I’ve always had an affinity for Czechia ever since my first visit to Prague 20 years ago. I was blown away by the beautiful architecture, bridges, and castles — and have continued to be impressed every time I’ve returned over the years. Czechia is also famous for its rich literary history (Kafka, Milan Kundera, even former President Vaclav Havel himself was a writer)– and its somewhat dark humor. The rich history and beautiful architecture forms a nice backdrop when enjoying the heavy, delicious food and a fresh Pilsner!
Czechia’s capital city is also it’s most famous touristic site — and it deserves the fame! The entire downtown area is filled with beautiful medieval and baroque architecture — drawing large crowds from around the world.
The Old Town Square is a good spot to begin exploring the city, and features the famous Church of Our Lady before Týn — a Gothic design dating back to the 14th century (this is the one you see in all the postcards). Nearby is the equally impressive St. Nicholas Church, which dates back to the 12th Century. Also in this square is Prague’s 600-year old astronomical clock tower, which visitors can climb for great views over the city. (If you happen to be there when the clock strikes the hour, the 12 apostles come out. If you feel like waiting to see it happen, don’t worry — you won’t be alone!) Just off the square is the decorative home where famed author Franz Kafka lived in the late 1800s (he’s best known for The Metamorphosis, The Trial, The Castle, etc. I recommend reading a bit of Kafka on the flight over, for context).
The nearby Wenceslas Square is another famous landmark and hosts the National Museum, as well as plenty of shops. The square was originally designated as a horse market in the mid 1300s, and has been the site of large gatherings– including the famous protests of 1989 that led to the Velvet Revolution from the Soviet Union. Of course don’t miss the nearby statue of Saint Wenceslas.
Crossing over the famous Charles Bridge— a beautiful stone footbridge covered in statues and monuments– you’ll come to the graffiti-covered Lennon Wall (off to the left), which dates back to the Soviet times. Up the steep hill is the Prague Castle, which was built in the 9th century and is the official office of the President. It is also home to the St. Vitus Cathedral, which has the remains of several saints and the state treasury.
This is another place to take a great photo over the city– just in case you didn’t like the view from the astronomical clock tower.
The western Bohemia region of Czechia is famous for its crystal and there are plenty of tourist shops selling various crystal products. I got a bunch of crystal grapes, which have really added a touch of class to my souvenir shelf!
Food and Drink: Czech food tends to be heavy and favorable to meat lovers (like me : ) I got a huge pork knuckle at Svejk’s, which is themed after the Czech character from the story “Good Soldier Svejk.” If you’re going for traditional food, you can’t go wrong with anything containing meat, cream sauce and dumplings. Czechia is also famous for its Pilsner– and anything on draft will be a perfect complement to your meal! The Czech Budweiser (Budvar) is always a good option, as is the famous Pilsner Urquell. In the large steins, you’re basically drinking a loaf of liquid bread, but it still is refreshing on a hot summer day!
Czechia is also famous for absinthe (“the Green Fairy”), a green, anise-flavored herbal drink containing a high alcohol content. Several absinthe bars in town will show you a traditional way of having it — igniting an absinthe-soaked sugar cube over a flat, slotted spoon, which melts into a flaming glass of absinthe. Be careful though — it packs a punch!
In 2002 I studied abroad at the Palacky University in the city of Olomouc and I very much recommend visiting this scenic medieval town if you’re in the eastern part of Czechia (Moravia). It doesn’t see nearly as many tourists as Prague but it still gives the full Czech experience. The city has well-preserved walls with a fortress at its center, now used for public gatherings. The city center has its own astronomical clock, but with communist worker motifs. It also has several fountains featuring mythical figures (Jupiter, Arion, Triton, etc.) throughout the old city, with the ornately carved Marian Column at the center of town. The Saint Wenceslal Cathedral is very impressive, and the city has good nightlife!
Austerlitz / Slavkov
About 65 kilometres south of Olomouc is the small town of Slavkov, where the famous Napoleonic battle of Austerlitz took place. I came here in 2012 with Yakpacker Sr., via a commuter bus from Brno. The Slavkov Castle sits at the entrance of the battlefield and is where Napoleon signed the peace treaty after the battle. It is well-preserved and you can tour the interior. The battlefield itself sprawls on for acres, and much of the land is privately owned. There is a visitors center, chapel, and cafe at the nearby Cairn of Peace monument– and it’s possible to walk through several acres of the field.
Brno is another highlight of the eastern Moravian region, and is only about 15 km from Austerlitz. I went here with my parents in 2012 and they still rave about it! In the center of town is the Liberty Square, a scenic plaza with plenty of shops. Nearby is the 13th century Špilberk Castle, which has an impressive underground tunnels with exhibits on medieval lifestyles, as well as a dungeon.
The old town hall is another famous landmark, along with a modern, bullet-shaped astronomical clock (because every city needs one). There are also numerous ornate churches in town– and the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul dominates the skyline. It’s possible to climb the spire and take great photos over the city.
For a delicious, hearty dinner with cozy atmosphere, I recommend Potrefena Husa. While I usually avoid going to the same restaurant twice when travelling, we all liked this place so much, we had to return for dinner the second night we were here!
Something for Next Time: Despite my best intentions, I never made it to the Sedlec Ossuary, a chapel appx 60 km east of Prague, which is grimly decorated with human skulls and skeletons. (Maybe next Halloween!) I’d also like to see the Moravian city of Ostrava, on the border with Poland.