It felt like I’d been time-travelling. Seeing Middle Age Europe right in front of my eyes left me no other way to describe it. Red roofs, towers soaring high up in the sky, and dark grey stone roads. Everything appeared ageless showing the journey through time, with not one thing carelessly damaged, everything shined like it had been preciously polished over the years.
After absorbing the scenery, my eyes laid upon the people. I could feel with every fibre of my body that I was in the Bohemian city of Prague: the people, fashioning a free style, distinctive from that of the tourists; artistic performances on every street corner; and the street vendors greeting customers in their stalls.
The word “Bohemian”, which originated in the Czech Republic, was the very reason why I decided to travel to Prague. Now ‘Bohemian’ has become a kind of concept encompassing that style, moving away from just a label for artists who were living a free lifestyle, or gypsies who were not constrained by social barriers. For a person who dreams to be a fashion designer, Prague, where values of freedom, wandering, youth, and art are fused together, is a city for inspiration. I could see Prague’s true nature at Wenceslas Square in front of Cental Station (Praha Hlavni Nadrazi); and across Charles Bridge the old town, and the new town, the Lesser Town(Mala Strana), and the castle were all charming, fun places to seek out Prague’s new face. One place I can never forget, where I felt the true Bohemian spirit, was the ‘John Lennon Wall’. Standing in front of the wall were people joined in remembrance, to sing of peace. The Sound of the musician’s guitar played beautifully as they shared memories of that time. “Free”, was my immediate thought looking at this scene.
Wenceslas Square – 7 minutes’ walk – Havel’s Market – 3 minutes’ walk – Prague Old Town City Hall – 15 minutes’ walk – John Lennon Wall – 20 minutes’ walk – Castle Prague – 20 minutes walk – Petrin Park Observatory – 4 minutes walk – Golden Lane – 17 minutes’ walk – Charles Bridge
Wenceslas Square is the first place you come across when getting off at the main railway station in Prague (Praha Hlavni Nadrazi). Like a massive, long endless street corner, this place is the main street in Prague, and the spot where you can really feel a sense of Czech Republic’s recent history of craving freedom.
This is where two students, Jan Palach and Jan Zajic, outraged by the former Soviet Union’s attempts to put down the freedom resistance, ‘Prague Spring’, in 1968, committed suicide by self-immolation at the square. This place is also where the citizens celebrated their freedom after driving out communist forces through the ‘Velvet Revolution’ in 1989. This spirit of freedom-seeking continues even today, with Wenceslas Square being a place for big and small democratic protests in Prague. This square has witnessed all the happy and sad events. This makes the square a place that holds all the important moments in the Czech Republic’s fight for freedom and its victory.
Though Wenceslas Square is a symbol of Prague’s freedom, we should not overlook the fact that it also plays an important role as the city’s main hub of activity. If you walk along the street adjacent to the square heading towards new town, you can see not only a department store, but also big and small clothing stores, souvenir shops, currency exchange offices, and many others. Since the prices are lower than other areas in Europe, you can experience the pleasures of guilt-free shopping. Among the European styles in the shopping mall, there were so many clothes radiating the distinctive Czech Bohemian freedom and spirit that really caught my eye. After looking around some shops I chose a dress with a unique pattern, and wore it out, slipping straight into the Bohemian feeling.
Located on a street corner on the way from Wenceslas Square to old town, Havel’s Market is a ‘hot spot’ loved by the locals. There are usually fruit and vegetable markets on the weekends, which are always crowded with the citizens of Prague, as they can get good quality cheaply-priced products. Let’s get amongst the people and pretend we are locals checking out the markets, so we can experience firsthand the lively, free atmosphere of Prague. This means we can also personally experience the way Prague people live. A must-eat at the market is Trdelnik, a traditional bread of the Czech Republic. Also called ‘chimney bread’, it is spread with cinnamon or chocolate, and you will never forget the taste if you eat it warm after it is freshly baked. Another dimension of the weekend Havel’s Market that differs to the weekdays is its transformation into a marketplace selling a variety of reasonable souvenirs for those visiting Prague. This is the time when people can buy vintage marionette dolls or Bohemian glasses that showcase the Czech Republic’s unique Bohemian culture, and these are easily two of the greatest souvenirs you can take back from Prague. But the price is set when buying souvenirs, so you need to bargain carefully.
