Where do I begin about Prague?
I’d heard so much about Prague, about it being one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, and about its incredible history and streets full of old churches and cathedrals with magnificent towering spires. It’s a city I’ve been itching to tick off my bucket-list for the longest time and it finally happened!
We spent three nights and two full days in Prague, which I think is the minimum amount of time it takes to touch-and-go through Prague’s most famous sights and attractions, and to say that you’ve “been there, done that”. Ideally though, I would love to have spent four or even five days in Prague, heading out for day trips and exploring the lesser known areas of Prague and the Czech Republic, but we were pressed for time, and had to make do with only two full days in Prague.
Renting a car in Europe
So, I’ve always wanted to road-trip in Europe! I’m really glad we made it happen this time, with a short road-trip from Berlin to Prague, and back again for our connecting flight to London.
This was my first time renting a car in Europe, and I was steered to AutoEurope’s website via my best friend, Google, hahaha.
AutoEurope allows you to compare cars and prices across the most popular car rental companies in Europe, so you can get the best bang for your buck!
Of course, since you’re in Europe, just go for a continental car. Hahaha. We decided on a small BMW, which set us back a reasonable SGD360 for three days of car rental.
The logistics of the car rental was straight-forward: We picked up our car from Berlin Main Railway Station in the morning, set the GPS to go from Berlin to Prague and off we went! It was a 350km drive (roughly four hours) and we did a short stop at Dresden, on the border of Germany (more on that soon), before continuing the drive to Prague.
Driving in Europe was not as challenging as I expected, and I was particularly impressed by the courtesy shown on the highway by other drivers! Singapore really has the worst drivers in the world. Despite it being a left-hand drive (as opposed to right-hand driving in Singapore), the journey was smooth and uneventful.
En route to Prague, also known as Praha in the Czech language.
Tips on Getting Czech Currency
The Czech republic has yet to adopt the euro currency, and one of my greatest concerns was how I would be getting my czech korunas (also known as the Czech crown), as it is not a widely-circulated currency internationally.
After scouring through various websites and experiencing it personally myself, my best advice is to simply bring along a debit card that can be used to withdraw Czech korunas from the local ATM – It’s possibly the best way to get your czech currencies and the most convenient way as well. There are plenty of local money changers in Prague, but the rates are not to be trusted IMO, and I would rather get my korunas from the ATM.
Just make sure that your debit card has either the Cirrus or Maestro logo, which is accepted in most parts of Europe, and you should be fine! (Just in case, you might want to bring a back-up card, and remember to call the bank to check that your card is activated for international withdrawals.)
I recall there being a transaction fee for every withdrawal, but I would rather pay a little more for multiple withdrawals than be stuck with too many korunas that I won’t be able to use anywhere else. There was an ATM right across the road from my hotel, and I didn’t have any trouble withdrawing korunas at all.
Most hotels and restaurants do accept credit cards, and I remember my hotel accepting Euros too, so you don’t need to be too worried about not having enough czech korunas for your stay in Prague, especially with the convenience of ATM withdrawals.
Checking into Art Deco Imperial Hotel
We arrived in Prague at our hotel, Art Deco Imperial Hotel, just as the sun was about to set. What a beautiful cityscape right from our doorstep!
I picked Art Deco Imperial Hotel for a number of reasons: It is one of the top-rated hotels in Prague, offers parking for our rental car (at an additional fee), has a convenient location near the heart of Prague, and the building itself has a history dating back to the 14th century, with old-world baroque styling that makes for a truly unique and one-of-a-kind experience.
We paid about $330 per night, but rates vary depending on season, and it might be as affordable as $200 a night, which is a very decent price for its location and luxurious baroque-styled rooms.
Our car was driven to the car park (apparently not in the same building) by the valet, and we were welcomed and checked in by very warm and gracious staff who also spoke good English, we had no issues communicating at all.
Our room was a modest but nice size – It was spotless and well-kept, which was fantastic. I liked the classic interior with its ornate furnishings and cosy ambience.
Even the bathroom was gorgeous with its classy marble tiles and art-deco styled faucets and hardware! I always appreciate a bath tub and I loved it that my room came with a good-sized bath tub 😀
All-in-all, Art Deco Imperial Hotel scored well on my hotel score-card, with extra brownie points for their very famous Cafe Imperial, where we had a delicious dinner on our first night in Prague!
