Prague is the only one of my Top Ten Cities that is not a major port; it is situated about halfway between the Baltic Sea and the Mediterranean and about 400 miles from the North Sea. Hence Prague is uniquely at the crossroads between Northern and Southern Europe and between Western and Eastern Europe.
I first became interested in Prague in 1968 during the ‘Prague Spring’, when reformist Alexander Dubček tried to distance Czechoslovakia from Soviet domination. This was put down by Russian forces invading and the despair of the people was exemplified by the students Jan Palach and Jan Zajíc burning themselves to death in the centre of the city.
At that time visiting Prague from the West was not easy and it was not a particularly desirable destination.
Following the ‘Velvet Revolution’ in 1989 and Václav Havel becoming President of Czechoslovakia, Prague opened up to visitors. Since then I have been to Prague on many occasions.
I include Prague in my Top Ten Cities because of its vibrant, cosmopolitan atmosphere at the heart of Europe and its many historic buildings (largely undamaged by conflict) situated on both sides of the Vltava River. Add to that some fine restaurants and, of course, its famous black beer.
Also Prague centre is relatively compact and easy to stroll around, suitable for most Seniors, although some of the steep routes up to the castle need a bit of stamina.
Prague can get quite busy during the summer months. I prefer spring and autumn. Even during the winter months there is plenty to see and do.
Although it is more then twenty years since it threw off the yoke of Soviet communism, I get the feeling as I wander around its historic streets and squares, that it is still rejoicing in being a free city.
I’ve only given five highlights because Prague is the sort of city you wander around and discover for yourself. Almost every corner and narrow lane you might turn down provides something of interest to see.
My Five Highlights
• Prague Castle. It is not just a vast set of historic buildings, reputedly the largest coherent castle complex in the world, but a major cultural symbol of the whole Czech nation. You can get up to the castle by public transport, but much better to walk up the Old Castle Stairs and enjoy the increasingly panoramic views of central Prague and the Vlatava River. There is free entry to the gardens and some of the exhibitions. To visit other parts of the castle, including St Vitus Cathedral, the Old Royal Palace and the Rosenberg Palace, purchase a ‘Long Visit’ ticket. With a 50% discount for Seniors 65+, this costs only a few pounds and is valid for two days.
• Wenceslas Square and the Memorial to Jan Palach and Jan Zajíc. In many ways the square (or more correctly oblong) is the heart of the city with many shops and restaurants and the National Museum at the south-east end.
• Charles Bridge (Karluv Most), the iconic pedestrian only bridge below the Prague Castle. This is best visited outside the busy summer tourist season. Even on a freezing January day, I still found it a hive of activity with many street sellers and even a choir performing.
• A Classical or Jazz Concert. Prague has for centuries been a major musical centre and concerts are regularly staged at more than 50 venues throughout the city, ranging from grand concert halls to small churches and historic buildings. On my last visit to Prague, on a very stormy evening, I enjoyed a Vivaldi Four Seasons concert at the National Museum, with thunder and lightning adding effects at almost the correct times!
• Czech cuisine. Although not of world renown, there are tasty soups, followed by meat dishes often served with dumplings, all washed down with black beer. I’ve had some good meals at the historic St. Thomas Brewery Bar, a hollowed-out whitewashed cellar at the St Augustine Hotel near the Charles Bridge.
Getting To Prague
Several budget airlines fly from the UK to Prague including Jet2 from East Midlands, Edinburgh, Leeds-Bradford, Manchester and Newcastle.
All the major hotel chains can be found in Prague and most give Senior discount rates; see my Hotel Deals for Seniors to find out how to get these special rates.
Two very different hotels where I’ve enjoyed staying are the ultra-modern Holiday Inn: Prague Congress Centre at Na Pankraci and the elegant, historic Lindner Hotel Prague Castle (previously the Crowne Plaza) close to the Castle.