Prague hypnotically hangs over the Vltava River, ten centuries of history and domes rising above iconic bridges.
It’s along the river that the city uninhibitedly reveals its charms, the sights of the old Bohemia capital unveiled on a selection of sightseeing water tours. With the Old Town glowing on one bank, and the Lesser Town cascading across the other, cruising along the river is an iconic part of any Prague holiday. From taking public commuter boats to half-day dinner cruises and live jazz music, here’s a guide to the different Prague river tours.
1. Prague’s Public Ferries
These tiny little boats were traditionally used to connect the two sides of the river. There was once fifty ferries but recently built bridges have made them mostly redundant. There are now just six ferry routes, with small shaded boats taking passengers across the water to the small islands. They’re a wonderfully quick and romantic way to get out onto the river, with tickets costing a fraction of the commercial cruises. Consider the Sedlec Ferry, a journey into the northern reaches of Prague and the Zoological Garden. Pay direct to the captain or use a Prague Transport Card.
2. The Jazz Boats
When the sun disappears over distant Bohemia, Prague’s architecture starts to reflect in the Vltava River. A small handful of night-time jazz boats cruise the river, each offering live music, dinner, and stunning views over the banks. Most Prague hotels recommend the original Jazz Boat. There’s a choice of a set three course meal or dining a la carte, with the band uplifting the tempo from sunset serenity to energetic blues. On the Jazz Boat, the upper deck provides the best uninterrupted views but it can get chilly outside the summer months and non-smokers might not enjoy everyone else coming upstairs for a cigarette. The lower deck offers a view of the live band and more intimate atmosphere.
3. An all-day cruise to Slapy and Melnik
Plying the river since Bohemia and Czechoslovakia times, the Prague Steamboat Company was the pioneer of the city’s mushrooming boat cruise industry. Their historic steamers offers one hour and 90 minute cruises past the city’s central sights. But it’s the all-inclusive day trips to Slapy and Melnik that really reflect the glory of yesteryear.
The Slapy trip leaves every Saturday and Sunday at 8:30am, returning at 6pm after a three-course lunch, snacks, hot and cold drinks, and a couple of hours exploring Slapy Dam. Melnik cruises only happen twice a year and are attended by local luminaries and celebrities.
Both these trips use steamers that are listed as national monuments and cost around £50 inclusive of food, drinks, guided commentary, and a tour of the engine room. During the summer tourist season, it’s both a break from the crowds and a chance to get off the beaten track on a Prague holiday.
4. A daytime river cruise
There’s a huge choice of companies offering daytime river cruises, ranging from 45 minute rides to two hour cruises. Prague hotels will often recommended a particular company, or you can just walk along the dock and pick whatever is leaving next. Tours of less than one hour stick around the Charles Bridge area, offering the most photogenic panoramas for your Prague holiday. Longer cruises head towards the islands and are more relaxed, as everyone isn’t merely crowded around the upper deck with their cameras. Spacious and shaded, the boats come with a commentary that’s relayed through speakers throughout the boat. Wheelchair access is provided on request.
5. Prague’s Venice Canal Boat Trip
Portraying the ambiance of a Venice boat, these smaller boats provide access to the Venice Canal and a couple of other smaller waterways. It’s more personal than the larger boats, with the captain offering a live commentary on the sights. It’s also a little more chaotic and disorganised, yet to develop the professionalism of the larger Prague river tours. Compensating for this is a complimentary drink (beer or soft drink in summer, mulled wine in winter) and free entry into the Charles Bridge Museum.
6. Lunch and dinner Prague river tours
A variety of Prague’s large boat companies offer set lunch and dinner tours, lasting around two hours. Night-time tours are wonderfully picturesque, cruising along the Vltava River as it mystically transforms from day to night. Dip beneath the Charles Bridge, elegantly sail past Prague Castle and the National Theatre, then tuck into a hot buffet or a la carte meal. Some companies offer hotel pick-ups and drop offs which saves on a taxi fare.