Prague at night – First impressions
Prague lives up to all the hype that I’ve heard about it – It is one of THE most beautiful European cities I’ve had the good fortune to set foot in.
With that though, comes the bad news: The best parts of Prague like Old Town Square and its neighbouring areas have turned into one giant tourist attraction and is flooded with hundreds of people from day to night, as well as touristy shops and vendors selling overpriced food and merchandise.
To put it bluntly, if you hate crowds, you’re most probably gonna hate Prague.
Prague is still remarkably beautiful – But a lot of its authenticity has been lost to the huge amount of attention it has received as a popular tourist destination over the past years. To uncover Prague’s original charm, one must tune out the noise of the surrounding crowds and delve a little deeper.
For instance, I learnt that the highly popular trdelnik aka chimney cake that you’ll see being sold in ten different shops, with each one touting the trdelnik as a “traditional Bohemian” pastry, isn’t even historically a traditional Czech food, but grew crazily widespread in Prague over the past few years because of its popularity with the tourists.
(Yes, I did cave in and bought one of these chimney bread on my first night in Prague.)
Taste-wise, it was sweet, sugary and cinnamon-y, not too bad at all as a street-side snack, actually.
This ham though, was a huge disappointment for me – We were enticed to buy the ham because of how the entire leg of ham was roasting so merrily on a spit, but when it was served in one huge hunk, the ham was barely warm on the outside, and still cold on the inside. Also, it was terribly expensive and I felt completely ripped off.
Moral of the story is, avoid these expensive tourist traps unless you’re super eager to try something that you’ve never tried before.
Night view of the Vltava and Prague Castle
We meandered our way through hordes of over-eager Korean tourists until we reached the river-side, from which you can see the lit-up Prague Castle across the River Vltava!
Spotted hundreds of love locks on a fence right by Charles Bridge.
Dinner at Cafe Imperial
If anyone were to ask me for food recommendations in Prague, Cafe Imperial, together with its sister restaurant Next Door by Imperial, would be my top recommedations!
If you’re looking for a traditional Czech restaurant with honest good food at affordable prices, Cafe Imperial is that rare gem: I first heard of this restaurant, very coincidentally, while having a wonderful seafood dinner in Sydney, Australia. The restaurant manager was from the Czech Republic, and when I told her that I would be heading to Prague, she told me that I had to try Cafe Imperial, and Next Door by Imperial (both helmed by the same chef) for really good Czech food.
I remember taking a snapshot of the restaurant names she scribbled down for me, and it was only until just mere days before my tripe to Europe that I realised Cafe Imperial was quite literally located just in the very same hotel I booked (Art Deco Imperial Hotel)! How’s that for serendipity?
with orange segments, walnuts, homemade dressing
Roasted quail stuffed with Foie Gras
with red wine sauce
with fennel crust and Nicoise salad
The food was legitly delicious – That roasted quail with foie gras had all the right flavours, while the grilled tuna was fresh and appetizing with the aroma of herbs and spices.
Remember to book a table in advance, Cafe Imperial is super popular and walk-ins might not be successful so I would suggest getting your hotel concierge to do a booking for you! We had a very good dinner, and went to bed (how convenient that Cafe Imperial is located on the ground floor of Art Deco Imperial Hotel!) happy and satisfied.
Breakfast at Imperial Cafe
One of the highlights of Imperial Cafe though, is its stunning Art Nouveau décor and mosaic tiles that should be admired in the day time for all its intricacy and beauty!
I have to admit, pictures of these gorgeous interiors were part of what drew me to book my stay at Art Deco Imperial Hotel 😉 Soooo gorgeous!
Breakfast affair with the usual suspects: Bakes, eggs, bacon, sausages and the likes. The breakfast was pretty good, though not mind-blowing.
LOVE those stunningly impressive pillars and the tile art on the ceiling!
Thankful for really nice weather on our first full day in Prague!
If you’re wondering how transport works around Prague, they do have a metro line and buses around the city, but most of the attractions in Prague are all accessible via walking, which was our main mode of transport during our two days in Prague! We left our rental car parked at the hotel, which I would think is the safest option as well.
We took a stroll from Art Deco Imperial Hotel to Prague Old Town Square, where I’d booked us on the free SANDERMANs Walking Tour of Prague – A really great way to learn more about Prague and its history with a local guide, and it’s completely free too! Since it’s free, why not, right? You can choose to tip your guide whatever amount you deem appropriate after your tour, or not at all, if it wasn’t up to your expectations.
