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Both Madrid and Prague are fantastic cities, but which is better for your city-break or holiday?
We understand your dilemma. There is a wealth of information about both cities, but little stating which is the better destination and more suited for your trip.
This article will provide our unbiased opinions of Madrid and Prague, and hopefully help you to choose the best city to visit.
The article is divided into the following sections, and can be jumped to using the underlined links:
1) Introductions -
2) City scores -
3) Which one should I, friends, or family visit? -
4) When to visit and weather -
5) Who is the city suited for? -
6) The perfect 48hours (with map) -
7) Tourism details (where to stay? airport details?)
Prague, the Czech capital wows visitors with its Gothic castles, cobbled lanes and handsome medieval plazas.It sits on a snaking bend in the Vltava River, unfolding with a fairy-tale Old Town district that flits from curious astronomical clocks to age-old synagogues at just the turn of a corner. Around that are other neighborhoods that beat with hipster cafes or come topped with the stunning spires of Prague Castle – one of the largest medieval fortifications in the world.
You can fill days glugging frothy beers in cosy basement bars. You can trace the footsteps of Franz Kafka in award-winning literature museums. You can delve into enchanting Christmas Markets or gaze at great monuments on Wenceslas Square. What's more, Prague sits smack bang in the heart of the beautiful region of Bohemia, a land of undulating hills and beer breweries that offers a taste of rural Europe.
Which city would I go to?
Which one would I recommend to my parents?
Which location for my 19-year-old cousin?
Which for my food obsessed friend?
Note: The above comparison does not consider the weather, and assumes travel at the best time of year (which is detailed later in this article)
The following sections compare the two cities and considers; how long to spend in them, when to visit, and provides suggested 48hours in each city (along with an interactive map). The final section is tourism practicalities and includes which airport to fly into, what district to be based in and how best to explore the city.
We hope that you find all of this information useful, in planning your next exciting trip!
Prague is one of the original European city break destinations. With countless low-cost carriers whizzing in and out, it should be easy to put together a short trip here on a budget. To unearth the secrets of the Old Town, see Prague Castle, and enjoy at least a night on the beer and the goulash, a few days is probably all you'll need.
Of course, if you've got extra days, Prague will surely fill them. Excursions out to the wooded valleys of Bohemia, where the castles of Český Krumlov and Kutna Hora await, can be added into the mix. But you could also stay in the city itself, to break away from the more touristy centre into neighborhoods like hipster Žižkov and Nusle.
For Madrid, the length of stay greatly depends on how much you want to devote to visit the three famed art galleries (Prado Museum, Thyssen-Bornemisza and Reina Sofía), or immerse into Spanish culture. The city can be seen in two days of sightseeing, and a third day is often given to the galleries.
There are many outstanding day trips from Madrid and a trip can be easily extended to 5 or 6 days. A selection of the best day trips includes the medieval town of Segovia, charming Toledo, and the magnificent El Escorial. Madrid makes for a good base from which to explore the region, and is served by inexpensive public transport
Prague has the usual four seasons of Central Europe. The summer is generally hot and humid, with the highest temperatures in the 30s during July and August. It's also common to have regular thunderstorms that last for short bursts then. Winter, meanwhile, is cold. It's the best time to visit Prague if you're in search of kitschy Christmas markets that sell blood sausages, hot chocolate and warm Czech beer. You'll certainly need the thermals and snow coat between November and March, though. It's not uncommon for temperatures to stay below zero for weeks on end.
The upshot is that the spring and autumn probably see Prague in its prime. In April, May, September and October, things can still be mild and warm. There are fewer visitors hitting the mainstay sites like the Prague Castle. Hotel rates drop considerably to boot, and you're more likely to get bargains on flights into town.
The major consideration for Madrid, is to avoid August, when the entire city shuts down (most restaurants, cafes and independent shops) and everyone heads to the coastal towns. Late spring and early autumn (Jun/July and September) are the best seasons.
Madrid can be surprisingly chilly in the winter, but is comparatively dry to the rest of Europe. As Madrid is in the centre of the Iberian Peninsula it tends to get more extreme weather than the coastal cities.
Madrid is one of the finest cities in Europe. The city may not have the iconic monuments and attention-grabbing tourist attractions, but in reality, there is a lot to see during a city break.
Much of Madrid’s tourist literature focuses on the museums and galleries (which are world-class), but this should not deter you; this is a fun-loving city, which has the best nightlife in Europe. No matter your style of trip, there will be something to love about the Spanish capital.
Madrid excels as a long-stay destination, and if you are able to work here, the city offers perfect work/life balance.
Prague is a heritage-rich, historic and hedonistic European city. You'll spend your time gawping at haunting castles and getting lost in medieval districts. Of course, there's also plenty of room for evenings of Czech beer and samplings of Slavic dumplings and goulash. If you're a food-loving culture vulture then there's hardly anywhere better on offer. What's more, backpackers and partygoers will find loads to like in the sleepless basement bars and pubs.
