Nicholas Chrisostomou heads to PRAGUE to see whether its art and gastronomy scenes measure up to its mighty historical and architectural appeal.
The golden city of one hundred spires is undoubtedly one of Europe’s most beautiful and visually charming destinations. Abundant with architectural landmarks, that are testament to its changing fortunes, numerous gems from the Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque periods remain entirely intact because the city was not rebuilt like most European capitals during the 18th and 19th centuries. Back then, Praha was only a provincial town in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. And during the world wars, the city largely escaped the terrible bombing that left so many of its European peers ruined. The result is an easily walkable metropolis, which thrills in some way at every turn, especially when ambling around the new and old towns which are rich in visual delights.
But, in this day and age, a cultured traveller is rarely satisfied with gorgeous buildings and fabulous museums, of which Prague has numerous. With free time increasingly at a premium, when we book a city break to get a change of scenery and a snapshot of a different society, we need more than some local cuisine, a museum or two and some shopping to satisfy our cultural hunger. So I am heading to the Czech capital to see whether its art and foodie scenes have advanced with the times, and deliver contemporary 21st century experiences.
Sharing its land borders with Germany, Austria, Poland and Slovakia, the Czech Republic is located in the very heart of Europe. Hence, Prague is easy to reach via both ‘planes and trains. The central European train network is both efficient and affordable, so grasping the opportunity to avoid an airport, I take the train from Vienna. Just four-hours and EUR 60 later, after a super comfy direct ride in a business class carriage, I arrive in Prague relaxed and raring to go. Munich, Frankfurt and Warsaw are also just a few hours’ train ride away, making Prague an excellent option for a weekend city break, especially if you’re already in Europe. If you fly-in to Vaclav Havel Airport, pre-book your pick-up with www.prague-airport-transfers.co.uk and you can be whisked into the city centre in the back of a Mercedes E-Class for around EUR 28.
Prague is very much a tale of two cities depending on which side of the river you stay. Bisected by the Vltava River, which runs from north to south and straight through its old town, I visited Prague twice to get a decent feel for the place, staying for three nights on each side of the river. If you have four or five days to spend in Prague, a two-centre visit will give you different yet complementary experiences and is highly recommended.
Prague’s Mandarin Oriental is hands down the city’s best hotel, not least for its service levels and incredible concierge team. When you visit a cultural capital like Prague, a good concierge is invaluable. The Mandarin is located in Prague’s oldest neighbourhood, Malá Strana (or Little Quarter), which hugs the curves of the Vltava, in between the river and the castle district of Hradčany.
By far the Czech capital’s most enchanting district, when exiting the Mandarin you step directly into cobbled streets and are instantly surrounded by stunning architecture. If your budget stretches to Mandarin prices, stay here for a couple of nights and use the hotel as a base to explore Malá Strana. Since this is the busiest part of the city, routinely jam-packed with tourists, you will need somewhere civilised to retreat to after the crowds! Speaking of which, avoid Prague in November and December – there are just too many tourists. January or February are the best months to visit and are the only months when you might be able to stroll across Charles Bridge rather than being carried across with the masses. Yes, it really does get that bad in peak season.
Apart from going out for dinner somewhere fancy, you can walk pretty much everywhere in Prague, irrespective of which side of the river you rest your head. If staying near the train station, Old Town Square is 10 minutes away and Malá Strana another quarter of an hour. Vice versa from the Mandarin.
When faced with a city with so many important historical sights spread out over a vast area, I suggest a hop-on-hop-off bus tour to get your bearings, even more so if you will only be in the Czech capital for a day or two. Do this before you start taking photos (or posting on Instagram!) because it’s good to actually “see” the place before exploring up-close-and-personal on foot. Weather permitting, the view from the top deck of a bus can be pretty damn good and inexpensive! A 24-hour hop-on-hop-off ticket is just EUR 22 and the red route passes everything you need to see to get orientated. (https://city-sightseeing.com/en/102/prague)
After you’ve found your feet, focus on getting the major tourist sights out of the way because they’re always the busiest and most stressful. It will be plain sailing once you’ve seen Charles Bridge and Prague Castle and you’ll be able to enjoy the city more.
The famed gothic stone bridge that connects Malá Strana with the Old Town is at the top of every visitor’s must-see list, so try and visit Charles Bridge early morning to avoid the crowds. It’s a pain, but if you want to see the bridge in relative peace and quiet, early is best. The bridge’s construction was commissioned by Czech king and Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, begun in 1357 and completed in 1402. Lined with statues of Catholic saints, its architect was German-Bohemian Petr Parléř, whose other triumphs include beautiful St. Vitus Cathedral within the castle complex. It is said that egg yolks were mixed into the mortar to strengthen the bridge. Judging by the bridge’s longevity and sturdiness the eggs seem to have worked! By the way, the many vendors on the bridge largely sell tourist tat and are best avoided.
If you head to Charles Bridge from the Old Town, cross and then make your way up the hill towards the castle complex which is a 15-20-minute walk. The final ascent to the castle consists of 121 steps, but opportunities to pause en route include bijou shops serving small cups of delicious hot chocolate.
