Who better to explore Prague with than a local who’s been guiding there since long before Westerners had ready access to the country. Nowadays, our friend (and soon to be yours too) Karel Schneider is tour leader for Classic Journeys Prague to Budapest Culture + Walking tours. As Karel puts it, “Because I grew up on the ‘wrong side’ of the Iron Curtain, my way of coping was to learn to speak English and German. It was almost impossible to get permission to travel to the West, and so, being a city guide provided me with opportunities to meet people from different countries and get information that wasn’t otherwise available.”
Even though that era is decades past, it’s very visible in the rearview mirror, and Karel offers you a very personal perspective on life then… and how it still echoes in 21st-century life. The interesting irony is that the difficult Cold War years left the country with a lack of resources that prevented the bulldozing of cities and towns. That almost-accidental preservation means that you’ll step in scenes that have changed very little over the centuries. As a proud lifelong resident of Prague, he knows the city and its histories like the back of his hand and these are among his must-see spots that he shows off to our guests.
#1 A Stroll Through Time in Malá Strana
Here at the foot of Castle Hill, nobles and the wealthy once built their own palaces and grand homes to be close to the soaring seat of power. Today, this historic district is wonderful for a walk. The streetscapes take you back in time and there’s a lively mix of past and present that shows off the modern personality of Prague.
#2 Private Visit to the Library Halls of Strahov Monastery
If you automatically connect libraries with quiet, somber places, the private tour that Karel arranges in the library halls will rock your world! Confectionary Baroque ceilings seem so distracting that it’s hard to imagine focusing on the remarkable collection of valuable manuscripts. The hush here is inspired by awe, and it’s one of Prague’s most inspiring spaces made all the more memorable by the privileged access you enjoy.
#3 The View from the Petřín Lookout Tower
Your eyes don’t deceive you. If the tower looks suspiciously like that other tower called Eiffel that’s because it was copied (at a smaller scale) for the Jubilee Exhibition in 1891. The literal high point of a visit to Prague, the views are fabulous. From this vantage point with Karel’s guidance, you really get the lay of the land and see how the Vltava River snakes through the city.
#4 The Treasures of Lobkowicz Palace Museum
For seven centuries, the Lobkowicz family has played an integral role in preserving Czech culture. The significance couldn’t be clearer than in their present-day museum inside the Prague Castle. It’s a rich reminder of the power and wealth of the country’s old ruling class. If the Brueghel paintings and Haydn manuscripts aren't enough to impress, step out to the terrace for the princely views.
#5 Gardens of Prague Castle
“Prague’s gardens are my favorite places of all,” Karel says. Some of the quietest are in Malá Strana, but the grandest are the Royal Gardens strung along the southern face of Prague Castle. First commissioned by the Habsburgs the 16th Century, it’s no surprise that there are fountains and Baroque elements galore. It’s hard to believe you’re in the center of a world capital…except that the vistas of the city keep catching your eye.