What I actually liked about Prague

A stunning view over Prague from the grounds of its castle.

A stunning view over Prague from the grounds of its castle.

‘Pragaluf.’

That’s the term I coined to describe the Czech Republic’s biggest and chief city after visiting the popular city break destination back in August of this year.

The reasoning and logic behind it wasn’t questionable when you consider that much of its attraction is tied up in its nightlife – a large part of which is a seedy enterprise.

As a young male, I was lucky to walk more than three paces after dark without being pounced on by various club promoters, most of which were the type with poles and private rooms rather than DJs and dancers.

But who could be surprised that Prague’s drinking culture is so prevalent? Especially when the country leads the way in highest beer consumption per capita not just in Europe, but on planet Earth.

Looking to capitalise on this were reps pushing tickets for pub crawls and boat parties, littering Old Town Square no better than a crumpled Coca-Cola can or windswept Mars bar wrapper.

Prague had been on my to-do list for some time, and to say I was underwhelmed is an understatement.

But that doesn’t mean I had a bad time, nor does it mean that our visit wasn’t worthwhile. In fact, quite the opposite – Prague is an amazing place.

Don't be fooled by a critical blog post - I still had a great time in Prague, and so did my friends. Here we are standing, and smiling, on Charles Bridge.

Don't be fooled by a critical blog post - I still had a great time in Prague, and so did my friends. Here we are standing, and smiling, on Charles Bridge.

Yes, it has its irksome qualities, but what can’t be tarnished is the rich history that it holds close to its heart.

We learned about it more recent, Soviet past on the Communist and Nuclear Bunker Tour which took us through some of the most poignant locations in the city.

One such place was the headquarters of the StB – a plainclothes secret political police force, which dealt with activity considered to be anti-state or of western influence.

Inside the StB headquarters were holding cells, and the building still stands today.

Inside the StB headquarters were holding cells, and the building still stands today.

It was in this building where they held prisoners and forced confessions by means of torture, example of which included drugging, blackmail and kidnapping.

The StB were figures which represented an era of oppression for 41 years, a period which led to radical acts of retaliation, arguably the most famous of which was Jan Palach’s self-immolation as a political protest against the end of the Prague Spring.

This took place in Wenceslas Square, a name synonymous with the city, and one of its main thoroughfares.

Another act of resistance, and what proved to be the final blow to the soviet regime was the Velvet Revolution, a non-violent transition of power which ended Stalinist rule spanning five decades in Czechoslovakia.

We passed through the Franciscan Gardens on our tour - a small park right in the heart of the city. This old chapel, dating back to the 17th century, is now a boutique.

We passed through the Franciscan Gardens on our tour - a small park right in the heart of the city. This old chapel, dating back to the 17th century, is now a boutique.

While standing on the street used to commemorate the revolution’s anniversary, one of the streets on which Czech students and dissidents protested on almost a quarter of a century ago, it was hard not to get lost in thoughts of yesteryear and imagining just what it was like to live in such a repressed society.

A monument to the second resistance movement of the Czech people, which was in retaliation to the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia from 1938 to 1945.

A monument to the second resistance movement of the Czech people, which was in retaliation to the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia from 1938 to 1945.

The battle for independence and freedom was not without fear though, and the tensions that escalated between the United States of American and the Soviet Union during the Cold War was reason enough for the state to construct a 5,000-capacity nuclear bunker in Prague.

The inconspicuous entrance to the bunker-turned-bar.

The inconspicuous entrance to the bunker-turned-bar.

This was the tour’s centrepiece, and one of the most underrated attractions that Prague has to offer. It truly was a blessing that it was never used for its intended purpose, because in addition to the smell of must and concrete, each person would have had approximately half a metre squared of space. Hardy comfortable in the case of nuclear armageddon.

It was definitely close-quarters inside the nuclear bunker, and I'm not quite sure how people would have kept their sanity for more than a day or two down there.

It was definitely close-quarters inside the nuclear bunker, and I'm not quite sure how people would have kept their sanity for more than a day or two down there.

Since its decommission, the bunker has been used as both a bar and a climbing wall (both non-compliant with health and safety standards) and is currently home to the maintenance man that takes care of its upkeep. We caught a rare glimpse of him after he forgot to close his door, but he seemed reluctant to come forward and answer questions from the public. Then again, he’s probably not used to human contact after living in such a secluded area for so long.

The steralisation process that would have been put in place in the event of a nuclear attack.

The steralisation process that would have been put in place in the event of a nuclear attack.