From this viewpoint, as well as Prague spread out beneath you, in the distance you will notice Žižkov’s soaring communist TV tower, which at 216 metres is the city’s tallest architectural landmark. Today used as a meteorological observatory and tourist attraction (there’s a restaurant and cafeteria inside), it also contains a “one room hotel” where guests paying EUR 500 can spend the night 70 metres up. (www.towerpark.cz/en/hotel-one-room/)
If it’s lunchtime or your tummy’s rumbling, drop anchor at Kuchyň for some traditional, hearty Czech food, served in a kitchen-style setting. Located within the 1811 Salm Palace (part of the National Gallery) on Hradcanske Square, Kuchyň is relaxed, family-friendly and boasts a lovely outside terrace during the summer months. (https://kuchyn.ambi.cz)
Dating back to the 9th century, Prague’s is the largest castle complex in the world, comprising 4 palaces, 4 churches, 5 halls, 4 towers and countless gardens. Within the complex, 17th century baroque Wallenstein Palace houses the senate and Doctor Lumbe’s Villa is the official home of the president. Despite occupying an area of 70,000 square metres, you don’t need more than a few hours to see the best of the castle. A “Circuit B” ticket will give you access to St. Vitus Cathedral, the Old Royal Palace, St. George’s Basilica and Golden Lane, plus 15th century Daliborka Tower, at the eastern end of the lane, which is shrouded in legend. This is pretty much everything you need to see.
After leaving Prague Castle, take a leisurely walk down the hill and pop into some of the city’s many boutiques which specialise in handcrafted Bohemian crystal glassware. One of the best is ARTĚL which has a store close to Charles Bridge. Established for two decades and curated by American designer Karen Feldman, ARTĚL is the antithesis to the plethora of tacky gift shops her beautiful store is surrounded by. (www.artelglass.com)
Once back in Malá Strana, make for Vojan Gardens (Vojanovy sady), which were founded in the Middle Ages as a monastery garden and is one of Prague’s oldest parks. Whilst its entrance is not easy to find (look for a tall archway in an old wall), once inside, preening peacocks entertain. In the spring, the gardens come alive with cherry blossom and flowering pear trees. (U Lužického Seminaře). Close to the gardens, make a pit stop at intimate Maly Vinograf wine bar for a glass of rather palatable Czech vino. You will deserve it after so much walking! (8 Míšeňská +420 604 705 730).
Also in Malá Strana, and visible from Charles Bridge thanks to its massive green dome, be sure to peek inside The Church of Saint Nicholas, which took almost a century to complete by three generations of the Dientzenhofer family. One of the most impressive examples of Baroque architecture in Prague, its intense interior features frescos by Austrian-Czech painter János Lukács Kracker and a 4,000-pipe organ played by Mozart in the 18th century.
At 80 metres tall, the distinctive fairytale-like twin black towers of 14th century Church of Our Lady before Týn can be seen across Prague, and mark the location of Old Town Square, which is about 15 minutes on foot from Charles Bridge, in the centre of town. One of Prague’s most visited sites, it really is a must-see, even if only to walk through and enjoy the multicoloured buildings of every conceivable architectural style which line the square’s perimeter. Particularly beautiful is 15th century Renaissance pearl Maison à la Minute (The House at the Minute) where the famous writer Franz Kafka lived from 1889 to 1896. Covered in ornate sgraffito decorations depicting Greek mythology, the house is utterly unique in Old Town Square. Also unique is Prague’s famous medieval astronomical clock dating back to the early 1400s (Prague Orloj). Mounted on the southern wall of Old Town Hall, the hourly show, of the apostles spinning around the clock chased by a statue of death, is entertaining, especially late at night when fewer people are around.
If walking back to your hotel towards the main station, to the east of Old Town Square, make a point of passing the majestic 65-metre gothic Powder Tower (Prašná brána) which was built in the 15th century as one of city’s 13 gates. Modelled after the Old Town Bridge Tower and studded with sculptures, its name comes from its original use as a gunpowder store. From 1458 it was also the starting point of the processional path that Bohemian queens and kings walked towards their coronations at Prague Castle.
As I trod the paths that kings and queens once walked, I noticed that modern European trends and customs appear to have been embraced by the Czechs, and their capital is much more than an open-air museum. From the little things, like quality coffee and wine served in the correct glassware, to an abundance of high-end designer stores and contemporary art galleries, not to mention a general sensitivity to the needs of the discerning traveller, the Czech tourist industry appears acutely switched-on to the needs of 21st century globetrotters.
For me to find a decent bar in a city that I want to re-visit is a feat, let alone a restaurant. Yet within just a few days in Prague, I visited at least two restaurants which I would gladly fly back to dine at again. Indeed, Prague’s culinary scene boasts numerous restaurants which would satisfy even the most discerning of gourmands.
