Photograph by Frank Chmura/Alamy
Not long ago, Prague was hailed—in hushed tones—as one of the greatest European cities vacationers had yet to discover. Those days are gone, and the city is now well known as a major destination for art, history, and culture. Naturally, its prices have grown along with its reputation. With these insider tips for a freebie-filled vacation, you can enjoy the best of "the golden city" without spending an ounce of gold.
The Gothic St. Vitus Cathedral was consecrated in 1929, but the foundation stone was laid in 1344. Among its many treasures are the Chapel of St. Wenceslas, the walls of which are inlaid with some 1,300 semiprecious gems, and the stained-glass windows created by early 20th-century Czech artists, including art nouveau painter and decorative artist Alfons Mucha. Free tours are available; arrive before the cathedral opens at 9 a.m. to beat the crowds.
With free admission (donations are welcome) to the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn, tourists can pay a visit to astronomer Tycho Brahe (or his grave, rather). Famed for pioneering a scientific approach to astronomy and for losing part of his nose in a sword fight, the Denmark native moved to Prague in 1599 and became imperial mathematician to Emperor Rudolf II.
Northwest of Old Town Square, the Jewish Quarter is where writer Franz Kafka was born. The six sites that make up the Jewish Museum charge admission, but anyone can walk around the tiny district that once was home to nearly all of Prague's Jewish population. Usually crowded with tourists, the area is significantly quieter on the Sabbath (Saturday), when the museums are closed and savvy sightseers can appreciate the architecture and contemplate the past in relative calm.
John Lennon didn't ever make it to "the golden city," but his spirit lives on in the wall that bears his name. Located southwest of Charles Bridge, the Lennon Wall goes back to communist-era Prague, where residents looking for freedom of speech and an artistic outlet wrote messages after Lennon's death. In November 2014, a group of students whitewashed the wall, scribbling simply “Wall Is Over!” The move was in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution and to open it up for “messages of the current generation.” Though Lennon’s image is now buried under layers of paint and graffiti, the site remains a noteworthy attraction.
Vyšehrad, the tenth-century castle ruins and accompanying graveyard, offers free entry to the historic grounds where some of the Czech Republic's most notable scientists, poets, playwrights, composers, painters, and other visionaries are buried.
The National Gallery boasts a varied collection that spans medieval to contemporary art. Entry to its permanent exhibitions, housed in six different city venues, is free five times a year. Check the website for dates. For a traditional art experience, peruse the medieval art in the Convent of St. Agnes of Bohemia, a site founded in 1231 and opened as an exhibition in 2000. For more conceptual, current installations, the museum's collection of contemporary art in Veletržní Palace offers spectacular works by artists vying for attention in today's international art scene.
As the city that raised David Černý—the controversial artist who in 1991 illicitly painted a commemorative Soviet tank pink and in 2000 temporarily installed giant climbing babies on the Žižkov Television Tower—Prague has a rich history of provocative and progressive art. The babies are still visible today, as their popularity ensured their permanent place in 2001. The 709-foot tower has been met with local wariness and suspicion for most of its history, attributed to its communist-era completion in 1992 and a general distrust of the rays it emits. But the babies, free to view, seem to have softened its image.
Visitors can stroll through private collections in numerous venues free of charge. Hunt Kastner Artworks is a gallery devoted to cultivating the careers of emerging Czech artists. It contains visually dazzling pieces that are often, at the very least, thought provoking. The gallery is open Tuesday through Friday from 1 to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 2 to 6 p.m.
Other private museums include the Jiri Svestka Gallery, which displays its collection of contemporary and modern art free to the public Monday through Friday from 1 to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Galerie Display offers free admission Wednesday through Sunday from 3 to 6 p.m. and provides a lively experience thanks to events such as artist appearances and film screenings.
One look into the city's many glassware shops and it's easy to see why Bohemian glass has made a name for itself worldwide. For visitors who are able to venture outside city limits, the Moser Glass Factory in Karlovy Vary has a museum open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It’s not free but worth the three-dollar splurge. Be sure to check out the sales gallery, an incredible display of the talent and artistry that has made Moser famous since its start in 1857.
The Czech Museum of Music, located in the Church of Santa Maria Magdalena, offers free admission on the first Thursday of every month. Spend an afternoon admiring handcrafted instruments and original scores.
