Tick off Prague’s traditional tourist sights whilst making new discoveries, admire the architecture and track down cool underground bars with our essential guide to the Czech capital.
PRAGUE SIGHTS AND ATTRACTIONS
Prague Castle (00 420 224 37 3368, 250czk) is the biggest ancient castle in the world, and acts a mini city within a city. It’s crammed with palaces and museums, but if you have to pick just two things inside, make it the splendidly gothic St Vitus’ Cathedral and the eye-poppingly massive vaulted ceiling of Vladislav Hall. The procession of statues, towers and city views make the 14th century Charles Bridge worth getting to early before the tour group swarms arrive, while the Museum of Communism (10 Na Prikope, 00 420 224 212 966, 180czk) gives a fascinating (if almost completely one-eyed) insight into Czech life during the Soviet puppet state era.
Cultural attractions in Prague
The big event in the city’s cultural calendar is the Prague Spring International Music Festival, where the focus is very much on the classical and many of the Czech capital’s grand venues are put to excellent use. It runs from May 12 to June 3 every year. Black light theatre – where actors wearing fluorescent clothing dance, mime and generally gadabout under ultra violet light -is bizarrely popular in Prague too. Ta Fantastika (186 Karlova, 00 420 222 221 366) is a good place to test your tolerance. You can also get to know the country’s most famous artist, Alfons Mucha, at the Mucha Museum (7 Panská, 00 420 224 216 415).
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HOTELS: Hotels.com (£) or Agoda (£)
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The Royal Way, from the Powder Gate and across the Charles Bridge to Prague Castle, was the traditional coronation route of Bohemian Kings. Now members of the public – every single ruddy one of them – walk it on a daily basis. Many of Prague’s most beautiful buildings are along the way, but do yourself a favour and tackle it before 9am. More peaceful is a stroll from the castle through the extensive network of gardens in the Malastrana district to the south. Also strangely calming is a walk through the Olsany and Jewish cemeteries to the east of the centre. Franz Kafka’s grave can be found in the latter.
Be warned: Guided tours in Prague tend to be giant group affairs where you’re craning at the back to hear the chap holding the umbrella speak above the herd. Ignore the general tours and go for a theme. For example, the Prague Communism Tour (00 420 777 172 177, 600czk) goes into the Soviet era history, visiting former secret police headquarters and a massive nuclear bunker where, being Prague, you get a free beer. Meanwhile Legacy Tours (00 420 222 321 954, 630czk) goes into Prague’s substantial Jewish history and the Prague Underground Tour (00 420 777 172 177, 400czk) trawls through subterranean 12th century catacombs, cellars and hidden rooms.
Find the best deals on Prague hotels using the search box on the right, but the accommodation options below have been inspected and come recommended.
Budget accommodation in Prague
Prague is thoroughly overstocked with hotel rooms, so go four star bargain-hunting with the major internet booking engines. Impressive rooms at the rather swish Eurostars David (6 Náplavní, 00 420 222 516 150), for example, would set you back EUR100-plus in other major cities but can be nabbed for from EUR45 here. Always cheap is the Residence Select (34 Sokolská, 00 420 296 300 211, from EUR39). Rooms are big, if uninspiringly furnished, but they tick all the key boxes whilst throwing in free Wifi and a kitchenette. Near the castle, the Waldstein Hotel (6 Valdštejnské náměstí, 00 420 257 533 938, from EUR44) has period character rooms overlooking a courtyard.
Mid-range hotels in Prague
Deminka Palace (1 Skretova, 00 420 224 210 281) is an absolute stunner, combining glorious painted doors and artistic flourishes with spacious, kitchenette-equipped apartments that can be snapped up for from EUR67 a night. Make sure you ask for a room with a free-standing shower, however. The distinctive Design Hotel Sax (3 Jansky Vrsek, 00 420 257 531 268, from EUR85) is fun, cartoonish and crammed with little oddities, plus good value for the Mala Strana district. Ametyst (11 Jana Masaryka, 00 420 222 921 921, from EUR72) is less bold, but still has a sense of style and small-scale likability in leafy-but-central Vinohrady.
Luxury hotels in Prague
It’s small, service is both excellent and personalised, it’s right by the castle with a direct gate to the gardens and they provide iPods pre-loaded with 500-or-so songs; finding something not to like about the wonderful Golden Well (166 U Zlate Studne, 00 420 257 011 213, from EUR157.25) is a tough task. The period details can also be found in some of the rooms at the well-located and architecturally quirky Savic (7 Jilska, 00 420 233 920 118, from EUR99). The Alchymist Residence Nosticova (1 Nosticova, 00 420 257 312 513, from EUR135) has bags of character too – from suits of armour in the hallway to candle-like lights in the gold-splashed rooms.
Top end hotels in Prague
At the Four Seasons (2a Veleslavínova, 00 420 221 427 000, from EUR380), you can choose between rooms decorated in classic, Renaissance, baroque or modern style. It’s refreshingly unbland for a big luxury chain. If it’s bland you want to avoid, however, the Alchymist (19 Tržište, 00 420 257 286 011, from EUR265) is the right spot. Painted wood ceilings, four poster beds adorned with cherubs and a gold paint frenzy set it resolutely apart from the crowd. The Mandarin Oriental (459 Nebovidska, 00 420 233 088 888), meanwhile, is a superbly converted monastery that pulls in the celebrities and spa-lovers. The vaulted roofs and gigantic EUR675-plus suites ooze high-end charm.