Few areas of Prague illustrate the city’s burgeoning creativity more than Holešovice, also known as Art District 7. Akin to a bijou Berlin, the district is a lively, cultural and creative neighbourhood, awash with interesting architecture and positively brimming with imaginative energy. The area is especially well known for its lean towards modern and contemporary art. Just a few metro stations from the centre of Prague (take the red metro line C to Nádraží Holešovice) and you can walk through an interwoven network of galleries, theatres, cafés, bookshops, restaurants, music clubs, boutiques, creative studios, independent cinemas and hybrid cultural spaces. Not to mention a number of uber-cool museums, the most important of which, DOX, is unmissable for any true culture vulture. Even just wandering around in Holešovice is a treat, especially in Letná Park, since this part of Prague is filled by an appealing mix of architectural styles spanning everything from 19th century tenement housing to modernist creations and grand period buildings. Holešovice is very much Prague’s creative future to complement its established historical past, and a clear and positive indicator of the direction in which its artistic community is moving.
To end a day in Prague in arty and gastronomic style, head to the seventh floor of Prague’s most famous concession to contemporary architecture, the Dancing House. The brainchild of Croatian-Czech architect Vlado Milunić and often controversial Canadian architect Frank Gehry and unveiled in 1992, its curvaceous structure resembles a pair of dancers and is formed by two central towers: Ginger is made of glass and steel, while Fred has a concrete body and a metal head. Ginger & Fred Restaurant – at the top of this rare example of contemporary architecture in a city which otherwise abounds with classical buildings – bestows upon its guests’ impressive views of the Vltava as well as rather fine cuisine. (https://gfrest.cz/en/)
For many visitors to Prague, taking a selfie in front of the Dancing House has become as important as walking across Charles Bridge. So, there you have it, old and new Prague coming together in art, architecture and gastronomy. One of the most historical cities in the world is visibly embracing the future, and, in doing so, offering something for every type of traveller.
Located in the Dejvice district of Prague, Hotel International stands tall amongst the three to four-storey buildings in its predominantly residential neighbourhood. A short hop of less than 10-minutes to Prague Castle and only 20 minutes to Václav Havel airport make this landmark property a convenient choice for business travellers and tourists alike.
Built in a socialist realism style in the early 1950s, during the communist era in what was then Czechoslovakia, the building’s dramatic architecture mirrors the grandiose, Stalinist Seven Sisters in Moscow, which combines Russian Baroque and Gothic styles. The 1.5 metre red star that originally topped the 88-metre-tall central tower has been repainted in a shiny gold colour and today serves as a reference point from many different viewpoints of Prague.
The top floors of the massive building’s central tower originally housed the country’s Ministry of Defence, with visiting military dignitaries being hosted in the remaining floors. Meanwhile, the two huge wings were reserved for the entourages of visiting generals.
After being decommissioned by the army in 1957, the hotel was for many years the largest and most luxurious property in Czechoslovakia, and played host to a number of local celebrities and international stars. The most noteworthy guest must surely be Louis Armstrong, who, during his visit to Czechoslovakia in the 1970s, performed in the now aptly named Armstrong Bar.
Entering the building through the hotel’s main doors, all eyes are drawn towards an impressive staircase clad in red carpet, which leads up to a breakfast restaurant and the spa and fitness area.
Throughout the building, original chandeliers and historic artworks are visible everywhere, many of which were fashioned by leading Czech and Slovak artists and craftsmen of the time, not least a tapestry made by celebrated Czech painter Cyril Bouda which depicts the now torn down statue of Stalin at Letná. The large socialist-style murals by the entrance to the hotel’s main breakfast room are also worth looking out for
The two top floors of the central tower feature an event space and offer spectacular 360 views across Prague via floor to ceiling windows and from a wrap-around balcony on the 15th floor.
All rooms at Hotel International are a minimum of 22 square metres, offer individually controlled air-conditioning and the usual mod-cons.
Staying at Hotel International is akin to lodging at a Czech landmark, being immersed in the nation’s history and walking through a veritable museum after a day of sightseeing, en route to your room.
HOTEL CENTURY OLD TOWN PRAGUE - MGALLERY BY SOFITEL
To stay a little away from the tourist hordes yet be just a 10-minute walk from Old Town Square and the city’s famous medieval astronomical clock, not to mention half a kilometre from Praha Hlavní Nádraží train station (where trains arrive from Vienna), AccorHotels’ luxe MGallery hotel is an excellent choice, and shares its neighbourhood with some rather good shopping, top restaurants, hip bars and cool cafés.
MGallery Prague is housed within an imposing neo-baroque-style building designed by Architect Alfons Wertmüller in 1894, which was formerly the office of the Workers’ Accident Insurance of Kingdom of Bohemia. The hotel’s claim to fame is that 20th century literary hero Franz Kafka worked in the building, as an insurance clerk, from 1908 to 1922. Some say that Kafka’s spirit can still be felt in the hotel, and a bronze bust of him welcomes guests in the lobby, directly in front of the splendid, columned marble staircase which the writer climbed time and time again. The writer’s former office now forms the basis of the hotel’s contemporarily-designed Kafka Suite, which is inspired by the art deco period and mid-20th century Czech Cubism.
The 19th century listed building was transformed into a hotel in 2002 and became part of the MGallery portfolio in 2009. Following a recent top-to-toe renovation courtesy of French interior designer Ana Moussinet, the hotel boasts 169 rooms and suites ranging in size from classic, superior and executive rooms, through to junior suites and a couple of signature suites. Geometric print carpets and Kafka’s random patterns, reminiscent of ink lines and splashes, decorate the hotel’s wide, monochrome corridors which are a pleasure to navigate.
