Of course, Prague is beautiful. Cross a bridge in Prague or climb the hill to Prague’s castle to take in gorgeous vistas of bright orange tiled roofs contrasting with green hillsides and – if you are lucky – bright blue sky. While strolling or sipping coffee, appreciate the view of Prague’s varied medieval, 18th, 19th, and early 20th century architecture, preserved because most of the city was not bombed in WWII.
Prague has whole blocks of elegant apartment buildings lining cobblestoned streets. A closer look is rewarded: some building exteriors are delicately painted with fantastical creatures or geometric patterns. Others have mystical symbols that stood in for street addresses. Others are topped by statues. Turn a corner for another postcard-worthy view of graceful buildings and twisting streets, dramatically lit by shifting clouds and sun.
But here are 4 reasons to visit Prague that may surprise you.
1. Bizarre sculptures in Prague
Either Czechs have a great sense of humor or they’re weird. Likely both. A very popular sculpture in Prague is of two men standing in a puddle of water shaped like a map of the Czech Republic. Both men are peeing – and this is a fountain. Is this the tiny country’s self image? (Of course my teens wanted photos with this statue.)
Sure, a Franz Kafka statue makes sense because Prague is his hometown. No matter that the author is riding the back of a man with no face; after all, it’s Kafka. But what to make of a different sculpture, a man dangling from one arm over a crowded city street? Is he playing or is he in desperate need of rescue?
After Josef Stalin was no longer revered, Czechs replaced the colossal statue of Stalin that had overlooked the city with a giant red metronome. A metronome? Why? Does it signify the rigidity of life under Stalin? That music survives all politics? That all political regimes pass in time?
2. Good food in Prague
On my first visit to Prague, 20 years ago, cucumber was the only restaurant vegetable. No kidding. Unless sauerkraut counts. Now the extensive tourist infrastructure includes a variety of cuisines.
Vegetarian choices exist even at Czech restaurants specializing in slabs of meat and heavily sauced dumplings. In addition to the traditional (and delicious) grilled sausages and pork ribs, we had tasty main course salads, excellent pasta at Pasta Fresca, delicious French pastries at Au Gourmand bakery near Old Town Square and, in several places, local fresh cheeses and fruit jams to spread on flavorful crusty bread.
3. The emotional power of the former Jewish ghetto
Tour the synagogue that survived the Nazis and Communists and now contains a powerful monument to the 80,000 Jews from the Czech region who were killed by Nazis. The Jewish cemetery is crowded with closely-placed gravestones, some from the 15th – 18th centuries. Nearby, the Moorish-influenced Spanish Synagogue has a museum display of silver menorahs, Torahs, and other objects seized from Jews sent to the death camps. Taking a private guided walking tour of the Jewish ghetto was helpful and let us ask lots of questions. (For another Traveling Mom’s reasons for taking private tour of Rome, here.)
4. Old City Prague is a tad less crowded
Well, maybe a tad. Russians are a big part of Prague’s tourist population and recently there was a big drop off in Russian visitors. Still, while strolling Charles Bridge, you are cheek to jowl with other tourists. You hear fragments of German, French, Korean, Chinese, and English of all varieties – American, Australian, or as the common language of a Czech and another non-native English speaker. Even if the drop off in Russians doesn’t make a huge difference, at least you can see the street performers on Old Town Square. And keep in mind the crowd thins just a few blocks off the main square.
Good destination for tweens and teens
No surprise that Prague is a great destination for families with teens and tweens, especially if they are interested in history, art, or architecture. It is easier than you’d think because most workers in restaurants and hotels speak English. Still, using a few words of Czech – like hello, please, and thank you – often is rewarded with big smiles. Since Prague is best explored by walking, the city might be a challenge for younger kids. (For a different way to travel with teens and tweens, see European Bike and Barge Tours for Active Families.)
Would you and your family consider visiting Prague? What looks fun to you? Tell us about it in the comments.