Here I am, ending a month in Prague. I chose Prague as my base for the beginning of my 1-2 year quest ( http://www.adifferentkindoftravel.com) as it's one of cheapest places in Europe outside Eastern Europe that's beautiful and has big city conveniences (like international restaurants and community, major airport, jobs, etc);
I intended to hang out here while I finished my 6 week intensive TEFL course (which I'm doing as a backup employment plan so I can do individual tutoring, online tutoring, etc as needed while traveling) and to see if I might like to stay (ie could I find some freelance marketing or writing work? Could I see myself here for 6-12 months?) longer term.
I also intended to travel elsewhere for November and December (since any job I might take would start in January) and then return to Prague, if I felt it was where I should end up.
My verdict thus far, after a month in Prague, is that is not the place I plan to come back to long term.
That said, it's a beautiful city with SO much to offer. Stunning views around every corner. A vibrant international community (I've linked up with a good little group of Italians, Romanians, etc). Every day I find a new little neighborhood (I like to take a ton of different metro stops and just get off and explore), cafe, outdoor market, or restaurant.
Before I go into explaining my favorite spots in Prague I must divulge that my reviews and my opinions on great places are based on my unique situation, which is having a severe allergy to gluten (like my mom's whole family of celiacs) when I travel a huge portion of my time is spent simply figuring out how to eat, where to eat, and cooking quite a lot as it's typically safer, better, and guarantees I won't starve.
In addition, I'm on a strict budget (my lodging choices require a ton of work and research but allow me to stay in good quality accommodation for an average of $15/night when all is said and done, without ever stepping a foot in a hostel or a bad area), yet I also put a priority on the quality of food and wine I consume.
I like good wine. It's a big part of my life and I count it as part of my necessary expenses (after 14 years in wine industry this is just something I can't help). I like nice quality food. I'm not one to starve myself or eat like a rabbit. I'm not a vegetarian or vegan (though I think these are great options). Even with a budget of only about $20-$25/day I eat and drink well, splurging on certain things and saving on others.
Now that that's said, I can get to some of my Prague observations and experiences:
I will admit that I am awful at ticking off the tourist sight list. I definitely see a few of the major things you are supposed to see, but I typically run past the in the morning, gaze at them from the comfort of a cafe seat, or walk past them in awe versus going in and taking the tour, etc.
THE PALACE: Awesome view from up there on the hill where the Palace is atop Mala Strana (historic Lesser town) area BUT my absolute favorite thing about the castle, are the gardens far below (the Palace Gardens)
Most people trickle down about half way looking at the gardens from the top (coming from the castle) but if you pay the ticket price at the little booth to keep going farther down (or just start from the bottom on a small street in Mala Strana like I did) you will be glad you did. It is like being engulfed in your own Secret Garden-spectacular view after spectacular view awaits as you climb up level by level (these are terraced gardens). Since it's Fall right now I got some killer shots of beautiful orange and red vines covering walls and overlooking the entire are of burnt siena colored rooftops and green palace tops. I could have spent all day in these gardens and would like to go back again.
By the time I got to the top of these gardens (and exited the paid portion) I ran into tons of palace visiting tourists. I preferred the quiet and serenity of the lower gardens. The whopping cost of around $1-$2 was totally worth it
CHARLES ST BRIDGE: Yes it's beautiful. The views from it are beautiful. But walking across it is a nightmare as it is ALWAYS packed like sardines with people and pictures without 100 strangers in them are tough to come by. I prefer views of the bridge from a distance. Pick one of quieter cafes in the Park (near modern art museum) and gaze out over the water and the multiple bridges.
I stay away from this area. I prefer to get off at Malostranska metro stop, walk across the bridge away from Mala Strana and continue on that way, enjoying the views from across the river. Many nice hotels (with good restaurants), cafes, etc to peep from and enjoy less overpriced menu items than can be found directly within Mala Strana
THE NEIGHBORHOODS: There are a ton of districts in Prague that are designated by numbers. Prague 1 is Mala Strana or Malostranska area. Then there is a huge expat area (with nice foreign restaurants and more wine bars and high quality options but with rising rents to match) called Vinohrady which takes up parts of Prague 2, 3, and 10.
My personal favorite neighborhoods (which I would explore based on getting off the metro stops there so my views are colored by what is within a 10-20 minute walk from the metro) were Prague 7 ( can access well from Metro Stop Hradcanska on the red line) and 8 ( I like getting off at the Krizikova stop on the yellow line).
These areas are a bit quieter and less touristy, yet both have plenty of high quality, nice coffee and cafe options, bio stores (always one of my 1st stops in Europe as they are the most likely place to carry GF breads and products I can use to make my eating life easier), some wine bars, good Italian bistro options (Prague 8) and some ethnic choices (vietnamese food, indian food, etc)
My favorite stops in Prague 7, near Hradcanska were the cafes:
Kafe Mat for a simply amazing cappucino, espresso, or macchiato and nothing else (literally it's a walk in and walk out place). Best tasting espresso I've had in a month in Prague and I'm a bit obsessive about my Italian espresso drinks (lived in Italy when I started drinking coffee and have been spoiled ever since!)
Cafe Calma for a lovely cafe to sit in, use great Wifi, has a nice porch that is great in the sun or has blankets for when it's chilly, and inside cozy seating as well as little cheese, charcuterie, salad or sandwich plates, pastries, etc.
Various wine bars and shops that sell or serve a variety of foreign wines (this is a must if you are a wine lover staying in Prague for an extended time as most Czech wines are just awful except a few Moravia ones which are decent but still don't live up to French, Italian, Spanish or Austrian standards)
Letna Park- a nice park to walk through
Favorite Spots in Prague 8:
Mujsalek Kavy: great spot for a coffee and wifi or lunch. Amazingly friendly service (this isn't something you can count on in Prague but you feel lucky when it happens!), good coffee, good wifi, GREAT gluten free bread which they will serve on side of anything for a surcharge or use in place of bread in the dish (like eggs bennie). They use fresh, organic products so food tastes good here even if sometimes their dishes are a little small. Best GF bread I had anywhere in Prague (and I scoured the city, trying at least 5 places plus grocery store options)
Lokal: this wasn't great for me and my allergy (I can't drink beer) but a great spot for those who want good ambiance, local vibe, cheap good beer selection, etc. and the people I met enjoyed themselves immensely.
The wine is awful-don't do it! But people are having a great time here. Food also isn't good if you are having anything but Czech cuisine (they have a large menu but the only things that looked good were the meat/dumpling potato/meat dishes. My chicken salad was dry, bland, no dressing and no lettuce. Don't judge me it was my only option!)
The 8 district is also near the Pavlova metro and tram station which puts you near some cool Italian bistros and stuff. I went to an excellent Italian restaurant with great wine list called The Italian bistro.
More on this later
I'll post a 2nd Part 2 trip report that has more than just food and coffee info..... and a trip report on Cesky Krumlov day trip from Prague
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