Whilst entry-level rooms are a little on the small side, they function well and offer good value for money in an enviable location. The Cultured Traveller recommends booking a junior suite which offers plenty of space, a good-sized desk and a sitting area including a sofa/bed.
For those who wish to splurge, the 87m² Playboy-esque split-level Dome Suite boasts a round bed on the cocoon-like upper level, and a slightly louche entertaining space down a statement spiral staircase, featuring lots of velvet, brass accents and deco touches.
On street level, marble parquet floors, plush velvets and polished metal accents are the hallmarks of the hotel’s Hedgehog bar, which is a warm and cosy environment to meet before heading out on the town. Be sure to order the bar’s signature “Flying Bicycle” cocktail, which is served in a cage, and see if you can solve the puzzle!
Onsite La Veranda restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily, and expands into a glass-topped conservatory during the summer months. Guests can also sink into a green velvet armchair in the hotel’s funky lobby cum lounge, known as Living Room. One floor down, a new fitness room is open 24/7 for guests who like to keep in shape.
Its central location and chic décor undoubtedly make Prague’s MGallery hotel the ideal choice for Kafka fans and history buffs looking for a cool, comfortable and value-for-money base in the Czech capital.
linked to www.accorhotels.com/gb/hotel-3440-century-old-town-prague-mgallery-by-sofitel/index.shtml
Mandarin Oriental Prague
Nestled between the Vltava and the castle district of Hradčany, hugging the curves of the river, Malá Strana is Prague’s oldest neighbourhood and without a doubt the city’s most alluring. Characterised by cobbled streets, elegant palaces, terraced gardens and countless hidden gems make this the Czech capital’s most enchanting district.
Housed within a former Dominican monastery which dates back to the 14th century, Prague’s Mandarin Oriental is located at the very heart of Malá Strana, almost hidden in plain sight behind tall and thick stone walls. Charles Bridge is five-minutes away, the castle complex another 15 and Kampa Park is just around the corner. You really can’t stay in a better location.
Once through the Mandarin’s main gates, at the northeast corner of the hotel’s grounds (at Harantova and Nebovidska streets), guests enter a unique hospitality world unsurpassed by any other five-star property in Prague. Offering a peaceful retreat from the tourist crowds which populate one of Prague’s busiest districts, the Mandarin is unquestionably the city’s best hospitality address, with deluxe facilities and first-class service to match, as you’d expect from one of the world’s premiere hotel brands.
Made-up of an eclectic mix of original Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance styles across several historic buildings, complemented by contemporary yet unpretentious east-meets-west décor, the hotel is both a visual feast and an architectural delight. Lovingly preserved religious features and authentic medieval artefacts comfortably sit side-by-side with Czech crystal chandeliers, Asian furnishings and gorgeous fabrics.
The Mandarin’s 99 rooms and suites skilfully blend the character of the monastery and the hotel’s other high-ceilinged historic buildings with a tasteful cream and beige colour palette, with added splashes of Asian reds and blues. All rooms feature wooden parquet floors, premium bedding and oversized marble-lined bathrooms with heated floors and walk-in showers.
Whilst larger rooms boast more original features, more space and more seating, every room at the Mandarin is different and elegant in its own way. And with less than 100 keys, an air of exclusivity is palpable throughout the hotel. Kylie, Madonna and the Dalai Lama are just some of the famous names who have stayed here. Since the hotel regularly runs at 100%, even during the slightly quieter months just after Christmas, it’s important to reserve well in advance.
The only thing missing from the hotel’s facilities is possibly a pool – it literally has everything else, including an excellent bar, well-equipped state-of-the-art gym, a superb pan-Asian restaurant (Spices) and an incredible multi award-winning spa set within the ruins of a 14th century convent which are preserved under a glass floor. Be sure to make time for a massage when staying at the Mandarin – the treatments are truly first class.
Breakfast at the Mandarin is fit for a royal and you will find literally everything on the sprawling buffet, which is complemented by an à la carte menu for Eggs Benedict, pancakes and more. Coffees are made to order and delivered to your breakfast table, along with a glass of bubbles or a Bloody Mary if you’re recovering from a big night.
It would be remiss not to mention the Mandarin’s concierge team which must surely be the best in the Czech Republic. All members of Les Clefs D’Ors, the team is able to arrange anything from ballet seats to train tickets and restaurants reservations at the drop of the hat.
Boasting the best staff in the city and characterful rooms in a chic, boutique hotel-like environment, make staying at the Mandarin Oriental Prague a sophisticated and elegant experience you’re unlikely to forget.
linked to www.mandarinoriental.com/prague/mala-strana/luxury-hotel
OLD TOWN SQUARE
The oldest and most significant square in the historical centre of Prague, no visit to the Czech capital is complete without wondering through the vast plaza, which should be done both during the day and at night to fully appreciate the beauty of its buildings. With something in Old Town Square for everyone, art lovers, historians and foodies alike, the plaza’s history also depicts Prague’s gruesome and glorious past. In addition to the Old Town Hall and the Church of Our Lady before Týn, the square is dominated by the Baroque Church of St Nicholas, rococo Kinský Palace, the Gothic House at the Stone Bell and the Jan Hus memorial near the northeastern corner. In the pavement of the square, memorial stones mark the 1621 execution of 27 Czech lords and the Prague Meridian 14°25’17“E, the latter being used to tell the time between 1652 and 1918. The permanent hot dog sellers on the fridges of the square actually peddle a rather tasty and hearty late-night snack!
