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City of architectural beauty, artisanal beer... and so much more
Prague offers so much more than alluring architecture, abundant brews and an inherently romantic atmosphere. The city has kept up with European trends in the realms of art, fashion, gastronomy and more, lending it a contemporary sheen that merges comfortably with its historical and architectural prowess. Indeed, as you browse the wealth of impressive Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance buildings (Powder Tower; St. Vitus Cathedral; Kinsky Palace), it’s difficult not to be equally bewitched by the trendy boutiques, swish hotels, and chic cocktail bars and microbreweries that pepper most downtown streets these days.
The city’s various epochs – Slavic, Habsburgian, Communist – are also still visible and make for fascinating explorations, as do their associated personalities, from Rudolf II to Franz Kafka. When the centre gets too much, hit the neighbourhoods – Vinohrady, Žižkov, Karlín, Holešovice – which throw up all kinds of interesting surprises, from independent galleries and cosy jazz bars to the witty public art of David Černý, and plenty of hidden gardens and churches.
Hot right now . . .
Paul Sullivan, our resident expert, offers his top tips on the best things to do and places to drink this season.
Having been closed for several years for extensive reconstruction, the historic Prague State Opera (Wilsonova 4) is once again for business. Famed for its neo-Rococo interior and stately auditorium, the venue has returned to hosting classic opera and ballet from eternal favourites such as Verdi, Tchaikovsky, Puccini and Prokofiev.
With its pristine white counters, coffee machines that look like they were just beamed down from space realm, hanging bulbs and some greenery, chic new coffee spot Maze Lab (Československé armády 26) has an ethos as minimal as the décor. There’s no Wi-Fi, no sugar, no cash: just some of the best coffee in town, brewed to perfection.
The owners of the La Casa de la Havana Vieja may have opened the Banker’s Bar (Haštalská 16; 00 420 602 624 317) a couple years back, but it's still just as hot. Built to mimic the nostalgic stylings of a turn-of-the-century bank or stock market – with faded ticker boards, upholstered seating, and retro wallpapers – it serves impeccably mixed cocktails, named after famous bank robbers from the 1920s and 1930s. It makes for an especially great stop following a meal at the La Degustation restaurant next door.
48 hours in . . . Prague
Start with one of the city’s most peaceful and elegant areas: the former Jewish Quarter, aka Josefov. To see the main sights here, grab a combined entry ticket from the Jewish Museum, then saunter between the 16th-century neo-Gothic Maisel Synagogue (Maiselova 10, 110 00 Praha 1; 00 420 222 749 464), whose fixed exhibition focuses on Jewish history in Bohemia and Moravia between the 10th-12th centuries; the atmosphericOld Jewish Cemetery (Široká, 110 00; 00 420 222 749 211), whose oldest grave dates from 1439 and is the resting place of Golem creator rabbi Loew; get a seperate ticket to visit theOld-New Synagogue (Maiselova 18, 110 01; 00 420 224 800 812), one of the largest extant Gothic buildings in Prague. Despite floods, fires, and the Nazis, it’s still the main synagogue of the local Jewish community.
Saunter along the luxury-shop-lined Parizska – where you can browse the likes of Louis Vuitton, Burberry and Salvatore Ferragamo – to Old Town Square. As touristy as it is, its medley of eye-catching architecture always manages to impress. The landmark here, of course, is the Astronomical Clock. Rather than joining the throng for the hourly procession of the 12 Apostles, climb to the top of the adjacent Old Town Hall Tower (Staroměstské náměstí 1/3; 00 420 775 400 052) for fabulous views of the square and beyond.
More lovely façades can be found along Celetná, one of the oldest streets in the city, which leads past the CubistHouse of the Black Madonna (Ovocný trh 19; 00 420 778 543 902) and to the 11th-century Powder Tower (Na Příkopě / náměstí Republiky 5; 00 420 725 847 875). Next door is the flamboyantly Art Nouveau Municipal House(náměstí Republiky 5; 00 420 222 002 101), which hosts works by Czech artists such as Jan Preisler, Josef Václav Myslbek and Alfons Mucha. It’s home to the Czech National Symphony Orchestra – which regularly plays in the venue’s glamorous concert hall – and also has an elegant French restaurant, Francouzska, for a convenient lunch-time stop; choose from hearty soups, traditional Czech meat dishes, or vegetarian and seafood options.
Stroll over to the New Town, perhaps stop by the Communism Museum (V Celnici 1031/4; 00 420 224 212 966) en route to the National Museum (Vinohradská 1; 00 420 224 497 111), fully reopened since spring 2019, with a new interactive exhibition about Wenceslas Square (its architecture and history), and new public areas such as cafés, a bookshop and a giftshop.
Head south through Wenceslas Square, site of the Velvet Revolution, through town to splash on some classic – and classy – cuisine at Divinis (Týnská 1053/21; 00 420 222 325 440). American film stars shooting in Prague are sent here to feast on Czech television chef Zdeněk Pohlreich’s fabulous creations, such as roe deer saddle with mushroom ragout. Simpler but equally memorable dishes include shrimp risotto, roast beef and osso bucco, all served up expertly with a glass of good pinot grigio from Trentino.
From here, it’s waddling distance to Tretter’s(V Kolkovně 3; 00 420 224 811 165) for some New York-esque atmosphere and expertly made digestifs and cocktails. This classic, decadent drinking hole has kept up its high standards, drawing a crowd of nightlife mavens with its cosy yet exclusive feel. The Gin Negroni tempts with jasmine and bergamot.
