On November 17th of this year, the Czechs will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the end of Communist rule in Czechoslovakia. With the fall of the Iron Curtain came an influx of foreigners to the country, especially to Prague.
In 1992, Prague’s historic center (including the world-famous Prague Castle) was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List, along with the historic centers of Český Krumlov and Telč. The low prices at the time, coupled with the attraction of a country that had previously been largely inaccessible, brought tourists in – and now, despite the increased prices and crowds, the tourists keep on coming. And, let’s face it – the list of things to do in Prague is huge.
THE BEER COUNTRY
Beer is a huge draw, admittedly. Czech beer is world-famous (Pilsner is a Czech invention), and still priced well within the affordability range. The Czechs consume more beer per capita than any other country in the world, and they do know how to brew it. Prague boasts beer tours, beer spas, and even beer cosmetics.
ART & HISTORY
Prague’s impressive art history attracts tourists every year. Artist Alfons Mucha, who was so closely associated with Art Nouveau that the French originally called it “Mucha style”, was born in what is now Moravia (the southeast part of the modern-day Czech Republic). His magnum opus was the “Slav Epic”, a series of paintings of staggering size detailing various events in the history of the Slavic peoples. The paintings are on display in Prague. Mucha also designed one of the stained-glass windows in St. Vitus’s Cathedral, which is on the left as you enter. Sculptor David Černý has several offbeat creations on display – a giant Kafka head made of mirrors, a statue of Freud dangling above an Old Town Street, and two “urinating” statues are among his works that greet unwary visitors.
RIDING & HIKING
Bike tourism is increasingly popular. Tourists can take a guided bike tour of the city, and daring ones can go on day trips, or even trips covering several days and a lot of ground. A network of well-marked hiking and cycling trails known as Greenways links Prague to Vienna, allowing visitors to travel at their own pace, visiting areas of natural beauty, small villages, impressive cathedrals, and charming village taverns.
Prague has also many parks that are perfect for a bike ride and hike without going too far. Here you will find the best Prague park walks for a amazing morning or afternoon outdoors.
A bike trip from Prague to Karlštejn is trendy right now, due to its proximity and beautiful destination. It's only 25 km from Prague's center and bikers can use the extensive beer gardens in one of the many restaurants such as the Pizzeria Taverna U Ezopa or the Penzion Karlštejn, both bike-friendly, or rest up by the river bank in the gorgeous Hotel Mlyn Karlštejn.
Visitors to Prague are almost certain to see a newly-married couple being photographed in front of the Old Town Hall and other buildings representing Gothic architecture on the Old Town Square. The city has become the place to get married for many couples from China, and the trend is such that some businesses cater to this demographic, including a Chinese-speaking photographer for the wedding day. Although China seems to account for most of the foreign weddings in Prague, many others take advantage of the gorgeous setting for their special day. Many wedding planners offer their services to foreigners, and they are willing to handle even the daunting bureaucracy involved in getting married in the Czech Republic.
The end of the year always brings a tourist boom. Prague’s Christmas markets set up in November, and run on into January. Mulled wine is the drink of the season; the air is heavy with the aromas of cooked food, candied almonds, and gingerbread; and Old Town Square boasts a truly impressive Christmas tree. Here, you can find ornaments for the Christmas tree, wool slippers, cookie cutters, handmade chocolate, and more. The markets, and the decorations around the city, provide a welcome glow to offset the dark, chill winter days. During this season, if you don’t feel like being outside too much, you can always visit one of the many museums around the city, many of which have a restaurant on the premises.
The Czechs see in the New Year in grand style. An enormous firework display is set off in Prague’s Letna Park on the stroke of midnight, and continues for approximately ten minutes. Then, on New Year’s Day, another display is set off, also at Letna. You have to arrive early to get a good spot to see the spectacle.
February, though still in the cold of winter, offers a bright spot in the form of Valentine’s Day. Anyone visiting during this time can count on a variety of Valentine’s offers from restaurants, hotels, massage studios, and theaters. Many of the low-cost airlines which abound in Europe offer Valentine’s specials – airfare, hotel, and certain other perks.
Warm weather heralds another enormous tourist influx. Paddle boats adorn the Vltava, the Charles Bridge is loaded with vendors and visitors alike, and the city center has very few areas that don’t lend themselves beautifully to photography. This is the season of walking tours and bike tours. It is a time when the restaurants and taverns put tables outside so you can watch the world go by as you eat and drink.
Is there ever a bad time to visit Prague? It would seem that there is not. There is always something to do, whether attending a play at the 19th-century National Theatre, visiting a museum, experiencing a medieval show, browsing an open-air market, listening to classical music in a centuries-old church, or having a portrait drawn by one of the artists on the Charles Bridge. Tourism is a major industry in the Czech Republic, and it shows no signs of abating.
Written by Erin Naillon