MUSEUM OF DECORATIVE ARTS
Founded in 1885 and housed within a beautiful neo-renaissance building erected in 1897–1901, the museum’s rich collections include decorative and applied arts and design work ranging from late antiquity to the present day, with a focus on European objects, especially arts and crafts created in the Bohemian lands. The impressive permanent exhibitions offers visitors an excursion into the history and development of decorative arts: glass and ceramics, graphic art and design, objects made in metal, wood and other materials, jewellery, clocks and watches, textiles, fashion, toys and furniture. An integral part of the Museum is the largest Czech library specialising in the arts and related fields. Recently renovated, a new third floor exhibition space has been added, the museum’s relaxation garden is now open to the public, the shop has been revamped and a funky new restaurant added. Don’t miss the glass exhibition which is one of the most extensive in Europe and reason enough to visit.
Originally built as a department store in the early 1900s, this masterpiece of Czech cubist architecture is an architectural landmark in Prague and was designed by famed Czech architect Josef Gočár. Located in the Old Town between Celetná Street and Ovocný trh. The building’s unusual name comes from the 17th century sculpture which formerly adorned an earlier Baroque building, and was installed on the north-east corner of the reconstructed edifice in the late 90s. The venue is now home to a very good permanent exhibition about Czech Cubism on the second and third floors, curated by the Museum of Decorative Arts, plus a stunning café, Grand Café Orient, which re-opened in 2002 and boasts the only cubist interior in the world.
An uber-cool multifunctional space for presenting international and Czech art, architecture and design, the DOX Centre for Contemporary Art is housed within a renovated complex of 19th century industrial buildings in Prague’s arty Holešovice district, and in 2010 was included on the Phaidon Atlas of World Architecture as one of the most interesting buildings of the decade. Inspired by the shapes of the giant airships that began to cruise the skies at the dawn of the 20th century, in December 2016 the museum added a colossal 42-metre steel-and-wood airship-like structure named Gulliver, effectively suspended in mid-air. Gulliver straddles two of DOX’s buildings and is used for public talks and lectures at the museum. Widely accepted to be a dynamic cultural platform in Prague, and an arena for confronting artistic approaches and trends, in addition to exhibition spaces, DOX boasts a charming café, good bookstore and a well-stocked design store.
Resembling something from a fairy tale and home to a bewildering array of cultural sites and historic buildings, the largest castle complex in the world is also the most impressive, and is positioned above Prague commanding spectacular views across the city from its perch. An important symbol of the Czech state for more than a thousand years and a UNESCO World Heritage site, Prague Castle was founded by Prince Bořivoj in approximately 880 and became the seat of Czech rulers and later presidents. Extending down to Malá Strana, where several chateaux and palaces are found, and made up of historical palaces, offices, churches, fortification buildings and gardens, the total castle complex covers a sprawling 45 hectare site. Wallenstein Palace alone, which is home to the Czech Senate, includes 26 houses and six gardens. Yet, despite its vast size, half a day is plenty to get a good look at the best bits! www.hrad.cz/en/prague-castle-for-visitors
It’s unconceivable to visit Prague and not walk through the city’s “Lesser Town” of Malá Strana. Clustered around the foothills of the castle complex, it is an intensely picturesque area of ancient houses and quaint side streets which hugs the meanders of the Vltava River. It is unquestionably one of the most enchanting districts of the Czech capital and positively alive with cobblestone squares, ancient churches, hidden gems and enchanting sights. Spend some time without a map just ambling around Malá Strana, going nowhere in particular. In the shadow of Prague Castle it’s pretty much impossible to get lost, and exploring the area without a fixed destination makes for a hugely enjoyable and relaxing afternoon. Away from the well tread tourist trails, try to pit stop in a Czech restaurant to refuel on typical local fare such as goulash and duck. Nebozizek restaurant sits on the side of Petrin Hill and boasts a killer view of the castle and panoramic vistas of the city.
This hip, laid-back burger joint, located in the heart of trendy Holešovice in the middle of a predominantly residential area, has won multiple awards for its burgers. The menu runs the gamut from a classic Hillbilly burger and Chill-billy burger to a Joe‘s goat burger, Roquefort Johny burger and a moreish “Marvin’s pulled pork sandwich”. All are furnished with a spicier kick than is usual in the Czech Republic. The cheddar is real, the nachos are piled high and the coleslaw recipe is bang on point, all of which may seem natural to visitors, but is surprisingly unusual in Prague! The something-for-everyone menu includes a very good veggie burger and decent beverages beyond the normal beer and wine typical of casual pubs – think craft cider, homemade lemonade and Aperol Spritz. In the summer, the bijou patio out back offers a casual al fresco dining option.
