Update May 13, 2021: Before planning a trip to Prague or Czechia, be aware of travel restrictions. Get the latest information from the U.S. Embassy in the Czech Republic and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There are always plenty of reasons to visit Prague…but autumn may be the best time to experience the city. I’m partial to off-season travel (meaning, not in the summer or during school breaks) and the colors of fall make most places more attractive and interesting. Prague? I’m certain it was founded with autumn in mind.
1. Fewer crowds, more space.
World-class cities are never without tourists. But there are spaces in the year when the residents can exhale and enjoy their everyday lives, without having to plan their days around peak tourist times. These are the times to go–not for the weather, but for the “normalcy.”
“You’re smart to stay away in summer,” one waiter told me. “It’s a mess here.” He went on to say that foot traffic on the Charles Bridge comes to a halt and it’s impossible to get close to the statues that line the bridge, let alone get a decent photo of the Prague Castle.
I wandered the city without being in lock-step. I got lost and happily found my way back by following local shoppers, not hordes of travelers who were on a tight itinerary. I stopped for coffee–and beer, of course–and took my time. I swear, I could feel the relief of the city as it exhaled after another non-stop summer.
Czechia tourism has soared over the past decade–over 22 million travelers came in 2019. That’s more than twice the country’s population. Prague hosted more than 8 million tourists…a lot for a city of 1.3 million souls.
2. Better to see the details
It’s hard to take in all the tiny details from Prague; architecture and art are everywhere. Even the sidewalks are attention-worthy. Without crowds, you can focus in all directions, taking as much time as you need and getting as close as you can.
One of my favorite things about travel is finding these small features that someone devoted their time creating. I could hardly walk a few feet without a new discovery.
One of the reasons to visit Prague is the staggering amount of detail in everything, from ironwork to cobblestones to citizens. Thankfully, modern digital cameras let me take hundreds of photos of miniature works of art.
3. The morning light and the brides
To paraphrase the art critic wannabe, I’m not a professional photographer, but I know good light when I see it. And Prague in the autumn offers the perfect angle and slant of the sun. Anyone holding a device that takes pictures will look like a pro. Who doesn’t want that?
All this talk about autumn light is nice, you say. What about the brides? It turns out that Prague is a primo pre-wedding photo destination. Maybe I’m the only one who didn’t know this–what a delightful surprise!
Mornings seem to be the best time for the shoots, maybe because of the soft light. It was easy to see half a dozen brides–sometimes with the groom, more times without–posing around the city. I took to getting up early, just to be there to watch the elaborate process.
You’ve got to agree, this is a very cool time and place for wedding photos. It was fun to observe–however, local joggers and commuters passed by without a glance. Just another day in Prague to them…
4. Somber autumn settings
There’s something sweet, but sad, about autumn. The colors are beautiful, yet they remind us that the year–and time–is rushing by. Because Prague has its share of unhappy history, autumn provides an appropriate backdrop to some of its places.
Prague’s Jewish Quarter is an essential part of any trip to the city. Jews have lived in Prague since about 970. The population flourished during the Renaissance; at the start of World War II, almost 100,000 Jews lived in Prague–about 20% of the population.
Over two-thirds would be murdered during World War II; Czech Jews were sent directly to the death camps. Today, there are about 5,000 Jews remaining in Prague.
Six synagogues and an ancient cemetery make up a museum of Jewish culture, history, and survival. With autumn leaves lying on gravestones, and trees growing bare, the experience is heightened.
Entry into the synagogues and cemetery requires a ticket; the ticket is good for a week, so you can go slowly and absorb the history. Except for Sabbath (Saturday) and holy days, the Quarter is open every day.
For another moving experience, take a day to visit to Terezin, the “model” concentration camp built to fool the Red Cross inspectors. Hitler called it his “Gift to the Jews.”
The National Cemetery, also called the Vyšehrad Cemetery because it was established in 1869 on the grounds of the Vyšehrad Castle, might be the most beautiful cemetery I’ve ever seen. Each grave or headstone is a work of art.
It’s the final resting place of composers, writers, artists, sculptors, scientists and politicians. There’s also a small graveyard dedicated to the nuns who served the adjacent Saints Peter and Paul Church, magnificent all by itself.
Then there was the painful communist era. The Memorial to the Victims of Communism looks even sadder with decaying leaves at the foot of each statue. Remembering the victims who perished between 1948 and 1989, the memorial shows six bronze figures on a flight of stairs. As you walk up the stairs, the figures “disappear,” losing limbs and their bodies becoming hollow.
Alongside the figures, a metal strip shows the numbers of Czechs who were impacted by the communist regime, including 4500 political prisoners who died in prison, 327 shot attempting to escape, and 248 who were executed.
5. Czech food is autumn food
Czech food isn’t light fare. It’s hearty, with emphasis on meat and gravy. And, of course, dumplings. (Read about my effort to love Czech dumplings.) It’s the sort of food I look forward to preparing as summer ends: stews, soups, with root vegetables and satisfying sauces.
Only it’s on the menu year-round in Prague. There’s no doubt that it’s delicious…and perfect for those months of hunkering down until spring reappears.
I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for gravy and bread to sop it up with. I got plenty of chances to do just that…one of the best reasons to visit Prague in the autumn.
When will you go?
No doubt, there are always good reasons to visit Prague. I’m outright biased, because I prefer to visit a place when crowds are down, at least a bit. I like milder weather, even if it means rain or snow.
Have you been to Prague? What time of year? Tell us in the comments what season you visited–share your experience and advice!