First-Timer's Guide To Prague

One of the most beautiful cities in Europe, designated a World Heritage Site, Prague is a great travel destination. It is not only beautiful, but surprisingly easy to get to and get around in. If it is your first time traveling there, a few helpful tips might make your trip more enjoyable.

Before You Go

If you live in the US, you need a passport, which is an easy and relatively painless process. Stop at any photo center where you can get your picture in a few minutes, fill out the paperwork online, and take both, along with an ID to the nearest courthouse, or in some cases you can apply for it online. You do need to allow six weeks for processing.

Get your airline ticket online, and if your dates are flexible, you can find some great deals. You can go through a site like Travelocity or something similar. Or just use a travel agent.

Book a hotel room. Although you can find one when you are already there, it is helpful (and most likely saves you a few dollars) if you book a room in advance. You have just about unlimited choices, for any budget, in any part of town. If you take your time, you can find exactly what you need.

You don't need to worry about exchanging currency at this time, it is extremely easy to do it anywhere in the city, or as soon as you get off the flight, right in the airport. The ATM machines give you choices to withdraw in either Dollars, Euros or Korunas, their own currency. The directions on the machines are easy to understand.

How To Get There

Although there are no direct flights from most cities in the US into Prague, it is easy to get to it with just one stop at London's Heathrow airport.

Once you land at the Ruzyne International Airport, Prague is one of the easiest cities to get to the center of from the airport. Unless you plan on traveling outside of the city, you don't need to rent a car, since you have plenty of choices to get anywhere with public transportation.

Getting Around

From the airport the easiest way to get to town is by bus 119, which takes you right into the center of town. The bus station is just outside of the terminal, and tickets can be purchased at the automated machine, with easy to understand directions. You can take this bus to its last stop, the metro station (subway), a hub for all three lines. The metro system is very easy to understand, even for foreigners.

What to Do

There are more things to do in Prague than I could list. If it is your first time there, it can get overwhelming to try to visit every museum, every place worth stopping at. I picked a few you can start with, for the first few days of your stay. If you have more time, expand from there, add a few of the numerous museums, as well as the Opera House, take a boat ride on the river, and just walk through the city, see what else you can find.

Walk Through the Old Town Square

Prague. View of Old Town Square from the Old Town Hall Tower
Emese Fromm

Even if you don't get to spend much time in Prague, you need to visit the Old Town Square. All roads that lead to the center of it are pedestrian only, and half the fun is simply getting there. Watch the street artists virtually at every corner, from live statues, through mini classical music shows, circus acts, puppet shows, all types of dances, hoop jumpers, hold a python on your shoulders, stop for ice cream or shop at any of the multitude of tourist stores lining the streets.

Once in the square, stay until the famous astronomical clock strikes the hour and watch its puppets come out for the show. Be advised though, it gets crowded in front of the clock tower when it gets close to the hour. Don't miss visiting the museum and going up into the Old Town Hall Tower, where you are rewarded by a great view of the square and the town.

Cross the Vltava River on Charles Bridge

Charles Bridge, Prague
Jeff Fromm

You can't visit Prague without walking on Charles Bridge, probably the most famous landmarks of Prague, which attracts thousands of visitors every day. Two towers, the Old Town Bridge Tower and the Judith Tower flank the two sides of the bridge. Built in 1357, the bridge only needed a few renovations through the centuries. It is associated with numerous legends, some about its origins, others about the saints whose statues stand on the bridge. Since it is a strictly pedestrian bridge, it is one of the most popular walking avenue in the city, a perfect place for people watching, shopping from local vendors, watching street artists, learning about Prague's history through the statues.

Walk through Prague Castle

View of Prague CastleJeff Fromm

Prague Castle is the largest ancient castle in the world, a castle complex really, occupying 43.5 square miles. Dominating the side of the city opposite of the Old Town Square, it seems to be a city in itself, including a few palaces, churches, towers, as well as other buildings that house restaurants or show at this time.

Visit Saint Vitus Cathedral

Prague, Saint Vitus Cathedral, view from the back
Jeff Fromm

Saint Vitus Cathedral, one of the architectural wonders in the Castle, is the reason you should visit the castle in the first place, being the biggest and most important Cathedral in the Czech Republic, one of the best examples of Gothic architecture, that took 600 years to complete.

Go up to Petrin Hill

View from Petrin Hill in Prague
Jeff Fromm

If you want a few moments of quiet, a place where you can get away from the hustle and bustle of the city, you don't need to go farther than Petrin Hill. In the center of Prague, the hill is like a giant park, green and lush, and feels miles from it, while offering some of the best views of it. You can walk up on a quiet path surrounded by trees, or you can take the funicular if you don't feel like walking.

Stroll through Wenceslas Square

Wenceslas Square in Prague
Jeff Fromm

Witness to some of the most important historical events in the Czech Republic (the latest one being the Velvet Revolution), Wenceslas Square is a lively place not to miss. The building of the National Museum and the statue of Wenceslas on horseback dominates the square.

Stop by the Lennon Wall

Emese Fromm

An interesting piece of history, at first glimpse the Lennon Wall looks like just a wall filled with graffiti. However, in the communist era, it has been an outlet for people to write their grievances on this wall, starting with Lennon-inspired quotes. Sometimes you might see a street entertainer, singing Beatles songs with guitar accompaniment in front of it.

Other Things to Know

Prague is the capital of the Czech Republic, and its official language is Czech, though just about everyone uses Slovak as well, due to yeas of it being part of Chechoslovakia. It might be helpful to speak a few words and understand a bit of either language, but it is not necessary. Just about everyone in town speaks a certain degree of English, even in the most remote areas of the city, and the people are friendly and happy to try out their own language skills.

Emese Fromm is a freelance travel writer and translator. Her work has appeared in a few publications in addition to Parachute, like Travellady, Travel thru History, InTravel Magazine, Skipping Stones, among others. She lives in Phoenix, AZ, and occasionally blogs about her travels at TravelsFrommAZ