If you want to offer your kids a living history lesson, the Czech Republic capital of Prague – with its towers, turrets and domes, red-tiled roofs and pastel baroque houses – should be high on your list for a city break. Go on a journey of discovery that takes in the legends of the very real good King Wenceslas (as in the popular Christmas carol), ruler of Bohemia (as this region was then known) in the 10th century and the 14th century’s King Charles IV, whose reign marked a golden era and the construction of the fabled Charles Bridge over the mighty Vltava River. According to legend it’s held together by eggs in the mortar.
Parts of Prague still have a feel of Communism. There are sculptures and monuments to mark the Velvet Revolution just 25 years ago and a John Lennon wall, originally a protest wall, but now a symbol of peace where your kids can legitimately graffiti. Teenagers studying modern history will get a boost to their studies while little ones will appreciate the fairytale side to Prague with its old-fashioned red trams rattling along the cobbled streets (Nostalgic Tram Line No.91 is the most scenic and ends at the Public Transport Museum) and the magical astronomical clock on the Old Town Hall that displays the movement of the planets and the 12 apostles as little moving wooden figurines (check out the special tours for kids on Sundays at 2pm).
Everyone will love a boat ride along the river or a horse and carriage ride through Prague in the evening as the traditional gas lamps come on. For the best city views, head to the Žižkov Television Tower, which looks like a rocket and has babies, by controversial artist David Cerný, climbing all over it. Prague is just a one hour 20 minute flight from the UK, so it’s an easy hop for families. It’s very walkable with a café on every street for ice-cream (for little ones) and strong Czech coffee (for you).
What to see
More a mini city than a mere fortification, Prague Castle makes Windsor Castle look ever so slightly bijou, such is its sprawling majesty. There are many elements that make up this historic must-see, from the mighty St Vitus Cathedral to the Old Royal Palace. It can get a little overwhelming for young ones, so it’s best to select the most child-friendly highlights.
Top of the list is Golden Lane, an ancient street of mini houses, almost reminiscent of dolls’ housesbut big enough to stand up in. Each house has been styled after its original inhabitant. Challenge your kids to guess the profession, be it goldsmith, herbalist, tavern keeper, fortune teller and, most intriguingly, alchemist. On the first floor is an impressive collection of armour and a gruesome torture chamber with a grizzly chair of spikes. Another hit with kids is the castle’s Toy Museum with its fine collection of toys, dolls, prams, cars, trains and teddy bears. Upstairs is the biggest Barbie collection in the world with the very first Barbie, resplendent in her 1950s swimsuit, and all manner of celebrity Barbies from Michael Jackson to Harry Potter. Back outside, don’t miss the changing of the guard at noon.
Price: Adults £10.50, children (six to 16) £5, family ticket (two adults and up to five children) £21.
If your kids love a good special-effects movie, they’ll adore this hands-on museum. It celebrates the breakthrough skills of Karel Zeman, who pioneered special effects in films such as Journey to the Beginning of Time long before Jurassic Park.
Children can take a ride on a flying machine, walk around the moon like Baron Munchausen and take the controls of the submarine from The Fabulous World of Jules Verne, a Zeman classic that inspired the likes of Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Terry Gilliam and is sure to fire the imaginations of any budding film-makers. Teens will be excited to learn that Prague has been the setting for many a blockbuster from Mission: Impossible to Casino Royale.
Price: Adults £6, children under 15 £4, children up to 1m tall free, family ticket (two adults and three children) £15.
Take a 75-minute scenic steamboat ride from the city centre to Prague Zoo in Troja. Some say this is one ?of the most beautiful zoos in the world with its African House, Indonesian Jungle and Elephant Valley. ?Kids love the seal feeding and training sessions. ?With nearly 6 miles of paths, there’s plenty to explore and lots of space to let off steam. At the Children’s Zoo you can pet or feed small animalsand there’s ?a fun playground. Climb the wooden observation tower for a panoramic view of the city and on your way back down, take the Zakazanka Cliffside Path or follow the dinosaur nature trail Footprints in Time.
Zoo price: Adults £6, children (three to 15) £4.50, under-threes free, family ticket (two adults and two children) £18.
Steamboat price: adults £4.80, children £2.70, under-sixes free.
