Prague is maybe too popular for its own good. In the summer months, the famous attractions like the Old Town or Prague Castle can seem to be wall-to-wall people. How can a hapless traveler just relax and enjoy themselves in a smallish city that everyone wants to visit?
I only had a short amount of time in Prague, and I didn’t want to waste any of it getting annoyed with the crowds, pushing an annoying tourist off the Charles Bridge into the waters below, and then having my vacation ruined because I was “arrested” by the Czech “police” for “murder”.
That’s why I decided to spend my entire 24 hours in Prague on the Total Prague tour with Urban Adventures. On this tour, I could stay with a small group, and we’d be guided by a local through all the most major tourist attractions of Prague. (Yes, Prague Castle and the Old Town are included.)
But the guide would know all the local secrets, so there’d be no danger that we’d get trampled to death by a roaming pack of Australian sightseeing grannies. Allow me to demonstrate that this is a perfect introduction to Prague!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours in Prague.
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24 Hours in Prague
Where to Stay?
Hotels in Prague are more expensive than hotels in many cities in Eastern Europe. (I can hear someone typing an email to me saying that Czech Republic isn’t in Eastern Europe. Take it up with the UN Statistics Division!) It can be hard to find a place that is within walking distance of the Old Town, Charles Bridge, etc. And who wants to waste their entire time in Prague commuting?
Enter the Hotel Cerny Slon. It’s in a perfect location, it’s affordable, the rooms are clean and comfy, and there’s a solid breakfast included. But best of all, it has a dope name; cerny slon means black elephant. I try not to pick hotels solely based on the name, but if you can resist staying in a hotel called Black Elephant, you have more willpower than I do, Internet Stranger!
24 Hours in Prague
Morning: Prague Discovery: Old Town
With the 24 hours in Prague Total Prague tour, the morning and afternoon are spent on the Prague Discovery Tour. The evening is the Beer and Tapas tour. But the morning part of the Prague Discovery Tour took place in and around the Old Town, and the later part of the Prague Discovery tour was more centered around Prague Castle, so that’s how I’m going to split them up.
Do I hear any objections? No? Then let’s follow our friendly guide Nikola and learn…
approximately top 5: old town and environs
1) cubist architecture
We’re going to see all the notorious and old-hat things in Prague’s Old Town today. But why not start with something un-notorious and new-hat? Before I visited Prague, I was completely unaware that the city is famous for its Cubist architecture. In fact I didn’t even know that there was such a thing as Cubist architecture! The only Cubists I can name are Picasso, Braque, and Rubik.
The Prague Cubist movement didn’t last very long, so there aren’t very many Cubist buildings in Prague’s Old Town. That’s why the House at the Black Madonna, pictured above, is so special. I’m not 100 percent sure what makes these buildings Cubist, but I think it’s the use of angles and geometric shapes. I mean, I think most buildings come in a cube shape, but that’s probably why I am not an avant-garde Czech architect.
Look! Even the lamppost is Cubist!
2) velvet revolution
The Prague Discovery tour isn’t just going to teach you about obscure architectural trends! We will also get some Czech history. And though we’re mostly in the Old Town, some of it will be modern history. As you probably know, the Czech Republic used to be a Communist country. Back then, it was united with its neighbor Slovakia, so it was known as Czechoslovakia. The Communist Party ran Czechoslovakia unopposed from the 1940s to the 1980s.
However, by the time 1989 rolled around, many Czech people, especially the young, were fed up with communism. I’m impressed because the song “We Didn’t Start the Fire” came out in 1989, and if that song didn’t convince people that capitalism is a bad idea, nothing will. But unlike many other communist countries, like my ancestral homeland of Romania, Czechoslovakia managed to leave communism behind without violence.
On November 17th, 1989, students began protesting in Prague on Národní avenue. These protests were peaceful, but Nikola told us that the government called in the Soviets to crush the uprising. Fortunately none of the students were killed, but some were injured and sent to the hospital.
The number of protesters kept growing until the communist government, led by Milos Jakes, resigned on November 24th. That’s so fast! I wish our government could resign that efficiently. Because of the relative peacefulness of the change in political systems, they still call this revolution The Velvet Revolution.
3) old town square
The Old Town Square is so beautiful, but look at all those people. It’s basically impossible to get a picture of any major attraction in Prague without crowds. Unless I cleverly use the Edit feature of Google Photos.
YES! Goodbye, people! I’m the captain, now!
The centerpiece of Prague’s Old Town Square is its intricate astronomical clock. Unfortunately it was being repaired when I visited, so I couldn’t really see it.
At least I managed to remove the scaffolding.
