Prague - the capital of the Czech Republic - has a bit of a reputation for a stag and hen-do hotspot. A self-confessed fan of the more authentic/ 'off the beaten track' destination, I would usually run a mile at any city selling itself on a garish nightlife scene.
But Prague... There was just something about it that always left me pining for a city I didn't consider myself to have anything in common with. I always found myself reverting back to a Prague-themed daydream when deciding where next to travel to. It was almost as if there was some sort of magnetic forcefield between us.
After years of putting it off, I made the rash decision to just do it.
My hand hovered nervously over the 'Book now' button.
Would it be another Amsterdam situation, whereby I would prove all of my previous assumptions right and hate every single second shared with the city? Or would my gut feelings of a potential love affair prove right?
I vowed to approach my time in Prague with an open mind.
... My only regret is that I didn't adhere to my intuition sooner!
The vibrant nightlife makes up only a fraction of what Prague has to offer and truth be told, the city was absent of rowdiness until the evenings belonging to the weekend kicked in, which is the case for most major cities.
Please don't make the mistake I did and rule Prague out based on its unruly relationship with stag and hen parties! There is SO much more to this brilliant little city!
My feelings for Prague were gloriously stirred within around half an hour of touching down on the runway. I caught the airport shuttle bus in the direction of the main train station - a route that saw us weave our way through the vibrant city, immediately showcasing a wide range of its offerings.
My first taste of the real Prague came about when the bus suddenly took a downhill road that ran adjacent to the city centre. Jolting into my eyeline in a state of stunning urgency, the city skyline stood to attention across the water.
I have visited many cities both on our European home ground and further afield, but I can divulge with absolute certainty that no city has a skyline as dramatic as Prague's (and that includes New York!).
Characterised by a dizzying mismatch of colourful rooftops and countless church spires and towers, the landscape in front of me looked enticing in the light of the day. Having been lucky enough to also drink in the very same view in the height of the night, I'm confident in saying that the dim shadows of the dusk only enhance the striking features of the backdrop. Prague is a city that shivers with a gothic demeanor. One look at that electrifying skyline, and its impossible not to be cast under its spell.
It’s hard to know where to start in regards to digressing all of Prague’s charm, for there is so much of it, and all of it extremely varying.
The streets are an intertwining maze of cobbles, sudden alleyways, and deeply intricate buildings. One declaration one can confidently state is that no building in the entire city is 'plain.' From shops to cafes to apartment blocks; all are splashed in sensual shades, mesmerising stonework and interesting patterns. Be it mint green blocks of colour, or striped combinations of powder blue and light cream, the exteriors of Prague’s buildings make a simple walk down the street an attraction in itself. It is impossible not to stand and stare at the jumble of pastels and patterns that surround you.
The roads are awash with busy traffic, from trams to fancy old-fashioned cars – a bustling sight that just adds to the atmosphere.
Springtime in Prague was nothing short of a blessing. The sharp blue sky - attributable to the unexpected high temperatures - combined with the blossom trees cascading down far away hillsides beyond the city, the illusion of cotton wool as they shimmered tentatively in the whispering breeze, gave the city a polished, fresh feel that engulfed me and left a lasting impression.
As the mystical cloak of night falls, the city develops a very different vibe.
Old fashioned lantern-style streetlights illuminate the cobbles with their soft glow. The city’s skyline subtly changes from perfectly exquisite to utterly breathtaking. The many turrets and towers belonging the abundance of churches cast their silhouettes in mysterious fashion across the night sky. As previously mentioned, Prague positively drips with a gothic, medieval feel - something I have never experienced in a city before. Prague's sheer sorcery will undoubtedly enchant anybody lucky enough to share in its whispers.
It really is like nowhere I have ever visited before in my life, and yet I can see certain influences creeping in from other European cities from past travels. For example, the relaxed cobbled backstreets remind me of the safe tranquility of Venice, and the extreme quirky diversity rings similar to Berlin. Prague’s rich range of culture and history rivals that of Malaga’s. While it share some of its European siblings' best bits, Prague still holds the crown in terms of that beguilingly distinctive gothic ambiance I keep referring to.
The Charles Bridge is much more than a mere walkway between the two sides of the river – it is the eye to the city. While walking across it, it is hard to choose where to divert your gaze. There is so much going on. The river below stretches and loops around for as far as the eye can see, beholding a collection of lazily travelling boats on its level surface. Look one way across the bridge and through the archway entrance, you will be treated to a view of the cobbled streets behind. Hemmed in by tall townhouses, the streets are crammed together in the most alluring of ways; a tantalising mix of opulent brickwork. Look up, and the Prague Castle winks at you from the hillside. The bridge is adorned either side by fascinating statues, some complicated, some eerie, the stories behind them unclear, but captivating all the same.
All around is a bustle of activity, dispersed from both tourists and locals. Artists sit and paint with strokes of water-colour, or scribble clever caricatures of passersby.
Below the Charles Bridge are slithers of yet more cobbled lanes. One in particular that springs to mind led to a smaller bridge which was generously doused in love locks.
I can understand why Prague may well be dubbed as 'the hidden romantic capital of Europe.' There is just something about the city's silent grace that stirs up feelings of passion.
Of course, this post wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the famous Prague Castle: officially the biggest castle in Europe. Yes, it looks grand and magnificent from down on the Charles Bridge, where its ghostly shadow seemingly imposes the whole city, but nothing can prepare one for the utter majesty of it up close. Enclosed in the centre of cute little courtyards and tumbling gardens, it stands proudly as a striking mirage of wonder. There is something very magical about standing underneath it, and it stirred a feeling inside of me that I cannot describe. The exterior possesses so much detail that it renders its spectators somewhat breathless as they desperately try to fathom its sheer beauty.
It is not just old fashioned history that makes Prague so wonderful. The city is also home to some fantastic pieces of modern art, ensuring that it keeps up with the times, all the while still managing to retain its original heritage and charm.
The John Lennon Wall is a great example of Prague thinking a little bit outside the box. Tucked away down a backstreet, the sudden explosion of colour is truly fascinating.
The Dancing Houses are a further listing of the contemporary quirkiness that the city so shyly acquires.
The Astronomical Clock attracts people in their hundreds at the strike of every hour, which is a sight in itself. Being a part of the crowd gathered below the beautiful buildings in the Old Town Square, waiting for the clock hand to reach 12 is definitely a must-do in terms of atmosphere. The magic of the clock strike is signalled by the old skeleton figurine clinging to the tower. He moves the hatches back to reveal some further surprises, which you'll just have to see for yourself! Following this show, the loud and proud bellows of the clock tower ring out across the city - a nod for the rest of the churches to follow in suit.
The panoramic sound of the many churches ringing out in unison is an out-of-body experience. You can almost feel the vibrations at your feet.
Although I have covered what some may consider to be Prague’s ‘standard’ tourist attractions, there is also so much more to see behind the scenes, from the neat and pretty little city parks, to the collection of monuments in the Jewish Quarter. Stumble across little collections of markets and marvel at the local produce on sale. Cross the tram lines, pick your away through the blossom trees, and don’t stop walking until you have reached the highest point of the city. Indulge in the hidden gem bookshops that spring up between the townhouses like gold dust. Amble through the night and admire the mysterious orange glow from the church towers. Count the pinprick stars in the clear night sky above the Charles Bridge. Make a wish in the fountain outside Prague Castle. Climb to the top of the Astronomical Clock to see a very different viewpoint of the city. (Don’t take the lift to the top -climb the old stone staircase, and take note of every view along the way.)
And even when you have done all of this, I can guarantee that you will still crave more of Prague.
Cara Jasmine Bradley ©