Here’s the 5-minute guide:
Don’t bother renting a car unless you plan to travel out of town – just get a taxi ride in (about $35-$40 fixed rate to most hotels downtown). Parking here is a bastard, and there’s plenty of public transport. Plus, most stuff you’ll want to see in only four days is walkable.
Of course check out the Prague Castle and Old Town Square, and walk across Charles’ Bridge (you can start at either the castle or OT square and walk to the other in an hour or two, that walk will take you over the bridge). There’s plenty of info on the castle and the bridge available, but when you’re walking around OT Square, remember the word “defenestration” – to be thrown out a window – it was a favorite method of killing rivals or dissidents back in the day, and a lot of people got that treatment there. The big statue in the square, of the man with some followers – that’s Jan Hus (pronounced “Yan Hoos”), who was basically a Martin Luther type approximately a century before Martin Luther himself. Was burned at the stake by the Catholic Church for his trouble. The Astronomical Clock is also of course worth checking out – it’s been around for six hundred years, still runs. Neat trivia legends: after building the clock, the king had the architect’s eyes put out so he couldn’t go on to build another for someone else.
As I’m writing this, there seems to be a theme going on here ). Hmm.
Wenceslas’ Square should also be on your list, though it’s not a square and once you’re there you’ll say “Okay, been there, now what?” When you go there, make sure to get close enough to the big National Museum at the top that you can see the discolored patches on the columns out front. Those patches are repairs done in 1968 after the Russian occupying forces shot up a big student protest. The repairmen defied orders to make the colors match and made sure there would be a reminder there in protest.
Food-wise, Czech traditionals aren’t earth-shaking, but there’s one or two that are pretty good: “svichkova” (I’m spelling that phonetically, you can just say that and they’ll know) is a loin of beef in a cream sauce, generally served with a few slices of bready dumplings. (Where I’m from, dumplings are generally small and rounded, made by palming dough – here, they’re big logs of dough that get sliced before serving.) Also, a “pork knee” sounds not so hot, but is really good if you’re into meat dishes. Beef tartar here is also good, if you’re feeling adventurous.
“La FInestra” is expensive, but arguably the best meat and fish selection in town. Excellent pastas too. Not fancy dress, but very stylish. http://www.lafinestra.cz/cs/uvod/
“Jama Pub” has the best burgers in town, bar none – run by an American ex-pat who’s been here for nineteen years. Good selection of local beers too. A sister restaurant, Jama Steakhouse, serves up good traditional American steaks and sides. Both Jamas are pretty low-key and relaxed. http://www.expats.cz/prague/czech/tex-mex-prague/jama-prague/
“Ambiente” has several restaurants scattered around, all of which get good reviews – I’ve been to the Brazilian one around the corner from St. Nicholas’ cathedral in OT Square – reaaaalllly good. http://www.ambi.cz/home.php
“Terasa U Zlate studne” – fairly expensive for Prague, but the view can’t be beat. Stop in here one evening for drinks or dinner. It’s snug up against the castle, so although you won’t see the castle itself much in the view, you’ll get most/all the rest of Prague. http://www.terasauzlatestudne.cz
Hergetova cihelna – Czech style restaurant, next door to Franz Kafka museum, really good food, medium-expensive, great view across the river. It’s part of the “Kampa Group”, of which there are quite a few restaurants in town. http://www.kampagroup.com/en/index.php “Cowboys” is also a Kampa restaurant very near the Terasa U Zlate studne – Texas-style steakhouse with an equally good or arguably better view.
Other things to do:
Go to an Absyntherie (there’s one next door to the Ambiente mentioned ^^, and one or two others within walking distance – have an absynthe “Bohemian Style”. Quite good, very neat atmosphere, and it’s fun to watch the ritual they go through making it.
Vyserhad – this used to be a separate town, kept apart from Prague by a big natural canyon. There’s a bridge there now, and easy access by metro or car (though parking is next to impossible). Big cathedral, really interesting graveyard – you can easily lose 3-5 hours here.
If you like beer, have a beer at a local pub – and make it Pilsner Urquell. You’re 40km from where lager was arguably invented, and this was one of the first. On draught it tastes pretty dramatically different from the bottles back in the US. Good place for that is down the street from OT Square, on the corner of Valentinska and Kaprova, at Ristorante Parlimento. That’s also a good place to take a break if you’ve been walking around a lot.
The Old Jewish Cemetery – pretty neat, tour guides all mention it. This is where the clay golem legend originated, it’s said an old rabbi (can’t remember his name) made it to protect the community. In the same few blocks around the Cemetery are some of the same areas Franz Kafka used to live and hang out, so if you stop for coffee along the way, just watch the streets and ponder ).
Just walk around Old Town and appreciate the architecture, browse the antique stores, stop in at a local hole for a beer or a coffee, whatever. Soak in the fact that you’re walking in a city that’s been around since before there were mechanically-printed books.