The beautiful city of Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, illuminates over the Vltava River welcoming the six million visitors each year. The city’s 1000-year-old history filled with castles, spires, statues and gothic architecture create a sense of wonder to all.
My last trip to central Europe was in 1984 and certain areas were off-limits because they were communist and who would want to go there even if you were allowed. But over the years I kept hearing about the fairy tale awe of Prague with its castle, bridges, history and charm. Within the historic center are a variety of exceptional architecture styles and monuments which meet the criteria for the UNESCO world heritage list.
Since the Viking Grand European river cruise we scheduled started in Budapest and ended in Amsterdam I made the decision to add the 3 day extension to our trip before the cruise and we were not disappointed!
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My travel agent assured me that the Viking cruise line has the best airfares and routes, but I am not sure if that is true. Our flight changed in the time between booking and our departure date from 2 to 3 connecting flights. The day before our flight I downloaded our boarding passes only to discover that while I seemed secure in my business class upgraded seat of 2A, I was nervous to inform my husband that he’d be sitting in 86H. That sure seemed far away from me. Not ideal for our 4 year anniversary cruise.
After several phone calls to Viking and my travel agent Rosemary Martinek, we eventually both were seated on the same floor. It seems the 86H was on the second level of the Lufthansa flight. With a few smiles, I was able to make some adjustments once we boarded so that our seats were next to each other in the aisle. All was well, and we enjoyed watching the movies and dining before sleeping for a few hours on our way to Frankfurt.
From Frankfurt to Prague it was a quick one hour flight and we were relieved to exit with our bags and locate a gentleman holding the Viking sign, just like they said he would. Quite a few people gathered and we realized that not all the people were going to our hotel or were even going to be on our ship. Viking has many river cruises and every day people come to Prague for their before or after cruises.
Day 1 – Arrive in Prague
Most people were headed to either the large Hilton or Marriott hotel located just outside the city center. Easy enough to walk to the Old Town area from this location, but missing the charm I was seeking.
Our driver brought us through narrow cobblestone streets into the city center to The Augustine, an old monastery that actually has a library with books dated to the 13th century. Our room was nicely appointed with antiques and it was fun exploring the hotel with its quiet hallways and private gardens.
We unpacked quickly, eager to walk around. Our hotel was located just a few blocks from the famous Charles bridge and Vltava River. After exploring the bridge, admiring the Baroque statues and taking photos we looked for dinner. The cobblestone streets in Old Town are filled with gift shops and restaurants.
We found a charming place to eat dinner outside that served the best pork knuckle and beef goulash with potato pancakes ever. Another highlight was the price tag. Meals are very inexpensive in Prague which makes it a popular place to visit for the younger crowd, as noted by the number of bachelor and bachelorette groups parading the streets as the evening went on.
It was fun to wander the city on our own that first night. We strolled across the bridge at sunset with lots of other people. I tried one of the tasty chimney cakes and we easily found our way back to the hotel. After a nightcap in the hotel bar with an outdoor garden, we called it a night. If you did not want to explore on your own, Viking does offer a Prague by Night excursion for an additional cost.
Day 2 – Prague
Since we booked a three day extension with Viking, they provided us with different options for included and available to purchase excursions. In addition, here are some of the places you want to visit if you did not stick to their plan:
St. Vitus Cathedral
Petrin Hill and Petrin Tower
Old Town Square
Prague Astronomical Clock
Jewish Quarter: Old New Synagogue and Cemetery
Prague National Museum
Prague Communism Museum
Parizska Street (for deal on famous designer goods)
Our first morning began with a delicious sit down breakfast at The Augustine before embarking on the 4 hour Panoramic Prague included tour. A bus picked us up and our first stop was Prague Castle and the Gothic style St. Vitus Cathedral on top of the hill. Our guide waked around with us and pointed out bits of historical stories.
We then passed the residence of the Czech president and took in the beautiful views of the city. Next we boarded the bus again and headed to the area where our hotel was located. We walked across the Charles bridge into Old Town where we watched the 15th- century Astronomical clock strike noon and the 12 apostles walk past the tiny windows of the clock. We had been scheduled to walk the Jewish Quarter and visit the Old-New Synagogue, the oldest in Europe and the Jewish cemetery, but the thunderstorm ended our tour early.
By the time we arrived back at our hotel, the rain had stopped. On the bus tour we noticed the Polish embassy nearby our hotel and there seemed to be some sort of festival going on. We grabbed an umbrella and walked over and what a fun surprise.
Booths were set up around the gardens, dancers dressed in traditional garb and live music on the stage. Looking closer the booths were selling beer, kielbasa and other yummy foods. Unfortunately we did not have too many Czech koruna to buy food with, but some booths accepted credit cards. We enjoyed the music and food until the rain started again and then ended up under a few big trees with some friendly locals.
Back in the hotel we showered and got ready for our additional evening excursion with Viking: the Prague Folklore dinner. A bus picked us up and took us into the countryside for a dinner and entertainment. The traditional dinner was served with unlimited beer and wine. A young woman sang, a couple came out and did some folk dancing and taught eager participants some traditional dance movers. We also heard from three talented musicians on the violin, cello and dulcimer. Everyone agreed this excursion was terrific.
Day 3 – Sunday in Prague
Prague has such a rich history and Viking offered additional tours dating back to 12th century, the Hapsburg dynasty, Nazi invasion and the Jewish ghetto and even a communist museum. We decided to take the 4 hour tour called “Historic Prague by E-bike”. We have never tried riding E-bikes before but it seemed like a fun way to see the city.
A bus picked us up at the hotel and brought us to a bike shop located right in the center of town. Our young guide showed us how to use the hand brakes and switch to increase the level of force to use when needed to climb inclines. Then he sent my husband Pete off around the block to get a practice run.
I bit my nails as I watched him take off up the cobble stoned street and around the yellow building. Would he make it back? He is still recovering from reverse should surgery – I felt like a mom when the 5 year old takes off on that first bike ride. A huge sigh of relief as he turned the corner back to join our group. After we all had a practice run, our guide led the way through the narrow streets and up the hill towards the castle.
He stopped and told us about the pictures above the doors of the homes which was the way people knew the address and occupation of the resident – the bread, the violin, the horse. We left the city streets and followed him through Petrin Hill, past Petrin Tower, a smaller version of the Eiffel Park up near the castle.
We stopped for photos and then continued through Letna park which was filled with local on this Sunday afternoon. Stopping to have a beer at one of the outdoor cafes was a fun way to learn more about living in Prague from our guide.
He told us that no one is religious or goes to the 300 churches in the city. During the 40 years of communism religion was basically outlawed. In fact, the police used the church steeples to spy on the people. If they saw someone go into a church or to a government office to request a travel visa, their family would be assigned the “bad jobs”. Wow, what a way to live! One thing he did tell us was not to give money to hobos on the street, even if they have a dog which he said would be drugged. He told us that everyone can get a job so that behavior is just not tolerated.
After the park, we rode our e-bikes back onto the highway with the trams and cars, then across the bridge and over to the Lennon Wall. In 1980, the communists wouldn’t tell the people that John Lennon had died. Someone left and came back and painted a picture of John Lennon on the wall to tell the people what had happened.
The police would paint over it and every day more graffiti would appear with pictures of Lennon. It was a silent protest against the communist government and a call for greater freedom. Even the day we visited, someone had painted on the wall and Pete got some wet paint on the back of his shirt. It washed out once we got back to the room so no worries, just unexpected.
The last place we stopped on our bike ride was the Franz Kafka museum. We did not go inside, but there is a funny statue outside of two men having a peeing contest over the map of the Czech Republic. Not really sure the meaning of this one, but it is entertaining.
Our last night in Prague we went out looking for a place for dinner and ended up back at the place we found the first night. Still delicious, but we ordered different items from the menu.
Back at the hotel it was time to pack and get ready for the 15 day river cruise. Viking told us we would be picked up at 7:00 am and that a bag breakfast and lunch would be ready for us in the lobby for the 7 hour drive to Budapest and the Danube river. Sure enough we joined other travelers headed on our cruise as well as a number of different cruises that begin in Budapest.
If you do this trip, I recommend that you get some money to use in Prague and Hungary. Bathrooms charge about 50 cents but only in the local currency. I found this to be a hassle since I never seemed to have the exact change. Also someone recommended to exchange small amounts at a time in the ATM machines since small shops don’t always have change for the large bills.
I highly recommend this extension to any of the Viking cruises and to spend a bit of time on your own exploring this beautiful city. I hope to come back again some day. Stay tuned for my review of the 15 day Grand European Tour river cruise from Budapest to Amsterdam.
DISCLOSURE: I did not receive a free trip or any perks from Viking. This is my own blog and my thoughts on our trip. As an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.Best book reads this summer