Very close to Wenceslas Square, in 1911 Frantisek Myšák opened his pastry shop in Vodičkova Street. He hired the best architects to design the shop, emphasised the use of only high-quality ingredients is everything he made and took great care of his employees. Creating cakes for well-known personalities from the world of politics, culture and sports, Myšák even made a cake for the first Czech president, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, on the occasion of his 80th birthday. When the Rondo-Cubist building that housed Myšák’s original shop collapsed in 2006, the structure was rebuilt, the café and shop were completely reconstructed, and Café Myšák reopened its famous doors. Today, the original marble staircase and large-scale period photos of the original shop provide an enchanting backdrop for afternoon tea, a cheeky piece of cake or a cappuccino. The coffee here is first rate. The Caramel Cup also makes a rather tasty afternoon treat!
Tucked away on a side street, the star of the show at this intimate restaurant serving superb rustic Northern Italian cuisine and seasonal dishes cooked with flair, is the top-flight wine selection from Italian growers and other global vineyards.
Run with immense passion and boasting a distinctly warm and friendly feel, Divinis is perfect for an intimate meal for two, a family occasion or a simple gathering with friends to enjoy the excellent food and fantastic vinos.
The menu focused on the use of high-quality ingredients and seasonal produce, much of which is freshly imported ingredients from the Mediterranean. The food at Divinis is utterly delicious and obviously made with love. Glasses of premium Barolo are served from magnums. The deserts are irresistible.
A six-course tasting menu showcases the very best seasonal ingredients paired with Italian fine wines.
If it’s on the menu, be sure to order the black truffle risotto – your taste buds will be transported to gastronomic heaven with the first fork-full.
Set within the stone walls and vaulted ceilings of Salmovský Palace on Hradcanske Square, directly opposite the main entrance to Prague Castle, Kuchyň looks out to one of the views that bring millions of visitors to the Czech capital every year.
Inside, the menu-less 70-seat restaurant is based around a relaxed, open kitchen concept, with diners encouraged to engage their senses and choose what they eat by trusting their guts. Head chef Marek Janouch and his team prepare traditional Czech dishes inspired by aristocratic cuisine. Guests lift the lids of the pots on the stove to see what hearty foods are cooking. Since everything cooking is scrumptious it’s not that easy to decide what to eat.
When The Cultured Traveller visited Kuchyň, rabbit in mustard sauce, paprika chicken, pork schnitzel, beef in red wine, goulash and a Serbian pork cutlet with seasonal vegetables were on the stove. Sides included two kinds of dumplings, potato cakes and roasted potatoes. Our only complaint was the lack of veggie sides, but Czech cuisine is not renowned for a prevalence of veggies! Visit Kuchyň hungry because you will want to eat everything!
Landing its first Michelin star in 2016 just one year after opening, Field is one of Prague’s finest restaurants, skilfully marrying fine dining with a relaxed environment and warm unpretentious service, the latter being something of a rarity in a fine-dining establishment and truly one of the restaurant’s star qualities. Even the sommelier is warm and affable.
Located in an airy venue with high ceilings on a quaint street in the Jewish Quarter, Field’s dining room is clean, refined and perfect for a gastronomic dégustation experience.
Field is all about TV chef Radek Kašpárek’s modern approach to Czech cuisine. Fanatical about the quality of the ingredients he uses and their provenance, Kašpárek is drawn to produce that hails from his native Czech Republic, and uses it to create simple dishes, with a Scandinavian touch, that are not only delicious but also thought provoking. The result is tasty and well-presented fare, which, whilst detailed, is not so over-the-top as to be deemed pretentious. And herein lies Kašpárek’s skill – fine-dining that is beautiful to look at, a delight to eat and doesn’t leave you hungry. The Cultured Traveller wishes that more Michelin-starred restaurants were like Field.
Nextdoor by Imperial
Opened less than a year ago, celebrity chef Zdeňek Pohlreich’s upscale yet unpretentious restaurant has already become a firm favourite with discerning Czechs. Located on the ground floor of The Cosmopolitan Hotel about 10 minutes-walk from Old Town Square, Next Door offers a first-class dining experience in a comfortable atmosphere, complete with attentive and personal service.
The juxtaposition of classic Parisian bistro-style food and modern Czech regional cuisine is executed well and beautifully presented in a pair of interconnected dining rooms presided over by a huge open-fronted kitchen.
The slightly flamboyant interior design aesthetic, of intricate crown mouldings, baby angel sculptures and chandeliers hanging from high ceilings painted with original ceiling frescos dating back to 1889, courtesy of renowned Italian designer Luciano Belcapo, only add to the dining experience.
Don’t miss the sautéed rabbit kidneys in a mustard sauce with Savoy cabbage. And the roasted foie gras with green peas, mushrooms and duck black pudding. Both dishes are exceptional.
Open all day every day from 06.30 – 23.00, book a table by the kitchen for a front row eating experience.
Spices Restaurant and Bar
Set within Prague’s best hotel in the heart of Malá Strana, Renaissance-style vaulted ceilings, softly backlit dark wood panelling and subtle decorative Chinoiserie items set the upscale tone in highly recommended Spices Restaurant & Bar at the Mandarin Oriental.