Where to shop
You’ll find many branches of this inviting shop across Prague with its selection of fine crafted products of Bohemia and traditional wooden toys that still manage to enchant today’s tech-savvy kids, including wooden mice and moles, clever puzzles, giant dominos and switchback houses that you run a ball down to ring a bell at the bottom. Mums will love the wool throws, the thick wax candles and various body care products that are based on beer, wine and the Dead Sea.
The Czech Republic is renowned for marionettes and Loutky Puppets are some of the finest handmade creations, from scary banshees to even creepier grandmas. Stop by the shop at no. 51 Nerudova, one of Prague’s most stunning streets, just beneath the castle where kids can play a game spotting the animals and objects, such as lobsters, swans and keys, that are ?used on shop signs instead of numbers. The shop exterior has huge wooden faces with ropes that you can pull to make them cry or turn a little devilish ?with horns and bloodshot eyes – all part of the dark ?fairytale nature of Prague.
Where to eat
Convenient for the Charles Bridge on pretty Maltézské Square, this traditional Czech restaurant in an old stable block is lovely in summer with al fresco tables and chairs. If you sit inside, there’s a fish tank to amuse kids. The food is delicious with reliably good pastas and sundaes. Mums and dads will appreciate the fine selection of Czech wines.
A bit like going to dinner in an episode of Horrible Histories does medieval, Kr?ma Brabant in old Prague is not for the faint hearted. Black-toothed waiters brandish cutlasses behind your back, slam your juice and beer down hard on the old wooden tables, dangle fake spiders down the back of your neck and deliver the bill curled up in the eye of a human skull. In the dim candlelight, you can just about make out the animal pelts on the wall and the dodgy-looking jail keeper on the stairs.
Surprisingly for a themed restaurant, the food is good with huge platters of cheese, sausage and pickles, followed by hearty grilled chicken with roast potatoes or duck with homemade dumplings and red cabbage. Dine there on Tuesday to Saturday for medieval music, belly dancers and a fire show.
Where to stay
If you want a proper five-star base that really has families sussed, the Four Seasons Prague has everything to make your kids feel pampered and immersed in the city, plus you’re just steps away from the Charles Bridge in the magical old town. This is far from a cookie-cutter chain hotel as it combines four buildings of renaissance, classical, baroque and modern style. Rooms are elegant with plenty of treats for kids, including homemade cookies and popcorn as well as coloured paper booklets of folk tales by local authors. Head to its CottoCrudo restaurant where kids get to try mashed potatoes and chicken schnitzel.
After a day out sightseeing, kids can unwind with cards, games and toys or a DVD. Bring a disposable (or inexpensive) camera and ask the concierge for Four Seasons Prague’s Photo Map, which lists the city’s ?11 must-see sights, including recommendations for the best time of day to capture them on film. The hotel has a vintage 1920s car and will pack a picnic for all the family for a day trip to see yet more fairytale castles.
Price: Double rooms cost from £239 per night. Children under 18 can stay in their parents’ room at no extra cost. Under-fives eat free in the hotel restaurant.
For a well-placed four-star boutique hotel with a walkway right onto Wenceslas Square, you can’t go wrong at Hotel Yasmin. There’s nothing overtly child friendly about the place, but there are spacious interconnecting family rooms with high ceilings, mellow decor and comfy beds good enough for bouncing on. Café Noodle is a modern restaurant with international and Czech cuisine and serves a good pasta with tomato sauce and a mean banana split. ?Insummer, families can dine al fresco in the garden.
Price: A family room costs from £150 a night, including breakfast.
With a fabulous location on the west bank of the Vltava River in the Lesser Quarter, just a short walk from the Charles Bridge and Prague Castle, this four-star boutique hotel has recently been taken over by the Asten Hotel group, which has big plans to make it family friendly. There will be a kids’ check-in where the hotel invites children to put down their wish, which it will try to fulfil (ambitious!), a family concierge, children’s corner, DVD library, iPad rental and children’s movie evenings. Parents will appreciate the 19th-century neo-baroque architecture and the pretty courtyard garden. Book suite 504 for the best view over the castle.
Price: Junior suites are ideal for families and have a separate bedroom for parents and a living room with an extra bed. From £149 a night including breakfast.
How to get there: easyJet flies to Prague from Bristol, Edinburgh, Gatwick, Stansted and Manchester from £58.98 return per person.