in many stores these days as well.
Tipping is usually around 10%, rounded up to the next whole figure. When in touristy restaurants be sure to check your bill for strange service charges and count your change carefully.
4. Safety and Security
For the most part Prague is a safe city, but like everywhere in the world it's important to stay aware of your surroundings and your stuff. Be careful when walking around at night in dark streets and areas around Wenceslas Square. When in bars, cafes or restaurants keep an eye on your bags and stuff, especially in more touristy or popular areas. Stay alert when on public transport in touristy areas as groups of pickpockets have been known to work together on trams or metro cars.