Transit Action Network (TAN)

Advocates for Improved and Expanded Transit in the Kansas City Region.

Central Europe and London-Part 2-Prague

Posted by Transit Action Network on June 1, 2011

Prague Hlavni Nadrazi main train station

Prague, Czech Republic- (city population 1.3 million, density 6,771 inhabitants/ sq. mi., metro population 2.3 million -KCMO-density 1538.4 inhabitants /sq. mi (2010))

Budapest Keleti Station

The only rainy day on our trip was spent taking the express train from Budapest’s Keleti Station to Prague’s Hlavani Nadrazi Station. This is central Europe so this wasn’t high-speed rail, but as an express train it didn’t have a lot of stops. This train took 7 hours to cover 275 miles. We purchased our tickets online at RailEurope before we left home. We had a 1st class compartment and since it was low season we had it all to ourselves. It was great to be in a comfortable train all day watching the geography and agriculture of Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic go by on a rainy day.

UNESCO listed Prague’s extensive historic center as a World Heritage site in 1992. Prague wasn’t bombed in WWII, unlike Budapest(see previous post). Prague’s Old Town (Staré Město) is an amazing concentration of historical sites, churches, a Jewish quarter, a huge astronomical clock (a main tourist attraction) and winding streets all in the shadow of a 9th century castle and St Vitus Cathedral. We stayed in the heart of the old medieval town in a 14thcentury building that had been converted to a hotel and residential building, so we walked everywhere.

Vltava River, Lesser Town and Castle Hill

St. Climent's Cathedral in Old Town

Old Town Square

Old Town Square from the bell tower

If you visit Prague I hope your ankles and legs are in good shape because you will be walking on lots of narrow, convoluted, cobblestone streets and up lots of steps.  Walking and public transit are the way to see Prague. Biking isn’t usually recommended in the tourist areas since the streets are so narrow and the cobblestones make very bumpy rides plus all this is mixed in with cars and small trucks. You see very few people on bikes in the Old Town. Cars are allowed in the Old Town and trams go around the outer part but buses are not allowed in the Old Town except for some tourist buses to pick people up in the main square.

Tram - Prague

Castle Hill from the Clock Tower

Astronomical Clock-Prague

Franz Kafka's boyhood home

Tram in Prague

There are several parts of the historic district, the Old Town where the peasants and merchants lived and across the Vltava River to Lesser Town and up the Castle Hill to the castle area where the rulers live. The set up is similar to Budapest except these weren’t administered as separate towns. The Charles Bridge connects Old Town and Lesser Town on your way to the Castle. On the river’s bank in Lesser Town is the Franz KafkaMuseum, worth it if you are a fan.

Public transit ticket vending machines

Outside of the Old Town, Prague has a one of the best transit systems in Europe with a metro (subway – 3 lines, 400 million passengers a year), trams (26 lines, 300 million passengers a year) and buses. The metro is only 30 years old and mostly Russian built. Two thirds of the population uses public transit. Single and transfer tickets are available at yellow vending machines.  Tickets may also be purchased at metro ticket offices, tourist information offices and newspaper stands. 1, 3 and 5 day passes are available. In Prague you can also purchase transfer tickets through your mobile phone and have the ticket delivered to your phone in one minute. Very technically up to date.

Back of St. Vitus Cathedral

Charles Bridge in low season

Most services are handicapped accessible – but check to make sure.  They have some special transportation mini-buses available, too

If you visit in high season it might be cheaper to stay just outside the Old Town and take a tram in. Some tourist buses come in to the Old Town Square (Staromestske) like the HOP ON HOP OFF bus but they don’t stay. The HOP ON HOP OFF bus in Prague mainly does a trip around the perimeter of the Old Town and castle, so we didn’t take it. No buses are allowed in the Old Town and with such an excellent metro and tram system most public transit buses are on the outskirts of the city.

Prague’s taxis have a bad reputation so ask the price from your hotel before using them and make an agreement before you get in.

