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A Broke Student’s Travel Guide to Prague

“The City of a Hundred Spires,” “the Golden City,” “the heart of Europe,” “Rome of the North,” “the pearl among Cities,” and “the Mother of Cities” — one of the grandest and most arresting cities in the world, Prague has been called many things, all of which speak to the city’s tremendous history and beauty.

The city, which dates back to the 9th century, is overflowing with history. The city has served as the seat of the Bohemian kings and the capital of the Holy Roman Empire. More recently, it has passed through the hands of the Nazis and the Soviet Union. Historically a multiethnic city, the city has had important Czech, German and Jewish populations.

It also happens to be one of the cheaper major cities in Europe due to the strength of the dollar to the Czech koruna, so it is a perfect destination for broke students.

Where to stay

The first thing to consider when traveling is always housing, and it is easy to find cheap spots to stay in Prague. If you are traveling with a group, I recommend looking for a place on Airbnb. It is typically possible to find places that are both cheaper and more comfortable than a hotel room. If you are traveling alone and don’t mind staying in a shared space, you can stay at a youth hostel, where you can often rent a bed for as little as Kč250-350 ($10-15) per night. Look at Hostelworld for cheap rooms anywhere in Prague.

Most people visiting Prague choose to stay in the Old Town. Located in the center of the city along the Vltava River, Prague’s Old Town is where most of the popular tourist spots in the city are. Due to its popularity, the Old Town tends to be one of the more expensive areas to stay in Prague, but there are still affordable options.

If you want to find a place that is a little off the beaten path, I recommend staying in Karlín. The Karlín district is only about a 15-20 minute walk from the city center, but attracts far fewer tourists. The neighborhood has gone through many ups and downs through the years and, until recently, was primarily an industrial area that attracted few visitors. After a wave of catastrophic floods nearly destroyed Karlín in 2002, the area underwent something of a transformation, and is now a hotspot for cafés, restaurants, and bars. With beautiful architecture and plenty of great spots to eat and drink, it’s definitely one of the best areas in Prague to stay.

Image: Prague City Tourism

Image: Prague City Tourism

Good but cheap eats

Steak tartare, sausage, roast duck, fried cheese and goulash. What’s not to love about Czech food? It’s pure comfort food — hearty, filling, meaty, delicious, and a little unfriendly to vegetarians. Though it’s not known as a food capital, Prague has countless amazing restaurants to choose from, offering an amazing taste of the local culture.

If you’re a meat lover, you need to go to Naše maso in the Old Town. This hole-in-the-wall butcher shop has developed an international reputation for its delectable meats. For only Kč100 ($4.50), you can choose between three slices of its incredible meatloaf or three fat sausages. Its braised pork belly is slow-cooked for hours with lager and onions, and costs only Kč150 ($6.50). Pretty much everything on the menu is phenomenal and similarly inexpensive.

Edible Candle
Image: Naše maso

Smoked meats
Image: Naše maso

Sisters, which is literally located right next to Naše maso, is another Old Town restaurant popular with locals and tourists alike. Sisters specializes in serving traditional Czech open-faced sandwiches called “chlebicek.” These small sandwiches cost only Kč39-64 ($1.75-2.80) each. My favorites are the roast beef and the smoked mackerel with beet roots and potato salad. Get one for a quick snack or a three for a solid meal. Their daily soup is also delicious and costs only Kč59 ($2.50).

Image: Fb Sisters

Image: Fb Sisters

I love a good market and try to find one in every city I travel to.

The Havelský Market, one of the oldest markets in Prague, has been operating in the same spot since 1232. The stalls at the market sell everything from produce to jewelry. It’s on the touristy side, but is still a great spot to grab a bite or pick up souvenirs.

Image: Prague City Tourism

There are also various farmers markets throughout the city. The Jirak Farmers Market, open Wednesday through Saturday, is located in the Vinohrady district, an affluent residential area a short walk from the city center. It is a great spot that draws smaller crowds and is more popular among locals than many of the city’s other markets. There is plenty of great produce but also great hot food, including amazing grilled Croatian fish and burgers by Kaiser Franz.

Sightseeing

The most popular tourist spot in Prague is the Old Town Square, a site that draws close to 6 million tourists every year. Located between Wenceslas Square and Charles Bridge, Old Town Square is in many ways the focal point of the city. The square features many of Prague’s most famous buildings, including the Gothic Church of Our Lady Before Týn, the Kinský Palace, and the Old Town Hall.

Image: Prague City Tourism

The Gothic Church of Our Lady Before Týn and Kinský Palace both function as gallery and museum spaces. The cathedral houses an extensive gallery of paintings from the Gothic, Renaissance and Early Baroque periods. The Kinský Palace, meanwhile, functions as a branch of the National Museum, housing its Asian and medieval Mediterranean collections, as well as temporary exhibitions of modern and contemporary works.