Don’t spend so much time ogling the pastel cupcake buildings in Old Town Square that you ignore the Very Important Statue of Jan Hus. Hus was a Czech patriot who criticized the Catholic Church. Back in the early 1400s, this was a dangerous thing to do, and he was burned at the stake. This led to just one of many religious wars that have happened between Catholics and Protestants in the Czech Republic. It’s maybe understandable that most Czechs, unlike their Polish neighbors, say they are not religious.
4) Jewish prague
Like many other Eastern European cities, Prague and its Old Town were home to a large Jewish population. Nikola said that Prague was under the rule of the Austrian royal family, the Hapsburgs, for quite some time, and some Hapsburgs treated the Jewish people better than others. Things were better for Jewish people under the emperor Franz Josef. I’m sure that’s true because how could a man with such a sweet ‘stache ever do wrong?
After the Nazis occupied Czechoslovakia, the majority of the Jewish people were murdered. (We’ll learn more about the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia during our next 24 hours in Prague.) There are little memorial signs around the Jewish quarter of Prague in honor of Jewish people who were killed during the Holocaust. I think more European cities should have memorials like this.
5) vltava river cruise
This was probably the most popular part of the Old Town tour for our entire group. You get to enjoy a refreshing lemonade and piece of authentic Czech gingerbread while you cruise down the Vltava River listening to an informative audio guide. This way you can get the best possible views of the Charles Bridge. (I thought the river would be called the Charles River because that’s just science. But apparently Charles is in charge of the bridge, not the river. Also Vltava is missing a vowel.)
My favorite sight on the river cruise was the golden-crowned National Theater. This theater was built back in 1881, when it promptly burned down after being open only two months. But fortunately the Czechs rallied to rebuild it. The idea of the National Theater was very important to the Czechs because under the Hapsburgs, German was often promoted and the Czech language was discouraged.
My only complaint about the river cruise is this giant bird looking outside. Why is this bird? I must know.
6) charles bridge
All right, now it’s time to really leave the Old Town and head to the second half of the tour. And the best way to get from the Old Town to the Prague Castle is across the Charles Bridge. The Charles Bridge is the most crowded place in Prague. However, I have once again cleverly erased them from the photo. I’m the king of the world! That’s my strategy for dealing with crowds: pretend they don’t exist.
Nikola told us that the Charles Bridge dates all the way back to the 14th and 15th centuries, but the statues are not original. They are replicas so that the original statues can be preserved. I guess that’s just as well because I’m sure lots of tourists would want to take weird and inappropriate selfies with them, and I feel those statues have been through enough.
My favorite statue was of St. John of Nepomuk. He was the confessing priest of the Queen of Bohemia. (Bohemia used to be a separate kingdom within the area that is now the Czech Republic.) The King of Bohemia was convinced his wife was cheating on him, so he asked St. John to violate the sacred confessional booth and tell him. St. John refused, so the King had him drowned.
St. John is always depicted with a crown of stars because supposedly five stars appeared above the Vltava River on the night of his murder. The moral of this story is never keep a secret. I mean, having a crown of stars is cool, but I’d rather not get drowned.
24 Hours in Prague
Afternoon: Prague Discovery: Castle Area
Now we’ve left the Old Town, I feel that we should be in New Town. But apparently that’s not what the part of Prague on the other side of the Charles Bridge is called. So I’m just going to call this part of the tour the Prague Castle Area. After all, the Prague Castle is really the center of this part of the tour.
You might be feeling peckish about this time, but fortunately lunch is included in this tour. We told Nikola what we wanted to order in advance so we didn’t have to wait at the restaurant. That’s what I call convenience! I had a hearty pork with sauerkraut and dumplings. It seemed very German to me but I didn’t say that aloud because maybe Czechs have lots of historical reasons for not wanted to be compared to Germans.
And now that our bellies are full, it’s time to fill our minds with…
three fun facts: prague castle area
1) is there anything cool in this part of prague?
Everything is cool in Prague! After all, the Czechs were the original Bohemians, and “La Vie Boheme” was a really popular song when I was in high school. This wall started because the students protesting the communist regime used to paint messages on it. It was called the Lennon Wall because some of the students said they wanted Lennonism, not Leninism. Lennon himself never went to the wall, but his wife Yoko Ono has been there.
Nowadays, every who visits the Lennon Wall is allowed to write or draw something on it, though local authorities are trying to make more rules about what you can do to the Lennon Wall. I left a little message from New York City on the wall. See if you can notice it in the photo above!
Want something more avant-garde? How about giant terrifying metal baby sculptures with barcodes for faces? I assume these sculptures have either an anti-capitalist message, an anti-baby message, or an anti-face message, and possibly all three.
