Romantic and stunningly beautiful, Prague falls into the category of must-see European cities. Unfortunately, the secret is out there, and it can feel very touristy. Are there ways to completely avoid the mob of tourists? Of course! BUT on a first trip, do you really want to miss the best of Prague? Instead, we’ve used this itinerary to minimize the crowds we faced, but still see the finest sights. It gave us the perfect first day, leaving the rest of our time in Prague for the lesser known, and less busy, but still amazing sights.
Enjoy Sunrise from Charles Bridge
We know not everyone likes getting up early, but if you do, you’ll be rewarded with having Prague practically to yourself. About any other time of day, you’ll find the city crammed with tourists, and Charles Bridge is no exception. I hate crowds too, but don’t let this deter you, Prague is still worth seeing. Promise.
Connecting the neighborhood of Malá Strana with the Old Town, Charles Bridge is the main pedestrian thoroughfare to cross the Vltava River. Architecturally stunning, two Gothic towers bookend the bridge while around thirty statues line the side railings.
For a small fee, you can go in either tower. We found the lines for Old Town Tower were often ridiculous, but everyone must forget about the Lesser Town Tower as the lines were always short.
Admire the Beauty of Old Town Square
No first day in Prague is complete without seeing the Old Town Square. By mid-morning, the square comes alive with cafes, lost tourists, and tons of street performers.
Surrounding the square are many of the most intricate buildings in Prague.
This was another spot where it was nice to come early and browse the architecture without worrying about crowds and pickpockets. Later, we returned to sample the chaos in full swing.
Though all the architecture in the Old Town Square is elaborate, three buildings drew our attention.
- St. Nicholas Church – One of the oldest churches in the Old Town. It is free to enter unless a concert is playing.
- Church of Our Lady before Týn – Hovering over the buildings on Old Town Square, this is another gorgeous relic of the city to visit. Admission is free, and the entrance is down the corridor of the building in front of it, between the two restaurants.
- Old Town Hall Spire – For breathtaking views across the city, the Old Town Hall Tower has one of the best. Purchase tickets at the bottom of the tower. For an extra fee, you can use the elevator.
Ponder the Astronomical Clock
Attached to the Old Town Tower is one of the most famous sights in Prague, the Astronomical Clock.
On a first visit to Prague, it’s tempting to wait in the herd of other first-time visitors to see the clock’s hourly show. Honestly, other than to say you did it, the show isn’t exactly worth it.
From 9 am to 11 pm, at the top of the hour, the little blue doors lift to reveal the Twelve Apostles, two at a time. At the end, the skeleton on the front rings the bell. It takes less than 30 seconds.
If you must see the “show,” go for 9 am or late in the evening to avoid the bulk of the crowds. You can view the clock itself anytime, just avoid the top of the hour.
Explore the Jewish Quarter
Just a short walk northwest of Old Town Square is Prague’s Jewish Quarter.
Once known as the ghetto, today the Jewish Quarter is home to one of the most expensive shopping streets in Europe, Pařížská Street. Here you’ll find all the typical luxury brands like Prada, Chanel, and Rolex.
More importantly, the area houses Europe’s best-preserved complex of historical Jewish monuments, including one of the world’s oldest Jewish burial grounds and six historic synagogues. You can wander the area, but you’ll need a ticket to visit any of the sights.
Admire the Local Art
Art plays a significant role in Prague. We’ve already talked about the statues on Charles Bridge, but as you wander the city keep an eye out for interesting solo pieces. Here are a few worth going out of your way for.
- Statue of Franz Kafka – Prague’s most famous statue portrays the famed writer, Franz Kafka, riding on the shoulders of a headless figure. Find it in front of the Spanish Synagogue.
- Jan Hus Monument – The 1915 sculpture depicting a famous martyr is easy to find in Old Town Square.
- Il Commendatore – A faceless, hooded figure by Anna Chromy lurks on the corner of Ovocný and Železná, in front of The Estates Theatre.
- Statue of King Wenceslas Riding an upside-down Dead Horse – This one is so strange, but worth seeing with your own eyes. Off Vodičkova Street is Lucerna Passage, a shopping mall connecting to Štěpánská Street. As you go through, you’ll see it hanging near the dome.
- Rotating Head of Franz Kafka – A personal favorite of ours, as we have its twin in Charlotte. This giant rotating mirrored head spins every 15 minutes. Thing is, the one in Charlotte is often broken, and apparently this happens a lot in Prague too. When it’s working, it’s impressive, but it’s still cool to see, even when it’s not working. Find it on Charvátova Street, in front of the Quadrio shopping station.
Break for a Pint of Prague's Finest Beer & Lunch
Right about now would be a good time to grab lunch, and of course, your first local Prague beer. Pilsner Urquell is the most famous, but you’ll find a variety on tap. Even Budweiser is local here!
You’ll have plenty of choice when it comes to something to eat, but here are a few places we enjoyed.