SANDEMANs does free walking tours in 19 different cities across Europe, which I think is really cool! They even have an app that you can download and make bookings via.
The 3-hour walking tour brought us through some of Prague’s most famous sights like Old Town Square, the Astronomical Clock, Old Jewish Quarter, Wenceslas Square and more, and our guide brought to life the history behind each landmark or spot, sharing interesting nuggets of information I would not have gotten otherwise.
One of the most famous attractions in Prague has got to be the Astronomical Clock! It is the oldest still-working intact example of its kind surviving to date, and is a magnet that draws in the crowds every hour with its regular “show” on the hour. As you can see, part of the clock tower was under works while I was there, but the clock itself was still the center of attention.
Our guide explained to us how the clock works but it was too complicated for me to understand it properly, so I gave up and resigned myself to just admiring the beautiful and ancient time-piece.
There was a short break during our three hour walking tour with SANDEMANs, and we took the opportunity to grab a bit of food – Also stumbled upon this ice cream shop with great gelato that we enjoyed very much!
The sorbet there wasn’t memorable, but I really liked the creamy and intense gelato flavours! Worth checking out for a little mid-day snack.
Na Hrobci 410/1, 128 00 Nové Město, Czechia
Phone: +420 721 438 209
The walking tour also brought us to Josefov, the old Jewish Quarter in Prague.
Spot that strange black clock in the upper right corner with undecipherable characters on it? That’s a Jewish Hebrew clock that runs counter-clockwise. I don’t know very much about the Jews, but it was nonetheless fascinating to hear about their history.
This is the Old-New Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in Europe that is still in use as a house of prayer. Here’s an interesting fact: Franz Kafka, the famous writer, attended the Old-New Synagogue when he lived in Prague.
We wandered about after the tour ended, and found ourselves on the other side of the river, where a bustling street festival was taking place, with people milling about the grassy plains of a park around an outdoor stage.
It was so pleasant in the cool weather to stroll around and soak in the cheery vibes!
Probably yet another non-authentic Czech street food, but who can resist the allure of freshly-fried potato chips cooked on the spot? Not me.
Crowded streets of Malá Strana, just across the River.
We headed back to Old Town Square in the evening, because we had a performance to catch!
Love this scene. The sun setting in Old Town Square while kids were chasing after bubbles drifting gently through the air. It was a magical moment.
See those Gothic structures rising above the Baroque-style houses? That’s Church of Our Lady before Týn – where we bought tickets for a classical performance!
It was a completely spur-of-the-moment decision we’d made while walking past the day earlier, and I was truly very excited for the performance! There are actually lots of little performances with popular classical repertoires happening all around Prague every day, and this one at Church of Our Lady before Týn is just one of many.
If you’re a classical music enthusiast and carely deeply for good acoustics/sound, I highly recommend watching a performance at Rudolfinum, the most famous concert building in Prague and the seat of the Czech Philharmonic.
The church itself (dating back to 1365!) is just gorgeous, and these majestic settings made the experience extra special for me.
The “Royal Czech Orchestra” though, wasn’t a full orchestra like I was expecting, but comprised of just a string ensemble and some soloists. Nonetheless, I had a good time and thought my money was well-spent on this experience! 🙂
Dinner at Next Door By Imperial
So I tried Cafe Imperial on our first night, and of course I had to book a table for Next Door by Imperial as well! Just across the road (yes, next door, lierally) and helmed by the same chef, Next Door By Imperial has got a superb ambience and just as appetizing menu as Cafe Imperial, and we were not disappointed!
I love it when restaurants serve fresh bread. We were given this spread to go along with the bread and it was OMFG so so so so so yummy??! Turned out to be some sort of ham pate and it was so damn good we must have polished off two baskets of bread along with it!
with Armagnac and ravioli
Grilled Flat Iron Steak
with roasted tomatoes with garlic and herbs
Can’t find this on the menu anymore – But I believe it was pork cheek, and very delicious too!
A wonderful dinner like this only set us back less than SGD100 – Super worth it or what? I would imagine the same meal costing twice the price in Singapore! These two restaurants (Cafe Imperial and Next Door by Imperial) are super popular with both locals and tourists alike so remember to make your reservations beforehand!
I’ll be finishing up with part 2 of Prague in the next post, be back soon!