Being only a few hours away I felt I really should take a day to run to Prague, add another country to my slow growing list and check off a bucket list location. So much history here, so many things I wanted to see. We opted for a military MWR tour as it cost us the same as public transportation but got us a 2hr walking tour as well and 6hrs of free time to explore on our own. you could easily take the train or bus in to Prague and skip the walking tour, or purchase a locally offered tour once in the city, we probably passed 50 different groups in many languages on their walking tours. I did appreciate the tour as it somewhat helped give you bearings as to how the old/new town was laid out and the history of a few buildings I didn’t know about. If you worry you might miss something, then I would recommend that vs winging it on your own. The roads don’t seem to have rhyme or reason to them and you could easily get turned around even with directions going on your phone.
The good… Prague has gorgeous architecture. It’s mixmashed all styles together from the 8th century on. You’ll see a blend of gothic, renaissance and baroque structures all stacked in neatly next to each other. Old Town Prague originally had 13 city gate towers and was surrounded by a moat (now filled in and have become streets). A few of these towers still stand. Most recognized would be the Powder Tower and the Old Town Bridge Tower at the Charles Bridge. The other must see is the Astronomical Clock next to the town square. We visited on the last day of their Christmas Market in the town square so that was an added bonus of good smelling food.
In New Town (founded in 1348) you’ll find modern name brand shops and the Wenceslas Square, famous for the peaceful protests of the Velvet Revolution where over 500,000 people marched around the square over several days and helped end communist rule in what was then Czechoslovakia. Today it is still used for protests and demonstrations and is a common meeting place. You’ll hear the phrase to “meet under the horse’s tail,” which refers to the statue of saint Wenceslas riding a horse at the end of Wenceslas Square. Also home to the Palladium, a 5 story mall. We did not spend too much time exploring New Town. We did wander down Wenceslas Square and around to a small picturesque church with pretty cobblestones sidewalks and another tower. But we did spend some time in the mall, mostly for a place to sit out of the cold and free bathrooms. There is a food court on the top floor, McDonalds has good hot chocolate and quieter seating tucked in past the McCafe if you need to dethaw and take a break.
Now for some of the bad. If you are wanting to stop here as a family destination, be aware of what you are getting into. Beer is cheaper than water here. You will encounter multiple drunk people. There aren’t nice benches to sit and take a break with the kids, just filthy sidewalks and buildings that smell like urine with hundreds of cigarette butts littered everywhere. You’ll also pass places like the Sex Machine Museum that hides nothing in its windows and open doors, as well as open air massage parlors that look rather sketchy… bathrooms are hard to find and might be so disgustingly filthy and tucked in remote areas that I felt like I was trying to buy drugs to pay for a bathroom… I’m looking at you weird downstairs bathroom by the Charles Bridge… (tip, the bathrooms at the mall are free and clean and have family bathrooms with handicap accessibility, they are on the top floor in the food court near McDonalds).
The historic areas are incredibly crowded, keep your kids close. No one in Europe cares about standing right next to you and blowing cigarette smoke towards your kids. My son has allergies triggered by smoke so this started coughing fits which are totally not fun. Prague was the worst city we encountered for cigarette smokers. Obscene graffiti is everywhere, in every language and shape. It completely disgusted my son who’s old enough to understand what stuff meant. Be prepared to answer some questions you might not be ready for if you bring younger kids.
There were only a couple legit currency exchange locations that didn’t rip you off. I wouldn’t recommend trying any of them just in case. We tried a couple ATMs, check the current exchange rate compared to what they are charging as some really price gouge you. I only recommend the Sparkasse Bank Brand as it gave us correct rates, it’s called something else in Czech but it still has the red S with a dot above it.
And now for the ugly… we were warned about pick pocket gangs multiple times. I wouldn’t bring backpacks and recommend using a cross body type bag that you can keep in front of you in your sight. Don’t set down bags next to you at a restaurant as they’ll walk by and swipe it. Keep it at your feet under the table. Don’t put anything of value in pockets that can be easily assessable. The crowds can be very thick, you’ll be bumping into people just to walk through some areas, you won’t realize something was taken until it’s too late. Only use a yellow taxi that has a working meter as we were warned there are fakes and they’ll over charge you. If that happens, call the police as I guess it’s a regular thing in those parts. Be aware of your surroundings. For a few hours Riley and I separated from the group and walked around new town on our own. I realized we were being followed, made sure the guy following me knew I saw him, and I made my way to a more populated area quickly. In which the guy gave me a nasty look and stopped to watch us walk away. It was the only time in my 4 weeks in Europe that I felt that kind of threat. Just be aware and have a plan, not one that freaks out your kids, but be prepared to stare someone down if you feel threatened by them. They won’t likely proceed if they know you are aware of them. You will be targeted for speaking a foreign language just because tourists are easy prey for theft as they are too busy taking pictures and looking at their phones for directions to pay attention.
Just because I feel like we need to end on some positives… Prague seems to love their candy shop. They were so unique. From fancy to pirates to caves with gnomes… it was like mini candy theme parks in the most random places.
So do I recommend Prague? Nope. If you are looking to get plastered drunk and won’t mind the filth, then Prague might be for you. Otherwise, it’s a hard pass for me. I hope they get their act together and fix the problems.
Can you get pretty pictures in Prague? Sure if you have the time to wait for crowds to thin or shoot over their heads. Or hopefully you arrive on a less busy day. I wouldn’t stay in the evening hours as I’ve heard the bar hop tours get really rowdy and disgusting. You’ve been warned. Best of luck to you. I recommend Salzburg instead.