By: Melanie Sheahan
After decades under communist leadership, Prague has emerged as an international tourism hotspot. A storytelling culture has surfaced to support the crowds of travelers flooding into the famously beautiful capital. Group tours on dozens of different topics provide travelers with an entertaining, yet structured exploration of Prague. While the city’s tour guides vary in size, shape, and native language, they share an infectious passion for the Central European city. Alter your vantage point along the way and discover Prague on foot, by tram, from the water or by air. Prepare to embark on a thrilling social experience, as your guides charm you with stories of life in Prague and insights on the best local attractions. Allow the tours to take you on an exploration of Czech history and culture, with Prague’s most passionate residents as your companions.
4-6:30 PM : Old Town Walking Tour
Begin with a quick but thorough rundown of Prague’s daunting epicenter: Old Town. Your guide will address and promptly bypass the tourist traps, while weaving through narrow cobblestone paths. You’ll find that the city seems smaller and more manageable while becoming infinitely more profound. The city’s 11 styles of architecture will become clear and identifiable, especially the Gothic and Baroque styles. Buildings and structures that you may have overlooked transform into romantic landmarks, such as the statue of Jan Hus, the Grandfather of the Protestant Church and a hero in Czech history. Take advantage of your living, breathing guide and ask about life in Prague. They’ll offer exciting stories about their relationship to Prague and proudly express their political opinions, teach you Czech greetings, and introduce cultural quirks. At the end of your tour, ask for a nearby restaurant with enough traditional Czech cuisine to satisfy the appetite you’ve likely worked up. Most of the Old Town walking tours are free, though payment by tip is encouraged, as guides are hoping to recruit you to other tours. Find a guide in Old Town Square armed with a smile and an umbrella, and make the most of your first adventure.
10-11 PM : Folk Lore and Legends
After dinner and pivo (“beer,” an important Czech word to know) take one of the many ghost tours offered in Staré Město. Look for a tour that boasts a commitment to historical accuracy. Expect to be spooked by the playful guides and by Prague’s chronicles of horror and gore [please hyperlink to Maddie’s article]. While you may not buy into paranormal activity, the chill-inducing stories double as a comprehensive history lesson on traditional Czech legends. The tours, often led by Czech guides working on their English, are the perfect opportunity to explore the city after dark with those who know it best. Take note of the city’s ornamentation and fondness for gargoyles, hauntingly illuminated at night.
The Ghost and Legends tours vary in price but remain relatively inexpensive. You can find an exceptional tour for around $12. They are often small-group oriented, as the tour ventures into dark dungeons and along winding streets.
11 AM-1:30 PM : Castle District
Primed on the history of the common occupants of Prague’s Old Town, cross the Vltava river for an education on Prague’s royal and political history. Opt for a tour that gives a comprehensive view of the Castle Complex, rather than devoting time to any specific building. The guide is a necessary resource, as the castle complex is an overwhelming entity, with little to no information marking each building. These tours demand a guide with a keen knowledge of the Castle’s intricate political history as the complex has been inhabited by a number of administrations and royal entities. Familiarize yourself with statues of Saint George the Dragon Slayer and Prague Castle’s signature battle tactic: defenestration, or the act of throwing someone out a window. Given the castle’s enormity, there will be plenty of walking time to get to know other travelers as well as your guide. Ask your companions where they’re from, what their travel plans are, and share in the experience of getting to know a city. The end of the tour grants you the freedom to go back and explore the complex in greater depth, armed with your new knowledge. Take this opportunity to become better acquainted with the statue entitled “Youth:” the boy with golden… anatomy. Known to be good luck, our guide intimated that rubbing the gilded statue is a blessing for the bedroom. As you make your way down to Lesser Town, stop in a little cafe or hillside restaurant for an elegant dining experience with an expansive view of the city. The tickets for the castle tours include transportation to the castle and can be purchased for about $12.
2:30-5 PM: 20th Century History
Turn your attention to the Prague of the 20th Century. Though the city was physically preserved during WWII, Prague was profoundly affected. Led by verified historians and Czech residents, these small group tours encourage questions and an open, academic conversation. These tours highlight both WWII and Cold War history as they weave their way from the Jewish Quarter to Wenceslas Square. They explore Nazi propaganda, communist symbolism, and functionalist architecture, working to cultivate an impression of life both under Nazi occupation and communism.
There are several tours to choose from, ranging anywhere from $15 to $65, based on group size and guide expertise. Investing in a highly qualified guide would prove a wise investment.
6:30-9:30 PM: Plenty of Pivo
By now, you will have amassed a curiosity for Czech beer culture. The country boasts the world’s highest beer consumption, so pubs and breweries are an important facet of Czech culture. Immerse yourself in this culture with a hands-on beer-drinking experience. The three-hour brewery tours include visits to multiple microbreweries, tastings, and a complete history from your engaging and energetic tour guides. You will be surprised by the tour’s social and informative nature; the guides balance easy conversation with historical and cultural insights, injecting their personality and humor. The experience is sure to reward your long day of walking and dense historical exploration.
Prepare for your drinking escapades and fill up on a hearty bowl of goulash from one of Old Town’s many basement taverns.
6:30-10:30 AM : Prague, by air
Meet your guide outside of the city or arrange to be picked up from your lodging, and prepare for a brand new view of Prague. The two-hour long hot air balloon tour, weather permitting, gives travelers a bird’s eye view of the city and its surrounding villages and regions. Your experienced pilot doubles as a tour guide, granting you perspective beyond the city you have come to know intimately. The experience offers a romantic view of the sunrise over the countryside, providing travelers with time to reflect on their adventures and experiences in Prague.
Follow this adventure with another lofty view, perhaps from the Ginger & Fred. The modern restaurant resides at the top of the Dancing House, a building in the deconstructivist architectural style. The terrace seating looks out on the Vltava River.
12:15-2 PM : River Excursions
Rest your tired feet and take one of the informal yet intimate excursions on the Vltava. Your tour guide bears the title “Captain” and will walk — or steer –you through the river’s history. Though experiences differ, the seamen and women are trained sailors with an intimate relationship to the Vltava and its maintenance. Ask questions of your captain and learn about the recent flooding activity or their childhood memories of ice-skating during particularly cold winters. Prague-Venice or the Devil’s Channel, so named for its stench before modern garbage disposal practices reached Prague, winds beautifully through the Castle District. The tour also offers a glimpse of Kabourek, the beer-loving water sprite. This famous statue is a staple in Bohemian folklore: a water sprite who is too drunk to do any harm and will help fisherman in exchange for a pint of pivo.
The tours range from one to three hours, with some tours providing food. Opt for a shorter tour with a live guide, rather than an audio recording. If you’re hungry after your tour, find a cafe off of the Vltava in Mala Strana or call in reservations at one of the many boat restaurants.
Conclude your adventure with a stroll around your favorite district, recalling your guides’ stories and the city’s historical significance. Become your own guide and dare to explore. Take a turn down unfamiliar cobblestone streets and venture beyond your guides’ paths, armed with their stories and your experience.