Prague: Back to Where it Began

By Nomadic Matt | Published May 20th, 2014

My life as a backpacker began in Prague. I arrived there two months into my trip. But those two months were spent staying with friends and driving across the US. It wasn’t spent in hostels or meeting travelers. Up until that time, my trip had always felt like an extended vacation.

But all that changed in Prague.

Prague was the first place I stayed in a hostel and had to make friends with strangers in dorms, navigate on my own (no one was there to meet me at the airport), figure out signs in a different language, and really get by as a traveler. It was the first place where I was truly a stranger in a different land.

I was on my own, and I loved it—from the hostel happy hours with the giant four-deck game of kings, to the craziness of being in a 20-bed dorm room, to that cute Aussie girl (call me), to the friends I met who I stay in touch with to this day.


Prague showed me the wonders of hostel life and backpacking, and I was hooked.

Then, three days later, I was gone… off to Milan to continue my adventures.

I haven’t been back since, but with my Central Europe tour starting in Prague, last week I flew back to re-acclimate myself to the city, get the lay of the land, and connect with the local operators I’m working with.

After being away for eight years, I was worried the city would have changed too much, and the memory of my first visit would be so powerful that Prague could never live up to it.

But thankfully I was wrong.

Prague is different (and more expensive), but the essence of what makes it wonderful is still there. When I came to Prague in 2006, I fell in love with a city steeped in history, beautiful medieval architecture, cobblestone streets, cafes, beautiful women, lots of travelers, and cheap beer. Prague seemed to have it all.

And it still does.

Time changes places, especially ones so popular with travelers. And sometimes it’s not always for the better. There are many things different with Prague—some good, some bad. There are more tourists, prices are much higher (euros are widely accepted), English is more widely spoken, and there’s more international food, including a lot of vegetarian options (be sure to check out the Country Home buffet!).

What made Prague special as a city was still there, and that made me happy. There was Letenské sady park, where I stared out across the city from a lookout as couples posed for photos and an art student drew the skyline. There was the slow meander through Královská zahrada, where the noise of the city fell away as the spires of St. Vitus Cathedral rose above the trees, and all that could be heard were the whispers of travelers talking about the park’s beauty.

As I wandered cobblestone streets, walked across the Charles Bridge, traipsed up and down the river, and plotted out walking routes for my tour, I fell for Prague once again. I remembered what made this city so special to me the first time—the feeling of being lost in time and in some place truly different. This time around that feeling was still there.

I’ve written about chasing travel ghosts before. It’s a thought that haunts me throughout my travels. Will a destination be as good as I remember it? Will each subsequent visit tire me out or renew my love? Sometimes, like in Paris, returning renews my love. Other times, like in Ko Phangan, it makes me realize that it’s time to move on.

But returning to Prague, my love was rekindled, and that’s something special. Each visit anywhere is unique in its own right, and it’s only natural to compare them. But when the essence remains the same, when that original spark is still there, you know your connection to a place is deeper than just one good time.

And that’s a great feeling. I can’t wait to come back in August and share this wonderful city with my tour group.

PS – I’ll be writing a much longer post on what to see and do in Prague in the future!

comments 43 Comments

I find Prague to be the most human of cities and frequently simply walk without a destination and find myself in the most sublime little courtyards and places green. It’s scale is very human but human in its most extraordinary and uplifting way. If you go and really look little Prague will put her hooks in you and never let you go.

It’s always great to go back to a place that you went as a newbie traveler. I would love to go back to Prague (and eat Bohemian Bagel lol)

Marilynn Smith

I am jealous, I want to go back to Prague. And, I made the one big mistake on my last trip, I did not go over to Budapest. I promise to return.

NomadicMatt

I love Budapest even more than I love Prague. That says something!

That makes me look forward to getting to Budapest. Will be headed there then to Croatia and Bosnia this summer..any tips?

NomadicMatt

If only I ate bagels….

I can totally relate to this. For me it was Bali, my start destination on my first backpacking trip through South-East Asia in 2005. Went back to Bali on this trip, and actually stayed at the same hotel in Sanur. And guess what, it was just the same! Like going back in time. Even the rate was the same :). Well, some places just get stuck in your heart forever. Prague is such a great city too! Happy travels to you Matt!

NomadicMatt

Thank you!

Jayne

I went to Prague 3 years with my cousin and a friend. To be honest I didn’t see what all the fuss is about. Yes it’s pretty but other than that.

Antonio

Well Matt you have said it all.I have been to Prague twice,and i am planning to go soon again.Probably.one of the most beatifull cities in Europe.Hope you had good time.

I think I started as a backpacker (an overloaded one) in Milan.
I’ve never been to Prague, it looks fantastic.

I’m looking at heading to Prague in about two months. I can’t wait to see you suggestions on what to do there!

Likewise on the suggestions front Matt! – Looking forward to hearing what you are going to recommend to visit in Prague.

p.s. I’m glad it still lived up to your first memories! – it’s always nice when that happens

I just went to Prague for the first time (in April). It’s a really special city and I’d love to spend some more time there. I loved the architecture! Have a lot of fun during the rest of your time in Prague, I hope to go back there one day too.

Hey Matt, glad to hear you enjoyed Prague again! I’ve been living here for years and can’t stop loving this home base I chose!
I’m a local travel blogger, let me know if you need help arranging sth for your tour in August. I speak Czech :)
Keep having fun travelling!

Lindsey

I’m going to Prague in September and can’t wait to hear your recommendations!

Juile

September is a wonderful time to visit as the weather is usually perfect, sunny and 70sF/20sC… I have lived here for 10 years and can tell you there is always some new little place to find.. even a friend of mine who grew up here told me he found a place on Kampa Island that he’d never seen before :)

and it is, by far, one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, I think only Florence or St. Petersburg could rival it :)

anyone coming here, feel free to ask questions and Matt have a great time with your tour!