The bunker contains a lot of communist-era memorabilia, and we just had to take advantage of that! 

The bunker contains a lot of communist-era memorabilia, and we just had to take advantage of that! 

Going back in time a little further, we decided to take a sweat-inducing hike up to Prague Castle. The largest ancient castle in the world, according to the Guinness Book of Records, started construction in the year 870 and was completed 1059 years later.

Sneaking a peak at Prague Castle from the Charles Bridge tower.

Sneaking a peak at Prague Castle from the Charles Bridge tower.

Although it’s most recognisable structure, St Vitus’ Cathedral, charges a small fee to look inside, there is plenty to feast your eyes on within the castle grounds, including a stunning view across Prague’s city centre.

St Vitus' Cathedral stands tall over the rest of Prague Castle.

St Vitus' Cathedral stands tall over the rest of Prague Castle.

Prague castle has some stunning buildings, so it isn't really surprising that it is the official residence of the President of the Czech Republic.

Prague castle has some stunning buildings, so it isn't really surprising that it is the official residence of the President of the Czech Republic.

The gardens at Prague Castle illuminated by some midday summer sunlight.

The gardens at Prague Castle illuminated by some midday summer sunlight.

The castle is most-clearly seen from the Charles Bridge, one of two instantly-recognizable symbols of Prague, a gothic structure crossing the Vltava River.

Looking back at Charles Bridge across the Vltava.

Looking back at Charles Bridge across the Vltava.

The premiere place for a touristy snap, you’ll also find plenty of street stalls selling arts and crafts and the chance to soak in one of Prague’s finest vantage points.

Named after King Charles IV, whose rule it was constructed over, the bridge is given a run for its money by the 606-year-old astronomical clock in Old Town Square – the oldest such timepiece still in operation.

It is a magnet for tourists at the quietest of times, but none more so than just before the hand strikes the hour when it springs into life with several figurines set in motion to the sound of its chime. This, unsurprisingly, entices large crowds and is located in one of the busiest areas of Bohemia.

The Prague astronomical clock on the left of this image, while Church of Our Lady before Týn stands on the right.

The Prague astronomical clock on the left of this image, while Church of Our Lady before Týn stands on the right.

The functioning clock is a sensational nod to its original design and craftsmanship, and to the restoration work that has been undertaken over the past six centuries and no trip to Prague can be complete without paying it a visit.

We also managed to squeeze in a Thursday night game as Belgian giants RSC Anderlecht were hosted by local team Slavia – one of four top flight teams in the area, accompanied by Sparta, Dulka and Bohemians 1905.

At Slavia Praha's Eden Arena. The home side lost 0-3 to Brussels-based Anderlecht in the first leg of a Europa League playoff.

At Slavia Praha's Eden Arena. The home side lost 0-3 to Brussels-based Anderlecht in the first leg of a Europa League playoff.

Fervent football fans will enjoy exploring each stadium should they choose, and the vast number of teams increases the likelihood of syncing up a stay with a matchday. With cheap tickets and refreshments, it’s hard to complain about an afternoon or evening watching Czech football.

And though it was behind the big negative on a personal level, I cannot deny that Prague’s nightlife is nothing short of fantastic.

Its wide range of bars and clubs caters to all tastes, so whether you want to taste some beer and chat the night away or throw some shapes to some absolute bangers, the choice is there to be made.

Barrock was a great place to have a drink.

Barrock was a great place to have a drink.

It is no wonder that it is a popular destination for parties of stags and hens, and crowds of young partiers who aren’t afraid to look beyond the frontier of Amsterdam.

We sampled a couple of clubs, one of those being Roxy, a stylish art-deco 1920s theatre renovated to create an every night place for party people. The steep entry fee shouldn’t be sniffed at as the relatively low drinks prices make up for it, and overall a brilliant night was had. No complaints there.

Queuing up to get into Roxy on a Friday night. As you can see from the crowds it is a hotspot for partygoers.

Queuing up to get into Roxy on a Friday night. As you can see from the crowds it is a hotspot for partygoers.

Living it up in Roxy with the lads.

Living it up in Roxy with the lads.

Perhaps my slight disappointment with Prague was due to such high expectations. I wanted to head there last summer before me and my friends agreed on Budapest, and it was part of a central European trip which meant that comparisons with Bratislava, Vienna and Berlin were pretty much mandatory.

But when I reflect on our time there, when I think about Prague’s significant history and the culture that comes with it, I realise that my time there was well spent. Not even a club promoter could drag me away from that mindset.