Last week my sister and I (ToursbyLocals staff member Sara Cooke) had a free morning in Prague. Prague is a city neither of us had ever visited, but work and family commitments meant we had only a short time here. As we always do when we’re exploring a new place, we looked at our private tour options on the site.
ToursByLocals guide Nora offered a 3.5 hour walking tour that would show us the city’s highlights and provide in-depth commentary to give us more context for our lovely surroundings. As it’s January, we were able to book our tour just one day in advance, something that’s a bit harder to do in high season!
We were staying just below Prague Castle, so our tour started with a short walk uphill to the largest castle complex in all of Europe. No matter how many postcard views you’ve seen of St Vitus’ Cathedral looming over the city, there’s no substitute to walking through the courtyard archway and being presented with the massive cathedral that was a thousand years in the making.
We took a quiet look inside, then wandered past palaces and down a winding path through vineyards, as Nora explained how the castle gardens provided tranquility to summer-time guests worn out by the crowds in Old Town. While the January day was chilly, having the city almost to ourselves is a trade off I would make again in a heartbeat!
At the bottom of the hill, we walked through Male Strana, Prague’s charming “lesser town”, which spreads along the riverbank. Nora found us a flock of swans and the city’s resident “nutria” – a sneaky water rodent that looks like a beaver minus the giant tail. While strolling past the smiling tourists at the John Lennon Wall, Nora explained what it had been like as a student in the 1980s, braving police surveillance to write messages on the wall of peace and resistance directed at the communist government.
Across the Charles Bridge – which has stood for 700 years! – we stopped to wish at the statue of John of Nepomuk, promising to tell Nora in one year if the wish came true. Entering Old Town, our guide pointed out a small patch of cobbled pavement hiding at the side of the bridge, original stones dating from the city’s earliest origins. We watched other people walk right on past this ancient patch of history, not having someone like Nora to share it with them.
Next, a walk through the Jewish Quarter, followed by a stop at a beautiful Cubist café for coffee and warm apple strudel. Then on to the heart of Prague – its show-stopping Old Town Square. We learned that the original city – prone to flooding – was raised around 3 metres, meaning a whole town’s worth of houses lie under the current streets! Nora led us into a restaurant just off the square, where she convinced the owners to let us peek at their cellar, and see remains of the original walls and ceilings of Prague.
We saw the Estates Theatre where Mozart's Don Giovanni was first performed, and walked into the glorious art nouveau Municipal House where Prague elite socialized in the early twentieth century. Then Nora showed us back to the Charles Bridge, in time to return to our hotel for my sister to catch her afternoon flight out.
Time check? 12:30pm, barely 3.5 hours after Nora first greeted us in our hotel lobby. If you also find yourself short on time in a new city, a half-day tour can provide you with an enriching, entertaining and jam-packed morning or afternoon.