The Beautiful City of Prague
Starting with the must-sees, Charles Bridge links Prague Castle to the Old Town across the river Vltava. Built in 1357, the cobblestone bridge is lined with 30 statues of saints and is bookended by Gothic gateways. Once the royal route for kings heading to their coronation, it is now the hangout for caricature artists and souvenir sellers waiting to catch willing tourists who throng over the historic bridge day and night.
Once in the Old Town, the square, lined with pretty pastel Baroque buildings, is the place to grab a coffee or beer and people-watch for a while, before exploring the medieval Astronomical Clock (head to the top for great views), the Old Town Hall and the vast Church of Our Lady Before Tyn, a main place of worship since the 14th century which dominates the square.
Wenceslas Square with its famous St Wenceslas statue is just outside the Old Town. Once a horse market, it’s now the main shopping district in the city and this is where you’ll find the biggest designer labels sitting next to independents, and many historic arcades which lead you from one street to the next. At the end of the square find the beautiful National Museum with vast collections covering natural and social sciences.
Prague Castle dates back to the ninth century and has been the seat of power for emperors, kings and now presidents, and actually holds the record for being the largest castle complex anywhere in the world. The castle itself is dominated by the St Vitus Cathedral in the middle, its Gothic exterior punctuated by stunning stained-glass windows by Art Nouveau artist Alphonse Mucha. You could spend a day here exploring the castle and its grounds so plan your visit carefully, or join one of the guided tours as a time-saving tip. That done, head up to Petřín Hill and lookout tower (Prague’s replica of the Eiffel Tower) to take in the panoramic city views (on a clear day it is possible to see the highest peak in the Czech Republic, Snezka, which is 150km away). Feeling lazy? A funicular will take you to the hilltop with no effort.
The list of attractions goes on but take time to visit the Moorish-style Spanish Synagogue in the Jewish quarter (Josefov) of the Old Town, and the Jewish museum next door. The Old Jewish Cemetery, once part of a walled-off ghetto, is still an important part the community where the graves are 10 layers deep, with more than 12,000 tombstones.The area escaped destruction during World War II as Hitler had secretly decided to preserve it as an museum for ‘an extinguished race’.
Across the river is the 17th century Wallenstein Palace, built by the Duke of Mecklenburg who made his name and fortune as the Commander-in-Chief of the Imperial forces in the Thirty Years War. Assassinated in 1634, sadly he had only lived in his palace for a year before his death. Today, it is the home of the Senate of the Czech Republic.
The city is a great place for just walking and absorbing the culture, and that includes a river walk along the Náplavka promenade, where at weekends there are farmers’ and flea markets, pop-up bars and plenty of cafés with live music to keep you entertained.
Prague is a great foodie destination, but it also has 35 breweries and some have been plying their trade for centuries now. If you are after the ‘classics’ then make sure you head for some black beer at one of the oldest breweries, U Fleku, or for the strongest beer available, X-Beer 33 at U Medvidku. Prague is also packed with craft beer establishments and if beer’s your thing, the Brewery Tour takes visitors from the earliest days of monastic brewing to the microbreweries of modern Prague.
La Dégustation Bohême Bourgeoise
One of just two restaurants in the city with Michelin stars, this go-to dining destination has a menu which includes catfish, deer, pigeon and boar. Choose from a set three-course menu or test the kitchen with a five-course option, and watch it all being prepared in the show kitchen. Boheme Bourgeoise, Hastalska 18
This is where locals go for traditional Czech fayre. Reasonably priced and with a great, buzzy atmosphere, don’t be put off by the rather plain decor, just take a seat at one of the long wooden tables and try local wild boar goulash served with dumplings accompanied by a local beer. The menu changes daily and there’s always something good and new to try, but they do recommend you book as it’s so popular (and cheap). Dlouhá 33, 110 00 Staré Msto
Café Savoy Restaurant Patisserie
An old European-style café now lovingly restored to its 19th century glory, it’s where the locals head to for brunch and lunch served under high ceilings and dazzling chandeliers, or you can pick up a coffee and croissant to-go from their window. Expect to see an arty crowd enjoying everything from coffee, or a schnitzel and salad for lunch, through to afternoon tea with homemade cake and dinner, where the menu features classics such as pork roulade stuffed with cabbage and served with creamy mash, or Tafelspitz, boiled beef and horseradish bread. Vítzná 124/5, Vítzná 5
The Old Town Square, the Charles Bridge and the Jewish quarter are just around the corner from this hotel, so it’s perfectly placed for visitors. Inside, the modern interiors house several buzzing bars, a chill-out lounge, fumoir and games room all decorated with work by local artists. There’s a great steakhouse restaurant here and, on the top floor, you’ll find a spa with a rooftop terrace. 19, Platnéská 111/19, Staré Msto
A few steps from the Charles Bridge, this hotel is inspired by music, with 51 luxurious rooms and suites all dedicated to a particular artist, composer or music style. There’s also a sound-proofed music library and the hotel’s collection of 5,000 CDs and DVDs can all be enjoyed via Apple TV in the rooms here. Find fine dining in the hotel’s CODA restaurant, a rooftop terrace with expansive views and a private entrance to a UNESCO World Heritage garden. Tržišt 9, 118 00 Malá Strana
Once a hostel and now a luxurious design hotel (with a popular all-day café in a former theatre hall, a hidden garden courtyard, and private spa), Mosaic House is nestled in the narrow streets of southern Nove Mesto. Several of the bedrooms open onto balconies but all the rooms here are bright and modern with all the luxurious ouches you’d expect to find, and being a bit out of the way it’s a little bit cheaper too.