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24 amazing hours in Prague
For a decade or more, Prague has been unofficially regarded as Europe's coolest city -- and it's not about to relinquish the title
Imagine the scene.
With only 24 hours in Europe’s most beautiful city (OK, we'll entertain arguments on that one) you need to figure out how to get the most from a day of roving merriment around Prague’s many squares, bridges, bars and cobbled backstreets.
A cursory glance over the library of guidebooks and free-to-download app guides you’ve already amassed confirms your worst fear. There's simply too much to do in Prague.
Which is why we’ve compiled a watertight itinerary for the ultimate day here.
The downside? You’ll need to steel yourself to get up at rude o’ clock, walk a lot and be prepared to drink heavily and eat a lot of meat. (Apologies to those of a vegetarian, teetotal persuasion.)
Firstly, you'll need to arm yourself with the following: a day-pass for the city’s amazing Metro and tram public network system (CZK 110 (US$6), info at www.dpp.cz), the free Prague Trips by Public Transport app, the Czech Dictionary Free app for your iPhone and a sturdy pair of shoes.
6 a.m. Charles Bridge
Prague’s Metro system snaps and crackles into action at 5 a.m. every day, which means you have no excuse not to drag yourself out of bed to experience the city before the crowds come out.
Depending on where you're staying you might be surprised by the sheer number of Prague’s salarymen and worker drones squeezing themselves onto packed Metro trains so early in the day.
Thankfully, few will be heading to the Charles Bridge (Karluv Most), perhaps Prague’s most-photographed spot, so it's worth getting there before breakfast to snap away.
Built in the 1300s, the bridge was the only way to cross the Vltava until 1841 and a vital trade artery between Eastern and Western Europe.
Nowadays, it’s home to tourists, puppeteers and caricaturists. Most of whom won’t be down there at 6 a.m. Thankfully.
Charles Bridge, between Mala Strana and the Old Town. Nearest Metro: Staromestska
7 a.m. Café Imperial (breakfast)
Hearty breakfasts await in the splendid setting of nearby Café Imperial.
While most tourist-oriented restaurants near the bridge don’t open till much later in the morning, this long-established and ornate cafe, run by well-known chef Zdenek Pohlreich, serves stunning meals.
A full English breakfast will set you back CZK 215, including coffee.
Na Poříčí 15, 110 00 Praha 1; +420 246 011 440; daily 7 a.m.-11 p.m.; www.cafeimperial.cz
9 a.m. Petrin Hill
Over the Charles Bridge is Mala Strana (“lesser side”), through which you can wander to the bottom of Petrin Hill, where you'll find the Petrin Funicular.
The hill was reportedly one of Kafka’s favorite hangouts and you can buy a tacky T-shirt emblazoned with old Franz’s mug to prove it.
The funicular opens at 9 a.m.
You can use your Prague Integrated Transport (PIT) ticket to get up the hill.
Once at the summit you get an awe-inspiring view of the city and Prague Castle. You could almost be in an episode of "The Prisoner" as you wander around the neatly kept gardens and pay a visit to the mirror maze (admission CZK 70).
Petrin Funicular, daily 9 a.m.-11:20 p.m. (November-March) or until 11:30 p.m. (April-October). Closed intervals in March and October, www.dpp.cz
11 a.m. The Globe (brunch)
After a steady walk back across the Vltava, there's strong coffee and a mid-morning brunch at The Globe Bookstore and Café, one of Prague’s coolest expat hangouts since opening in 1993.
Here, wannabe Hemingways and Gertrude Steins update their Facebook status on their MacBook Airs.
Take tram No. 14 and 21 to tram stop Myslíkova or take the Metro to Karlovo Náměstí or Narodni Trida.
Pštrossova 6, 110 00 Praha 1; Monday-Wednesday 9:30 a.m.-midnight; Thursday-Sunday 9:30 a.m.-1 a.m.; www.globebookstore.cz
1 p.m. Letna Park
To avoid the lunchtime rush, you can walk across Letna Park and check out the strange metronome atop the plinth that once accommodated Stalin’s Monument.
The embarrassed Czechs blew up the monstrous concrete homage to old Joe back in 1962 and the area is now mostly populated by young skaters.
Nearest Metro: Hradčanská. Or take tram No. 1, 8, 15, 25 or 26 to Sparta tram stop.
3 p.m. Praha Holesovice beer hall (lunch)
To get a decent lunch in Prague, avoid the midday crush around Old Town Square and Charles Bridge.
At a genuine Czech beer hall you can sit down, gnaw on meat and dumplings (for vegetarians there's cheese and fries) and sink a pivo (beer) or three.
The quieter side of the river is best for lunch. At the Veletrzní Palace National Gallery (grab a tram) you'll find the wonder that is the Staropramen brewery’s Praha Holesovice beer hall and restaurant. They serve heavy lunches -- lots of meat, sauces, dumplings, beer.
You can walk it off by trekking up and down the five fantastic floors of the National Gallery (entrance fee CZK 180).
Take tram No. 12, 14, 15 or 17 to Veletržní station or Metro to Vltavská, Veletrzní Palace.
Dukelských hrdinů 47, 170 00 Praha 7; Tuesday-Sunday 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; www.ngprague.cz
5 p.m. Prague Castle
It'd be foolish to visit Prague and not take the No. 22 tram up the long, winding hill to the castle.
The best time to head over to the city’s most famous landmark is late afternoon, as the guided tours are thinning out and there’s room to breathe and marvel at the immense cathedral.
Guinness World Records calls the Prague Castle the biggest coherent castle complex in the world. At around 70,000 square meters it would take weeks to see the whole place.
The cathedral is the main attraction. The arts and craft stalls along the old castle stairs ease you back into the 21st century.
Nearest Metro: Malostranska. Or take tram No. 22 up the hill.
Prague Castle and garden, opening hours and information at www.hrad.cz
7 p.m. Drinks in jazz town
At the bottom of the castle stairs is the Malostranska square district. It has a great selection of bars, jazz joints and live music venues.
The Blue Light Bar is friendly; U Maleho Glena is glitzy; Ungelt jazz and blues bar is down-to-earth.
If no one tells you that Bill Clinton once played his sax at the latter within 20 minutes of ordering your first beer, take it as a good omen and get comfortable.
10 p.m. Francouzská restaurant (dinner)
Once you’ve managed to escape the clutches of “the jazz,” it's time to head back into the old town for a lavish meat feast.
The best in fine Czech cuisine (with prices to match) is found at the art nouveau Francouzská restaurant.
Executive chef Jacques Auffrays brings Michelin-star style to this immense palace of glitz. French, Czech and international cuisine is served: roasted lamb chop, chicken breast, all kinds of pork, cheese, risotto ... it's an impressive menu and all of it served in high style.
Nearest Metro: Namesti Republiky
Náměstí republiky 5, 110 00, Praha 1; daily, noon-11 p.m.; +420 222 002 770; www.francouzskarestaurace.cz