Prague is a City for all Seasons

There is so much to see and do in Prague that, no matter how long you’re staying, you will be spoilt for choice. First there are the sights, dominated by the magnificent Prague Castle and the palaces of Hradaany. Then, clinging to the hillside, the baroque splendours of the Mala Strana, crowned by Dietzenhofer’s masterpiece, the Church of St Nicholas. Across the river is the former Jewish Ghetto of Josefov with its 13th-century synagogue (still functioning) and a medieval cemetery crammed with 12,000 tombstones. The highlight of the Stare Mesto is Old Town Square with its eccentric clock tower and astronomical clock, Gothic and baroque churches and former palaces, decked out in pastel pink, grey, cream and yellow. Finally, there is the New Town (in Prague this means 14th-century!) at the centre of which is world-famous Wenceslas Square with its flower-strewn shrine to the martyrs of the revolution, its shops and hotels, restaurants and wine bars, cafés and nightclubs.

Prague has a cultural tradition going back centuries. Hadyn, Beethoven and Liszt all walked these streets and Mozart was a regular visitor to Prague, conducting in the Tyl Theatre. It was here that Figaro was first acclaimed and Don Giovanni received its first performance. Mozart stayed at the Villa Bertramka, where there is now a museum in his honour. Of the home-grown talent one need only mention Dyadic, Smetana, Janacek and Martint, whose works can regularly be heard in the National Theatre or the Dvofak Concert Hall. You can go to see a play (in Czech) at the Na zabradli, the Nova scena or the Vinohrady theatres. Prague is famous for its puppet shows, mime and the spectacular Magic Lantern, an experience not to be missed. If you are still in a literary frame of mind, you can visit any number of Kafka’s houses, the most famous of which is in Golden Lane, in the grounds of Prague Castle, or pay a visit to U kalicha (the Chalice), pub haunt of Hasek’s Good Soldier Svejk Prague is famous for these beery, smoke-filled taverns, or pivnice, dispensing some of the finest lagers in Europe. These medieval taverns have traditionally brewed their own beer and many still do. They often have their own loyal customers who prefer one brew to another. Often there is entertainment in the taverns, especially satire and avant-garde comedy.

Equally good value are the eating houses of Prague, though you won’t find it easy to get a table. Leave plenty of room for a plate full of pork cutlets and dumplings, served in a rich brown sauce and washed down with a fine bottle of Moravian red wine. If you’ve got room for a strudel, so much the better. If you want to prolong the evening, Prague’s jazz clubs, discotheques and late night bars will carry you well into the small hours — Wenceslas Square is the area to head for.

Prague is a city to stroll in (there are parks and gardens galore, especially on the left bank of the river), but tired feet will find solace in the excellent public transport system which includes a super-efficient metro. No-one becomes bored with Prague but if you want an excursion, there is no shortage of options a boat trip on the Vltava, a visit to Charles IVs castle at Karlstejn, a leisurely day out in the spa town of Karlovy Vary — or just a visit to the zoo.

Everywhere you go in the city you find the people friendly, courteous and helpful. They are also outgoing and self-confident, as you will soon be aware if you meet them in the relaxed surroundings of pub or restaurant. Try to engage them in conversation (even if you don’t know Czech) and you will be surprised at how many will produce at least a smattering of English, now that Russian has been replaced as the compulsory foreign language at schools and colleges. You never know — you may end up exchanging addresses and forming friendships which will bring you back to Prague for many years to come.

Posted in Czech Culture

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