Escape to Prague for a Running Vacation

One dark, gray February morning, I set out for my daily run along the Vltava, the winding river that slices the Czech capital right down its center. In the middle of winter, the days in Prague are short and very, very cold. To escape the sharp wind blowing in from the water, I turned onto the cobblestoned streets.

Looking ahead, I saw a hill and started to climb. As the road curved, the incline continued, turning into a flight of stairs that became steeper as I ascended. Up and up and up.

When I got to the top, the snow still stinging my cheeks, I ran through an archway and stopped in my tracks. Without realizing where I was headed, I had run straight into an ancient cemetery. Brick walls formed a hidden courtyard where white snow fell softly on smooth, black gravestones and granite angels hovered over centuries-old tombs.

All of a sudden, my freezing four-mile run had turned into an enchanted expedition. Standing alone in the cemetery, I felt as if I'd discovered a secret treasure.

Run Through History

A cultural center for over 1,100 years, Prague is filled with surprises—hidden pathways, gated gardens and breathtaking architecture. From a mechanical clock whose hourly show has been delighting spectators for 600 years to an alleyway so narrow it requires a stoplight for pedestrians (only one body can fit through at a time), Prague is rich with wonders.

By far the best way to experience this city is on foot, a fact I learned when I was lucky enough to live there for a few months in 2005 and again when I traveled there in 2011 to run the Hervis International Prague Half Marathon. Hundreds of years of history have created a city much too multilayered to enjoy by taxi or tram. Luckily for us runners, taking a self-guided tour is as easy as lacing up our favorite pair of trainers.

Travel to this ancient city to run through time and discover Bohemia's delights. Here are two jaw-dropping runs that will make your stay magical while keeping you fit.

Storm The Castle

I stumbled on this path accidentally, but it remains one of my favorite runs of all time. The four-mile, point-to-point route ends with a challenging hill, but it makes for a fantastic introduction to a beautiful city.

The Czech capital has an excellent public transportation system that's easy to navigate and incredibly cheap—I bought a three-month pass for a whopping $30. You'll start your run at Florenc, the central bus terminal. When you leave the station, run down Na Por?c? Street, heading west. Be careful not to trip on the cobblestones, which can prove tricky at first. Pass under the gothic archways of Powder Tower, and through the Palladium market where you'll smell sausages roasting—and where I purchased a breakfast pastry one morning only to discover my "Danish" was made of solid smoked sheep's cheese.

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