10 Photos: The Romance of Prague, Czech Republic
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Our “10 Photos” essays include tips on exploring destinations, redeeming for hotels, flights and more. Here, TPG Contributor Kelsy Chauvin highlights Prague’s timeless architecture, quirky sights and spots to soak up the seductive Czech capital. (All photos by the author.)
For years, I’d heard Prague referred to as the “Paris of Eastern Europe,” and when I finally got the chance to visit the city for myself, I soon understood the bold nickname. This living-history metropolis blends the Roman, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque eras with 19th-century Art Nouveau, 1920s Functionalism and the spirit of the 1989 Velvet Revolution, resulting in a cityscape of riveting beauty. Truthfully, though, Prague doesn’t deserve to be called the Paris of anywhere — this lovely capital possesses a fascinating history, a captivating character and an elegant culture all its own.
The narrow streets and winding corridors of Old Town (in Czech, Staré Město) are the obvious starting points in the City of Spires (one of Prague’s other nicknames), since its seems like every big thoroughfare leads you there. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Old Town is completely enchanting with its centuries-old buildings, monuments and famous 600-year-old Astronomical Clock.
Adorning the southern side of the Old Town City Hall, this clock is one of the oldest still-functioning timepieces of its kind in the world — but it really has no comparison, thanks to its gilded details, rich symbolism and moving figures of the 12 Christian apostles, plus actual astronomical/astrological time-keeping.
One of Prague’s most pleasant aspects is its walkable size and great transit. Biking is great too, just beware of the ubiquitous cobblestones — not that they stop the many Segway tours buzzing around. Even if Segways aren’t your thing, an historic walking tour, culinary or even a scenic tour riding around town in a vintage car can help you better absorb more of this exciting city than you might discover simply on your own.
One of the highlights of the Eating Prague food tour I joined was discovering Zvonice Restaurant, located inside the 16th-century Jindrisska bell tower. Its amazing Czech delicacies include a (surprisingly) mind-blowing sauerkraut soup, and locally sourced fish and game (try the wild boar). Bonus points, literally, for using my Citi Premier® Card for both the tour and the subsequent dinner at Zvonice, as the card earns 3x for travel expenses like tours and 2x on dining.
The city’s most famous and utilitarian landmark is the Charles Bridge, built by Holy Roman Emperor King Charles IV, who placed its first stone at the numerologically auspicious moment of 5:31am on July 9, 1357. That seemed to do the trick, as the bridge just rang in its 658th year.
As one of several bridges that cross the Vltava River, the Charles leads into historic Malá Strana, the “Little Quarter,” founded as a royal city in 1257. Tourists roam these hilly streets on their way to the towering Prague Castle, whose expansive grounds encompass the regal 16th-century Lobkowicz Palace.
Also here is Golden Lane, where Franz Kafka once worked in house No. 22, as well as the soaring and ancient St. Vitus Cathedral.
Prague is a wonderful city to get lost in. I wandered through Josefov (the Jewish Quarter) and more quaint lanes than I could count. I eventually stopped for strong Czech coffee at Café Café, a chic local hangout serving lunch, drinks and baked indulgences that will reward you for your strolling efforts. From there, I strolled up the broad plaza of Wenceslas Square, which is anchored by the striking domed 19th-century National Museum — which is currently closed for long-term renovations.
The city is full of extraordinary sights, but I found myself returning several times to the Municipal House, a 1905 Art Nouveau masterpiece that’s spectacular both inside and out. It serves as a significant civic structure, having been a key locale during the 1989 Velvet Revolution. But it’s also a dynamic space with diverse uses, including theaters with nightly performances, the classic Francouzská Restaurace and other restaurants and bars. It features thoroughly magnificent décor, furniture and art — including an entire room of works by famed Czech painter and illustrator artist Alphonse Mucha.
My home base in Prague was The Mark Luxury Hotel Prague, which was originally a 15th-century palace that was renovated as a contemporary property in 2008. Set just a block away from the city center and offering free Wi-Fi, this Visa Signature hotel guarantees holders of Visa Signature cards (e.g., Chase Sapphire Preferred, Hyatt Credit Card, Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card, Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card, Bank of America’s Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card, Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card, etc.) a $25 food or beverage credit, daily breakfast and, when available, an automatic upgrade, which could score you one of the outdoor balcony suites that overlook Hybernská Street.
If you’d rather use points for your stay in Prague, you’re in luck, as the city is home to the Hilton Prague Old Town (about $150/30,000 HHonors points per night), the InterContinental Prague (about $115/35,000 IHG Rewards per night), the Prague Marriott (about $125/35,000 Marriott Rewards points per night) and more. Be sure to see Destination of the Week: Prague for additional lodging options.
Getting to Prague
All the major US airlines have connections to Prague Václav Havel Airport (PRG), but none fly direct — so you’re in for a stopover in another European city.
Delta flies seasonally from New York-JFK, with awards starting at 30,000 SkyMiles in coach or 62,500 in business, and several SkyTeam partners regularly connect to PRG, including Air France via Paris (CDG), Alitalia via Rome (FCO) or Pisa (PSA), KLM via Amsterdam (AMS) and Czech Airlines via an extensive array of major European cities.
Various Star Alliance partners regularly connect to PRG, including Aegean via Athens (ATH), Lufthansa via Frankfurt (FRA) and Swiss via Zürich (ZRH) and Geneva (GVA), with awards priced at 30,000 MileagePlus miles in economy, 57,500 in business or 80,000 in first.
Oneworld partners British Airways (via London-Heathrow [LHR]) and Iberia (via Madrid [MAD]) fly to PRG, with economy flights starting at 20,000 AAdvantage miles each way, business for 50,000 miles or 62,500 miles for first. Additionally, Virgin Atlantic flies to PRG through LHR.
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