I arrived in Warsaw to visit our publishing partners (several Polish editions of Martha Stewart Living have been created) and to give a speech at a large shopping mall. Between appointments I toured historic sites and savored the delicious foods of Poland.
When I found myself with a few days to fill, I started thinking about going on a new adventure. I had already traveled extensively in Poland with my mother, so I focused my attention on a Central European city that I had never visited: Prague. Within a few hours, two colleagues and I had plane tickets. And off we went-no plans, no itinerary, just vague suggestions of where to go and what to see. This kind of impromptu trip is the true test of a travelers mettle and resourcefulness.
Spur-of-the-moment travel is not always the most economical way to visit a new destination, but this was one time when everything fell nicely into place, thanks to some help from our New York office and a lovely English-speaking guide. On these pages, I hope you get a sense of the excitement I experienced as a first-time visitor to this charming city, so rich in history.
Martha's 10 Travel Tips
Here's how to make the most of a quick, spontaneous trip to a new destination.
Reserve comfortable lodging in a central location. A charming hotel that's out of the way can cost you a lot in taxi fares-and time. Plus, a remote hotel makes it difficult to change clothes or retrieve a forgotten item.
Hire one, especially if you have only a few days to visit. A well-informed guide will point you to the most important sites and can tailor the trip to your interests (for me, that includes gardens, museums, antiques shops, and markets).
In a large city, it might be worth hiring a driver so you don't waste time getting from place to place. Much of Prague can be seen on foot, so a car is not important. In Paris and London, public transportation makes navigating these cities easy. But in Beijing, Kyoto, and Tokyo, a car is essential.
When possible, make lunch and dinner reservations in advance if dining is going to be a big part of your trip.
Find a popular cafe. In Prague, we loved Cremeria Milano. Go there in the morning, when you plan out your day. I have found that locals sipping their cappuccinos offer great advice to foreigners.
Dress comfortably. Walking shoes are a must, and extra layers are good to have on hand for coping with temperature fluctuations. Always carry an umbrella.
A small digital camera, a notepad and pen, a guidebook, and a detailed map help you locate destinations and keep a record of where you've been.
Try to visit the countryside. On this trip, we stopped at a medieval castle just outside town and toured interesting limestone quarries used for movie shoots.
Keep your eyes open. Fascinating shops and sights are everywhere, and an unexpected stop often turns out to be a pleasant diversion from the itinerary.
Wake up very early and stay up late, but don't fret if you miss one site. There are always many more to see.
Prague is a relatively compact city, so you can cover much of it on foot. For speedier transport, take the metro: It's efficient, and the stations are attractively designed. If you need a taxi, calling one often beats hailing one. Ask someone at your hotel or at a restaurant to assist you.
Where to Stay
When choosing accommodations, consider a hotel's location as well as its architecture. Many are situated in restored historic buildings. Room rates may vary, depending on the time of year.
Near the Vltava River; offers panoramic views of Prague Castle, and a Michelin-ranked Mediterranean restaurant. Veleslavinova 2a/1098, Prague 1; +420-221- 427-000; fourseasons.com.
A boutique hotel with sleek interiors and high-tech amenities; close to must-see Old Town sites. Rybna 20, Prague 1; +420- 221-700-111; hoteljosef.com.
Hotel Le Palais
Quiet, sumptuous rooms in a Belle Epoque-style former residential palace; a five-minute drive from the city center. U Zvonarky 1, Prague 2; +420- 234-632-111; palaishotel.cz.
Set to open in May, this grand hotel will inhabit a cluster of historic structures, including a 13thcentury monastery. Letenska 12/33, Prague 1; +420-266-112- 233; theaugustine.com.
Where To Eat
Hearty fare -- think dumplings and rich stews -- is the norm, but save room for the wide range of delicious local brews.
A casual spot for unpasteurized Pilsner Urquell, honeyed ribs, and other tasty Czech bar food. Politickych veznu 13, Prague 1; +420-224-215-428; bredovsky dvur.unas.cz.
Superb gelato, cappuccino, and pastries, on one of the city's fashionable streets. Parizska 20, Prague 1; +420-224-811-010; cremeria milano.com.
Belgian-style chocolates, including exquisite truffles flavored with Becherovka, a local liqueur. Rybna 668, Prague 1; +420-222- 316-227; goldpralines.cz.
U Tri Houslicek
Once a workshop for violin makers, this charming cafe serves roast duck, potato pancakes, and other Czech classics. Nerudova 210/12, Prague 1; +420-257-532- 062; utrihouslicek.eu.
What to See
In Prague for a short stay? Put these sites on your itinerary.
Stop by on the hour to watch the figure of Death invert his hourglass at the famous 15th-century landmark in Old Town Square.
Skip the crowds and take a stroll at dawn or dusk to see the weathered Baroque statues lining Prague's oldest bridge.
A striking postmodern structure with a leaning glass tower. Rasinovo Nabrezi 80, Prague 2.
Near the Old Jewish Cemetery, this museum is home to the most extensive collection of Judaic art in Europe. U StarE Å¡koly 1, Prague 1; +420-221-711- 511; jewishmuseum.cz.
A dazzling property, with sprawling gardens and a Gothic cathedral. Hradcanske namesti, Prague 1; hrad.cz.
Notable for its fresco-decorated libraries and cabinets of curiosities. Strahovske nadvori 1, Prague 1; strahovskyklaster.cz.
A masterpiece of landscape design, complete with a grotto, an aviary, and classical bronze statues. Letenska, Prague 1.
Where to Shop
Prague is a great source for crystal and fine antiques.
Furniture, ceramics, and silver pieces are the highlights at this antiques shop. Tyn 1, Prague 1; +420-224-895-454; antiqueungelt.cz.
A stellar crystal shop showcasing work by local artists. U Luzickeho seminare 7, Prague 1; +420-257- 530-046; i-material.com.
Text by Martha Stewart; Photographs by Martha Stewart and Kevin Sharkey