Prague Old Town City Hall
Not far away from Havel’s Market are the old streets which have preserved the age-old appearance of Prague. The bronze statue of Jan Hus, who led Bohemia’s religious revolution, stands in the middle surrounded by Prague’s impressive old buildings, such as the churches and the old city hall. The buildings near the square exhibit a wide range of classic architecture (gothic, renaissance, and baroque and so on) and at night all light up to create a beautiful night’s skyline. The old city hall, with both gothic and renaissance styles of architecture, was built in 1338. Many visitors gather to see the Prague Astronomical Clock on the wall of the building. At exactly 5 minutes before the hour, the clock chiming display begins with ornamental dolls moving around the astronomical clock. It is completely amazing as it is said to be the oldest astronomical clock in operation – made in the 15th century! Then a skeleton doll pulls a string, activating the 12 Apostles figurines to come out a door rotating in procession. The display ends with a rooster crowing and then a bell ringing, telling that it is the hour. There are two clocks, one placed above the other, and the upper one, which describes the movement of celestial bodies, is called Planetarium and the lower one, which shows Bohemian agricultural life at that time, is called Calendarium. There is an observatory at the top of the old City Hall tower where you can appreciate a beautiful view of the old town.
There are many cafés and pubs with terraces on the ground floor around the City Hall area of Old Town. Anywhere you choose, you can enjoy cheap, delicious food and that tasty beer that the Czechs are so proud of. Sit at one of these terraces, enjoy the fairytale-like view of Prague for free, and get totally inebriated in the romance of it all!
Bohemian Travel Tip. Beer in Prague.
The Czech Republic is a country that prides itself on making beer as good as that in Germany or the United Kingdom. On top of that, beer is cheaper than water! So, let me introduce the three best beers that you should not miss during your trip in Prague. And I will also let you know which foods are good to eat with beer.
1. The Pioneer of Lager Beer – Pilsner Urquell, Czech Republic
Lager beer, which accounts for 90% of all beer around the world, started in Pilsner, in the Czech Republic. One of the best beers with a clear and cool taste, Pilsner Urquell is a beer which draws out Czech pride because it uses only the finest basic ingredients: malt(wheat), water, and hop. Although there are many beers containing ‘Pilsner’ in their name, this is the only beer that has ‘Urquell’, meaning original, in its name. It a must-drink beer during your stay in Prague.
2. Soft Stout, Kozel Dark.
Kozel Dark is a dark beer with a bitter taste and a slightly soapy flavour. Because of this, it is a beer that people either love or hate. If you tried Czech’s Kozel Dark, however, it would change all your preconceived notions on dark beer altogether. Kozel Dark is a soft, sweet stout with scents of chocolate, caramel, and coffee, and it has comparatively low alcohol – 3.8%. So, women too can drink Kozel Dark without feeling overwhelmed. Their secret is in using dark malt of Bohemia!
3. The Beer Koreans Love – Velvet Beer.
If you search on the internet for Prague’s beer, there is a one that is searched for as often as the two beers above: ‘Velvet Beer’, which boasts the ultimate soft flavor. This beer, which is especially popular among Koreans, has become famous ever since a local restaurant in Prague (U MALEHO GLENA) started selling it. It goes well with meals due to its abundant foam and the easy swallowing.
Czech-style Pig’s Trotter – Koleno
To be precise, it is a dish using the pork around the knee. It is cooked by barbequing pork marinated in beer. It tastes similar to Korean Pig’s Trotter, but the crust is crisper.
Eastern Europe’s Iconic Dish – Goulash
You could call it a thick beef stew. This food can be found not only in the Czech Republic but in surrounding countries like Hungary as well. People eat bread with the boiling soup. The taste is similar to Korean Braised Short Ribs.
