The moment I stuck my nose out of the underground parking and right into a large open square I was met by a delicious smell reminiscent of apple pie and cinnamon. I instantly threw my bag right there on the ground under my friends’ supervision and ran to the first Trdlenik stand to enjoy the sweet little welcoming treat.
Mmm, Prague tasted really good so far!
But my thoughts changed quite soon after, when in the evening we headed out in the main square to exchange a few euros and grab some food. We stumbled into an impressive amount of tourists, alongside with plenty of random people trying to sell drugs, prostitutes, advertising cabaret shows and trying to convince us to exchange euro directly with them, for a better rate. We refused and headed to the closest exchange offices – and there are so many to pick from! The exchange rates are visible everywhere with only slight differences between one office and the other. So one of my friends goes first and asks to change 50 euro, only to receive the receipt with around 30% (!!!) exchange fee. Our jaws dropped instantly. Was that a bad joke? We read again the displayed info and notice the small line somwhere down below mentioning the fee. Luckily, you can refuse the exchange if you don’t sign the receipt, which is what my friend ended up doing. We turned to leave, when the lady from the office calls my friend back and offers him a better rate in a lower voice (still not a very good one), but WITHOUT receipt. I mean, what?! What is this bullshit?! We decided to just move on and try to pay everything with our credit cards. But, a few streets further away from the main square, we notice a smaller exchange office advertising “no fees” and a great exchange rate – money problem solved!
We could then proceed to enjoy Prague – but I for one never managed to do it fully.
Prague is wonderful, I can’t argue with that. The architecture is gorgeous, the streets, the wide offer of things to see and do; I can’t possibly imagine how you could get bored there. There are cute cafes everywhere, shops, restaurants for all budgets and tastes, party venues, museums of all imaginable kind, plenty of art expositions, bakeries at every corner filling up the streets with tempting smells…
You’ve got all that but something important is missing: the local life. I visited Prague at the end of May, it was probably “full season”, doubled by the ACDC concert happening that weekend. The city was suffocated by tourists. Ironically, I know, because I was one of them, yet again I have never ever seen so many visitors at once slowly advancing through the streets filled up to the brim.
It felt like they were ruining my whole experience. And yes, I’ve been to other cities in similar conditions too. I remember making my way to the hoards of tourist groups in Florence, just to see the Dome from the outside, for example. But the problem in Prague was that most of the tourists were getting the worst out of the city. Most of them seemed to be youngsters visiting the place just for getting drunk on the streets. For drugs and prostitutes. I was disgusted.
Not to mention kitsch shops and venues inserted in otherwise beautiful locations, plenty of beggars everywhere and way-too-many Asian massage advertisings.
Take that away (or ignore it if you can) and what you get is a romantic city, a city filled with stories and legends, a city for artists. “The city of a thousand spires”. Yes, I did try to overlook the ugly parts and focus on the good ones, which led to some wonderful discoveries and creating fun and lovely memories with my friends.
I’ll cut the story short now and give you some recommendations and things to keep in mind when visiting for the first time.
Where to eat
Cafe Louvre: absolutely gorgeous interior and customer service, plus the food is to die for! After we discovered it, we ate here almost every day, breakfast, lunch, dessert, everything was incredibly good. The prices are surprisingly affordable as well. I would go back to Prague even only just to spend time here again.
U Vejvodu: good food and fun atmosphere! It was quite loud (I see many people complain about that in the reviews) but we actually loved it like that. It’s not the place to go for a silent romantic evening, rather a place to hang out with friends. Make sure to shout at each other in order to hear yourselves!
V Cipu: again, very very good food (I don’t remember eating a bad meal in Prague, to be honest!).
Note that portions are usually quite large everywhere and tips are not included.
Where to stay at
We picked an apartment right in the Old Town, very close to the main square, via airbnb. It was more than OK for the good price we paid and considering the gorgeous location on a cozy side street, but when we got there we realized it was an agency renting it! So nothing about the meet-the-host learn-about-the-locals experience. Isn’t even against airbnb’s policy? Hmm…
Other (important) tips
Trdelnik: local sweet specialty and it’s everywhere, but it seems to be prepared differently, depending on the venue. The best I had was the one with chocolate cream on the inside, vanilla ice cream and a strawberry on top. Make sure you ask beforehand if they have the flavors you want. You can also have it simple, but I it’s much tastier with ice cream and chocolate.
Exchanging money: current official exchange rate at the time of this article is around 27 CZK for 1 EUR. Best we found was 26 – 26,5 (May 2016), so don’t accept anything less. Look for exchange offices further away from the main square. Also, I wouldn’t accept “street offers” from random people if I were you.
Beer Museum: not sure if I remember anything from the educational part of the visit, but it sure was fun and you get to taste quite a few varied beers (aka get slightly drunk in the middle of the day) – and I don’t even like beer!
Drinking absinthe: we had to do this, as Prague is so famous for Absinthe. However, we did a bit of research beforehand and found out that Absinthe is not even a Czech drink, it originates from Switzerland. The best ones are actually French or Swiss and you can easily get fooled in Czech bars and shops into buying cheap versions. Apparently, real absinthe is not a shot type of drink, but a long one. You mix it with water and it reacts quite beautifully, changing its color from clear to “foggy”. We tried it at Absintherie bar and made for a great experience if only to see how it’s served.
Nope, I didn’t see any green fairies afterwards… 🙁
Really curious to hear about YOUR experience in Prague! Everybody seems to have such a good time here so was it just me noticing so many less pleasant aspects?
Well, about 120km from Prague there is the small town of Kutna Hora featuring gorgeous Gothic churches and the creepy Sedlec Ossuary. An interesting visit that gave me shivers down my spine. Thankfully, it was broad day light and a lot of people, so I managed to get out of there in one piece.