Offering a carefully crafted culinary journey through Asia, executive chef Stephen Senewiratne’s extensive pan-Asian menu is divided into three regions – Northeast, Southeast and Southwest – and is complemented by a separate sushi menu.
Only the freshest produce, much of it sourced from local Czech farmers, is used to produce the tasty and beautifully-presented food, which is served family-style in the middle of the table.
For a special occasion, book the beautiful, atmospheric 14th century Dom Pérignon P2 Cellar underneath the restaurant, and dine in privacy and style.
After dinner, adjourn to adjacent Spices’ bar, which serves a mix of hand-crafted classic and contemporary cocktails, alongside a good selection of fine wines, local beers and non-alcoholic drinks. It’s the perfect place for a nightcap.
GIN & TONIC CLUB
The Cultured Traveller’s favourite bar in Prague, this sprawling, hyper-focused basement venue is dedicated to serving inventive variations of the trusty G&T. With literally hundreds upon hundreds of different gins on offer, hailing from all corners of the globe, the proprietors of this colourful and vibrant lounge, bar and terrace have invested a great deal of time and energy on the details, which combine to make this venue standout. There’s no queuing for your G&T here, good god no! Guests are seated at reserved, high-top tables for their drinks to be served to them in a civilised fashion. Numerous concoctions include home-grown herbs and spices, unexpected fruit infusions and interesting flavour combinations. The massive array of gins is complemented by a range of tonics which can drastically change the character of a drink. A five G&T tasting menu is available and tapas and larger dishes are available for those who are peckish. One drink here can easily turn into three, so visit the Gin & Tonic Club after dinner and get comfy.
Whilst Prague isn’t the usual first stop on a wine aficionado’s go-to list, Vinograf might persuade you otherwise. A group of three wine bars in the Czech capital, each is stocked with upwards of 300 wines. The flagship bar in Senovážné Square offers more than 700 vintages. Of Vinograf’s three locations in Prague, The Cultured Traveller recommends the cosy Malá Strana shop on Míšeňská Street, five minutes-walk from the Mandarin Oriental and round the corner from Charles Bridge. An intimate, locally-focused wine shop with sommelier-led tastings and food pairings, it’s the perfect place to pit-stop and have a few glasses of vino with some cheese and charcuterie to break-up a day of sightseeing. Whatever you drink, Malý Vinograf’s knowledgeable staff will furnish you with all kinds of information about the wine you have selected and what to drink next! 8 Míšeňská 8, Praha 1. +420 604 705 730
Almost certainly the most popular bar in Prague, it’s very difficult to get into Hemingway’s after 9pm which is when the bar stops taking reservations. An intimate venue, you won’t be able to kick-back and relax here, rather sip on a beautifully hand-crafted cocktail (or two) and then move on to somewhere else. Hemingway’s is all about the spirits and mixing them. It’s not a loud venue. Laptops are not allowed. Chairs cannot be moved. Ordering of drinks for other guests is prohibited unless approved by the staff. And so on. Whilst such rules might be a little annoying to some, they do allow for the serious, unadulterated business of drink consumption and appreciation. Naturally, Hemingway’s pays homage to the great man with particular attention to absinthe, champagne and, of course, rum, the latter boasting its own list of more than 200 varieties. Visit Hemingway’s for the cocktails, which are very good indeed. Bring your own party.
With a name that literally translates to the word “vineyards” in English, Vinohrady is a sleek, hip and international district of the Czech capital, and was once a wine hot spot before it became incorporated into the metropolis of Prague. A charming, European neighbourhood with a distinctly artsy international side makes Vinohrady the ideal location for Dandy, a fun, hip and stylish gay bar open to everyone. Very good hand-crafted cocktails, premium spirits, signature drinks, Japanese whisky, a superb selection of wines by-the-glass and Bernard beer are served by a friendly and fun team in a stylish, comfortable, laid-back lounge-style setting. A small selection of open-faced sandwiches is also available. The music at Dandy is very good and the tempo audibly picks up after midnight. Visit Dandy after dinner and plan to stay for more than one.
Located slap bang in the middle of the city, two floors underneath the U Prince Hotel in Old Town Square, Black Angels is a hidden gem of a bar serving an excellent range of themed cocktails with panache. Reminiscent of an prohibition era speakeasy, the grand stone-vaulted gothic-meets-glamour space, complete with the statue of a black angel perched atop the bar, is atmospheric, warm and inviting. The bartenders have oft been awarded for their classic yet creative drinks. Many of the bar’s best cocktails hail from the American golden age, and include classics like the Manhattan, the Mary Pickford, the Sgropinno, the Sazerac and the Sidecar. If wine is your poison, you can choose from a wide range of high-quality French, Italian, Spanish, Chilean and Argentinean vintages. Service is slick and the whole place exudes an air of hidden yet louche sophistication.
