(Please forgive the pun – I couldn’t help myself.)
So, here is the first of 3 posts on my interrailing trip from Prague to Budapest via Vienna. I’ve been compiling things I would put into my travel guides of the cities in my head as we were travelling (I enjoy doing things like that) and thought I might as well write them up and share them here in case anyone else benefits from my experiences.
We booked 3 nights in Ahoy! Hostel (and no, it wasn’t pirate themed – ‘Ahoy’ is a colloquial greeting in Czech. Honestly) and it suited us very well. Our main requirements were price and location, and it ticked both of those boxes at under £20 a night each and in the centre of Prague, about 10 minutes walk away from the main square (plus opposite an underground Tesco which was ideal.)
Ahoy! probably ended up being the middling hostel of the three we stayed in (as in, not too big, not too small) and was possibly my favourite. It was definitely small, about 40 people in total could stay, and up a flight of stairs from an inconspicuous door on the street, but the staff were friendly and full of recommendations, and it was busy enough that we met and chatted to plenty of people. I don’t know what it is but personally I’m such a fan of arriving in a hostel and the person behind the reception desk getting out a map and circling all the big things while giving us a rundown on the city – it starts the trip off on a really good stead for me.
Facilities-wise Ahoy! was nothing too special – several bathrooms and a few shower rooms down a corridor and a small kitchen with the basics, but we were never waiting to use the loo and it did just have everything we needed. Bonus: a refrigerator drinks cabinet by reception so you don’t even have to leave the hostel for your Czech beer!
- Free (tipped) walking tour of the city – Aside from a great way of orientating yourself, this hostel recommended tour was also recommended by a load of other hostels, so we met lots of great people from around the city who weren’t staying with us. It was also super interesting to hear about our guide’s own experience of growing up under communism, especially her take on how it wasn’t actually so bad (no homelessness or unemployment for starters.)
- Town Hall tower – This is a common look-out but probably not during an epic mid-afternoon thunderstorm. Watching the rain sweep in and lightning striking out across the city was an incredible experience. The view is well worth it in pleasant weather too I’d imagine.
- St Nicholas’ Church – A less common viewpoint for a sure but a beautiful one over Charles Bridge if you don’t mind rickety stairs.
- The Dancing House – We went to see an exhibition entitled ‘Retro 70s to the 80s’ about the last decades of communism and though most signs were in the Czech the big ones were translated and it made for a really interesting read. Our ticket included a free ride to the weird metal bird nest look out from the top too.
- Reduta Jazz Club – This was all Tim – he’s really into his jazz and as I’d forced us to go to a load of history museums I conceded. It was a bit of a splurge (about 10 euros a ticket) but it was a very local vibe and we ended up seeing Jazz Efterrätt who played a 3 hour set with intervals and were just incredible. Even if jazz isn’t my scene I couldn’t help but be massively impressed, and it was really nice to go with an American friend we’d met on the walking tour.
- National Memorial to the Heroes of the Heydrich Terror – It’s a tiny museum (and free, or rather, donation-only) and was so, so worth it. It’s under a church next to a crypt and all about the incredible process and assassination of Heydrich, the Nazi leader in Prague, during WW2 by a couple of Czech paratroopers assisted by the British Secret Service. Very moving and absolutely fascinating if you’re into your world wars.
- Charles Bridge – Beautiful, yes, but so swamped with tourists. Plus, I had a hand constantly on my rucksack because something about the packed space made us hyper-concious of pick pockets.
- Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral – So, so, so jam-packed with tourists. We walked through as quickly as we could as it was very unpleasant, especially in the afternoon heat. The cathedral was free entry but missing that sacred hush you find in most churches; we were surrounded by selfie sticks and a million and one languages with no real attempt to keep quiet.
- Strahov Monastry – Just a bit boring really; I wouldn’t necessarily recommend going in. I’m a more modern history kinda gal, and there wasn’t really a lot to see.
Okay, so we massively lucked out with our goldmine veggie experience. Tim had been recommended ‘Lehka Hlava’ (Clear Head) by his vegetarian girlfriend and it was honestly such a fantastic place, and definitely worthy of it’s ranking as 39th best restaurant in Prague (out of over 4,000) on TripAdvisor.
The vibe is what I’d call ‘sophisticated hippy’ (there’s a section of the menu for Breatharians – google it, it’s kind of terrifying) with a twinkly night-sky effect with the lights in the main area of the restaurant, but the food was incredibly professional. Tim had a thai red curry with tofu which smelt incredible and judging by the way he demolished it tasted pretty good too, and I had a salad with a sublime roasted goat cheese in honey and walnut. After two days of sandwiches and Tesco croissants it was just the delicious, nutritional boost I needed.
Definitely consider booking ahead as we only got in by complete fluke, but whether you’re a veggie or not it’s so worth checking out.
- Avoid tourist-central in terms of restaurants and cafes. Prague definitely felt like the most tourist-focused on the three cities, and if we picked that up after 3 days you can be sure the locals will have as well.
- Metro systems are not very self-explanatory and we managed to get on a bus then metro from the airport to our hostel without buying a ticket? Not that I’m recommending not-paying, but it’s incredibly easy not too.
- Head to Legion Bridge for the beautiful sunsets over Prague Castle.
- Look up local exhibitions. This goes for all the cities really, but the Retro exhibit was so worthwhile and we didn’t see other tourists, mainly Czech families on their holidays to the capital.
- Try a weird donut ice-cream filled thing. They’re incredible (and very filling) – go to Good Food just down from Charles Bridge for the original.
We really, really liked Prague. It might be a bit less authentic in tourist season as it’s hard to go to any major attraction without hearing Brits and stepping into someone’s photo, but there’s a beautiful, slightly roughened edge to the city. We came across so many independent bookshops and cafes wandering the streets and the lingering remnants of the communist era add an extra, darker dimension to the façade of pretty buildings and bridges. I would definitely like to go back out of the summer season in early Autumn.