Hi Lindsey!
Happy to hear you are visiting Prague in September. September is a great time to come here, just note that it is still very busy in terms of incoming tourism. We would recommend that you visit the main sights in the morning or in the evening and go out of the centre for the rest of the day. Lots of great food and people there! Have a look at the Karlin and the Vinohrady districts.
In any case, have fun in Prague!

Oh Prague… haven’t been in a very long time.. was there with my ballet troupe. After reading this, have the urge to return. Will you be in S. America this Summer?

NomadicMatt

I’ll be in Europe leading some tours and will go to South America in the winter.

roshan

I really love and enjoy prague through your information. The most important thing is I have to make my trip to prague as quick as possible.

Really know how that feels to come back to the place uve been too in a long time. that same serene and nostalgic feeling.

Cant wait to read more of your Prague trip

Kristina

I moved to Prague from San Francisco in February, and was planning to stay month before heading off to teach English in Spain. It is now the end of May and I am still here, and don’t plan on leaving anytime soon. There is something magical and unique about this city that captures certain people…literally. I also traveled here 5 years ago on my first solo backpacking trip and found this to be the most enchanting (and spooky) place I visited. I am so happy to now call Prague my home, and look forward to hearing what else you have to share about it :)

NomadicMatt

It seems like a qonderful place to live.

NomadicMatt

Nicely put!

I’ve only spent 8 hours in Prague about 15 years ago, it was the dead of winter and I had 11 hours between flights and was able to take a tour from the airport into downtown. Although I almost got frostbite I loved every second and have always wanted to go back. I also lived in Budapest, Hungary for two years as a very young child and though I don’t remember much my parent’s stories give me a desire to see it now as an adult.

I have been debating between South East Asia and Eastern Europe for my next big adventure in the fall and all signs seem to be pointing towards Europe…I think it’s time to return!

Hi Matt, as a big fan of yours I´m really glad to hear that. My hometown is unique city! It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for history, architecture, green city or bars and pubs we have it all here :-) . All in reach in a few minutes by Metro (local subway) or trams. Unfortunately lots of travel guides write about same places while others are marginalise. And you can imagine how price rise (while quality go dawn in some cases) in places with big concentration of tourists :-).
And few tips for you guys who plan your trip to Prague: you don´t need to take a cab (only if you´re in a hurry). There is lots of buses, trams, and metro will take you where ever you want and if you lost don’t afraid to ask young people. Even night buses run frequently. If you want to take romantic night-walk, go to visit Prague Castle about 10pm (close at 11pm) with magnificent view over night Prague. This place is full during the day but you´ll be alone (and safe) at night. From there you can take a walk dawn the streets and in half (quarter) an hour you find your self on Charles Bridge from where you can continue to pubs all around if you will. Next day go to Vysehrad (Metro station with the same name). Nice view and great place for picnic or practice yoga.
There is great Couchsurfing community, so if you contact someone they will take you to places where the locals go (I´m traveling right now so I can´t show you Prague in person but fell free for contact me) . I´m sure you can fing some people on Meetup and so.

Hi Matt!
Great post. We are really happy to hear that Prague is “the place” where it all started. Very good insight on the changes that happened over the past few years here. We also love the Letna park above the city and we recommend visitors to see the main sights either early in the morning or late in the evening and spend the rest of the day with the locals in the less exposed areas.
Looking forward to reading more on Prague from you!
Zuzi and Jan

Your first real backpacking destination will always hold a place in your heart. Mine was in Mexico and I’ll always think its a little special.

Haven’t seen Prague yet but I hope to visit one day.

As one of my top 5 places I have been in the world I can totally see why you love it and wanted to return. I’d love to go back myself one day but this time not do all of the touristy things and just relax, wander the streets, eat the food and generally enjoy every minute rather than rushing about to try and fit everything in.

Hi Matt.

I was in Prague numerous times as it’s only one border and 4 hours away by train, but I could never use euros anywhere in the city. Do you have any suggestions for eateries and pubs that accept euros? I will also be there in August :)

Cheers!

Hi Mario, you can find such a pubs, but I really dont know whats the problem when ATM, exchange office or bank is on every corner especially in the center. But Im pretty sure if you say in pub: I dont have Czech crown may I pay in euro, they will not call police :-) . But be preparer for slightly higher exchange rate :-) .

I live in Prague and it’s strange my blogging journey began when I moved here. When I lived in the UK I had no time to blog but I don’t work anymore so i can spend all day blogging and discovering new places! I’d love to know if you come back to Prague!

Excellent post, am eagerly looking forward to ‘what to see and do in Prague’..:)

Prague was the first major city I travelled to outside of England and for this reason I have a great affinity with the city. I love the Old Town and I try and get there once a year when I can. I love the city. I especially love the way it is so compact and relatively easy to navigate.

Oh, its look like we a Prague fan page here :-)

I have had my fair share of places that change for the worst and only disappoint when you return, so I’m glad to hear that there are some places that change for the better.

Prague seems like such an intriguing city …. I can’t wait to see it for myself!

Biden

Wonder if Prague had so many Americans back in 2006. Felt like it is now on the bucket list for big American tourists.

I LOVE PRAGUE! Forever in my heart!

Prague is a magic place, I plan to go there in September!

Prague was my 1st solo city as well! I will never tire of the place, I’ve been back only once since but hopefully will get back there soon. It’s interesting how “normal” Prague seems to me as someone who lives in Europe, and the likes of New York, Colorado etc. seem Amazing…then it’s the opposite for any Americans I meet :)

My family live in Prague and I like visit to Prag and enjoy it everytime. Really beautiful city with historical buildings.

Leave a comment