A couple of weeks ago I decided to take advantage of a last minute deal and head out for a solo weekend to Prague, because why not?
Prague in unique among European cities for its Baroque or Bohemian architecture, which lends the city a fairytale look that distinguishes it from other mayor European tourist destinations. It looks like what I imagine Disney World would look like if it was a real place. There’s even a castle with turrets in the main Old Town square, and a tower with animatronics that chimes bells and has moving figurines every hour on the hour. It’s pretty touristy, which can be good or bad depending on your perspective, but which I personally enjoyed for a chill weekend away on my own.
Old Town Prague looks Like a fairytale brought to life
As a tourist on a short visit for the long weekend you’ll spend most of your time in the Old Town and across the river at Mala Strana. Still, it’s worthwhile to venture further afield to some of the residential neighborhoods for Prague’s green parks (often containing beer gardens where the locals wile the afternoon away, and more authentic pubs and accomplished cuisine. As you venture a bit further out you see a distinctly Eastern-European city sometimes looking nostalgically at a Communist past. For example, many of the pubs are done up in Soviet-era décor.
One of the pleasures of a long weekend in Prague, and one of the ways I recommend you spend your weekend there, is meandering through the streets, stopping by whichever shop, or sight, or restaurant catches your eye. Make yourself a basic neighborhood itinerary or use the handy dandy google map I’ve included in Travel + tips, set out some places you’d like to visit, and set off to walk around and get lost. It’s a wonderful and relaxing feeling, and one of the best ways to explore a new city, and especially Prague.
There's swans in Prague. Lots and lots of swans, real and fake.
Prague really was the perfect choice for a weekend of solo travel. It’s compact in terms of what the main tourist attractions are, and it’s got a ton of walking and exploring to do. Best of all, the city meanders. I specifically remember the first afternoon I was there walking across a busy and touristy section near the Old Town and wondering into a garden promenade tucked into a corner, which I followed until turning another corner into an Eastern European-looking shopping arcade, and oh I have a soft spot for arcades. Inside the arcade was an old-timey movie theater with red velvet curtains I curiously drew to find a woman at the foot of some stairs working furiously at a desk, surrounded by movie posters. It was like one of those photographs inside which is another photograph, inside of which is another photograph, and so on, or like a babushka containing yet small and smaller babushkas you discover as you unpeel, uncork, or unwrap. Prague is like that: layers upon layers of discoveries.
Along the way, I encountered some of the many sides of Prague, a few, like the side that caters to bachelor parties, better left to rowdier pursuits.
Prague is a literary city, for one. Milas Kundera and Nietsche are two famous Czech writers. I passed bookstore after bookstore. Go in to check out antiquarian treasures and newer tomes. There’s even a couple of famous English-language bookstore for the many expats that call Prague home. It’s also a city for movie fans, filled with movie theaters showing homegrown Czech films from the country's active film industry. There’s a film studio you can visit where major some Hollywood films are developed.
There's shopping Prague: specialties are herbal bath products, crystal, pencils, marionettes and blue and white ceramics. Czech design feels a bit avant garde, with geometrical shapes and a punk aesthetic, as well as hipster camera and sneaker shops.
Sneaker shopping and books glorious books.
There’s beer Prague, where the beer is cheap and good and plentiful. The city definitely takes its drinking in general seriously and it seemed pretty acceptable to drink morning, noon and night. So when in Prague I did as the Czech do, although even I could not indulge in the 9:00 AM sparkling wine offered as part of the free breakfast at my hotel. Still, have yourself a beer for lunch while sampling traditional Czech food, and take a beer tour to get a taste for beer and some traditional Czech pub food from the country whose menus have a dedicated section labeled “Beer Food.”
Czech cuisine is pretty meat-heavy, and as I am a semi-vegetarian I was worried I'd have to forego trying the country's specialties, but I found plenty of vegan restaurants, including one serving a vegan version of the traditional Czech bread dumpling with stew. I also got to have one of my all-time favorite pasta dishes and one of my all-time favorite old school salads: spaetzle and Waldorf salad. During the beer tour aside from beer I tried "beer cheese," a most interesting and popular bar snack consisting of cheese and peppers preserved in what tasted and felt like canola oil. It has a strong flavor and an even stronger effect on the stomach, and is best eaten alongside the delicious beer.
Then there’s the seedy, darker side to Prague. I saw it in the billboards for shows with “model type beauties.” It’s in the groups of drunk Britons that make Prague "stag party" AKA bachelor party central. They roam in large packs, drunk and loud, dressing up in matching Game Over t-shirts and peacocking, making me wonder how many of these stag parties also partake in sex tourism. I tried to block out that side, but it’s an unavoidable part of summer in Prague, which has started trying to cut down on some of the heaviest partying. (I even saw signs on several bars that specifically said no stag parties.) It is fun though to see the the "stageres" in the vintage 1930’s style convertibles you can rent, retrofitted so passengers can face each other in the back, howling at the moon, drunk on Czech beer. You can take a ride on one of those cars even if you’re not on a stag trip, and though they look pretty touristy, they also look fun.
As for where I stayed, Hotel Hastal maintains an old school hotel vibe, from the genuine old-timey keys to the traditional decoration. Every night on returning a complimentary glass of red wine awaited me. My room had a calming red and teal theme, and skylights which lent it a quaint vibe, and had automatic blinds that I could close to shut out the light and sleep well at night and well into the morning.
So here’s to Prague! Lose yourself, drink some beer, drink some more beer, shop, and sample pickled cheese. Your tastebuds will thank me, even if your kidneys will not.