My first impression of Prague was an intriguing blend of Russia, Paris and San Francisco. It was raining and there were cable cars, the beautiful city was spread along both banks of a river, and the colorful baroque buildings were topped with bulbous spires.
In a disastrous plot twist, I dropped my iPhone in the hostel toilet, majorly impacting my ability to navigate and communicate while traveling solo. Since getting my unlocked phone to work in each country had been a point of anxiety up until the great plunge of October 8, I couldn’t help but think this was the universe’s way of stripping away another layer of my security and challenging me to exist without the comfort of a screen separating me from the experience of traveling in a foreign country.
The food in Prague consisted of meat and pastry dough combined in various forms, with beer almost counting as the third major food group. The Czechs drink more beer per man, woman and child than any other country in the world —30+ liters more beer per year than their closest challenger, Germany. Take that, Octoberfest.
With my iPhone stuck in a bag of rice, I spent the next two days exploring Prague by foot, tram and metro, an actual map in my hand. Since it rained most of the time I was in Prague, I took very few photos and almost all of them during one spectacular sunset stroll from Letna Park through the neighborhood of Mala Strana, over Charles’ Bridge and along the river to the National Theater.
Here’s how to spend two rainy days in Prague:
Old Town walking tour
Put on your walking shoes and grab your umbrella for a free and entertaining tour through chaotic Old Town, which is teeming with tourists and tourist traps (authentic Croatian food/crafts/beer!). Highlights include hearing about the tradition of defenestration (throwing someone out a window, the higher the better) which happened frequently throughout Prague’s history to religious dissenters, rebels and heads of state. You’ll learn about Prague’s fascinating history, some of which is straight out of a fairytale, and random facts like this one; if you were born in 1918 and lived until 1993 in Prague, you would have lived in eight different countries.
I also really enjoyed learning about modern day Prague from my tour guide —for instance, over 80% of Croatian’s are atheist (in fact, 26,000 people identified Yoda as their religion on the last census) and all drugs are legal in amounts for personal use. Today, the Czech Republic is independent and self-governed for the first time in over 800 years.
Watching over the city like a fairytale fortress, Prague Castle’s collection of glittering palaces, towers and spires will take your breath away —literally —since it’s an uphill trek to get there. Featuring a plethora of architectural styles, the castle was build haphazardly from 9th to the 18th century, including it’s final renovation by the Empress Maria Theresa. Once you reach the castle, you can choose from two ticket options which grant you access to various museums, historic buildings, galleries and St. Vitus’ Cathedral.
Fun fact: Prague Castle is the largest ancient castle in the world, covering an area of more than seven football fields and earning it’s recognition in the Guinness Book of World Records.
St. Vitus’ Cathedral
This gothic masterpiece wasn’t actually finished until 1929, but the foundation stone was laid in 1344 by Emperor Charles IV. The exterior is incredibly detailed and fun to stare at, but don’t forget step inside for some stunning stained glass.
The National Theater
Catching A Midsummer’s Nights Dream (in Czech!) was one of my favorite things I did while in Prague. Tickets range in price from less than $10 US to quite a bit higher, so even budget backpackers can enjoy a show in this gorgeous historic theater. As you ascend the stairs, the photos along the walls show the world-famous actors and dancers who have performed here over the years.
Grab a balcony seat and try not to get vertigo as you cram yourself into the tiny red plush chair and gaze down at the stage below. Or, splurge on a box seat and imagine yourself fluttering a fan and decked out in 18th century fanciness, checking out your political enemies through rhinoceros horn-rimmed opera glasses.
Start your sunset stroll in panoramic Letna Park, then wind your way through the ritzy neighborhood of Mala Strana before crossing Charles Bridge. Completed in 1390 and commissioned by Charles IV, the bustling bridge is prime pick-pocket territory so hold on to your valuables. Below is my only photograph of Charles Bridge, with colorful Old Town barely visible behind it. Every night, jazz boats glide along the peaceful river, serving five-course meals to travelers with money to spare.
After Prague, I was ready to ditch my itinerary (Vienna to Budapest) and head for the Austrian alps. Next stop, Salzburg!