Prague: The land of Czech beer, medieval castles and Kafkaland
“Praha” isn’t just a college student’s haven – with its cheap Czech beer and robust night life – but also a Harry Potter fan’s delight. The city will surprise you for its vivacity, sheer number of tourists even in the off-season, and its incandescent medieval alleys.
So how do you make the most of Prague under a budget -- a not so inflated one?
If Europe was all about walking, then Prague is where you epitomise the rule. In such a small city to cover, there’s no need to purchase a day-long metro ticket (which can cost 110 CZK or just over 4 Euros) since most destinations are at a walk-able distance. You won’t regret exercising a little when the smell of fresh sweet bread, intermingled with the aroma of coffee or chocolate hits your senses and more often than not, comes with a complementary stunning vista.
Opt for a hostel not too far from the hub of the city. A two-minute walk from the Old Town Square, the centrally located Prague TYN is a funky hostel with its interiors crafted keeping youngsters – who make up most of its guests – in mind.
Relatively expensive, it may cost 15-40 Euros -- depending on the number of roommates -- to stay there during peak season but its accessibility will save you a lot of travel and time.
While a lot of shops accept both currencies, it’s better to swap Euros for Czech Korunas (Conversation rates fluctuate around 30 CZK for one Euro) but find a local currency exchange to get better rates; avoid those at the railway station that usually charge high commission.
The best-kept secret for exploring European cities, including Prague, is the new concept of ‘Free tours’. Dig around and ask the hostel staff for details and you might find yourself walking with a bunch of strangers as excited about the city as you. Tour guides are witty and can tell you a lot more about Prague than fancy travelogues. As customary appreciation, you can pay whatever amount you deem fit at the end of the tour.
Prague is divided into Old Town and New Town, and boasts of 11 kinds of architecture -- ranging from gothic, neoclassical, Baroque, Romanesque and even traces of modern.
Surprisingly, Prague has not been admired enough for its rich lineage of history, which includes a synagogue and even an eerie Jewish cemetery, where victims of the Holocaust were buried after Czech Republic seceded to Nazi Germany.
The capital is also the birthplace of literary god Franz Kafka, which is now called the ‘Franz Kafka Cafe’ -- it might be tempting but give it a miss simply for its overpriced menu. Instead, visit the Kafka Museum and the bronze statue nestled between a church and the synagogue on the Dusni street, aptly depicting ‘The Metamorphosis’ writer’s layered personality. A 15-minute walk from the Old Town Square and through Prague’s lively cobblestone-laden streets is all it takes to stand where Kafka once stood, possibly churning out his creations at the time.
Despite concealed masterpieces of Prague, it is the clichéd spots that will steal your heart. Walk in the shadows of the iconic Charles Bridge, bristling with tourists; lean on its boundary wall lined up with towering statues, feel the wind on your face and enjoy the sound of Vltava’s lapping waters, passing through the heart of this wondrous city.
Cross Vltava and climb the stairs to enter Czech Republic’s symbolic Prague Castle. Shrouded in shades of pink and blue during sunset, the view from the castle makes a breathtaking sight to cherish for a lifetime, eclipsing into a night lit up with lively crowds and the hustle and bustle of its innumerable bars and restaurants.
The castle or rather, a cluster of medieval structures, coupled with the Christmas market will be a joy to stroll in. Sip a warm, 25 CZK-cinnamon punch -- supposedly of Indian origin, although there’s no proof -- or go for a sweeter apple cider during a winter evening to keep you company. The scene can be replicated at the Old Town Square, which also hosts live performances during the festive season.
When it’s time to leave, Prague will be the city you’d want to come back to, although the next stop may just be where you find yourself amid the chaos.
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