Musicians in the Old Town Square

Musicians on Charles Bridge

Prague is renowned for its music. There are bands in the Old Town Square and on the Charles Bridge, our hotel had a blues club in the basement, Susan Vega performed one night at the Hard Rock Café just off the Old Town Square, every church has concerts and there are the Prague symphony and opera houses. All of it is delicious and depends on your time, interest and pocketbook. The concerts in the churches are a big tourist attraction and since these are all stone churches with vaulted ceilings, the sound is very beautiful. Although we went to several church concerts that were excellent, I want to recommend a small ancient, beautifully preserved church, St. Martin in the Wall. The big churches are more famous; their interiors are beautiful and sometimes so over the top with Baroque decorations that they are a bit gaudy for me. However St. Martin in the Wall is very old and built into the side of the Old Town wall. It has barren stone walls and a small chapel. We experienced the best sound quality with an amazing performance in this unassuming venue.

Prague tram

St. Martin in the Wall Church

You will need a full day to explore the Castle area, the largest in Europe. The Castle consists of a lot of different buildings with courtyards. In the center of the complex is St. Vitus Cathedral. It is very impressive and if you are up to it climb the winding staircase up the South Bell tower, 287 steep narrow steps. Go as early in the day as possible before it gets really crowded. I waited for my husband who thinks that all towers were created for him to climb. The cathedral is magnificent. I suggest you get an audio guide to the castle district and the cathedral if you are really interested in exploring this site.

Part of the fun of the Castle is getting there. The Castle steps are famous and there are two choices. Since none of the trams were close to our location in the Old Town, we zigzagged up the streets so the trip was not as steep as the castle steps. We walked down the Old Castle steps at the end of the day.

Halfway down the Old Castle Steps

Walking up to the castle:

1. Castle Steps (Zámecké schody) – these are considered the romantic Castle Stairs, which will take you to the Garden on the Ramparts (Zahrada na Valech).

2. Old Castle Steps (Staré zámecké schody) – These are near the  Malostranská metro station and Jiřská street. You will be rewarded with one of the most beautiful views of Prague.

Prague tram in Lesser Town-4 articulations

Getting There by Tram

Taking the tram will save you a walk uphill or up the stairs, and the ride is quite scenic. Take tram 22 (e.g. from Národní třída or the Malostranská metro station) and get off at one of these stops:

Some streets are tram only

1. Královský letohrádek – if you get off here, you can start with the Royal Garden, Belveder and Ballgame Hall, then cross the Deer Moat bridge to get to the Second Courtyard
Note: The Royal Garden and Deer Moat are closed from November through March

2. Pražský hrad – this is considered the main Prague Castle stop. Get off here if you would like to start at the Second Courtyard.

3. Pohořelec – getting off here will enable you to walk to the Castle through Hradčany and arrive at the main entrance. Considered the nicest route.

A good way to go is to take the tram up to the Castle and walk back down when you’re done.

Memorial to Jan Palach and others

Wenceslas Square

A five-minute walk from the Old Town Square is New Town (east and south of the Old Town), dominated with wide straight streets set out in a grid.  Wenceslas Square has a huge statue of Saint Wenceslas (yes, the one from the Christmas song) at the top of the street. Of course the Good King was really a prince and is considered the founder of the kingdom. His brother killed him in 935 AD. So much for family values!

Part to the way down Wenceslas Square is a small memorial to Jan Palach who set himself on fire January 1969 to protest the Russian occupation and the demoralization of the Czech people.

At the bottom of the street starts a long pedestrianized shopping area with all the top designer shops and lots of restaurants.

Bill at an Absinthe Shop and Museum

Prague is also known for its beer. However, you’ll see Absinthe (the Green Fairy) being sold everywhere in Prague. It’s bad reputation and subsequent ban throughout most of the western world came from the disastrous effects it had on French artists in the 1900’s. However, the ill health effects and early deaths were mainly related to becoming alcoholics, not the wormwood in the drink.  The US ban was lifted in 2007.

Janet at a chocoholic paradise

It is good I don’t live in Prague because I would die from chocolate overdose at the Choco Café. The dark hot chocolate (70%) is so thick you need a spoon (it is actually referred to a spooning chocolate). I ordered mine with wild berries but they had lots of fruit choices and combinations. Drinking a whole mug must have equaled several candy bars. They also have great food.

Next stop-London

Photos by Janet and Bill Rogers, except the rail stations and vending machines

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