You are in Prague for three days. You want to see as much as you possibly can. You don’t want to spend all your money. You don’t want to your feet to rebel against you and threaten to stage an uprising if you make them walk any further.
I can promise two out those three things.
Do: go on one a free walking tour.
They leave from the astronomical clock in Old Town Square, and they show you all the main landmarks – you can identify them by the bright yellow t-shirts and umbrellas which say “Free Tour”. It’s subtle, but if you look closely, you might just spot them.
Of course, by the time you get to the end and they ask you for tips, you’ll have developed a deep, meaningful love for your Hungarian tour guide’s accent and you won’t be able to say no, but it will be worth it. (Or maybe that was just us.)
Don’t: try the trams without a map.
Once you figure out where you want to be and which tram will take you there, it’s all good, but it can be confusing. This is especially true on your first day, when you spend five minutes trying to locate the elusive Kouření Zakázáno stop on your map, attempt to ask someone for help through a shared third language, and finally realise that it translates to “No Smoking”.
Once you have learnt this valuable lesson, however, the trams are a great way to travel, and a pass for three days also includes buses and the metro (which, with its primary colours and A, B and C lines, is easy enough for even the most cartographically illiterate tourist).
Do: check out the Communism museum.
The history of the Czech Republic is fascinating, but more so was the humour with which this museum often presented it. Which isn’t to say that the past was not taken seriously – in fact, part of the museum was dedicated to the abuse of human rights in North Korea, reminding visitors that government oppression is still very much a reality in many parts of the world – but that it will not be allowed to define the present.
It’s a difficult atmosphere to explain. Perhaps the best illustration is the gift shop, which sold postcards featuring vintage-style propaganda artwork with catchphrases like “You couldn’t get laundry detergent but you could get your brainwashed”. Alongside exhibitions revealing genuinely horrific acts on the part of the Communist regime, the effect was surreal, but undeniably charming.
And that’s not to mention the candles shaped like a bust of Stalin’s head.
Don’t: spend two hours walking in the wrong direction in search of a giant metronome.
Situated in Letná Park, the metronome replaced the colossal statue of Joseph Stalin which was unveiled, after five years of work, in 1955 – just as he went out of fashion during the period of de-Stalinisation following his death.
The view from Letná Park is beautiful, but the metronome itself is somewhat of a disappointment when you walked a mile or two in the wrong direction, then back again.
If you reach the motorway, you’ve definitely gone too far.
Do: eat at local restaurants.
Sure, it’s a tourism cliché, but it’s true. You did not travel all that way for McDonald’s, and the dumplings are not only cheap if you look for somewhere off the beaten track, they’re delicious.
Don’t: go to restaurants without checking a menu outside first, especially in the main tourist areas.
Otherwise you might end up paying the equivalent of £35 for four slices of cake and some water at a place in Wenceslas Square.
You know, for example.
Do: make sure you keep looking up.
The architecture is breathtaking and even local corner shops are often occupying a gothic or baroque-style building with so many elaborate windows and statues, you’ll wonder whether it’s all just a big game of “my wall has more cool stuff than your wall”.
For other takes on the same trip, and the “No Smoking” story a couple more times: