PRAGUE, Oct. 16, 2015 – So you’re thinking of vacationing in Europe? Maybe a few days shopping along the Champs Élysées? Gondola excursions in Venice? How about a bullfight in Madrid?
Wait! What about Prague?
It’s a city that’s steeped in a thousand-year history of emperors, royalty and even Communism.
But today’s Prague, home to about two million people, offers so much more, from first rate museums to chic boutiques, from sprawling castles to world class theaters. And while the city (divided into Old Town and New Town) is literally slammed with tourists for most of the year, the majority come from Asia, Russia, and other spots in Europe.
There are few Americans visiting, and it’s a mystery as to why. Aside from the culture, most locals can speak a bit of English (and are happy to help you even if they don’t). The food is quite good, and the dollar goes a long, long way.
And oh yes, it’s truly considered the beer capital of Europe.
Paris is romantic, and London might be proper, but Prague is fresh, edgy, and intellectual. You might want to get there before it’s no longer Europe’s best kept secret.
Inside the quintessential Gothic St. Vitus Cathedral, located within the Prague Castle walls, one finds the most magnificent stained glass, tombs of several kings and emperors and the Bohemian Crown Jewels.
Refurbished in the 1990s, the Spanish Synagogue building was used by the Nazis as a storehouse for valuable Jewish religious objects brought there from all corners of Europe. Today it is a part of the Jewish Museum of Prague and a functioning temple.
The Czech people are renowned for their crystal work, intricately painted Easter eggs and exceptional marionette puppets. Some are so real, you can easily imagine that person sat for the artist. There are several shops that sell both mass-produced and handmade, and so beloved is the art form, there is also the National Marionette Theater.
The evening view from the balcony at the Eurostars David Hotel, located about a 10-minute walk from the Old Town. While a $250 a night price tag for five star digs in the center of Old Town may not seem too bad compared to two or three times that in other major European cities, places like the Eurostars can easily compete at about $80 a night.
The center of Old Town, home to the third oldest astronomical clock in the world. People from all walks of life gather here to shop, have a beer, and watch dozens of street entertainers.
For just under $2, an enormous serving of the freshest berries and grapes awaits you as you stroll through the open air markets.
Or grab a Trdelník, a traditional Slovak and Czech pastry covered in cinnamon and often filled with a chocolate hazelnut cream.
Enjoy a chamber concert inside Klementinium, in the Mirror Chapel. Mozart once played the organ here, and it easy to get lost in the dramatic baroque marble and painted ceilings.
Wind up the day with a dark coffee at a place like La Petite Cafe located on Myslikova Street, where bakers like Elena will tempt you with hot, fresh baked butter croissants (yeah, the sign says 30 koruna, which equals about a dollar!).
And don’t forget to try a local brew. Bottles can be bought individually for about 50 cents in the market, and you’ll find everything from wheat beers, to dark lagers, to the world famous Pilsner (originating in Plzen, a town in the Czech Republic).
R.S. Caye is a long time journalist and business consultant based on the west coast of Florida.