About midway through our travels we were lucky enough to welcome Drew’s family to experience Eastern Europe with us and celebrate yet another birthday, Megan’s. With a completely new experience ahead of us, we arrived 2 days prior to get a feel for the Czech Republic and the city of Prague. Their arrival brought much excitement as we began a 10 day jam packed adventure, covering 3 major cities – Prague, Vienna, and Budapest. We ate a lot of sausages and sauerkraut, we drank tons of beer, and we saw beautiful architecture found nowhere else. Below are the highlights of the first leg of the Stark Euro Vacation!
Old Town (Staré Město pražské) – Dating back to the 9th century, the gorgeous old town features amazing examples of medieval architecture unlike anywhere else. Tall slender church spires pierce the sky while surrounded by severely pitched roofs and decorative facades. Winding through the narrow cobblestone streets reveals amazing sites at every turn. The Old Town Square is the epicenter of the action, bordered by some of the most famous Prague buildings.
- For only a couple of dollars, take the
elevator (or the stairs) to the top of the Old Town Hall Tower (the one with the astronomical clock – see our tips below) for the most amazing views of the city and the famous church.
Church of Our Lady before Týn – Dating back to the 14th century, the exterior of the grand church is by far the most impressive example of Gothic architecture in the city. Visits to the interior are only open a few times during the week, however not necessary as it is quite understated.
Dům U Minuty House – 90 degrees to your left, when staring at the astrological clock, this beautiful building may be one of my favorites in the city. The impressive façade is a beautiful example of the high-Renaissance architecture, covered in ornate graffito decorations. Be sure not to miss it!
Museum of Medieval Torture – Located at the entrance to the Charles bridge (from the old town side) this three-level museum was a very unique and fascinating experience. This museum showcases the various instruments used by Europe’s powers to torment heretics, “witches,” political rebels, scapegoats, gluttons, insufficiently amusing entertainers, women who talked too much, and other assorted enemies of the state. The 60+ torture devices are accompanied by medieval-style cartoons illustrating their use, as well as detailed textual explanations of their workings.
Charles Bridge – At most times of the day, this historic bridge is a total wall of tourists, so you must go early or late to try and beat the crowds. Finished in the 15th century, this is another beautiful example of gothic architecture; the old town bridge tower is often considered to be one of the most astounding civil gothic-style buildings in the world. Added in the 1700s, the bridge is now decorated by 30 statues and statuaries. By far the most scenic way to cross the river.
Prague Castle – The most prominent part of the skyline when looking west across the Vltava River, the Prague Castle complex dates back to the 9th century and is the largest ancient castle in the world. Despite guards at the front entrance, you can enter the grounds without a ticket. Once inside, spend the extra money and opt for Circuit A which grants you visitation to the gorgeous St. Vitus Cathedral, Old Royal Palace, St. George’s Basilica, Golden Lane with Daliborka Tower (old prison), Powder Tower, and Rosenberg Palace. **We opted for Circuit B and missed out on Rosenburg Palace which actually houses the apartments and other furnishings that have been stripped from the Old Royal Palace. While impressive it is now just empty rooms with explanations of the importance of the space** Don’t miss the extensive Armor Exhibit in Golden Lane, or the beautiful Prague National Gallery Entrance Hall (another of my favorite buildings due to the incredible frescos on the façade) located outside the main entrance to the castle grounds.
Lennon Wall – Tucked amongst a lovely maze of streets and canals, since the 1980s the John Lennon Wall has become a special place representing love and peace, filled with John Lennon inspired graffiti and pieces of lyrics from Beatles songs. The wall continuously undergoes change and the original portrait of Lennon is long lost under layers of new paint. Special bonus if the amazing acoustic guitarist happens to be there singing some classic Beatles songs!
Naše Maso – By far one of the most delicious meals of our trip. At this tiny little butcher shop, you walk up to the raw meat counter and order from a limited menu of house specialties. They then cook up the high-quality product in the back while you make your way to one of the 6 little butch block tables. Don’t miss the meatloaf – Perfectly seasoned mixture of meats with large “croutons” baked in. Not sweet like your grandmother’s brown sugar ketchup glazed version we all grew up with. The steak tartare is excellent. Don’t forget to order a cup of beer with your meal and refill it at the tap in the corner. An absolute cannot miss in Prague. But come early as there will likely be a line out the door and couples eyeing up your table at each bite.