Cafés in Prague
By several light years, the best spot within the castle is the Lobkowicz Palace Café (277 Nelahozeves, 00 420 315 709 111). Keenly priced daily specials, a fab white hot chocolate and the chance to survey the city from the heated terrace make for a winner. For a sumptuously decorated grand café with modern twist such as free Wifi, Café Savoy (124 Vítězná, 00 420 257 311 562) is a great place to mooch with a coffee and a cake as the waistcoated waiters flit by. If modern, stylish and chilled is your thing, then Cukrkavalimonada (7 Lázeňská , 00 420 257 225 396) in Mala Strana is a top spot for breakfast or a light lunch and a chat.
Snacks in Prague
Bea’s Vegetarian Dhaba (19 Týnská, 00 420 608 035 727) is almost universally recommended for quick, cheap eats amongst a friendly, alternative crowd. The agreeably spicy Indian dishes are priced by the 100g. The Prague Bakeshop (1 Kozí, 00 420 222 316 823) is a justifiably well-established favourite, where the high stools offer street views and everything from the pre-wrapped burritos and savoury pies to the fantastic cakes and cookies hits the spot. Otherwise, dive amongst the stalls on Old Town Square for everything from crepes and baked potatoes to hot dogs and grilled chicken. It’s never going to be gourmet, but at least it’s cooked in front of you.
Best restaurants in Prague
Terasa U Zlate Studne at the Golden Well Hotel combines intimacy with magical city views from the terrace, plus pricy-but-excellent fish and game dishes. Meanwhile, Kampa Park (8b Na Kampě, 00 420 296 826 112) has long been a celeb fine-dining haunt; the postcard-perfect terrace looking out on the Charles Bridge and the Vltava River is as much of a pull as the cuisine.
PRAGUE ENTERTAINMENT AND NIGHTLIFE
The hugely atmospheric U Stare Studny (371 Tržiště, 00 420 257 530 582) in Mala Strana is a fantastic find – a cellar wine bar with a great range of cognacs and the best Czech wines. Blink and you’ll walk past it. Beer lovers should try Pivovarsky Dum (511 Lípová, 00 420 296 216 666) which brews its own on the premises. On offer are flavours such as sour cherry and banana, plus sampling flights where you can try miniature glasses of eight different beers. Duende (Karolíny Světlé, 00 420 775 186 077) is a relaxed escape near the Old Town tourist trail; a cool crowd, a bluesy soundtrack and the sound of animated conversation make you wish it was your local.
Live music in Prague
Prague is big on its jazz, and the AghaRTA Jazz Centrum (16 Železná 16, 00 420 222 211 275) is a good place to go listen. It attracts a quality musical line up, and the arched medieval cellar makes for a tremendously atmospheric location. For good quality local and touring indie bands, Palac Acropolis (1548 Kubelíkova, 00 420 296 330 911) tends to be the venue of choice. It’s something of a maze where your feet stick to the floor, but the line-up keeps the punters coming back. The Lucerna Music Bar (36 Vodičkova, 00 420 224 217 108) also pulls in an eclectic mix, ranging from utter cheese to eyeliner-sporting electogoths.
Nightclubs in Prague
Prague is heavy on giant, deafening eurotrance barns, but of the big venues, SaSaZu (306 Bubenské nábřeží, 00 420 284 097 455) is probably the coolest. It hosts lots of special clubbing events, has room for 2,000 and the split level dance floor keeps the party pumping. Duplex (21 Wenceslas Square, 00 420 732 221 111) sees itself as an exclusive joint although the cool factor tends to apply more to the designer décor than the DJs. Latin Art Café (2 Jánský vršek, 00 420 773 136 119) offers something different, however, with the odd R&B curveball thrown into a largely Brazilian and Cuban mix.
Markets in Prague
Prague looks like a city that should do markets really well, but those it does have are rather disappointing. The permanent Havelske Trziste (or Havel’s Market) is just off Melantrichova Street, conveniently between Wenceslas Square and Old Town Square. It specialises in souvenirs (ie tat), but it’s hardly a must-visit. The main market – Prazska Trznice on Bubenské nábřeží in Holešovice to the north of the centre – is rather cheap and down-at-heel. This said, come Christmas time, Prague suddenly becomes one of the world’s great market cities. From December 3rd to New Year’s Day, the Christmas Markets take over Old Town and Wenceslas Squares.
Shops in Prague
The mountains of ‘Praha Drinking Team’-esque tack between the Old Town Square and Charles Bridge is almost admirable for the sheer saturation, but for a classy souvenir head to Art Decoratif (2 U Obecniho Domu, 00 420 222 002 350). It stocks individually made jewellery, painted glassware and pictures frames, usually with distinctive art nouveau flourishes.
For mainstream, big store shopping, the right-angled axis of Wenceslas Square and Na Prikope should keep department store lovers happy. Meanwhile, the upmarket international designer outlets congregate along Pariska. Their would-be Czech counterparts are tucked away in the side streets that branch off it.
PRAGUE TRAVEL INFORMATION
Prague travel tip
Seeing Prague in the best possible light is largely about tour group avoidance strategies. The biggest tourist traps such as the Old Town Square and Charles Bridge are best tackled between dawn and 9am, while beautiful Mala Strana is generally bathed in peace at night. If you can arrive outside of the peak summer season (roughly May to September) you’ll be colder, but almost certainly happier, whilst weekdays are a much better bet than weekends. Friday, Saturday and Sunday are when city breakers and stag parties from all over Europe descend.
The Czech koruna is the official currency, although hotel rates are sometimes quoted in euro.
Details correct as of March 2011, when this guide was researched by David Whitley. It was originally published by the Sun-Herald in .