- Cafe Slavia (2, Smetanovo nábř)- Though it doesn’t look like anything special, this was our favorite joint in the city. Located along the Vltava River, this large cafe was always packed with locals, day and night. With lots of traditional Czech dishes, but also a few international favorites, it was easy to pick something yummy to try.
- St. Martin Cafe and Bistro (Vlašská 7, Malá Strana) – Around the corner from our hotel, we found this gem. Even though the food looks like something off a fine dining menu, you’ll find this non-pretentious nook very reasonably priced. It is small, so you may need reservations.
FYI – In our experience, most restaurants in Prague charged us for tap water. A few tried to cheekily charge the same as bottled water, we did not include them above, but check the price before you order.
Find Your Way Through Malá Strana
Known as Lesser Town, the neighborhood of Malá Strana sits in the shadow of Prague Castle. With narrow winding brick-laid streets, old buildings, adorable shops, and tons of character, it’s quite a fun place to just wander on your way to the castle.
Reflect on the Meaning Behind the Lennon Wall
As you wander Malá Strana, you’re likely to come across the strangest tourist attraction, an ugly graffitied wall in a parking lot. Though, in fairness, the meaning behind it is lovely.
Known today as the Lennon Wall, during the days of Communism this is where people came to vent their frustrations with government and authority. After John Lennon’s murder in 1980, the people gathered here to grieve, but also to celebrate his music and the freedom he stood for.
Even today people come here to write, paint, and sing about the injustices in the world.
Enjoy the Free View Above the City
With hundreds of spires and towers across the city, there’s no shortage of gorgeous views; however, most of them you need to pay for. A lot of folks don’t realize, but it’s actually free to explore many areas of the massive Prague Castle complex, including the South Gardens (only open in summer). You may just have to wait through a security line.
In front of, and throughout the gardens, are superb rooftop views over the city.
For us, the best way to see a city for the first time is on foot; however, Prague has a wonderful public transportation system, including buses and trams.
Spend the Afternoon at Prague Castle
Though it’s free to wander Prague Castle’s grounds, it is worth buying a ticket to see inside the buildings. Tickets include entrance to the sites four main attractions, the Old Royal Palace, St. George’s Basilica, Golden Lane, and St. Vitus Cathedral.
For additional fees, there are options to visit the Cathedral Tower and The Story of Prague permanent exhibition. We did enjoy the exhibition as it was a great chance to learn about Prague and the castle, but it was text heavy with a mix of interesting artifacts.
Guided tours and a multi-language audio guide are available for a fee. We chose the audio guide so we could visit at our own pace, since tickets include access into each building only once. Funny enough, taking a tour is cheaper than renting the audio guide.
Note that there’s even a fee if you want to take photos inside.
Reflect on the Day with Night Views of Prague Castle
Ahh, our favorite views came at night. As usual, Charles Bridge was packed, so we finished our first day in Prague with a walk along the riverside. With magnificent views, and no crowds, it was the perfect end to the day.
Where to Stay in Prague
As we only had three nights in Prague during our Europe road trip, we decided to suck-it-up and stay in the city center. Absolutely no regrets!
Having a choice between Old Town and Malá Strana, we chose Malá Strana. Known as the “Little Side of the River” or “Lesser Town,” Malá Strana felt quiet and less touristy, but it was close enough to walk everywhere.
We stayed at Hotel at the Green Grape (Hotel U Zeleného hroznu). Stunningly beautiful with so much architectural character, it was one of our favorite hotels on this Europe road trip. Clean, comfortable, quiet, and the rooms were spacious.
Plus, they have a small parking area. We suggest messaging the hotel ahead of your stay to reserve a space; there is a charge. Once you are in Prague, you do not need a car.
Walking distances from Hotel at the Green Grape:
- Prague Castle – 4-minute walk
- Charles Bridge – 10-minute walk
- Astronomical Clock and Old Town Square – 20-minute walk
- Hotel Ikona – Located in Malá Strana right next to Charles Bridge, so you can’t beat the location, yet it’s on a quiet street. Rooms are large and comfortable. Parking is available for a fee.
- Eurostars Thalia – In Prague’s Old Town, this hotel is in a wonderful location without being crammed into the tourist quarters. The building is historic, but the rooms are luxurious and modern.
Books on Prague
If you plan to spend more time in Prague or the Czech Republic, these books will help you make the most of your trip.
- DK Eyewitness Prague – Eyewitness is our go-to brand of travel guides. Always with inspiring photos, we use these guides to help us find the hidden gems.
- Go for the broader DK Eyewitness Czech & Slovak Republics book if you plan to extend your trip to other areas of the Czech Republic or Slovakia.
- Culture Guide to the Czech Republic – We love these types of books. They give an in-depth knowledge of customs, way of life, festivals, transportation, and just understanding the country in general. It’s a must have if you plan to spend an extended amount of time in the country.