Top tips for alternative Prague

by rfield

Your first day in the Czech capital should be spent in and around the Old Town and castle. But when you've had enough culture, follow my off-the-beaten-track tips for an alternative Prague experience

Arrival

Rather than getting stung by an overpriced taxi from the airport, take public transport to the city-centre. Not only is it dirt cheap (26Kč), you'll see one of Prague's underrated gems within minutes of arrival – the city's Soviet-built metro.

The 40-minute journey begins outside the arrivals hall on the number 119 bus, which stops at Dejvická – the nearest metro station to the airport, and on the green line (the city's metro is simple to use with three colour-coded lines – green, red and yellow). From Dejvická, all trains head to town, with the most central stop being Staroměstská, for the Old Town Square.

All stations are safe and clean with great retro artwork – look out for the Dr. Who-style décor at my favourite station, Malostranská. You can buy tickets from newspaper kiosks and from ticket-machines at stations, and can choose to buy short term (15-minute or 1-hour) or longer term (1, 3 or 5 day) tickets.

Petřín Hill

The place to come for the best views of Prague, and to get your bearings, is this huge city park off Újezd, a few minutes' walk from the Malá Strana area. A funicular railway will take you to the top of the hill, but if you fancy the strenuous walk, you will pass the eerie looking Monument to the Victims of Communism – a series of statues in increasing stages of disintegration the further up the hill you walk.

At the top of the hill is Rozhledna – from a distance this looks like a mini-Eiffel Tower, but up close it's more like a giant helter-skelter. 299 rickety wooden steps will take you to the platform at the top for stunning views of the bridges over the River Vlatava and the Old Town beyond.

Žižkov TV Tower

Prague's tallest building is the bizarre-looking Žižkov TV Tower (Mahlerovy sady 1) in the working class Žižkov suburb. Visible from all over Prague, the tower looks like a rocket launcher from afar, but when you get up close, you'll see it's crazy! A series of huge babies can be seen crawling up to the top of the tower. Don't ask me why – ask Czech artist David Ĉerný, whose Babies sculpture has adorned the tower for the past decade.


There's a restaurant and bar on the 5th floor and observation pods on the 8th floor of this 216m carbuncle, and as you might imagine the views are awesome – both those far away (you can see for 100km), and those of Žižkov and Prague itself.


To get to the tower, take the green metro line to Jiřího z Poděbrad, or it's a half-hour walk from the central Wenceslas Square. Entry is 150Kč.
 

The Metronome

David Ĉerný is responsible for another oddity on Prague's skyline – the Metronome. Letná Park in the Holešovice area was once home to the world's largest statue of Stalin, but this was blown up in 1962 and replaced with this immense red tick-tocking metronome statue.

John Lennon Wall

This brick-wall backing onto The Grand Priory (Velkopřevorské náměstí) has been plastered with graffiti tributes to John Lennon since the ex-Beatle was shot in 1980. The communist authorities in the 80s would regularly scrub the wall clean only for Prague's youth to re-daub it with Beatles lyrics, and so it became a revolutionary symbol of sorts.

Don't get your hopes up that this will be one of the highlights of your trip – after all, it's just a wall with graffiti like any other in cities the world over, although a visit here will complement your tour of quirky Prague.

Dancing House

Prague is renowned for the gothic architecture of the Old Town, but there are plenty of examples of modern architecture – none more so than this crazy office building on the banks of the Vlatava on Rašínovo nábřeží in the Nové Mešto area.

It was designed in 1996 to look like it's moving, although it looks to me more like it's melting. It's also referred to as the Fred and Ginger building (after Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers) by some and Drunk House by others.

River cruise

There are numerous companies competing to take you on a cruise along the River Vlatava – a wonderful way to see the city from a different angle and get some great photos of Charles Bridge and the castle. But if you're feeling energetic, hiring a pedalo is great fun.

There are several pedalo mooring points around town – try the quay on the Old Town side of Charles Bridge, where an hour's pedalo rental costs 150Kč.

Eating

If you fancy a break from stodgy Czech food, Petřín Hill was made for picnics. Central Prague has a shortage of supermarkets, but there's one ideally situated at the Malá Strana end of the Charles Bridge on Mostecká.

Stock up on meats, cheeses, bread and a four pack of Budvar – the world's best beer – and drink in the cracking views of what is surely the world's most photogenic city.

Drinking

Everyone knows the Czech Republic is a mecca for beer-lovers, but did you know its wine is great too? The St. Wenceslas' Vineyard and Villa Richter (Staré zámecké schody 6/251; www.villarichter.cz/en) is right next to Prague castle – the produce is made on the vineyards here on the slopes next to the castle.

Hordes of tourists march straight past without even seeing it, but the terrace bar here is an oasis of calm and a great place to enjoy a glass of delicious Moravian or Czech wine.

Where to stay

The Malá Strana area is the best area to stay in Prague – central so close to the main sights (and these alternative gems), but far enough away to be quiet.

The three-room Garden Apartment Nerudova (Nerudova 32) from just 2000Kč per night is perfect for groups and families, but couples will love having all that space to themselves. Fitted with a washing machine and a cooker, it's great for self-catering and is situated at the back of Nerudova overlooking a courtyard with its own garden.

The owner works at the cafe on the ground floor. You will have to collect the keys from the cafe and pay in cash when you arrive.

rfield

Like Bananaman, Richard Field leads an amazing double life - sober, grey-suited civil servant by day, but by night he becomes a travel writer extraordinaire. He asks you to rate his stories so he can earn the cash to entertain you with further tales from his travels.

As all travellers should, Richard likes to immerse himself in the food, drink and football of the destination. His favourite food from his travels is Bangkok street food, his favourite drink is a close call between Tsingtao in Hong Kong and Robola in Kefalonia, while he has a weakness for buying Italian and Spanish football shirts.

Read more of Richard's travel writing at www.abitofculture.net