Lokál – The go to place for well-priced large local beer and that German beer hall feel. There are multiple locations throughout the city, but the best one is Lokál Dlouhááá where hundreds of people gather until late at night downing liters and liters of Prague’s favorite drink. In our 5 days, we visited at least 4 times! (They also offer local food specialties, more options available during the day)
Naplavka Farmers’ Market – A fun and interesting experience, especially given the complete lack of knowledge of the Czech language. A very popular spot for locals on their Saturday mornings. Food stalls line the water’s edge with everything from beer (which they are drinking by 10am), coffee (the longest lines), all kinds of food, household goods, and local prepared dishes. Great unknown baked treats and a traditional breakfast of potato dumplings, bacon, and sauerkraut (scooped from HUGE pans with a shovel) where among our favorites we tried.
Ferdinanda – Our first taste of Czech food after a long afternoon of traveling. This local restaurant is outside of the hustle of old town but worth the trip if you are in the area. HUGE $1 Czech Beer, house made pickled sausage, headcheese, and goulash. All very tasty and incredibly well priced.
U Maltézských rytířů – An old knight’s tavern on the castle side of the Charles Bridge. Make sure to eat downstairs to get the full feeling of this historical building. Traditional Czech cuisine (like Pork knee and goulash), reasonably priced. One of Drew’s mom’s favorite places we ate in Prague.
In waiting for the family to arrive and to keep all the “must see” areas for when we were all together, a trip to the Karlin district lead us to two amazing restaurants, only frequented by locals. Karlin is a popular business district so Saturdays and Sundays are VERY quiet, and many of the shops closed. If you have an extra day and what to get away from touristy old town for a fantastic meal, Karlin is easily accessible via the Metro.
Krystal Bistro (in the Karlin district) – The sole purpose for our trip to Krystal Bistro was to try the traditional fruit dumplings (Svestkove Knedliky), found all over Prague, but here they were exceptional! A warm steamed dough filled with whole plums atop plum sauce. They are then covered with a mixture of ground poppy seeds and sugar and finally topped with crème fraiche to help cut the sweetness. Orders come in 1 or 3 pieces. So good you’ll be wanting to lick the plate. Be sure to save plenty of room!
Eska (in the Karlin district) – A sous chef from a local Michelin Star restaurant left to open this “Modern Casual Czech” spot in commercial Karlin district. An open concept kitchen with communal table downstairs, and an industrial upper floor with bar and pastry prep area. Even on a Saturday afternoon, reservations are necessary and there is a reason why. This restaurant pushed the envelope on class Czech cuisine. Gourmet coffee and tea with excellent preparations utilizing a wood fire oven. The chef went for something more obscure than my grilled endive and vegetable salad with mustard vinaigrette, ordering the smoked whole pork tongue paired with chickpeas, carrots and parsnips. We left entirely too full as everything was EXCELLENT. Highly recommended, especially for a break from that traditional Czech food.
Day trip to Český Krumlov
We chose to drive to Vienna, not only to see the countryside but to stop at Český Krumlov, a small city in the South Bohemian Region of the Czech Republic. This little town is one of the most Picturesque in all of Europe, and the most perfect place to break
up the 5 hour drive. The stunning castle sites high above the Vltava River overlooking the quaint old town below. The buildings that comprise the town look untouched since the 1400s, giving the feeling that you have stepped back in time
and are wandering through a storybook. We settled in for lunch at Krčma U dwau Maryí, one of the many riverside restaurants with the most amazing view of the castle from the outside terrace. We ordered the typical bohemian feast of chicken, ham, dumplings, potatoes and salad – tasting and a fun way to share the local specialty.
No trip to Český Krumlov would be complete without a trip to the Castle and it’s amazing grounds. Unfortunately for us, the interior didn’t open until April 1st, however the museum and tower were still enjoyable and offered the most amazing views of the town below. If you happen to be lucky enough, the entrance of the castle is “guarded” by at least one bear, who I imagine spends much of his days sleeping. A great stop over and one of the highlights of the trip for the entire family!
Our Stark Perspective (Tips):
- Despite being in the EU, the Czech Republic has their own currency – the Czech Koruna.
- There are still quite a few places that do not accept credit card, so be sure to have either Euros or Koruna on you, just in case.
- When paying in Euros, you will often receive change in Czech Koruna. The downfall of this is you will likely get a terrible conversion rate.
- Czech Banks do not charge an ATM fee, but make sure you withdraw money out of ATMS physically located at a bank.
- Do not opt for the conversion to be done by the ATM. Just withdraw the Koruna amount requested.
- In the spring, the evenings get very cold. Be sure to dress in layers.
- Don’t go out of your way to be at the astrological clock on the hour. You will be amongst a ton of people and the “show” is not that impressive. Go on the off times when you can get close to the clock and admire the intricacy.
- Spend the extra couple dollars for the whole tour of the Prague Castle. The basic four-part tour offers a very limited showing of the buildings.
- Taste of Prague Blog – A great source for weeding through Prague’s restaurants. https://www.tasteofprague.com/pragueblog/?category=Where+to+eat+in+Prague