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Prague

The Czech Republic's Capital City

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Church of St. Nicholas Mala Strana

Church of St. Nicholas Mala Strana

Kerry Kubilius, licensed to About.com
Prague, or Praha, as it is known locally, is the capital of the Czech Republic. This Central European city, inhabited by Slavs, influenced by Europe, and known globally as a top travel destination, is stimulating, accessible, and unforgettable.

Visually, Prague is a smorgasbord of architectural styles and artistic details. From the paving stones underfoot to the spires on its churches, every element has a dual function: to serve its structural purpose and to appeal to the eye. For today's Prague, a third benefit of its beauty can be identified: distraction. Patterned pavements divert your focus, if not your steps, from dog droppings; the Old Town, a historic center, beckons alluringly from across Charles Bridge, seemingly impassable with its press of tourists; the grandeur of former palaces makes gauche displays of commercialization forgivable.

There is more to Prague than its physical charm, and exploring Prague's districts is an enjoyable way to sample the flavors of the city. The Castle District and Prague Castle, the seat of Czech rulers, is an obvious starting point. St. Vitus Cathedral, the most important church in the nation is here; built in the 14th century, it will not fail to impress upon visitors that its creators were as devoted to artistic expression as they were to religion. The Castle District gives way to Mala Strana's structures, which cluster around the base of Castle Hill. These were built by the wealthy, whose proximity to the king reflected their own level of influence. Cross Charles Bridge to enter Old Town Prague, where legends based on fact wait to be told at every junction, and where fervent tourists seek out these stories. A different sort of bustle drives the crowds in New Town, where shopping and dining take precedent over everything else.

Staying in and getting around Prague is easy. Rooms at affordable hotels near the city center can be secured with some advanced planning; less affordable ones can be booked directly in the center for those who want to be a part of the action even while asleep. Getting from your hotel to points of interest, restaurants, or shops on foot will allow you take in the feel of the city. Alternatively, the metro and trams are easy to use and taxis are plentiful.

Prague's restaurant scene serves every budget but may not appeal to every palate. Czech restaurants advertising Czech cuisine focus heavily on meat-and-dumpling dishes, and even restaurants with menus based on other cuisines offer slim vegetarian offerings. However, what these restaurants lack in selection, they make up for in atmosphere. Dine in ancient wine cellars, well-established smoky hangouts, sleek and modern upscale establishments, politically significant cafes, or even, weather permitting, in the open air on a famous square.

Though it my seem impossible to avoid the go-go-go of Prague as you try to pack your schedule full-to-brimming with sights, downtime is essential. While surveying museum collections or bookstore selections, your internal monologue will find its voice in the relative quiet and help you prioritize the time you have left to spend. Before you drift off to sleep in your room, the lights and sounds of Prague will find their way in through the cracks in the curtains, and they will convince you of the reality of your experience: you are not dreaming. Over a Pilsner, coffee, or mineral water, you will have time to reflect on newly created memories that will allow you to return to Prague whenever you wish.

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