New York Times “36 Hours in Prague” author Evan Rail: Prague is a place for Praguers


Prague was recently featured on the New York Times travel guide 36 Hours – where journalists give their best recommendations for local gems and places that tourists may not find in their guide book. I caught up with writer Evan Rail to talk about the process of putting his Prague guide together.

When you sat down to make the 36 Hours in Prague guide, how did you strike a balance between the “must-see” sites of the city and the other more local areas like Holešovice and Karlín?

The tunnel in the Deer Moat | Photo: Štěpánka Budková,  Radio Prague International

“The premise of 36 Hours in Prague and the New York Times column itself is not to replace a guide book. In general, we think that the reader has a guide book or a list of important historical sites. So what we try to do instead is touch on some of those historical sites, but in a way that shows a different way of getting there then you might have gotten in a guide book.

“For example, we say, yea go to Prague Castle, but you might get overwhelmed by the crowds, so if you do – go to the Deer Moat, it’s really beautiful and quiet, and most people don’t know about it. It’s recently been reopened, and it’s probably not listed in your guide book. The southern garden of the Castle is also a little bit hard to find, but if you do get in there, you have wonderful views over the Old Town and Malá strana and you’re also away from the crowds.

“So it’s not so much about hitting all of those historic sites, it assumes that the reader knows about them, but it tells them about other sites they can see that aren’t common knowledge.”

You’ve been in Prague since 2000, how have you seen tourism change since you first arrived in the city?

Prague Airport | Photo: Ondřej Tomšů,  Radio Prague International

“It’s definitely getting more popular, it’s one of the most popular cities in Europe for tourism. You can see that at the airport in Prague, because it’s gotten bigger, there are more terminals, more space for planes to land, the growth at the airport alone has gone up to eight or nine million visitors a year coming through. Twenty years ago, it was around two million. Tourism in Prague has become a little bit overwhelming – I live in Prague 1 in a residential area, and we really feel the impact of tourism. I think about that constantly when I write these articles, because I’m always trying to send people out to other neighbourhoods like Holešovice and Karlín, or some other part of Prague other than Old Town and Malá Strana.”

Why do you think it’s important for visitors to the city to explore these different parts of Prague?

Czech-Polish Mural in Prague Holešovice | Photo: Martin Vaniš,  Radio Prague International

“Well, if you go to Holešovice you’re going to actually see people who live there, you’re going to meet locals. In many parts of Prague 1, certainly around Old Town Square, you’ll have trouble finding someone who lives and works there. If you go to these residential neighbourhoods like Libeň or Karlín, you’re going to see the way people actually live and experience a side of the city that is a lot different from the overly tourist areas in the very centre closest to Charles Bridge. You can see how kids go to school, buy food from a café that has prices that are a half or a third of what they are close to the Charles Bridge, and you won’t see any Trdelník!”

What are the preconceived notions that you think some tourists might have of Prague before they come and visit, and what do you hope they learn about the city that might give them a new perspective?

Tram in Národní třída | Photo: Martin Vaniš,  Radio Prague International

“I think a lot of people think it’s a place for licentious behaviour, for getting away with it and drinking too much or going to cabaret shows or strip clubs – there’s kind of a reputation of it being a ‘wild East’, which is really not accurate anymore. First of all it’s central, not eastern, we’re actually further west than Vienna is.

“It’s a living city where the local residence are starting to embrace and reclaim parts of it, and that is really nice for those of us who live here.”

“Second of all, Prague is a place for Praguers primarily, and to think of it as a place where people can come and party really overlooks the fact that over a million people live in this city – it’s a very functional city with some of the world’s best transportation. It’s got pretty good schools that my kids go to right in Prague 1. It’s a living city where the local residents are starting to embrace and reclaim parts of it, and that is really nice for those of us who live here.”