Prague, the largest city in the Czech Republic, has become an increasingly popular travel destination in recent years. It may seem impractical to visit this capital city in Central Europe for just two days — considering that it’s so culturally and historically significant to Central Europe — but our vacation weeks don’t always lend themselves to long, immersive travel experiences. Seeing the best of Prague in just two days, a weekend or otherwise, is a good start towards getting to know the city. The Vacation Gals sent one of our favorite writers on assignment to Prague, as part of an Insight Vacations Signature Experiences press trip. Here, Annemarie Dooling reports on the fun of seeing the best of Prague in just two days. – Ed.
Visiting someplace you’ve already been before can either be boring, or open your eyes to new experiences you missed on your first trip. My overnight in Prague with Insight Vacations was a qualifier for that second option. After meeting up with the group of 20 journalists that I’d be sharing my week with in the lobby of the historic Art Nouveau Palace Hotel, we boarded a luxury coach, and met our tour director Neira, who would accompany us on each leg of the journey.
But first, nourishment. Equipped with between 44-59 seats, (with more leg room and fewer seats than standard tour buses) a drink cooler and wifi, the coach drove us up the winding Czech mountain tops and through the center of Prague, until we reached Klasterni Pivovar Strahov, the Monastic brewery where we’d all disembark and find a seat along several classic beer hall tables. The magic of the beginning of a tour is those early conversations. While enormous carving boards of meats and cheeses, overflowing baskets of bread and mugs of wine were placed at the ready for our forks, we began the usual getting-to-know-you discussions and found that several of us overlapped in colleagues, publications and destinations. Two delicious beers later and the conversation was much looser as we toured the brewery for a glimpse at how both the light and dark versions of their signature beer, St. Norbert, is crafted. It’s a local favorite that has the restaurant packed every night — the night we attended was no exception, with families and pets all sitting together for an early dinner among the 100 or so seats in the garden.
Stuffed as we were, we crowded around the corner, down a cobblestoned hill, to a scenic outlook perched to the side of Prague Castle, offering us exceptional views of the city below. Cameras and iPhones came out, and back in again, when Neira informed us that our real dinner was about to be served, and led us back up the cobblestone hill where we met a scene out of a movie, a candlelit 12th century grotto filled with buffet-style traditional Czech dinner. The group was served salads and dumplings and a carving station of meat, followed by a course of desserts like chocolate-covered strawberries and a little pot of creme brulee that had been completed before our very eyes. Our restaurant for the evening, Peklo, which means “hell” in Czech, specializes in international libations; my table settled on a locally made white wine. But we had well and truly had enough for one night, packing back in to the coach, a little slower this time and with much help from the Insight crew, we headed back to the hotel. I was pleasantly surprised with the spread that had been set up as our welcome dinner, but had a little bit of angst over the proposed city tour for the next day, and was feeling a bit of been-there-done-that.
Sure enough, the next morning, along with my 20 new journalist friends and a group of six Insight Vacations representatives, including CEO John Boulding, I wandered the same streets I had visited a handful of years before. The storefronts of the Old City were familiar, and I even took an interlude at a small eatery I recognized from my first trip to the city. But between the photo ops on Charles Bridge and our entry to the Jewish quarter, I was surprised by the chance to try out a new career: We had a planned date to meet a glass blower in his studio and to take part in the glass blowing demonstration. This was definitely new to me and now I was awake.
At Karlova Crystal Shop, we crowded around a hot stove while the expert glassmaker molded first a tiny bird out of the molten hot material, then a perfect, round bubble. Of course, this region is known for doing spectacular things with glass — some of the oldest observations of Bohemian glass works are thought to be from around 1250. To be a part of the process, and to see how the little ornaments and trinkets were created with such delicate and precision movements, put an entirely new spin on bringing home souvenirs. When the demonstration had completed, the expert called out for volunteers and it was my turn to work with artisanal glass. It was hot, a little nerve-wrecking and a lot of fun to watch my glass bubble shape itself while my new friends cheered me on. And when we had completed? A little glass bird, like the first one we saw created by our expert glass blower, was handed to us on the way out. Definitely part of the best of Prague in just two days, on a personal level: I had stepped up to the plate for that signature experience, and left with a tiny memento of my bravery.
Normally, a dinner would not have been planned for the evening and I was silently plotting my sausage food truck options around the hotel, but to continue the stimulating conversation (read: try more local beer), Insight CEO John Boulding took us to U Fleku, an enormously popular Czech brewery established in 1499. Surprisingly, I’d never dined there on any previous stays in the city; the waits were too long, the bars too crowded and my hotel too far from the center of town to arrive any earlier in the day. Once again a beer hall awaited the Insight group, this time accompanied by a talented and cheerful accordion player, and we feasted on the local favorite, pork and dumplings; nope, I was not sick of them yet and may never be. Impromptu as it was, the beer hall setting was a great way to meet my fellow travelers, as well as the Insight Vacations crew, and to hear more about why they’re so proud of their company’s Signature Experiences.
Since the evening was unplanned and very carefree, conversation flowed at a rate envious of the beer, and friendships solidified. U Fleku, with its Germanic wall murals, welcoming oompah bands and uniquely different options of dining halls, is the absolute perfect place to share a laugh. Little by little, the group broke up into smaller groups, who ate and left at their own pace, enjoying a walk in nighttime Prague for some photographs and sightseeing before arriving back at the hotel, stomachs in fits from giggling so hard.
I had seriously concerns that I’d be spending the day yawning: Prague is small, it’s good company, and there appear to be only a few main attractions. But we managed to pack our short two-day stint in the city with the main highlights, the astronomical clock, Jewish Quarter, and bakeries full of Bohemian pretzels — and even some attractions and activities I had never experienced before. Literally minutes from the city center, I left my hotel room window open that night, to soak up the final sounds of a Prague that was new to me. Engaging in the best of Prague in just two days is well-paced travel with an Insight Vacations’ Signature Experience.