The John Lennon Wall
If you cross the Charles Bridge, beside Old Town, the village that comes into view is Lesser town (Mala Strana). Let’s keep Charles bridge for the end of our Prague travels, and go down towards the left across the bridge. There is a small village named Kampa Island, and ‘John Lennon Wall’ is located right here, where the modern Bohemian spirit thrives. People began to graffiti this wall in 1980, when The Beatles’ John Lennon sang for peace, and ‘The Wall of Peace’ is now a symbol of the world’s longing for peace and wellbeing. On this wall are the remnants of Beatles’ song lyrics, expressing criticism of the government, peace symbols and a variety of dressed-up images. And even today, the wall is constantly changing at the hands of young minds and artists. Although this place is not dazzling, various artists’ works remain to tell tales of freedom, peace and the Bohemian spirit. If you happen to see the John Lennon Wall, I hope you leave a drawing or word or two. That would add yet another piece of artwork and make Bohemian Prague shine all the more. There is a pub to remember Lennon and a bridge where you can leave your memory by fastening a lock near John Lennon Wall, so let’s stay longer, reliving his memories.
Petrin Park Observatory
There aren’t many places where you can view Prague from a high up above. If you want to see the only full view of Prague, go up to the observatory in Petrin Park, located in Lesser Town. If you are able to see the hill behind Strahov Monastery, then that’s the very place. You can get to the top of the tower, which looks kind of like the Eiffel Tower, on a cable car, and then you can see the whole town of Prague. The view of Prague from the observatory deck is amazingly beautiful, both during day and night. The red roofs of Prague during day showcase the Czech Republics’ unique culture, and Prague at night, is too romantic for words. Taking in the beautiful view and enjoying the breeze, the mind blowing experience makes you shout out – I love you, Prague!
Castle Prague & Golden Lane
If you go up from Lesser town (Mala Strana), you come face to face with the beautiful Prague castle on the top of Vltava hill near the river. It is a palace of the Bohemian royal family, and it evokes a unique atmosphere because each building had a different construction period, producing a mixed architectural style. Thus the castle clearly exemplifies the spirit of a free and mysterious Prague, and further evoking curiosity, is that only some of the areas are open to the public. Tourists can only visit St. Vitus Cathedral, St. George’s Basilica (Church), the monastery, the former palace, and the Golden Lane.
The castle area is a highly popular tour location in Prague because this is one of the places where people can vividly experience Prague’s past. The fancy Prague Castle itself is beautiful, but the Golden Lane, a narrow passage that appears after passing through the castle’s entrance, captivates the minds of many travellers. Originally, the Golden Lane was built as barracks for the soldiers who kept watch over Prague Castle, but in the late 16th century, alchemists and gold and silver craftsmen lived there, thus it was renamed as ‘the Golden Lane’. It is a street that preserves the old buildings of medieval Prague. In fact, this is the place where the oldest house in Prague is located. Many colorful small houses are lined up, reminding one of Burano Island in Venice; you could say it is a hidden photo zone in Prague. Wear Bohemian hippy style clothes and take a picture in front of the Golden Lane. It would be a magnificent Bohemian photo.
Let’s finish off by talking about Charles Bridge that we skipped over earlier. If you are someone who has visited Prague before, then you would know that Charles Bridge, which is the oldest bridge in Czech and one of the most beautiful bridges in the whole of Europe, is like a symbol of Prague. The bridge, constructed from the late 17th century to the early 20th century, has 30 statues along its length! The most famous among the statues is the one in the middle, the statue of Saint Nepomuk as it is said that if you touch one of the five stars on the statue, you will get good luck, so the vicinity of the statue is always crowded with travellers.
Charles Bridge, connecting Old Town on the right bank of the Vltava River, with Prague Castle, built towering on the hill of the left bank, can be crossed anytime of day or night, and on the top of the bridge there are always musicians, artists drawing portraits, marionette plays, and various other things worth watching, so it is a fine opportunity to enjoy the true Bohemian soul of Prague – the living symbol of freedom and romance.