Prague has plenty of theater, including famous black-light shows, opera, and Shakespeare companies. But the search for anything free inevitably leads to the place in Prague where all roads lead (metaphorically): Charles Bridge. Quiet in the mornings and crowded during the day, the lively and authentic spirit of the bridge comes out in early evening, when organ grinders, violinists, and even didgeridoo players show off their talents.
With a little planning, blues fans can treat themselves to a free concert by Stan the Man, the longest running blues act in Prague. The Louis Armstrong sound-alike plays every Monday night in U Malého Glena, a tiny underground club with a bar upstairs. The venue's limited capacity makes reservations a must; these are easily accomplished through the jazz club's website.
Several nightclubs in the city offer free entertainment. Radost FX, workplace of many famous DJs, offers free entry for ladies every Thursday. Fans of trance and international music will enjoy Roxy, free every Monday.
Known as one of Prague's most fun art galleries, Muddum holds regular events such as craft nights, workshops, and lectures. Many events are child friendly, as is the gallery itself. Check the website for the latest schedule and details of specific events. Located in Prague 7, across from Letna Park.
The Franciscan Monastery near Wenceslas Square has gardens and a courtyard playground where throngs of local families come to relax and play. The comfortable benches, trees, and rose bushes make it a peaceful haven in the middle of the city.
Čertovka, a playground at the western end of the Charles Bridge, is ideal for families looking to let loose. The modest park is open from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The fence surrounding the small recreational area gives kids the freedom to run amok while staying safely in sight.
Sparkys Toy Store is a game glutton's dream. The biggest toy store in Prague, it's worth the visit for classic Czech wooden toys and other authentic playthings.
Žluté lázně, an outdoor venue where visitors can swim in the Vltava River or relax on the grass, has free entry after 5 p.m. There is also a kiddie pool.
Free food and drink does not come easy in Prague; this is, after all, a place where fast-food restaurants charge for each ketchup packet. One of the best things bargain-seeking foodies can do is book a hotel with free breakfast, but there are, fortunately, a few hidden spots where patrons are treated to extras.
Bohemia Bagel offers free coffee refills, a service almost as unheard of in Bohemia as the bagel had been before the arrival of this intensely popular spot (the founders claim to have reintroduced the bagel to Prague). The bulletin boards—industriously used by the community—are prime spots for discovering deals and freebies. There are three locations in the city center: Lesser Town, Old Town, and Holešovice.
If gambling is your thing, the Golden Prague Poker Room, located in the Casino Atrium Hilton, offers free drinks and a free buffet starting at 9 p.m. every night. Casino Palais Savarin, the casino in Old Town, provides complimentary drinks to its patrons.
Tuesdays starting at 7 p.m., Bukowski's in the Prague 3 area offers free sangria to ladies.
Prague offers a myriad of free outdoor activities, thanks largely to the spacious urban parks spread throughout the city. For people-watching and soaking up panoramas of the city's skyline, nothing beats Petrin Hill. Walk up the wooded path or take the funicular (about $1 for a public transport ticket) to the top. Climb the tower—a miniature of the Eiffel Tower—for a postcard-perfect view of Old Town Square, Charles Bridge, and Prague Castle. Petrin Park is an ideal spot for picnics, lounging, and taking a break from hurried city life. In winter, it's a popular spot for sledding, and winter sport enthusiasts are known to leave sleds and large plastic bags for tourists' sledding enjoyment.
Closer to city center is Stromovka Park, King Premysl Otakar II’s former hunting grounds and a favorite of biking and Rollerblading locals. Letna Park, the site where Stalin's monument to communism once stood, is another preferred spot for fresh air and outdoor pursuits.
Divoká Šárka Park is a nature-filled paradise for water and wildlife lovers. Dotted with waterfalls and hiking trails, the park offers swimmers an opportunity to paddle around the park's lake for free.
The numerous open-air markets in Prague are another reason to spend time outdoors. These include Holešovice Market (food, clothes, and electronics), as well as the indoor/outdoor Pankrác Market (seasonal produce, dry goods, and home appliances), and the touristy but enjoyable Havelská Market (seasonal produce, souvenirs) in the heart of Old Town.
For a stroll along the coronation route of Bohemian kings, begin at Mihulka Powder Tower, located on the north side of the St. Vitus Cathedral. Cross Old Town Square and Charles Bridge, then head toward Prague Castle to complete this majestic walk, called the Royal Way.
Free Prague Tours offers a free three-hour walking tour, leaving from Old Town Square at 10 a.m., 10:45 a.m., and 2 p.m. daily (tips are expected).
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