Here at Taste of Prague, we have this secret competition with Vienna: we want all the guests of our food tours, and all the visitors to Prague, enjoy our city more than Vienna. Not that we have anything against Vienna. We actually love that place. But still, when many of our guests visit Prague, Vienna and Budapest within the same trip, we want them to enjoy Prague the best. It’s just the way we are. Competitive.
But some Prague visitors don’t make it easy. Their Prague stays are riddled by what we would see as traveling mistakes. (We wrote about some don'ts of Prague already.) And then they complain about Prague. And we’re sad. And angry. Yup, it’s an emotional rollercoaster here at Taste of Prague whenever someone dares criticize out home town.
To avoid that, we have put together a short list of what we think are the main mistakes we’ve seen visitors to Prague make, and how and why to avoid them. We hate to be haters, but hey - nobody disses our town on our watch!
So drop that pretzel, push away the pork knuckle, and read on. Here’s what you don’t do during your stay in Prague.
Many visitors come to Prague for a short visit and end up walking too much. Sure, it may be nice to get 20,000 steps on your FitBit the first day, but are you going to keep it up and still feel comfortable? On cobbled streets? Yeah, we didn’t think so, either. Many people come to our Prague food tours absolutely exhausted and would get cranky were it not for the great food we serve. (And the drinks don’t hurt, either.)
What we suggest is that you stop walking with the tourists, and sit down a bit with the locals. Starting in Prague’s specialty coffee spots is a great idea. Or why not see a movie in one of Prague’s independent cinemas? You know what? The sights will be there the next day, too. And maybe you’ll learn something more about the Czechs when you actually do what they do.
Use TripAdvisor for food tips
Many of our guests swear by TripAdvisor. Don’t get us wrong. TripAdvisor is a great resource of information. Information about hotels, sights and activities. But food? No, we don’t think so. If we look at the top ten restaurants in Prague, we’d recommend two. Maybe three. (No, two. Really.) Why? Because there’s an inherent problem with TripAdvisor reviews. Think about it: if you’re an active TripAdvisor user, when was the last time you reviewed something in your home town?
Exactly. The local perspective is entirely lost in TripAdvisor rankings, as users rate only the places they visited on vacation but rarely rate those they visit at home. It’s not called TripAdvisor for nothing, right? This approach works perfectly for hotels, sights and activities, because locals don’t really do free walking tours or sleep in locals hotels (unless they book their rental apartment and misread the dates for their home swap and are forced to stay in a local hotel for three nights to deliver on their commitments, but enough about us). But restaurants? We’d look elsewhere, and search for tips that reflect the local angle, too. And if you trust our opinion, here's where you go for great local Czech cuisine in Prague.
Have a trdelnik
Now, this one is a bit more specific, but somebody must write about it. Yes, trdelnik aka chimney, the donut-like pastry baked on metal rolls, may be the most Instagrammed thing from Prague now that Mashable got over 100,000 shares on it, but that does not make it any more real. All those stands with the “traditional Bohemian” pastry? Yup, they were not here some five years ago. The trdelnik is the essence of a tourist trap in Prague. (And it's NOT a donut, people!)
Sure, it is a great piece of street food: the caramelised sugar and cinnamon smell beautiful from afar, and the rotating movement practically spins money out of your wallet. But is it any good? Is it made by artisans who have inherited the recipe for generations? The answer is no. It’s pretty bad and made by high schoolers on summer jobs. There are better Czech pastries out there. Don’t waste your time, no matter how Instagrammable that thing may be.
Obey (the receptionist)!
Now, this is a tricky one. We do not want to generalize about hotel receptionists and concierges, because we know many who do a fantastic job and would walk through fire for their guests. They are caring and passionate about their mission and are true ambassadors to the city. They genuinely like their guests and want the best for them.
Now that the disclaimer is out and the lawsuit avoided, let’s cut to the chase: the majority of advice and tips by receptionists or concierges in Prague hotels are paid and based on commission. Sadly, this is not an opinion. This is fact. Why? The financial situation of Prague’s receptionists seems to be similar to that of US waiters: low base salary but with expectation of access to other income “on the side”. And it’s not tips. It’s commissions from the restaurants and so on. Some receptionists have been known to act as if there were only one or two restaurants in town. Period. There are actually running jokes about it among many restauranteurs and guides in Prague.
Now, we’re not saying this happens in every hotel, or that this practice is exclusive to Prague. We’ve had probably the worst dining experience of our life in Bologna, Italy, on a recommendation of our hotel’s receptionist. We actually faked that Jan was feeling sick just to get out. What we are saying is that we would be very cautious and take recommendations in your hotel with a grain of salt. Wait. Make it a rock of salt, actually.