What Prague can't excel in is proximity to the ocean. If you're looking for somewhere to dine on seafood and hit the beach, it's not the place for you. The same goes for the great outdoors. It isn't hard to escape to backcountry Bohemia from here, but you will need to rent a car or organise a day trip away from the Old Town to do that.
48hours in Prague
Two days in Prague is best shared 50/50 between history and urban life. The fairy-tale Old Town and the mighty Prague Castle take care of the first half. Then come cool districts like Žižkov, where you'll sip fair-trade coffees and explore flea bazaars.
Day 1: Go straight to the heart of the city by beginning your weekend on the vast Old Town Square. This is the kernel of the historic quarter of Prague. It bustles with life from summer to winter, with the crowds moving between the great landmarks of the Old Town Hall and the Church of Our Lady before Týn. The latter of those is famed for its coal-black Gothic turrets that loom more than 80 metres up.
The former has gorgeous Gothic doors and gargoyles, along with the strange Prague Astronomical Clock, a 15th-century time keeping device that now reigns as the longest-running working clock on the planet. Crowds will gather below to watch it chime on the hour, as figures of the apostles emerge from doors like a strange version of a cuckoo clock. Go eastwards through the winding lanes of the Old Town and you'll eventually come to the riverside.
That's where the cobbled streets lead straight onto Charles Bridge. An icon of Prague, it's peppered with statues of saints that are a photographer's dream in the misty winter months. Cross the walkway and you'll find yourself in the chocolate-box Malá Strana. This is the oldest part of Prague, where you'll catch hearty beer taverns like the local favourite U Hrocha. Beer finished? Good, it's time to work it off with the walk up to Prague Castle. The steps lead up almost straight from the door of the pub. Spend the afternoon exploring that sprawling site. There is loads to see, from the stunning St. Vitus Cathedral to the cute craft workshops of Golden Lane.
The Dancing House may be one of Prague’s most distinctive buildings, but being in the heart of the old town its unique design was extremely controversial
Day 2: Treat yourself to a hearty breakfast in boho Žižkavárna Café. It's loved by the locals for its strong coffees and homemade cakes but is also a fantastic intro to the stylish neighborhood of Žižkov itself. The landmark at the heart of that district of the soaring Žižkov Television Tower in Tower Park Praha. Be sure to take in its futuristic architecture from below before going inside. Then, it's straight up to the observation decks to enjoy sweeping views of the city.
You'll also want to drop by the National Memorial on Vítkov Hill. It's an important spot in the annals of Czech history. It was once a hops plantation but now hosts the colossal equestrian statue of Jan Žižka (a revered Czech military general) and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a symbolic monument to resistance to Nazi occupation.
Keep going north across the river to Prague 7 and you'll find stripped-down hipster cafés like Kavárna Liberál. For dinner, try the multi-ethnic stalls of Hala 22 closer to the waterside, where everything from Rajasthani curry houses to Chinese noodles are options. Finally, get your beer drinking hat on, because Gyllene tigern – a legendary microbrewery – beckons with its hoppy unpasteurized tipples back in the Old Town.
48 hours in Madrid is not just the sights but also the atmosphere of the city. Below is an interactive tour map - day 1 is highlighted in green and day 2 in yellow, with optional sights marked grey.
Begin in the Puerta del Sol, then wander through charming streets of the El Madrid de los Austrias, which is the oldest section of the city. This leads to the Palacio Real, surrounded by its formal gardens and the Catedral de la Almudena to the south.
For the last part of the day explore the La Latina district and have a delicious tapas meal at one of the restaurants along the Cava Alta or Cava Baja. La Latina boasts numerous bars and is always a great place to start a night in Madrid.
The Gran Vía is the bustling main avenue of Madrid
The morning of the second focuses on the three art-museums, the Prado Museum, Thyssen-Bornemisza and Reina Sofía. Close to the museums is the pretty the El Retiro Park.
For the afternoon head down the Gran Vía, the main shopping street of Madrid, and visit the Malasaña district, with its artisan vibe, independent shops and trendy nightlife. For sunset watch it at the Templo de Debod, and then head back to Malasaña for a memorable meal and evening.
For your first visit, you would want to be based in the Centro or Retiro districts, and this will limit accommodation options. If you do wish a more remote, budget option always ensure it is close to a metro station. While exploring Madrid, you will do a surprising amount of walking.
The Václav Havel Airport Prague is the main entry point to the Czech capital. It's also the largest international airport in the Czech Republic. That means short-haul flight connections arrive there from all over, and you can usually bag some wallet-friendly bargains on carriers like Ryanair and EasyJet
All the usual crimes and scams of a European capital are present in Prague, though the town is generally very safe for visitors. Be vigilant of pick pocketers in busy areas and on public transport especially. Also try to dodge picking up taxis straight off the street – tourists are often prime targets for inflated rates. Prague's currency exchange points are notorious for being rip offs, so get your koruna before touching down.
For proximity to the main sites and bars, there's really nowhere better to bed down than in the Prague Old Town. Hotels will usually cost the most there, however. Something quieter and equally as atmospheric is available in the Malá Strana. But the New Town district and Žižkov are also both good options.