Why you should visit Prague
Prague’s “stunning architectural masterpieces” and the fact that it contains the world’s largest castle complex, as well as its relative affordability, are all factors included in travel website Culture Trip’s top ten reasons to visit Prague.
The Czech Republic’s capital “has kept up with European trends in the realms of art, fashion, gastronomy and more”, said The Telegraph, offering visitors superb galleries, theatres and restaurants to enjoy. And many will enjoy getting lost in the winding cobbled streets of the Old Town, Europe’s “best-preserved historic centre”, said National Geographic.
Today, Prague offers a “highly infectious mix of mediaeval and hyper-modern”. Its comprehensive tram and metro network make exploring a doddle during both the heady heat of summer and the snowy, sub-zero winter months.
Worried you might bump into the dreaded droves of UK hen and stag dos? Avoid spending too much time in the drinking spots of Wenceslas Square, and you should be OK…
Top attractions: things to see and do
Visit the Old Town square and you’ll immediately understand why Prague is often described as a fairy-tale city. A mix of gothic and baroque architecture – and the world’s oldest working astronomical clock – take centre stage.
Climb the Old Town Hall Tower for a view over the city, delve into the side streets to sample a trdelnik (a traditional cylindrical pastry) and wind your way through the side streets before ending up on the exquisite Charles Bridge.
Visit the city’s galleries
Prague’s National Gallery is spread across a number of buildings, including the Kinsky Palace in the Old Town square and the Convent of St Agnes of Bohemia.
Travel to Prague 7 and visit the Trade Fair Palace, the main building of the gallery complex, to see a mix of permanent and temporary exhibitions. From there, DOX Center for Contemporary Art and its wonderful rooftop Gulliver Airship is a short walk or tram ride away.
On the other side of town (and the other side of the train tracks), the non-profit contemporary art space MeetFactory is not to be missed. Two bright red cars hanging on the former slaughterhouse’s facade set the scene for what’s to come, with the innovative works inside the venue the brainchild of artist David Černý, the gallery’s founder.
Go to the theatre
Prague’s Nardoni Divadlo is comprised of four theatres – so check carefully when you book or risk turning up to the wrong stage. The ornate buildings are a wonderful setting for an evening’s entertainment, with a changing programme of popular ballets and operas – including Romeo and Juliet and The Nutcracker – as well as contemporary works.
Tickets are reasonably priced (particularly compared to the West End) and audience members over the age of 65 and under the age of 26 can access half-price seats.
This is Prague’s most popular attraction, according to Lonely Planet. The castle complex features “a varied and fascinating collection of historic buildings, museums and galleries” and an “eclectic mixture of architectural styles”. Don’t miss the stained-glass window designed by Czech artist Alphonse Mucha in St. Vitus Cathedral.
From the castle, wander down to Malá Strana – “unquestionably one of the most enchanting and alluring” areas of the capital city, said Culture Trip. A trip to the Shakespeare & Sons bookshop is essential for literature lovers.
Spend an afternoon in a beer garden
To Czechs, beer is “liquid bread”. In the summer months, the best place to grab a freshly poured pint of Pilsner is Letna Park, overlooking the Vltava river, and Reigrovy Sady, a popular spot favoured by locals which offers unrivalled sunsets over the castle and Old Town. Naplavka, the riverbank, is also a lively location on the weekends with a series of pop-up boat bars.
If a Prague pint isn’t tasting quite fresh enough, the towns of Budweis and Plzeň are only a matter of hours from the city, making a brewery tour an easy day trip from the capital.
Explore the locals’ hangouts
You’re more likely to bump into hipsters than tourists in the neighbourhoods of Zizkov and Karlin. Follow their tracks to find pop-up galleries, art fairs and eateries. If you get a little lost, just look for Zizkov’s TV tower. As it’s covered in crawling baby sculptors (the work of Černý), you can’t miss it.
Restaurants, cafes and wine: where to eat and drink
Located in the Old Town square, Restaurace Mincovna is a well-priced restaurant offering a refined take on traditional Czech cuisine. Favourites like goulash, duck thigh and pickled cheese (trust me) can be washed down in this elegant dining hall, where pints are poured from the tanks hanging over the entranceway.
You can also eat like a local by enjoying the set lunch menu of one of Prague’s traditional restaurants, which all start with a warming soup, followed by a hearty main. Lokál, which has several locations across the city, is a great spot for this and will be sure to fill you up for a day of sightseeing.
Czech cuisine is typically meat-heavy, but several eateries have taken the opportunity to set a high standard for Prague’s burgeoning vegetarian scene. Tucked behind the popular Hemingway cocktail bar, you can dine under the stars at the fully vegetarian Lehká hlava (which means clear-headed). The exquisite building is a feast in itself – but if you can’t get a reservation, try Maitrea, its sister establishment.
As long as you’re sticking to local brews, it’s hard to find a bad beer in Prague. That said, for those who enjoy the craftier side of the spectrum, U Kunštátů has a good range in a central location, or you can venture across one of the city’s many bridges to Malá Strana’s Craft Beer Spot.
For cocktails, head to Zizkov, Prague’s alternative district. Bukowski’s Bar is something of an institution, popular with locals and the city’s large ex-pat community. The plush red interiors and delicious mixes make it a perfect spot for a winter’s evening in the city. More centrally, opt for Beyond The Bar.
If wine is what you’re after, Champagneria is a relaxed spot to spend a celebratory occasion. Offering an extensive list of sparkling wines at very reasonable prices, you can sample locally produced fizzes as well as classic Champagnes, Cremants and Cavas.
Hotels and accommodation: where to stay
There’s almost no end to high quality, affordable accommodation options in Prague.
For location, the Four Seasons, which is a matter of steps from the Charles Bridge and Old Town, is hard to beat. And a little off the tourist track, the Mandarin Oriental is a “discreet luxurious bolthole” on the other side of the Vltava, said The Telegraph.
The New Town has plenty of options for different price points; Hotel Elite is a “quirky but classy hotel” with spa facilities, while La Ballerina Hotel is an “upscale five-star spot” with “historical charm”. The city is also awash with Airbnbs – make sure you’re close to a tram or metro spot, and you can’t go too far wrong.
Transport: how to get there
It takes no more than two hours to fly from London to Prague’s Václav Havel airport, with most major airlines serving the route. The airport is well connected and visitors can quickly make their way to the city centre by taxi or public transport in less than an hour.
FlixBus offers coaches from the UK and mainland Europe. From London, travel time will top 24 hours – but if you’re travelling from neighbouring Austria or Germany, you might expect to spend around four hours on the road from major cities like Vienna, Berlin and Nuremberg.
Otherwise, take the scenic route and opt for a luxury boat cruise from France or Germany.
Buy a public transport ticket when you arrive so you can hop on and off the buses, trams and metros hassle-free – there are options available for 24 hours (at £4.28) or 72 hours (£11.78).