Give credence to cliches
We see some visitors to Prague commenting on restaurants that we think are horrible tourist traps and writing about them as authentic. We do understand that people travel to Prague with a preconceived notion what the city looks like, but don’t let that be the guide of what you do and where you eat. Sure, the tourist industry taps into that preconceived image and tries to support it just to keep you hooked. You should know better. It’s like thinking that people in Venice use gondolas for their daily commutes. People in Vienna eat schnitzels and Sacher torte exclusively. All people in the South of the US play the banjo and wear straw hats. You know what we mean.
Now, we think there is a rule of thumb. It’s all about the context of time. If the restaurant tries to persuade you that the time has stopped somewhere in the 18th, 19th century, go away. We don’t really employ Medieval knights in restaurants today. Honestly, if you see a knight ushering the guests into the restaurant, how is that authentic, really? Authentic of what? Combine it with another rule of thumb: if a restaurant claims to be “authentic” or “traditional” (and those words are there in English first or only), it probably isn’t. Traveling to Prague is not traveling back in time. It’s time to realize that while we may have sights from the 12th century here, we do live in the 21th century. Eat and act accordingly.
Never stray away
Think you will be missing out if you stray from the main routes between the main sights? We know your vacation can be short and you fear losing time over unimportant filler. But filler is exactly what you’ll find on the main streets exposed to tourism if you just try to connect dots: cheap tchotchkes and overpriced restaurants is not why you came to Prague, is it?
Taking a sudden turn and exploring Prague off the beaten path can be the start of an entirely different experience of Prague, an experience that you’ll find it hard to stop bragging about to your friends. Classic example? The Tricafe, a wonderful local cafe just one walkthrough from the busiest tourist street in the city. It is just one of several great places for food, coffee and shopping near the Bethlehem Square in between the Charles Bridge and the National Theatre. Still most of the people walk on the riverside. Which is nice in one direction. But when you’re coming back, you should explore the little streets, too. (Worried about safety? Don't be. Prague is one of the safest big cities in the world.)
Stick to what you "know"
Dare and test the "general wisdoms” you gained at home by researching the internet and packed in your suitcase before your trip. Challenge them. See if they’re really true. It’s fun, and there’s virtually no risk involved, except perhaps a bad mouthful or one less-than-ideal experience that will make for a hilarious story later on. But if you dare, you might be in for a pleasant surprise.
Classic example: “Czech reds are not good.” This is a popular wisdom especially with visitors used to Napa-style, "Parkerian", full-bodied reds. Sure, whites make about 70 percent of the Czech production of wines, and the Moravian and Bohemian wine countries are pretty up north. That means two things: (a) the production of reds in the Czech Republic is small, and (b) the reds are lighter. But are they bad? We would strongly disagree. Moravian and Bohemian winemakers have been growing reds for ages, and have produced some great ones. They are just different that what you may be used to.
It’s all about understanding and expectation management. You must open your mind a bit to what is local. Of course, if you expect a full-bodied Cab Sav from Napa or a Shiraz from Australia, you’re in for a disappointment. We don’t have the sunshine and the climate for those. But if you readjust your expectations to an Oregon Pinot, we think you’ll be very happy. Just have a look at the tips some famous Czech sommeliers gave us. They do include reds, too. So don’t worry. If you like reds, you’ll be fine. Just accept the local style. Here's where you go for great Czech wines, white or red. And that applies to just about anything, really.
Another example: “Oh, I don’t like sausages.” We get this sometimes during our tours. “Well, have you had sausages here? They might be different than what you are used to from home.” Do not assume that what you know from home will taste the same here. And it’s not only about the dishes but also the ingredients: people are surprised by how sweet the carrots can be, or by how spicy Czech garlic truly is. Again, the risks associated with trying are small, while the rewards can be very high.
Shop in "Museums"
One of he guests of our Prague food tours said it perfectly: "Why is every shop here called a museum?" It's so true. From the Chocolate Museum to the Absinthe Museum to the Prague Beer Museum, we're not sure these establishments provide much educational value. What you're getting instead is nothing more than a glorified shopping experience after you've been lured into a place on a promise of learning something new. Guess what. The only lesson you take away is that parting with your money and spending it on nonsence is easier on vacation.
Of course you want to do some shopping in Prague. But that's what shops are for. We have some really nice museums here in Prague. And some of them have great shops, like the Dox Centre for Contemporary Art in the Holesovice district. But as a general rule, the space dedicated to the actual museum should be considerably larger than the space dedicated to the retail. If it isn't, walk away. Still want to do some shopping in Prague? Here's some awesome Prague shopping tips by our friends at the Kurator museum. Oh, sorry, we mean Kurator shop.
And as a bonus, a polite plea to our guests
Read the email. When you book a tour with us, we send you lots of information and tips about Prague so that you can enjoy it to the fullest even before we meet. We put lots of time and effort into these tips. And then some of our guests shows us pics from entirely different venues, complain about a mediocre dining experience they had the night before, or exclaim "Oh! That's how good dumplings taste like!" during the tour. And then they're surprised when we tell them we sent them everything and they should have followed our tips instead. Come on! We really want you to eat well here! Read. The. Email.