Prague: Forget lads' holidays, here's a city to fall in love with
With palace gardens and choral singers over dinner, Prague is so much more than a lads' holiday hotspot says Dee Finnerty.
Set the mood
On every corner you'll find a new layer of history in Prague.
As I step out onto well-worn cobblestones with the sun beating down and church bells ringing out, the city seems worlds apart from the lads' holiday destination I was warned it had become.
We begin our weekend with a trip to the Vrtba gardens (vrtbovska.cz), a three-tiered Baroque palace garden which any art buff will instantly fall in love with. Frescos and sculptures decorate the pillared walls, and with each ascension there's a fresh gasp of awe. When you reach the top, the sound of fountains below is the perfect accompaniment to a view over an entire city of terracotta roofs.
And if you're planning a big day out, look no further - they're more than happy to host weddings here too.
After basking in the extravagant beauty that is Lobkowicz Palace, we took ourselves nearly 100km away for something different. The European Capital of Culture 2015, Pilsen (which, as the name might suggest, is the home of Pils beer) is a beautiful city without the price tag of one.
We worked our way through the Pilsner Urquell brewery, gaining a thirst as the aroma of hops filled our noses, before sneaking down into the icy cold, cobbled cellars to taste some cloudy, unfiltered brew straight from the barrel. Beer in the Czech Republic is inexpensive, with a pint setting you back roughly €1-€2.
Mille-feuille at the Four Seasons, Prague
We walk from Malá Strana to the Old Town over the crowded Charles Bridge, soaking up all the sights along the way. As dusk approaches and our bellies start to rumble, we take a seat at Cotto Crudo (cottocrudo.cz) in the Four Seasons Prague, where chef Luca De Astis heads up the kitchen.
I plump for asparagus with Parmesan ice cream and egg yolk cream, while my carnivorous counterpart opts for a beef entrecôte with spinach and black truffle potato purée. Luckily, we've picked the right evening for it - as we dine on the terrace, fireworks begin to pop overhead while we eavesdrop on choral singers from below. I'm beginning to feel like I've gone back in time to Renaissance Italy!
If you're visiting Lobkowicz Palace, it's worth arriving early to avoid queues and to get the most out of the day. When you've done your sightseeing, why not take a seat at Lvi Dvur (lvidvur.cz/en) for some delicious traditional al fresco fare?
Perhaps bring earplugs for the plane - weekend flights to Prague will inevitably bring large groups and, trust me, they'll be worth it when Ciaran from Carlow is telling his hilarious joke for the fifth time.
If you don't like crowds, get out and about early in Prague and, if you're hoping to spend your days walking, be sure to bring good shoes - the cobblestones really do take a toll after a few hours.
Get me there
Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) and Ryanair (ryanair.com) fly from Dublin to Prague. From there, you can travel to Pilsen direct by bus or train (see pilsen.eu for more info) where Hotel U Zvonu (hotel-uzvonu.cz) provides four-star accommodation.