Charles bridge also provides the best of views. The view of the entrance to Old Town is, of course, stunning, however I would have to recommend the nighttime view of Prague Castle from the middle of the bridge as one of the best views in Prague. It is that beautiful that I would go far enough to say that if all tourists saw this view they will be dreaming romantic notions of Prague and have their hearts set on visiting. Also, on the other side of Charles Bridge, the old city has heaps of fabulous restaurants with views of Prague Castle and the river, so enjoying dinner and the nighttime views at this spot is one of the ways to enjoy Prague’s romance a hundred fold.
Hotel U Medvidků
This is a restaurant where you can enjoy traditional Czech food, Col Legno, and beer at a relatively cheap price.
U Medvidku’s most noteworthy characteristic is that it runs both a hotel and a beer brewery. The special menu item, beer ice cream, with ice-cream dolloped into a beer, is an exotic treat.
Kampa Park Restaurant
This is a world-class, Western food restaurant and it is especially famous because many celebrities, like Hilary Clinton, Matt Damon, and Bruce Willis have visited there. The price tends to be on the expensive side, but since one can enjoy the meal and the splendid river view on a terrace, giving the illusion that you are floating on the river, the spot is very popular. Both the service and the food here cannot be beaten. If you wish to spend a special night in Prague, consider going to Kampa Park and immersing yourself in views of both the Charles Bridge and Vltava River while enjoying your dinner.
I have visited many countries in Europe, but for me it seemed that no other country provided the experience of relaxation and liberated travelling as much as the Czech republic did. Travelling through Western Europe’s solemn historic sites and museums full of splendid arts had its meaning as well, but travelling to the Czech republic, walking along the old city’s alleys where the air of freedom is thick with the fragrance of centuries, was more meaningful than any other adventure in Europe, as it was a beautiful experience that gave me rest and refreshment.
If you are visiting Prague, then do not forget to take in the spectacular nighttime view from Charles Bridge as much as you can before you leave. If you don’t, then just like a real Bohemian who has wandered too far from his true home, you might end up feeling ‘homesick’ until you return.
Written by Son Haeeun
Photos by courtesy of kr.123rf.com, www.flickr.com
1. Wenceslas Square
Address: 110 00 Praha 1-Staré Město
2. Havel’s Market
Address : Havelská street
Opening hours: 8 am ~ 6 pm
3. Prague Old Town City Hall
Address: Staroměstské náměstí 1
Opening hours: 9 am ~ 8 pm (Mon. open at 11 am)
Admission fee : Tower 100Kč (Students 50Kč )
4. John Lennon Wall
Address: Velkopřevorské nám. 490/1
5. Petrin Park Observatory
Address: Petřínské sady 118 00 Praha Česká republika
Website : http://www.petrinska-rozhledna.cz/
Opening hours: Observatory Nov. ~ Feb. 10 am ~ 6 pm Apr. ~ Sep. 10 am ~ 10 pm Mar. and Oct. 10 am ~ 8 pm Admission fee 120Kč
6. Prague Castle
Address: 119 08 Praha 1 Česká republika
Website : http://www.hrad.cz/
Opening hours: St. Vitus Cathedral 9 am ~ 5:40 pm, Sun. Opens at 12 pm~
Old Palace 9 am ~ 5 pm, Nov. ~ Mar. ~ 3:40 pm
Saint Garden Apr., Oct. 10 am ~ 6 pm May, Sep. ~ 7 pm, Jul. ~9 pm, Aug. ~ 8 pm
Different opening times depending on the season and building
Holiday: Saint Garden: Nov. ~ Mar.
Admission fee: All-pass (all opening in Castle Prague including art museums and museums, all buildings) 350 Kč Students 175Kč
1 Partial pass (4 St. Vitus Cathedral, Old Palace, St. George’s Basilica, Golden Lane and Dalibor Tower, ‘Castle Prague Story’ Exhibition) 250Kč Students 125Kč
7. Golden Lane
Address : Zlatá ulička, 110 00 Praha Ceská Republika
8. Charles Bridge
Address : Křižovnické náměstí 2 110 00 Praha Česká republika