Prague, the City of a Hundred Spires, is one of the most beautiful capitals in Europe. It’s a city of contradictions: a frontier of the modern West and the former Iron curtain; ancient yet modern; romantic yet successful; and above all, cosmopolitan through and through.
More than a thousand years of building has left the Golden City strewn with architectural gems, which millions of visitors come to admire every year. With the Czech Republic celebrating both 100 years of Czechoslovakia and 25 years of the Velvet Divorce which split the former country in two, Prague is definitely having a moment in 2018.
What to do in Prague
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Climb up to the castle
Towering above the Vltava’s left bank, Prague Castle is the city’s most popular attraction. Within its walls lie historical buildings, churches, museums and galleries as well as the famous Golden Lane where Franz Kafka lived from 1916-17. Entrance to the grounds is free (some attractions charge); go after 5pm to avoid the crowds.
Cross the Vltava River
Connecting the Old Town and the castle are several bridges, with the most famous being the Charles Bridge. It’s closed to traffic, allowing pedestrians to wander throughout the day while buskers sing and play, artists sell their wares and 30 saints stand watch from their pedestals.
Hear the clock strike
Prague’s famous Astronomical Clock, known as the Orloj, has chimed since 1410. Part of the beautiful Old Town Hall Tower, the clock sets the procession of the 12 apostles in motion between 9am and 11pm at every full hour. During a guided tour you can explore the historical halls, the tower and the underground areas; entry 250 CZK (£9).
Veletržní palác, the National Gallery, displays the Czech Republic’s largest collection of art, including works by world masters from Van Gogh to Gustav Klimt; entry 500 CZK (£17). The newly refurbished Museum of Decorative Arts dazzles with a 20,000 piece glass collection that includes a Renaissance Bohemian glass, ceramics, textiles and furniture; entry 150 CZK (£5).
Travel back in time
Originally built to block Western broadcast signals, the Žižkov television tower is Prague’s tallest building, piercing over 216m into the air. In 2000, Czech artist David Černý temporarily attached 10 giant crawling babies onto the side of this relict of communism. Besides a viewing platform and café, the tower also features the One Room Hotel 70m high up.
Where to stay in Prague
Somewhere between a design hotel and a funky hostel, Mosaic House offers eco-friendly rooms (shared, private and a female-only dorm), live entertainment and a garden less than a mile from Charles Bridge. Shared rooms from 618 CZK (£21), room only.
New MEET ME 23 is perfect for young, independent travellers who embrace new technologies. Located near the main railway station, this hostel boasts a virtual reception via smartphone, a 3D printer and an in-house restaurant with Czech beers and food. Doubles from 2,539 CZK (£86), B&B.
Vintage Design Hotel Sax hosts an exclusive collection of retro gems, from furniture and wallpaper to porcelain and paintings. Immerse yourself in Sixties motifs by Warhol or discover Colani’s designer-shapes while enjoying the modern amenities of this quirky hotel in the Old Town. Doubles from 4,366 CZK (£148), room only.
Located in a prime location between Wenceslas Square and Old Town Square, Hotel Paris exudes the charm of Art Noveau. Built in 1904, vaulted ceilings, golden statues and dark furnishings characterise this five-star, 86-room property. Doubles from 6,397 CZK (£218), B&B.
For more on where to stay, read our article on the best hotels in Prague.
Where to eat
Hidden on a narrow, cobblestoned street below the castle complex lies St Martin, named after the patron saint of winemakers. Choose between international and Czech dishes – but make sure you order the best sauerkraut soup in town.
Tasty chlebíčky (open-faced sandwiches) can be found all over Prague, but some of the best are served at Bistro Sisters. The traditional topping combination of potato salad and ham is finger-licking good, or be adventurous with a combination of beetroot, goats’ cheese and caramelised walnut on rye bread.
Known as the best butcher in town, Naše Maso sells quality meat from Czech farmers, using old recipes and local ingredients. Ask for the trio of sausages: a classic, a beef and a debrecener (pork sausage), with a bit of mustard and freshly baked bread. The locals come here for their beef tartar.
Café Louvre has welcomed esteemed patrons from Franz Kafka to Albert Einstein since it opened in 1902. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served amid large windows and vintage decor, and staple Czech foods like beef goulash with Carlsbad dumplings or confit duck leg with red cabbage and potato dumplings grace the menu.
Where to drink
Teak walls, chandeliers, a marble staircase and live piano music (5-11pm) gives a nod to the colourful history of Café Slavia. Located opposite the National Theatre, playwrights, actors, the Bohemian crowd and anti-communist dissidents have all hung out here over the years. Try the Czech-style absinthe immortalised in an Art Nouveau painting that decorates the wall.
Small in space but huge in offering, Vinotéka U Mouřenína boasts Czech wines as well as international options. The country does not export much of its vintages, if any, so this is your chance to try wine from southern Morovia. If in doubt, choose white over red wine – the lack of sunshine hours means these tend to be better quality.
From the first hint of spring, locals flock to Letná Beer Garden to relax and drink the Czech Republic’s most common beer, Gambrinus. Under leafy chestnut trees, visitors often idle for hours enjoying the views of the Old Town across the river.
It’s drinks galore all day at Bonvivant’s, a cocktail bar with a tin ceiling, lab coat-clad bartenders, Jazz Age fittings and no menu. Sample Czech specialities like the herbal liqueur Becherovka, Slivovitz plum brandy or the Merunkovice cocktail.
Where to shop
Run by two sisters-in-law, Perníčkův sen is a one-stop-shop for all things gingerbread, a key component of Czech baking. Shop for handmade and skilfully painted cookies, cakes and candy or take one of the hard-baked gingerbread Christmas decorations home.
Prague’s only preserved marketplace in the Old Town, on Havelská Street, dates back to 1232. The stalls, which sell mostly fruit and veg, are worth a quick browse for fresh honey, marionettes, wooden toys and Czech sweets.
Manufaktura is the ultimate gift and souvenir shop for traditional Czech handicrafts. It offers trays, candles, straw decorations, ceramics, herbal soaps and linens.
Due to its history and the distinctive character of the site, Palladium is not your average shopping centre. The rich, red-coloured building, built as a former barracks, contains 170 shops and 30 restaurants across five floors in downtown Prague.
The Czech National Library of Technology (NTK), is a marvel of interior design, where the atrium’s concrete walls are decorated with more than 200 drawings by avant-garde artist Dan Perjovschi.
Prague nuts and bolts
What currency do I need?
Czech Koruna, roughly 30 CZK to the pound.
What language do they speak?
Should I tip?
Yes, around 10 to 15 per cent. It’s simplest to round up to the nearest 20 CZK or 100 CZK.
What’s the time difference?
When’s best to go?
April to June and autumn, plus December for the Christmas markets.
Tram and metro are the main modes of public transport – cheap, efficient and highly integrated.
What’s the flight time from the UK?
Around two hours.
Climb 138 steps to the top of the Old Town Bridge Tower for unforgettable views of the Charles Bridge, the Vltava River and Prague Castle.
The best hop on/hop off tour in Prague is by iconic red tram. Take the number 23, which winds through famous places and local neighbourhoods for as little as 32CZK (£1) for 90 minutes or 110CZK (£ 4) for a full day.
Source: 48 Hours In