I enjoyed visiting Prague, Czech Republic for the first time in early December 2017 for a surprise vacation birthday trip. While there I visited the Prague Castle, Charles Bridge, Museum of Communism, Sedlec Ossuary and attended a ghost tour.
Prague is the capital of Czech Republican and is the largest city in the country. It is full of historic locations, beautiful traditional European architecture and interesting history. My partner and I were there for five days and mostly explored old town Prague.
We arrived at the Prague airport in the afternoon. We took a bus from the airport to a near-by subway station and then took the subway to old town Prague. We had not booked a hotel in advance or knew which hotel to stay at, so we went to a near-by information center where an employee told us where the nearest hotels were. The first hotel we went to had a room available so we stayed there.
Personally I recommend booking a hotel ahead of time in order to stay at the same location for multiple days which saves time in having to re-book hotels, re-pack and travel to a new location. We stayed at a total of three hotels, and were able to stay at the first two hotels for only one night because they were fully booked the next night. The plus side of changing hotels is seeing how different locations operate and learning what the “norm” is.
During the first night in Prague we ventured to the main square where a huge Christmas tree stood with a beautiful light display and Christmas music playing. There was also a Christmas market where vendors sold Czech items and traditional Czech food. I was excited to see a devil walking around which I thought was “Krampus,” a European folklore character that punishes bad children around Christmas time. However, I later talked to a native Czech woman who was not familiar with “Krampus,” but mentioned that on December 6 a devil (known as Mikuláš) and an angel may roam the streets together.
The next day we ventured through old town Prague which consisted of a labyrinth of roads curving in different directions and pointing in various angles. This jumble of roads is typical of old European towns and more difficult to navigate compared the grid structure in most American cities. Buildings were often three stories high and featured old European architecture as well as statues and murals.
We visited Prague’s famous astronomical clock that dates back to 1410. The clock has attracted visitors to Prague for centuries and is considered to be a wonder of the world. Additionally we crossed the famous Charles Bridge which was completed at the beginning of the 15th century. The bridge features replicas of religious statues that were placed along the bridge between 1683 and 1714. There were also artists, entertainers and vendors who wowed visitors as they passed by.
Once we reached the other side of the bridge we stopped to eat at a fairly hidden restaurant that appeared to be buzzing with locals. We try to keep an eye out for restaurants where locals are hanging out because we like to see what locals eat. The menu consisted of traditional Czech food and various alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. I tried a dish that was a piece of meat with brown sauce and rice and partner tried a different kind of meat with bread and a mug of beer. Traditional Czech food is very basic and often consists of a small piece of meat and filler foods such as rice and bread. We often did not see vegetables on the menu.
After finishing we went to the Prague Castle located atop a hill that overlooked old town. Initial construction of the site began in 870 and a Romanesque palace was built during the 12th century. We passed through a security checkpoint to enter the castle and were surprised to come across the beautiful and huge St. Vitus Cathedral located within the castle walls. We did not venture into the castle itself since it was so huge but walked around the courtyard. We came across a mini-museum area that featured knight armory dating back to the 1400s.
We started heading back to old town as the sun began to set. We walked down a deserted alley and came across a mysterious location called Absintherie that had green neon lights hanging in the windows that emitted an eerie green glow on the cobble stones. I was intrigued because I had heard of the drink absinthe before but had never tried it or even seen it in American liquor stores. Immediately we went inside.
We were greeted by bartenders who had slicked back hair and wore Victorian-style clothing. I ordered a traditional absinthe drink that was recommended by the bartender. This drink was by far the strongest drink I have ever tried! I took my time taking sips and observing the strong flavor. I learned the drink is flavored by herbs, primarily wormwood, and was temporarily banned throughout most of Europe during the early 1900s for debated reasons. The Absintherie was certainly a highlight of Prague for me.
The next day we went to the Museum of Communism located on the edge of old town Prague. I had never been to a museum about communism before so I was interested to see what it had to say. The museum consisted of great imagery and lots of reading material that took approximately three hours to read through. The information explained that after World War II the people of Czechoslovakia became unsettled because of poverty and long work days which led them to become interested in communism, a system where property is owned by the community and wealth is distributed equally. In 1948 Czechoslovakia entered a communist state when the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia took control and seized land, money and other property from citizens. It established a controlled society where citizens had to live equally and were not able to speak openly or even leave the country when they chose. Thousands of Czech people died under communist rule which ended in 1991, eventually leading to the country to be named Czech Republic. The Museum of Communism is an eye-opening educational experience that I recommend, though it is not ideal for children who cannot read.
During our final full day in Prague we took a train from Prague’s main train station to a small town called Kutná Hora located nearly an hour drive outside of old town Prague. We were drawn to this town to visit a location often called the “bone church,” otherwise known as the Sedlec Ossuary, an underground tomb that consists of artistically placed human bones.
The ossuary was a short distance walk from the train station. While walking there we observed a chapel that appeared to be tilting forward. When we arrived there was a line of people waiting to walk into an underground room. Trenches had been dug in the ground around the exterior of the room and renovation was underway. I later learned that the site had been used as a burial location dating back to 1278 and the chapel was built around 1400, hence it made sense that there would be foundation issues since the chapel was not built on solid ground.
Eventually we entered the ossuary and observed piles of human skulls and artistically placed human bones. Estimates state that between 40,000 to 70,000 people were buried at the site, many coming from the Black Death plague during the 14th century and Hussite Wars during the 15th century. It was definitely a unique site to visit in Czech Republic.
We then walked to the large cathedral, known as Church of the Assumption of Our Lady and Saint John the Baptist, that was down the road from the ossuary. Old photos show that the cathedral had been neglected for some time, but then was renovated by a Czech Republic historical organization after communist rule had ended in the early 1990s. This cathedral was unique to other cathedrals I had seen in Europe because it had bright colored walls and was not dark and dreary. Additionally there were beautiful paintings dating back hundreds of years as well as boxes that displayed the bones of saints.
Soon we headed back to old town Prague where we waited for a ghost tour to start at 8:30 pm at the main square. We met with a group of people headed by a young girl who was dressed in Victorian-style clothing and held a kerosene lamp. We walked throughout the town and stopped at different locations where she told pieces of dark history. The most interesting part to me was going through the old Jewish corridor where we viewed a Jewish cemetery that is apparently one of the oldest Jewish cemeteries in Europe. She also pointed out old Jewish synagogues that are original structures dating back to when the Jewish community was separated from the general society by a wall. She mentioned Hitler did not destroy these Jewish sites because he wanted the area to be a mausoleum after he annihilated the Jews.
Our time in Prague soon came to an end. We woke up early the next morning to pack and take a cab to the airport. We were glad we arrived at the airport hours before our flight because we ended up waiting in line for an hour just to check in and then had to wait even longer due to issues with security. Thankfully we had a little bit of time to purchase a bottle of absinthe before boarding our plane.
Prague was certainly a wonderful place to visit that is full of interesting foods, history and locations.
Lauren Ell is an American blogger born and raised in Southern California and is currently based in Sweden. She discusses Epilepsy, Politics and Fun. Professionally Ell is an Online Marketing Consultant and Virtual Assistant. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.