With just 24 hours to explore Prague, the Czech Republic’s culture-rich capital, it can be tricky to know where to start. Madeleine Barber seeks out the city’s best bits so you don’t have to
Prague may be known for its appeal to stag and hen parties in search of a wild weekend, but the Czech capital has so much more to offer than lively bars and cheap booze. During a short visit to the city, the Old Town is the place to be. Its higgledy-piggledy cobbled streets are lined with artisan cafes and boutique shops, while the historic square in the district’s centre has a story to discover around every architecturally astounding corner. Plus, the Vltava river, which winds through the city between red-roofed townhouses and Gothic church spires, gives Prague a romantic reputation.
If visitors are only waking up once in Prague, make it at the Augustine, a Luxury Collection Hotel. The residence is an Augustinian monastery, so guests will share quarters with practising monks and have the opportunity to discover a 13th-century library and celestial gardens. For visitors with extra-deep pockets, recommend the Tower Suite, which has been frequented by famous guests such as Jimmy Choo. For those on a budget, there are heaps of cheaper hotels throughout the city.
Prague Castle, a Unesco World Heritage Site and one of the largest castle complexes in the world, sits on the western side of the Vltava river atop a high hill. Visitors can explore St Vitus Cathedral, St George’s Basilica and a plethora of palatial buildings. Below the castle is the Gothic Charles Bridge. This is the most-visited site in the city, so crossing it and admiring the Baroque statues en route is a must. Many touch the St John of Nepomuk statue for good luck and to guarantee a return to Prague.
Every hour on the hour, Prague’s medieval astronomical clock – on the side of the Town Hall in the Old Town Square – puts on a display for bystanders featuring a “procession” of 12 apostles in figurine form. As the ancient mechanism strikes “food o’clock”, visitors are spoilt for choice. Lunchtime favourites include the Grand Cafe Orient, in Prague’s first cubist building (the House of the Black Madonna), and the Artisan Cafe & Bistrot.
Refuelled and ready for more sightseeing, visitors can take an Insight Cities tour. The introductory three-hour walking tour begins in the Old Town Square and familiarises visitors with monuments, buildings and sites that reveal Prague’s multicultural and politically charged past. Highlights include the Jewish Quarter, with its Old New Synagogue and ancient cemetery, and Wenceslaus Square, where the Nazis once held mass rallies.
Come dinnertime, visitors can indulge in traditional Czech cuisine at Plzenska Restaurace. The former beer hall is in the basement of Prague’s Municipal House, its art deco interior from the early 1920s providing a characterful setting for tucking into goulash and schnitzel dishes to the sound of the accordion. Upstairs, more sophisticated dining options include the art nouveau French Restaurant and Kavarna Obecni dum.
Lovers of opera will need to book far in advance to see a performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni at the city’s iconic Estates Theatre, which is one of the only remaining venues where the composer performed. The opera first premiered in this exact spot on 29 October 1787, making this a magical way to end an inspiring and action-packed 24-hour stint in Prague.