How to Experience Prague Like a Local
Prague is one of the most popular tourist destinations in central Europe – the combination of its affordability, frequent connections to many major airport hubs across the UK, and fairy-tale architecture draw over 300,000 UK visitors to the area each year.
While it is tempting to settle for the cliché tourist experiences like a ride in a horse-drawn carriage and drinking overpriced beer by the Old Town Hall, you can experience so much more by following the locals.
Michaela Hernychova, an ambassador with the Foreign and Commonwealth office shares her top tips and favourite activities that take advantage of Prague’s unique culture and allow you to experience non touristy things to do in this city.
1. Enjoy breakfast in one of the city’s many buzzing cafes
The café culture of Prague has been long interwoven with the country’s history. During the era of Communist rule, dissidents organised the non-violent resistance movement, which ultimately led to the regime change in 1989, in these intimate establishments. And they continue to be at the heart of the intellectual and political happening to this day.
You may just bump into a leader of one of the many Czech political parties reading a newspaper with their morning cup of coffee, or academics from a nearby university (there are nine public universities in Prague) discussing latest developments over breakfast. Order yourself brunch food with a side of sourdough bread, settle in, and observe the flutter of activity around you. Žižkavárna is a locals’ favourite nestled away from the overcrowded centre, while Café Louvre is a hundred-year-old establishment in the Old Town which Franz Kafka and Albert Einstein frequented during their visits to Prague.
2. Visit the Strahov Monastery and enjoy sweeping views of the entire city
Just 10-minute walk from Prague Castle, the Strahov Monastery houses an awe-inspiring seventeenth-century library and a Romanesque basilica dating back to 1100s. Despite its proximity to the main tourist attractions, it remains mostly crowd-free. Locals flock to the vineyard during warm summer days (and not-so-cold days all year long), relax with a bottle of wine and enjoy the unique view of the Prague Castle and the historic Malá Strana. But beware – public consumption of alcohol is banned in certain areas of the city, especially in Old Town. You can view the map here. Also, never accept drinks from strangers and leave your drinks unattended to avoid the (unlikely) possibility of having your drink spiked.
3. Relax with a pint in Beer Garden Letná
Czech people, as you might have heard, love their beer – they are, after all, number one beer consumers per capita in the world and drink on average twice as much beer per year as Brits. Therefore, it is not surprising that one of the spots most recommended by locals is a beer garden with panoramic views of the Old Town. The open space is situated within the Letná Gardens, where you can enjoy a game of frisbee before grabbing a klobása (sausage) and drinks. Cheap and cheerful, the beer is served in plastic cups in stalls situated around the gardens, so while you shouldn’t expect a gourmet experience, it will definitely be an authentic one.
4. Connect with nature in Divoká Šárka
Photo credit: Adéla Grůšová
Has the tourist-heavy city centre tired you out? If you do not have enough time to organise a day-trip out of Prague but are longing for some peace and quiet, visit the Divoká Šárka nature reserve. Hop on a tram and in less than 30 minutes, you find yourself at the edge of this expansive forest in the middle of a built-up part of Prague. The reserve is also the location of the legendary Battle of Sexes after the death of Libussa, a female ruler of the Czech lands, who was murdered in the sixth or seventh century.
After her husband assumed the position, women of the court rebelled against having their freedoms taken away. According to the legend, the battle was bloody, and was only resolved by one of the women, Šárka, leading her lover, who also happened to be the resistance leaders, into a trap. She later threw herself off a cliff in the park in grief over his death, earning the reserve its name, “Wild Šárka”. You can enjoy the view from one of the cliffs and imagine the battle playing out in the valleys beneath you. And remember to bring your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) with you, just in case you hurt yourself and need to see a doctor.
General Tips & Things to Watch Out For
As with any big cities, there is an increased pickpocketing activity around the historic city centre and in crowded public transport. If you are confronted by a beggar spinning a tale about their misfortunes or trying to sell you overpriced trinkets (or drugs!), try a technique tried and tested by Praguers – either completely ignore the individual, or say a stern “no” and walk past them. Do not interact with them beyond this, as they might work in groups and empty your pockets while you are distracted by the individual who approached.
The Foreign Office offers further advice for tourists on their website. However, apart from petty crime, Prague is a very safe city. You do not have to worry about walking back to your hotel late at night, as most of the city is well-policed and safe at any time of the day. If you make sure you know what to look out for when in Prague, you will be able to enjoy your visit worry-free. You might also want to check out some useful Czech phrases which will be handy when visiting this country,
By Michaela Hernychova