Five Hours in Prague: How to Enjoy a Short Layover in the Golden City
Prague is one of Europe’s most beautiful cities, jam-packed with gorgeous views, photogenic places and interesting sights. Is there any way you can get to know it during a short layover?
I think there is! Needless to say, one day isn’t enough to see everything Prague has to offer – you’d need years for that. But while it will very likely leave you wanting for more, even half a day can be sufficient for getting a taste of the city if you spend it well, as I discovered during my recent layover.
I only stopped in the Czech capital for five hours on my way to Southern Russia, but that was enough to make me understand why everyone’s raving about it. I got to see Prague’s most famous sights and explore some of its quirkier attractions. Moreover, as this was my first time in Czech Republic, I managed to feed two birds with one seed: explore Prague and score a new country for my 30 before 30 challenge.
Prague is a perfect layover city thanks to its compact size and easy airport connections. The journey from the international airport to the city centre takes half an hour on public transport (first a bus, then five minutes on the underground) and costs just a couple of pounds. In case your luggage is not automatically taken through to your next destination, there are storage facilities in the city centre and in the airport itself. I can’t recommend the latter option: my suitcase was broken when they returned it, they wouldn’t tell me what had happened to it, and they overcharged me. Apart from this small annoyance, however, the layover was a great success.
What to do in Prague if you only have one day?
Because this was my first time in Prague, I focused on the basics and spent all my time in the city centre. I also got lucky with the weather, so decided to save the museums and other indoor sights for my next visit. Don’t worry if it’s raining when you’re visiting: there are plenty of places that will keep you dry, warm, and entertained. However, do keep in mind that the historic centre of Prague is a Unesco World Heritage site – worth getting soaked for for sure!
The Old Town of Prague (Staré Mesto)
I started my day in Prague on the cobbled streets of the old town, the best-known and the most beautiful part of the city. First of all I headed for the Old Town Square. The town hall was undergoing renovation, but I still got to see its world-famous astronomical clock, said to be the third-oldest in the world.
The Old Town Square is impressive, but make sure to leave time for exploring the rest of the medieval city. Everything you could wish for in an old town, Prague has: here are the colourful townhouses, the spires of the old churches, the winding lanes and the charming squares. It’s a true fairytale city.
The sculptures of David Černý
Yet Prague is not just picture-perfect: it comes with a side of quirky humour that I loved. This is perhaps best demonstrated in the art of a Czech sculptor David Černý. And so, if you walk down the Husova street, you might get to meet Sigmund Freud himself, albeit in a slightly worrying situation: hanging with one hand from a pole on the roof. The statue, erected in 1996, looks so life-like from afar that it has prompted many calls to emergency services.
My other favourite work by Černý is “Piss“, a fountain of two men doing just that into a small pool shaped like the Czech Republic. We have our own pissing boy in Helsinki, but I don’t think he’d be allowed to stand if he’d be relieving himself onto a map of Finland instead of a random sidewalk.
The Dancing House
My long-term architectural crush, the Dancing House was one of the sights of Prague that I knew I could not miss. Also known as the Fred and Ginger, it was designed by Vlado Milunić and Frank Gehry (whom you might also know as the father of Bilbao’s famous Guggenheim museum) in the early 1990’s. Controversial at the time of its construction, the building is now a world-renowned attraction – I’m so glad I got to finally see it for myself!
Most of the Dancing House is closed to the public, but there’s a roof terrace at the top boasting breath-taking views all over Prague. You can enter the terrace for free if you buy a drink at the bar. Highly recommended!
Cross the river Vltava at one of the bridges and you come to Malá Strana, Prague’s “lesser town”. Don’t let the name fool you: with its gorgeous baroque palaces, pastel-coloured houses and panoramic views of the Prague castle, this part of town is as picturesque as any.
Malá Strana is also where you find the narrowest street in Prague. The pedestrian alleyway really is quite narrow – you have to press a button and wait for a green light before you go to avoid running into the people coming through from the other side. Touristy? Sure – but quirky little details like this are part of what makes Prague such a fun city to explore.
The Charles Bridge
The best way to get to Malá Strana is via the famous Charles Bridge. Built in the 14th and 15th century and adorned with a series of statues, the gothic masterpiece is as impressive as it is beautiful.
The most famous of the statues is that of saint John of Nepomuk, the patron saint of the Czech Republic. The story says that touching the statue brings good luck and ensures a traveler’s swift return to Prague. No wonder it was surrounded by people: who wouldn’t want to come back to a city like this?