Every year, millions of tourists visit Prague, but a vast majority of them never get beyond its most famous sites, such as the Old Town Square, Charles Bridge or Prague Castle. As a result, the city centre has become excessively crowded and most of the locals try to avoid it as much as they can. For those who want to get a sense of what real life in Prague looks like and enjoy the authentic atmosphere of the city, there is Use-It Prague, a free alternative map inviting visitors to get off the beaten path and enjoy some of the city’s more unusual venues.
The Use It Map is relatively small and easily fits into one’s pocket, but it is literally packed with interesting facts and tips about the city, highlighting venues that are popular with the locals, from hidden cafes and pubs to galleries and music clubs. A new, updated version of Use-It Map came out just recently. Eva Křížová, one of its authors, explains what makes it different from the previous editions:
“Originally, Use-It Map was meant for travellers to make them enjoy the city and to break the tourist bubble but since the recent wave of over-tourism, we are trying to think more about the locals and the relationship between locals and tourists. Our vision is to have a city where you don’t really recognise a tourist.
“So we are trying to make tourists to get to know us closer, to learn about our habits and to see what it means for us to live in a city so overcrowded by tourists. That’s the main aim of the Use-It Map edition this year.”
Although the map suggests dozens of lesser known, alternative tourist destinations, most foreign visitors cannot leave Prague without seeing the city’s main attractions, including Charles Bridge or the Astronomical Clock on Old Town Square. Eva Křížová says that with a bit of planning, they can still enjoy these places without being pushed around by the crowds:
“It is still possible, although we don’t know for how long. There are still some times during the day when Prague Castle and Charles Bridge are close to empty, usually early in the morning and early in the evening. In recent years, you are likely to meet Asian brides taking pictures on the bridge for their wedding photo albums, but the atmosphere is still there.”
To explore the city’s deeper layers, Use-It map creators suggest hopping on a tram and going at least ten stops in the direction out of the city centre. The tram number 18, for instance, will take you to Nusle, a former working-class district located just below Vyšehrad Castle. Nusle is one of the alternative tourist spots that made its way into the new edition of Use-It Prague.
“This year we wanted to bring tourists to Vyšehrad and we were thinking of how to lead them from there to some local district.
“And we came up with the idea of crossing the Nusle Bridge and leading the tourists to the district below, which is slowly becoming popular city with more and more people moving there. We wanted to show it to people before it really becomes popular.”
Apart from visiting one of the many pubs and non-stop bars around the district’s main square, Náměstí bratří synků, Use-It suggests taking a walk to the Folimanka Park to see the statue of R2D2. It was made a few years ago by a group of unknown graffiti artists, who used an old air vent for a nuclear shelter and transformed it into the Star Wars character.
To get a taste of how the real locals live, Use-It takes visitors on the so-called “Suburban excursion” to one of Prague’s communist-era prefabricated apartment blocks called Jižní město or Southern City.
“We chose just a small area surrounding the metro station Háje. There is this lodging house called Kupa and on the top of it, on the 22nd floor, there is this 1990’s style restaurant.
“It is also the highest point in Prague with a really great view. And it is definitely an adventure and an experience to go there and it is worth it.”
Also included on the Use-It Map are various tips on how to blend in with the locals. If you feel like grabbing something to eat, Use-It creators advise choosing a truly local choice of a snack, an open faced sandwich known as chlebíček, over McDonalds.
If you don’t feel particularly classy, you can get some potato salad spread in a plastic box, sit on a bench and scoop it up with a bread roll. You can feed the left-overs to the swans, or even better, to the coypus, an invasive rodent species which has grown increasingly common in Prague and can be spotted on the banks of the Vltava River.
Use-It Prague also brings a list of popular lunch spots for the Czech middle class in various districts of Prague, where you can enjoy a typical lunch menu, such as goulash, svíčková and smažák, fried cheese, which is often the only option of a vegetarian meal. To get a taste of an authentic Czech student lunch, Use-It suggests getting a meal in the student canteen in the basement of the Faculty of Law, which is open on weekdays.
The Use-It network was initiated in 1968 in Copenhagen in response to the fact that all people coming to the city were hanging and sleeping outside. In 1973, the first USE-IT map was published in London and Amsterdam. Soon, other cities joined in, including Brussels, Dresden, Warsaw or Porto. Prague joined the network with the first map in 2011 and has since issued a new edition each year. But there are other towns and cities in the Czech Republic that benefit from a Use-It guide. There are also maps for Brno, Ostrava, Pilsen, České Budějovice, Český Krumlov, Zlín and Kutná Hora. To publish a guide under the Use-it brand, however, it is necessary to meet certain requirements, explains Eva Křížová:
“The most important one is that there are no commercials in the map. No one pays to be on the map. It is really just what our team of volunteers think should be on the map. It gives us a great freedom but at the same time we struggle with financial resources.
“The map also has a strict square format and we have to issue a new edition every year, or maximum one and a half years. Otherwise, we are thrown out of the network.”
The Use-It map is prepared throughout the year by a group of volunteers and enthusiasts, who explore the city in search of new, interesting venues. Eva Křížová, who has been involved in the project for several years now, says she never fails to make new discoveries.
“I live in the Žižkov neighbourhood and I discovered only through creating this map that you can go up the Žižkov tower and have a coffee in the café on top of the tower without paying for entry. You just pay for a coffee and enjoy the great view. And also underneath the TV tower there is the Jewish cemetery that is worth seeing.”
The new edition of Prague Use-it Map can be picked up at numerous sites in the city of Prague from tourist offices to youth hostels. Use-It Maps for Prague and other Czech towns and cities can also be downloaded online, at use-it.cz.
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