Let me start off this post with a little message. If you are considering going abroad in college, I am here to tell you to do it. I would not be the person I am today without studying abroad (luckily for me, I got to start doing so in middle school!) and I generally find well-traveled people to be the best kind. My parents have always instilled this thought in me and I think they were pretty right on this one (as they are on most things.)
I got to participate in an exchange program in middle school where we hosted a French student for a few weeks and then we’d stay with their family in France for a few weeks. This pretty much set up the expectation that I’d study in Paris when I went off to college. Don’t get me wrong, (who doesn’t love Paris?) but by the time I was deciding where to go abroad I had been to Paris 4 times (Trust me, I know how spoiled and lucky I am to be able to say that.) Also, NYU has a really great (in most ways) study abroad program where they basically have satellite campuses all over the world, so there’s no worry about credits transferring or anything and you know your education is still going to be top-notch. This is awesome but also constricting to a music major who needed to keep on track with their music theory education. Your choices are Prague in the fall semester or Florence in the spring and after a meeting where we got a spirited review of the Prague campus and a very lackluster one of Florence, my mind was made up. I was going to the Czech Republic. It’s been three years since I came back from Prague and my friends and I are going to the Czech Beer Garden in Astoria this weekend so I’m thinking it’s time for a nostalgic Prague post!
Camille’s Top Picks in Prague (and the CZ)
This is probably the best restaurant in Prague and definitely one of the most Czech. They are famous for their Pilsner tanks and the fact that they make traditional Czech food in a modern and seasonal way. They always have some kind of goulash and smažený sýr aka fried cheese. Yes, giant deep fried cheese sticks are really popular in the CZ! Make sure you order a side of potatoes to go with. This is where you go to drink fresh beer (order with how much foam you want) and really good Czech food.
This became a fast favorite for my veggy boyfriend. Maitrea is located right behind Týn church in Old Town and Lehka Hlava (Clear Head) is just down the river from the Charles Bridge. The food is a weird combination of cultures and all vegetarian but we really enjoyed everything we had there and they even have vegetarian versions of Czech specialties such as svíčková which a meat stew with dumplings (kind of like goulash) but is traditionally served with sweet jam and whipped cream. (I promise it’s good!)
-Petřín, Vyšehrad, and Stromovka
Check out all the parks in Prague! Petřín Hill, Vyšehrad, Letná and Stromovka are some good ones. Take the cable car up the hill to Petřín Town (Prague’s own mini Eiffel Tower) for great views of Prague Castle and Old Town. You can also see David Černý’s baby scupltures on the TV tower in Žižkov. There’s also a rose garden by the tower if you go in the summer. Vyšehrad is a medieval castle (or what’s left of it) and is bascially a big park area, located right on the Vltava river. One of the coolest places at Vyšehrad is the graveyard. Lots of famous Czech people are buried there, including Czech composers Dvořák and Smetana. Stromovka might be a little out of the way for the average tourist (I lived in Holešovice so it was very close to us) and used to be the old royal hunting grounds.
-Letná Beer Garden
Letná Park is another awesome park in Prague. It’s huge and contains a giant metronome where a statue of Stalin used to stand and on the Eastern side there is an awesome beer garden. They serve food here (grilled meat and vegetables) but the draw is really the beer and the view. You can see down into Old Town from here too. One night when I was there, they were even having a wedding reception and we got to watch a fire show!
This restaurant is run by an American who moved to Prague, so while it’s not a very Czech experience it quickly became a staple for us study abroad students. They have lots of locations all over the city (Old Town, Malá Strana, and Holešovice) and great food. I loved the pastrami!
-Charles Bridge/Prague Castle/Old Town
Why would you come to Prague and NOT come to the Charles Bridge? It’s one of Prague’s most famous landmarks for a reason. I prefer the walk to Malá Strana but either way, you’re going from one cool place to another. Malá Strana is the neighborhood containing Prague Castle and Old Town has Týn Church and the Astronomical Clock. They’re both pretty touristy but if you look around, you’re still certain to find cool spots. There are vendors set up along the bridge with the statues (you can see which ones are lucky by if they’re rubbed shiny or not) with cool souvenirs. For the best view OF the bridge, I suggest walking south along the Vlatava on the Old Town side. There, you can get a view of the bridge and Prague castle that can’t be beat!
I can’t exactly personally recommend Cross Club, seeing as I’m not a club person and never even went there, but all my friends really liked this place. Even though it’s a bit sketchy, Brian says it feels like the Star Wars cantina with moving gears and an industrial feel. There’s lot of clubbing in Prague (like in all of Eastern Europe) so if you want to go to one, I’d suggest sticking to Holešovice and the outer areas of Prague instead of Old Town.
The Christmas markets in Prague, much like everywhere else in Germany, Austria, Poland, etc are awesome! Pick up all your Czech souvenirs and Christmas decorations and make sure you get some food too! Look for Trdelník (you may know them as chimney cakes?) and Prague ham. You can find some of this food year round in Old Town.
Karlovy Vary is a spa town about 3 hours west of Prague. It’s very popular with Russian tourists and totally worth the short bus trip out. We spent a weekend here and were totally captured by the beauty of it. We only spent one night which ended up being a just fine amount of time. Our first day we walked around the city and did some shopping (for these special little cups you use to drink the “curative” water out of spouts around the city and for some warm spa wafers) and ended up taking the cable car up to Diana Tower. It’s quite pretty up there and you can see all the colorful buildings of Karlovy Vary. We came back down for some dinner. The next day we woke up early and swam at the Thermal Pool at Hotel Thermal. The hotel may be a big ugly Soviet block but the view from the outdoor, heated pool was awesome. After we swam, we got some lunch and took a tour of the Becherovka museum. Becherovka is the liquor of the Czech Republic. It’s spicy with hints of cinnamon, anise, and nutmeg, made with the healing waters of the area. (People call it Christmas in a bottle…) You get a short tour of the history of the liquor and then a small tasting. We headed back to the bus after that and headed back to Prague. Don’t miss Karlovy Vary because it’s beautiful and relaxing.
If you’re traveling around Europe (on your way to Berlin or Dresden perhaps?) you may want to consider a stop in Liberec. We stayed one night here and it’s got a couple things to see. The grand town hall is beautiful, and the “Giant’s Breakfast” bus stop by David Černý is pretty cool. We also went up to Ještěd Tower for views of the surrounding area (you can see three countries!) and some good apple strudel. They even have a hotel in the tower!
I never really made it to Brno (look into the caves if you’re on your way to Vienna, and if you’re there in the fall, make sure to get some fresh Moravian burčák or young wine) or Český Krumlov (a cool medieval city with moats on your way to Munich) but if you had the time and were headed in that direction, I would suggest you check it out. Prague is great because you can travel to so many cities quite easily. We took the train to Berlin and Krakow, the bus to Vienna, and short flights to Budapest, Brussels and Amsterdam. I love Prague and I miss it so much. But trust, I will be back!
If you want to see more about my semester in Prague, you can check out my study abroad blog here.