LUCERNA MUSIC BAR
One of the largest and most popular music clubs in Prague, and a veritable institution to many Czech people, Lucerna can be a big night out or just a few drinks, depending on your mood and the act. Located right next to Wenceslas Square in a multipurpose complex dating back to the beginning of 20th century, stars such as Earth, Wind & Fire, Maceo Parker, Candy Dulfer, Jungle Funk and the Brand New Heavies, amongst others, have all performed at Lucerna, which is also famous for its 80s and 90s dance parties every Friday and Saturday nights. Jazz and swing artists perform at Lucerna during the annual Prague International Jazz Festival and annual AghaRTA Prague Jazz Festival. Lucerna has also provided a springboard to many up-and-coming and newly-formed bands, not only from the Czech Republic but also from around the world.
SPEND - DENISA NOVÁ
Named Clothing Designer of the Year by CDG6 (Ceny Czech Grand Design), Denisa Nová has been in the business for two decades this year and focuses on womenswear, including ladies’ fashion accessories and footwear, all of which is marketed under the brand name of DNB at her exclusive boutiques in Prague and Brno (the second largest city in the Czech Republic). Known throughout Czech fashion circles for the simplicity and minimalism of her collections, Nová regularly shows at Mercedes-Benz Prague Fashion Week in March, when the Czech capital comes alive with creativity and colour. Nová’s clothes are detailed, wearable and coveted. Shop for Denisa Nová at her Prague store which is open every day apart from Sunday. www.denisanova.cz/en
SPEND - HARDDECORE
The past few years have seen an emergence of Czech fashion designers producing highly-original garments that are both playful and interesting. One such designer is Josefina Bakošová, who is also an illustrator and designs film and theatre costumes. Her co-founded boutique, workshop and gallery, Harddecore, which is centrally located on Senovážné náměstí (Hay Market Square), has become a popular destination for local fashionistas and culture vultures. Harddecore retails a wide range of clothing, jewellery and interior accessories, as well as Bakošová’s eponymous line of elegant, casual and comfortable womenswear made from high-quality materials and cut unconventionally yet simply. Such is the popularity of Bakošová’s designs, that her clothing is worn by award-winning Czech actress Lenka Krobotová, and documentarist and Petra Nesvačilová has become the face of the brand. www.harddecore.cz
SPEND - KUBISTA
Located in the center of Prague a stone’s throw from Old Town Square, you will find Kubista on the ground floor of the House at the Black Madonna which is dedicated to the Art Deco and Cubists periods. The store specialises in glassware, jewellery, ceramics, décor pieces, pictures, paintings and furniture, and showcases a wide selection of pieces by many well-known Czech artists, including Bohumil Kubišta, Vaclav Spala and Czech-Czechoslovak sculptor Otto Gutfreund, who, after studying art in Prague and Paris, became known in the early 1900s for his sculptures in a distinctly cubist style. As well as reproductions, Kubista stocks a number of original pieces for the serious collector. Beautifully illustrated books about the Art Deco movement and Czech Cubism are also on sale and make wonderful gifts for interior design buffs! www.kubista.cz
SPEND - CIHELNA CONCEPT STORE
Located in a 18th century former brick factory, on a well-trodden tourist path close to the river, not far from Charles Bridge and Prague Castle, Cihelna champions the best Czech design talent, purposefully eschewing the kitschy knick-knacks traditionally found in its neighbourhood’s tacky souvenir shops. Curated by illustrator and design producer Silvie Luběnová, the sophisticated collection includes tableware by high-tech glass factory Bomma, colourful pieces by ceramicist Milan Pekař and standout offerings from a host of young Czech jewellers from Adéla Fejtková to Blueberries and Zorya. Displayed on custom-made monumental wood tables by Studio Dechem, over which a large chandelier by artist Rony Plesl hangs, the elegant space also doubles-up as a gallery with regular exhibitions. www.cihelnaprague.com
SPEND - MALÍSKÁ
Czech-born designer Lenka Sárová Malíská’s rustic porcelain tableware with a modern design edge is a perfect symbolic melding of all that’s whimsical and folk-inspired about the Czech Republic, yet, at the same time, also smartly metropolitan and influenced by the city of Prague. Porcelain teapots and mugs are top sellers, but salt and pepper shakers, plates, bowls, cups and saucers, all adorned with a myriad of motifs from kittens and dogs to trees and cottages, also make wondeful gifts which are pretty yet functional. Malíská also produces a line of china brooches, sporting different patterns and colourways, making each piece unique. available at a variety of design-led stores throughout Prague, including these three www.pourpour.cz www.futurista.cz www.parazit.cz
SPEND - GLASSIMO
Specialising in Czech glass and porcelain from the studios of renowned artists as well as up-and-coming young designers, Glassimo was founded in 2015 to showcase the beauty of Bohemian designer glass and is located in the center of the city at 3 Elišky Krásnohorské. Much of what is on display at Glassimo are unique, one-off pieces, mouth-blown and hand crafted by some of the finest Czech glassmakers. Browse glass works by Bořek Šípek, Jiří Pačinek and Kateřina Smolíková; porcelain by Daniel Piršč and items by BOMMA – one of the most modern European producers of drinking glassware. Every item is sold with a certificate of authenticity and can be shipped anywhere on the planet – using a specialist freight company experienced in the safe transportation of glass and porcelain – so you need not carry your expensive purchases on a plane! www.glassimo.eu