(Editor’s note: This post on Prague is the third in a series of quick-trips we believe better reflect the expat lifestyle in Europe. All photos are by Charlie de Wilde.)
As Dispatches Europe has expanded its network, we’ve gotten to know more and more expats, expats who travel a lot and give us the inside dope on cities we haven’t visited or haven’t been to in years.
Take Charlie de Wilde. Charlie, a Belgian expat, works in the hotel business in Amsterdam. Like most people in the hotel business, Charlie loves to travel. His favorite destinations were Brazil and more exotic spots. (He speaks Portuguese along with many other languages.)
I say “were” because since he’s met his Czech girlfriend Kristýna Rajdlová, he’s been spending a lot of time in Prague, his new favorite. So he’s seen a LOT more than just the Charles Bridge, Prague Castle, the clock and the tourist traps.
Charlie swung by for an overnight at Dispatches’ global headquarters in Eindhoven recently, and we squeezed in an interview about his recommendations for a quick trip to Prague. He really changed our perception of how much this city, which we’ve visited twice, really has to offer. And it’s no surprise that Charlie’s been to almost every cool destination in the city because he’s one of those people who’s up for anything.
As you can probably tell, he really, really likes Prague. And an interesting note … way before Berlin became the city, Prague was a huge destination back in the early 1990s for young American expats looking for an affordable yet beautiful city.
• The Prague Zoo: Charlie went to university in Antwerp, so he knows zoos. He says all European zoos are pretty good, but the Prague Zoo is among the best of the best, with animals in realistic recreations of their habitats including an African Savannah and an Elephant Valley.
His warning: If you’re not careful, you can end up spending a LOT of time here.
The Prague Zoo is huge and has two levels – a more compact section of enclosures and a water world along with more open series of animals in fields and natural settings. You can ride a chairlift from the entrance area to the more expansive area.
In addition to the main entrance from the city center, there’s a northern and a southern entrance.
And get this … admission for adults is 200 Koruna, or about 8 euros, about 20 percent of what it costs to enter the Antwerp Zoo!
• Aquapalace: Another attraction that has Charlie raving (in a good way) is Aquapalace. He rates it as his favorite indoor water park. And he says this is another place that can eat an entire day. That’s because Aquapalace is one of the largest indoor water parks in Eastern Europe along with Aquaworld in Budapešt (also on Charlie’s bucket list). Charlie rates the water slides as world-class. But there’s so much more, with this on the German model of incorporating spas and fitness into the water park experience. And the weird thing … it’s not very well-known outside Prague!
This is basically two acres of attractions including what Aquapalace touts as “the longest slide in the Czech Republic,” a wild-water river and a wave pool. There are 14 different choices of saunas including Finnish-style saunas, Roman baths and an outdoor pool. Finally, there are spas, health & wellness and fitness facilities.
So, this is kind of an indoor/outdoor water park combined with a five-star hotel spa vibe at a year-round park. More about chilling than big thrills at the mega-outdoor parks in Spain and Croatia. Though there are a lot of nice touches including swim-up bars with DJs.
Pricing is a la carte depending on how many days you want to spend there and how many activities you want to try. Prices start at the equivalent of about 20 euros. You can see the complete (and complicated) pricing list here.
There’s also a special offers page on the Aquapalace website that includes hotel offers.
Trip-Advisor rating: Four and a half stars out of five (456 reviews). There are a lot of rave reviews, especially from people with smaller kids … and it’s clear Aquapalace is virtually unknown outside Prague.
• Don Giovanni at the National Theatre. Charlie says that even if you don’t like opera, seeing Mozart’s Don Giovanni in the city where it debuted in 1787 is an unforgettable experience in an incredible theater. The production uses the architecture of the theater itself, invoking the original production. according to the National Theatre website.
The theater dates back to the 1880s and is as ornate on the inside (right) as on the outside.
Charlie and Kristýna went to celebrate Kristýna’s graduation from university, and her mom made sure they got the VIP treatment including drinks and typical Czech snack, called chlebiceck.
Definitely the way to go.
By Vienna or Paris standards, this is a huge bargain, with good tickets – even for Saturday night performances – at less than 30 euros. You can get Don Giovanni tickets here. The National Theatre also hosts ballet. Prague is a First Tier arts and culture destination, with its arts groups attracting top talent from around the globe.
• The Stalin Monument in Letná Park is one of the best places to look out over the city. And it has a crazy, crazy history. It started out as a massive monument to Russia’s most savage leader. But Stalin died before it could be completed. Then, the de-Stalinification of the Soviet Bloc started just as it was to be dedicated. Oh, and the sculptor himself – reading the tea leaves – committed suicide literally just before the big day. Six years after it was dedicated, the Czech government blew it up.
All that’s left is a foundation that has great views of the city.
• Bohemia Boards & Brews: The “boards” are board games and board game cafes increasingly are a thing across Europe. The brews, well, are brews in this city famous for them. Bohemia Boards & Brews has more than 200 games not including new additions such as Stratego.
Eats include cheese trays, lox and bagels, paninis and even grilled cheese sandwiches, that definitive American comfort food. Entrees are the equivalent of $5 or $6. Beers are 40 koruna, or less than $2, or about 1.50 euros for terrific Czech beers.
Warning: NEVER play Charlie at Ticket to Ride.
• Marina Ristorante: Marina, an old riverboat converted to a fancy Italian restaurant, gets Charlie’s endorsement for great food and the best views of Prague Castle.
The food is mid-range, with main courses averaging about 480 Czech Koruna, or 17.50 euros. Pizzas average about 8 euros. Wine is really reasonable averaging 4 euros per glass, which is what we pay in our favorite inexpensive cafés in the Netherlands.
TripAdvisor reviews (four stars out of five) were mixed. Most in English rated the food highly, but the service as apathetic. Clearly, the English reviews were from Americans who have no idea how European restaurant service works (‘They didn’t give us refills!”), so we’d take the 1-stars with a grain of salt.
Charlie’s tip: The restaurant has two levels … go to the water level. “I felt a more personal touch to the service, but this floor is, if I’m not mistaken, reserved for people with reservations.”
This is a popular spot, and you can make reservations here.
• Bar Cobra, which Charlie says “has amazing cocktails.” Also good grub and music. Bar Cobra is by and for Prague’s creative class. Just check out the website and you’ll understand.:
“We reshaped our own worlds. The way we like it …. We’re still working on it. No pearls of wisdom, loads of fuck-ups and emotional rollercoasters, new people, morning til (almost) morning. We love it. And want you to feel the same.”
• Plus Hostel in Holesovice is an old school turned into – if there is such a thing – an upscale hostel. Charlie says there are six-to-eight bunk beds in each dorm and you have a swimming pool, all for 15 euros per night. He hasn’t stayed there but did some research and think it’s worth the price for backpackers/ travelers on a budget.
“For people with some more spending range: Mama Shelter, also in Holesovice. I’d recommend these places for … characters like me; they’re experience-based and not the Hiltons or Sheratons we know.”
• Bucket List: Charlie wants to go to Bobsled Track Prague, where you can go like 70 miles an hour down a metal track riding a tiny metal sled. Charlie has lost his mind.