These demons are the brain children of Prague native David Cerny. His sculptures are all over Prague. If you see a piece of public art in Prague and think, “GWUH?” it is probably David Cerny.
2) why is prague castle special?
So many reasons! For one, the first tulips in the Czech Republic were planted here. But if you’re more in the mood for violence, what about the Defenestration of Prague?
If you’re anything like me, your favorite part of history class was learning about the Defenestration of Prague. I mean, defenestration is just a great-sounding word, and its meaning (throwing someone out a window) is even better. And I was so excited to visit a city like Prague, where people solve their problems by throwing each other out of windows!
So I was thrilled when Nikola told us that there was more than one defenestration of Prague. But the third and most famous was because of a conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Prague. The Protestants felt they were being suppressed, and in revenge, threw a couple of Catholics out a window of Prague Castle.
I was mildly disappointed to learn that the Catholics were only mildly injured. (Nothing against Catholics; it’s just a more dramatic story if there’s blood.) But the Defenestration of Prague did start the Thirty Years War, which seems like an extreme overreaction to a couple of nobles getting a big scare and some mild bruises.
3) what’s the most important building?
This is very debatable, but you could certainly argue that it’s St. Vitus Cathedral, located in the Prague Castle complex. It was begun in the 14th century but wasn’t consecrated until the 20th century. Probably that was because the Protestants and Catholics in the Czech Republic couldn’t stop killing each other long enough to consecrate a church.
Many notable Czech saints are buried here, including St. John the secret-keeper with the 5-star crown and St. Vitus himself. But my favorite Czech saint in this cathedral is St. Wenceslas. St. Wenceslas was the 10th century Duke of Bohemia and the patron saint of the Czech republic.
But I know him from his amazing Christmas carol, “Good King Wenceslas”. In my family we sing this song every single Christmas. The song shows how Wenceslas was generous to the poor and kind to his servants, which are two of the best things for the king to be. If we were all more like the King Wenceslas in the song, the world would be a better place. At least there would be fewer defenestrations, probably.
24 Hours in Prague
Evening: Beer and Czech Tapas Tour
All right, those of you who are sick of architecture and learning, it’s now your time! We’re going to set off on a journey to discover the greatest Czech product of all: beer. Our guide switched from Nikola to Martin at this point in the tour. Martin was very friendly, except when he threatened to kick us off the tour if we ordered cider or non-alcoholic drinks. (He was joking, I think. But none of us tested him.)
I’m much more of an ale drinker than a lager drinker, probably because I drank too much terrible American lager as a child. Allow me to convince you with…
three fun facts: czech beer
1) do they have dive bars in prague?
Ha! We went to a dive bar that was so divey that the men on the tour said there were markers in the men’s restroom where you can measure the length of the stream of your urine. I did not fact check them, dear Internet Stranger. There are some lengths to which I will not go, even for you.
The “tapas” we had here were similarly homey but delicious. One was pork on a stick with mustard and horseradish and the other was a cheese and pepper spread. This bar is smart because these snacks are both salty and spicy, so they make you want to drink more. But I don’t think Czechs need an excuse to drink beer. They are already the number one consumers of beer in the world.
2) what was the strangest bar snack?
I would probably say steak tartare, which is raw beef mixed with egg yolk and various spices. I know that sounds revolting, but if the steak is high quality it is amazing. It’s like the sushi of meat. We had this snack at the next bar we visited, which was more upscale. If you only take one piece of advice from this blog, let it be this: Do not order steak tartare at a dive bar.
For the less adventurous eaters, there was always the thirst-inducing cheese and pepper spread. I’m going to pretend that bite I took out of the bread was artistic and not accidental.
3) what’s with czechs and lager?
You can get ales in Prague, and in fact the last of the four beers I drank on this tour was an IPA. But most famous Czech beers are lagers. In fact the first blond lager, the Pilsner, comes from the Czech Republic.
I never order Pilsners back in the US because they remind me of this very boring character on Brooklyn Nine-Nine who was obsessed with them and kept saying that he had “the thrills for the Pils”. But again, you should order one when you are in Prague because it will taste better. I’m sorry that sounds pretentious, but it’s just facts.
The most famous Czech beer might be Budvar, also known as Budweiser in the Czech Republic. Budvar is in an eternal struggle with the American beer Budweiser. Budvar is not legally allowed to call their beer Budweiser in the United States. But in the Czech Republic, American Budweiser is not allowed to call their product “beer”. Oh burn! But after having four Czech beers, I’m not sure I’m willing to call American Budweiser beer either.
That’s a Perfect 24 Hours with the Old Town!
What would you do with the Old Town in Prague? Is Budweiser actually beer? And am I really an evil witch who made all those tourists disappear? Please leave your thoughts below!