I knew little to nothing about the Czech Republic (also known as Czechia) before I arrived, other than a few foggy details from when I was assigned Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being in high school. The very first thing that made an impression on me after landing at the Prague Airport is how ridiculously beautiful their money is, each bill like a neo-baroque work of art. Resisting the urge to dump my own comparatively-heinous United States bills in the garbage, I made my way outside to meet my Uber.
And as we pulled out of the airport and into the capital city, I realized that the Czech Republic didn’t just give extra-special attention to the currency, but absolutely every aesthetic aspect of their breathtaking nation. Every single thing in Prague looks ripped out of the pages of a fairytale storybook.
As we passed something that looked remarkably like every castle in every Disney movie, I felt as though I had fallen both through the rabbit hole and completely in love with Prague. Opulently decorated steeples dot the skyline and ornate Gothic bridges span the sparkling central river. The city streets, narrow and cobblestoned, are lined with an enchanting mixture of medieval and postmodern architecture. I never wanted to leave–and all this was before I had even tried the beer.
Czech food, while hearty and great for a hangover (coincidence? I think not), is not particularly memorable, unless you’re a huge fan of gravy-covered foods in varying shades of brown. But the beer–the BEER! In every shop, every hole-in-the-wall pub, every cafe and restaurant, there is an unbelievable selection of local, delicious and amazingly affordable brews. I recommend the pilsner–all 900 of them.
Due to the Czech Republic’s sad situation behind the Iron Curtain, their economy still has not caught up with much of Europe. While this poses some financial strife to the locals, it also makes it a great travel destination for those tight on cash. Hostels, meals, and libations are all extremely affordable, which is probably why I never managed to leave my bed before noon while I was there.
Prague is not just pretty buildings and beer (although, even if it were, I would still be in love). It’s also an incredibly historical and culturally-rich city with no end of amazing museums, monuments, and galleries. It’s also not all beautiful. If you explore outside of the tourist districts, you’ll find some fascinating and decidedly stark communist-era architecture, a fascinating contrast and remarkable historical reminder of life as a soviet state. In these same concrete-grey neighbourhoods, there is also an amazing variety of cafes, bars, and small art spaces occupied by students, making a lively atmosphere that shouldn’t be missed.
During my stay in Prague I also took a day trip by train to the nearby town of Kutna Hora, famous for its unique Ossuary. Assuming you’re unfamiliar with the word–I certainly was–an ossuary is a chamber or building with the express purpose of storing (human) bones. This probably leaves you with the question: why the hell would someone take a day trip to go see something so macabre and–let’s be frank–icky?
The Ossuary of Kutna Hora IS macabre, and I won’t deny that there’s an ick factor, but it’s also bizarrely and enchantingly beautiful. It is in the form of a church, and all of the skeletal remains have been used to create incredible works of art, from chandeliers to enormous crests. I would say that, disturbing or no, it is entirely worth the trip. You certainly will never forget it.
The Czech Republic is absolutely bursting with completely singular works of art, historical artefacts, and cultural marvels. It truly has something for everyone, whether you’re interested in history, architecture, Disney-like realities, stunning countryside, or just some really, really, good beer. Na zdraví!