National Gallery Prague – Kinský Palace
Image: Národní galerie Praha

The Old Town Hall is famed for the Prague Orloj, a medieval astronomical clock mounted on its tower. The hourly clock show, called “the Walk of the Apostles,” features moving sculptures of the Apostles and other figures, and is one of the most popular attractions in the city.

The Saint Vitus Cathedral is the largest church in the Czech Republic and a truly unbelievable structure.

Image: Prague City Tourism

The cathedral, construction on which started in 1344, sits within the Prague Castle, which dates back even further, to around 880 AD. At one time, one of the tallest buildings in the whole country, the cathedral’s main tower is nearly 350 feet tall. The cathedral houses many important relics and royal treasures, as well as the tombs of many Bohemian kings and Holy Roman Emperors.

Image: Prague City Tourism

The Jewish Quarter is a historical section of Prague’s Old Town that was traditionally inhabited by the city’s Jewish community, one of the oldest and most significant in all of Europe. Prague’s Jewish population, which settled in the city over 1,000 years ago, have been persecuted at many points in the the city’s history, and the Jewish Quarter was destroyed during efforts to redesign and modernize the city in the late 19th century.

Some significant historical sites remain, including the Maisel Synagogue, the Klausen Synagogue, the Spanish Synagogue, the Pinkas Synagogue, the Ceremonial Hall and the Old Jewish Cemetery. These sites, together with the Robert Guttmann Gallery, comprise the Jewish Museum in Prague, and students under 26 can purchase a ticket granting access to all of them for Kč250 ($11). The Old-New Synagogue, which is not connected to the Jewish Museum, is the oldest active synagogue in the world, dating back to the 13th century.

Maisel Synagogue
Image: Prague City Tourism

Ceremonial Hall
Image: Prague City Tourism

The Lennon Wall is one of my favorite sights in Prague.

Image: Prague City Tourism

After John Lennon’s assassination in 1980, a portrait of the Beatles singer was anonymously painted on a wall in the Malá Strana district near the French Embassy, along with political messages and Beatles lyrics. In an era when the communist government banned most Western pop music, Lennon became a symbol of free expression and pacifism, and the Lennon Wall a symbol of government resistance, for many Czech youths. Despite multiple government attempts to whitewash the wall and suppress the messages it stood for, determined graffiti artists and political dissidents kept the Lennon Wall alive through the end of the communist era and into the present day.

Nightlife

The Czech Republic is the beer drinking capital of the world by a wide margin, and has been for over 20 years. As a result, there is no shortage of bars and pubs where you can get a cold Pilsner Urquell.

Located on a hill in Letná Park, just across the river from the Old Town, Letná Beer Garden is not only one of the best places to drink in Prague, but also offers one of the best views of the city. The outdoor bar overlooks the entire city, offering an incredible panoramic view of one of the most unique skylines in the world. Beer is cheap, costing only Kč35-45 ($1.50-1.75) per glass, and the kiosk where the bar is located also sells snacks like french fries and fried cheese.

Image: Prague City Tourism

For a no-frills Czech pub, go to U Jelínků. This New Town bar has been open since the beginning of the 19th century and is said to serve the best Pilsner in town. It is the only beer on their menu, after all. Pair your beer with its delicious sausage with bread, or “talián.”

Image: U Jelínků

Bukowski’s Bar in the Žižkov neighborhood is a lively spot that is often populated by students. The dimly lit bar has a great atmosphere, a friendly staff, tasty cocktails, and always plays good music.

Image: www.facebook.com/bukowskisbar – Foto by: Jakub Frey Photographer

Žižkov, a neighborhood loaded with bars, is a great place to go out in general and the perfect neighborhood to go bar-hopping.

Image: Prague City Tourism

I also recommend stopping by Tiki Taky, a tiki-themed bar with about a million cocktails to choose from.

Image: www.facebook.com/Tiki Taky

Student discounts

If you are a full-time student, you are eligible to apply for an International Student Identity Card (ISIC), an internationally-recognized form of student identification that can entitle you to a wide variety of benefits and discounts. Check here to see any and all deals in whatever city you are traveling to.

Here are some discounts in Prague:

  • A&O HOTEL and HOSTEL Praha: 10% student discount on accommodation
  • Czech Inn Prague: 5% student discount on accommodation
  • BimBimBikes: 5% student discount on bike rental
  • Hard Rock Café: 20% student discount on the menu
  • Prague Castle: Entry to largest ancient castle in the world costs only Kč175 ($7.80) for full-time students under the age of 26.
  • National Gallery Prague: The National Gallery Prague grants free entry to their permanent exhibition spaces to all students under the age of 26. Students also get reduced admission into temporary exhibitions.
  • Jewish Museum: The Jewish Museum offers reduced admission to students under age 26.