Today is all about the other side of the city: Malá Strana, aka 'Lesser Town'. Reach it from the Old Town by crossing over the historic, statue-lined Charles Bridge and enjoy a slow walk up to Prague Castle (00 420 224 373 368). Its sprawling grounds will need at least a couple of hours to explore properly; don’t miss the Gothic St. Vitus Cathedral (and its stained glass windows), the 16th-century Vladislav Hall (which is occasionally used for jousting contests), and the impossibly cute Golden Lane, where Kafka lived for a while.
The best place to dive into all things Kafka, though, is the Kafka Museum (Cihelná 635/2b; 00 420 257 535 373) which is a 10-minute walk back down the hill and close to the river. Right outside you can find a couple of David Černý’s playful sculptures. One has two figures peeing onto a map, while his creepier giant babies with slots for faces introduce the neighbouring Kampa Park (Na Kampě 8b; 420 296 826 112), whose collection of international contemporary art and sculpture are worth inspecting. Afterwards, bag a table on the river-facing terrace of Hergetova Cihelna (420 296 826 103), the museum restaurant, which has a menu of Czech classics and lighter international fare - think roast duck to pizza.
Once revived, pop into the adjacent Cihelna Concept Store (Cihelná 2b; 00 420 257 317 318) to find a fantastic range of Czech design goods — glass; porcelain; jewellery — that can also make wonderful, unique gifts. Then it’s time for Petřín Hill, most famous for its Observation Tower (Petřínské sady 633; 00 420 257 320 112), affectionately regarded as Prague’s own, albeit smaller, version of the Eiffel Tower. On the way are a slew of interesting stops, including the Petřín Rose Garden, which has plenty of welcoming benches to rest on, and a mirror maze that dates from the Victorian era, plus a couple of attractive churches. At the top, Strahov Monastery (Strahovské nádvoří 1/132) awaits, complete with its modern beer hall serving home-brewed IPAs and wheat beers, and a courtyard garden.
Back down the hill, stop off at the outstandingly baroque St Nicholas Church (Malostranské náměstí; 00 420 257 534 215), where you might be lucky enough to find a classical concert. Grab a drink at the cosy Blue Light (Josefská 42/1; 00 420 257 533 126), whose walls are covered with tattered posters, graffiti from some of its more famous guests (such as Bruce Willis) and jazz album covers.
Then head to riverside venue Jazz Dock (Janáčkovo nábř. 3249/2; 420 774 058 838), which has food (burgers; pasta; fish dishes), a great selection of drinks, and a solid programne of live jazz and soul music.
Where to stay . . .
Arguably one of Prague's most impressive accommodation options is the five-star Augustine, which merges a historical location with some seriously sharp contemporary design. Amenities include a comprehensive spa, a magnificent cocktail bar and courtyard restaurant with terrace.
Doubles from CZK 8,700 (£300). Letenska 12/33; 00 420 266 112 233
The Emblemis a classy design hotel located on a quiet street close to Prague's Old Town Square. The 59-room bolthole is nothing if not comprehensive: as well as slick, contemporary bedrooms dotted with punchy artworks, you'll find a rooftop spa and gym, a guest lounge with a daily happy hour, and one of the city's best steakhouses.
Doubles from CZK 5,100 (£175). Platnerska 19; 00 420 226 202 500
A convenient location and crisp boutique aesthetic are what’s on offer at Miss Sophie’s Hotel, which sits in a renovated Art Nouveau building. The double and triple private rooms are fairly swanky for the price, and the atmosphere is quiet and relaxed. The breakfast, served across the road in the sister hostel, is a talking point too.
Doubles from CZK 2,000 (£63). Melounova 3; 00 420 246 032 620
What to bring home . . .
Minimal but highly attractive glass bowls and plates by Czech designer Frantisek Vizner and ornate jewellery from Janja Prokić, inspired by fairy tales and nature, can both be found in the Cilhena Concept Store (Cihelná 2b; 00 420 257 317 318)
When to go . . .
Prague truly transforms in the spring, as pasty-looking people stop to take in the sun and the sight of sprouting leaves in beer gardens. It's usually overrun from June to August – though it’s easy to give tourists the slip in Malá Strana and Žižkov. Autumn is lovely, cool and nearly tourist-free, and snow-capped Gothic spires a sight to savour in winter.
Know before you go . . .
British Embassy: Thunovska 14, Prague; 0042 257 402 370. Open Mon-Friday, 8.30am-5pm
Czech emergency services: dial 112
Prague Information Service: Staroměstské náměstí 1 (0042 221 714 444; praguewelcome.cz)
Local laws & etiquette: Czech law requires that you always have personal ID about your person, so keep your passport on you.
• When you address someone, whether to share a table in a pub or to buy something in a shop, say “dobrý den” for “good day” or “dobrý večer” for “good evening.”
• Most Czechs in Prague’s centre speak excellent English - but greatly appreciate your attempts at a few phrases of Czech, even if it’s just “děkuji” for “thank you” or “prosím” for “please.”
• Prague is, for better or worse, used to hordes of mates on drinking rampages – but recent laws banned public drinking in many of the city’s main parks so best to be discreet in between pub visits. A smoking ban has been in effect since 2017 that encompasses all restaurants, bars and many public spaces including tram stops.
• Despite reports to the contrary, drugs, even for personal use, are not legal in the Czech Republic, although enforcement for casual users is rare.
Currency: Czech koruna
Telephone code: 0042
Time difference: +1
Flight time: London to Prague is around two hours.
Paul has been a regular visitor to the Czech capital since 2004. He takes the train several times a year from Berlin to soak up the city’s atmosphere and explore new places.
Experience Prague with The Telegraph
Telegraph Travel's best hotels, tours, cruises and holidays in Prague, tried, tested and recommended by our Prague experts.