A friend and I spent a few nights the other week in Prague, Czech Republic.
I’d heard endless good things about Prague. Truly, I don’t know a person who has not liked Prague, with the most common adjective being "dreamy." It’s clear why: the main old town square is a remarkable sight. Standing in the middle, to your right are enormous facades and old buildings; to your left is the Astronomical Clock. Leave the square, wind your way through cobble stone streets and you’re soon at the Charles Bridge. The bridge, especially at night as pictured above, is stunning. And the views of the city from the bridge are second-to-none. Walk across the bridge and continue up the hill and you see Prague Castle, a soaring, amazing architectural construction, with stone lions jumping out the windows.
We went to the Kafka museum after the Castle — it’s very well done. By reading some of Kafka’s diary entries it’s clear that he was absolutely obsessed with writing. He couldn’t do anything else. A sign of genius. (I read this set of Kafka stories beforehand to get oriented. A fine introduction to his work.)
Czech food is heavy (dark meat, yummy thick bread dumplings, beer) but good. Because my friend had a somewhat weak Italian stomach — sorry Massimo, couldn’t resist — we made a couple McDonald’s runs along the way, and stumbled upon the McWalk. The McWalk is like a drive-through window except it’s a walk-through. Why someone would use the McWalk instead of walking in the front door is beyond me. Apparently, there are only two McDonald’s McWalk windows in the world: Prague and Haifa, Israel. See my travel blog for more. Also – in McDonald’s they charge for ketchup!
The Soviet influence remains. I met a business professor in Prague who told me that many officials in the current government are there because of the old communist power structure. The communist ideology still has a grip on the national psyche, he told me, and this is problematic on many fronts including efforts to stimulate entrepreneurship.
We had bad weather for our visit, and weather always makes a difference. This probably contributes to why I feel like Prague is a little overrated. Its beauty is stunning, but many parts of Western Europe have beautiful old towns, churches which inspire, cute hole-in-the-wall shops, etc etc. I’m guessing that 10 years ago, Prague was a hidden gem for Western Europe tourists willing to venture a little more east. It’s changed big time. Charles Bridge teems with tourists every hour of every day. The whole old town is packed with foreigners, and the cheesy shops selling fake tourist trinkets line virtually every street. Sure, you can avoid the tourists and explore new town (which Massimo and I did and it was well worth it). But the fact remains: Prague is now a tier two tourist destination in Europe (if tier one is Rome, Paris, and London), drawing visitors from all over Europe, America, and Asia. To me, Kiev, Ukraine has more charm and is less crowded than Prague, and only slightly less beautiful.
The Bottom Line: Prague is well worth your time as something that has a bit more Eastern European vibe. But it’s no longer off the beaten path and therefore contains all the annoyances of other top European tourist destinations.