Best things to do in Prague
Head to Smetana Q for coffee and the best honey cake in Prague 1 (first-time visitors, take note: Prague is divided into sections and assigned numbers), along with a great view of the Vltava River from a bay window. For those who wish to get cozy, a nice secluded room in the back with a selection of books to browse will do the trick. Next-door is a shop that features jewelry and textiles from Czech designers, if you’re looking for a souvenir. Say ahoj (informal hello) or dobrý den (formal hello) when you enter the coffee shop to let the locals know that you’re at least trying to embrace the culture; they will appreciate the small gesture.
Passage Lucerna is where tourists flock to see David Černý’s Hanging Horse, however, there is much more to explore—as if seeing a horse hanging upside down isn’t enough. The passage hides gems like cheese shops, wine bars, book stores, a crystal shop, Lucerna café (pop in for a beverage and a snack), a cinema, a haunted house bar and antique shops galore. The real glory is the building itself, which was engineered by the father of Vaclav Havel (the first President of the Czech Republic after the split in Czechoslovakia). It’s worth getting to know both men’s work, as they have left major impressions on Prague.
Loving Huts are a staple for vegan cuisine in Prague, and they’re everywhere—go to happycow.com and search for the one closest to you. Eastern and Western inspired dishes will satisfy all types of diets and tastes and not break the bank; a standard dish is around just 3 euros. The buffet is an option, but be warned, not all buffets are created equally. Desserts are also a must at around 2.50 euros. If you want to take away, just say, Sebou, prosím.
Plenty of legends swarm around Devil’s Stream. One story says the amicable ghost of Karbourek, the Water Sprite, blesses those who give him beer with pikes or eels. Tradition has set out buckets of water or beer to satisfy his thirst. Another tale says the stream is haunted by a vicious old woman who lived off Maltese Square at a house called “At the Seven Devils.” She was infamous for hexing people who dared encroach upon her home. Meander through the trees and cross bridges at dusk, listen for a wind that might hold of one of the famed spirits. Or indulge in some spirits at one of the local bar/restaurants —Mlynska and Tato Kojkej. Both have ancient water wheels still in motion.
After wandering through Kampa and spotting more work from Czech artist, David Černý (go into the Franz Kafka Museum for yet another Černý sighting), head towards the Prague Castle and St Vitus Cathedral. On the way, if you’re lucky enough to spot it (off U Lužického semináře), you can venture down Prague’s narrowest street (so tiny it doesn’t even have a name). Do not just go forth. Halt! There is a traffic light for pedestrians, as the street is so narrow that two people cannot pass each other without colliding. A traffic light has been installed, so respect the rules, please. Enjoy a beverage at the end of the street at Restaurant Vinárna for a panoramic view of the canal and Charles Bridge.
In Malá Strana (the Little Quarter), most tourists gravitate towards Wallenstein Gardens, known for its drip wall, owls, bronze statues, and Baroque aesthetics. A sight, indeed. But go for the lesser known, yet equally stunning Vrtba Gardens, which are immaculate. Rich with geometric designs and fresco paintings galore, this garden is somewhat of a secret. It’s comprised of three Baroque gardens off the slope of Petřín Hill—another classic must-see location. Interesting fact: The Petřín Hill tower is at the same height as the Eiffel Tower, only it’s smaller and stands on higher ground.
While Prague has no shortage of stunning viewpoints and panoramas, the throngs of tourists can get a bit annoying. If you’re the type of traveller who likes to break free from the hustle and bustle, head over to Vyšehrad. Not only is there a striking view, but there are gardens to explore, plus a cathedral, a cemetery, cafés, statues and a gallery. The red line (also called the C line) has a stop appropriately titled Vyšehrad, so there’s no way to miss this gothic cathedral just off the banks of the Vltava River.
This church is glorious, but what earns it a spot in history is its connection to the Nazi’s fall in Bohemia (the Czech Republic has three regions, Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia). A free museum rests in the basement of the church complete with video clips, photos and memorabilia from the war. Discover how Reindhard Heydrich dominated Prague and occupied the castle. Then learn about a plan devised by courageous Czechs whose goal was to regain their sovereignty. The story is heavy, so be prepared for it; then visit the tombs of a few brave men who risked their lives to free Bohemia.
Most exhibitions in the Rudolfinum are free; check their website for the latest events. Don’t go up the steps to the main entrance, but sneak around the side closest to the river where two sphinxes guard the door. Go upstairs for free exhibits, or downstairs for Art Park, which is mostly for kids. If you want to brush up on art history, learn about famous museums worldwide or just experiment with art on your own terms, this is a great spot to spend an afternoon. If that doesn’t do it for you, slip into the Rudolfinum Café and flip through art books or play the keys of a grand piano.
Absinthe’s nom de plume is the green fairy. During the Belle Epoqué, artists in Paris favoured the green-hued cocktail so much that happy hour was referred to as the green hour. Both of Prague’s best Absintheries are in Staré Město (Old Town) and about five minutes walking distance apart (Jilská 7 or U Radnice 14/8 off of Náměstí Franze Kafky). Request a distilled absinthe; steer clear of macerated drinks unless you favour sipping firewater to the delicious herbal notes of distilled versions—hich are usually accompanied by a bit of theatrics via dry ice and fancy absinthe spoons. Weekends are best to witness this spectacle. Each distilled absinthe has a particular, herbal quality (wormwood, anise, fennel and even rosemary) so ask first; employees are happy to facilitate your absinthe experience. Because these spots are just off the main square, it’s advised to always check your bill thoroughly.
A UNESCO site, Speculum Alchemiae remained hidden until recently when a flooding throughout old town broke down the cobblestone streets. What was revealed? An alchemical laboratory intact. While Emperor Rudolf’s involvement in the occult might have formerly raised an eyebrow or two, tunnels link the alchemy lab to the Prague Castle, which removes any doubt. Emperor Rudolf II was obsessed with natural sciences, alchemy and all things occult, and hired several alchemists, like John Dee and Edward Kelley, to unmask the secrets to the Philosopher’s Stone. For those who wish to step in the footprints of long-ago alchemists, this is a must-see and do.
Climb up to Letna Park and get yet another breathtaking view of Prague. Walk away from the river and you might find yourself in the neighbourhood of Prague 7, where the Sparta Stadium can be found. Prague 7 has changed from a sleepy local neighbourhood to one that’s vibrant and full of cool shops and restaurants. If you love parks, enter Stromovka (Of the Trees). Inside Letna Park, find the massive kinetic sculpture of a moving metronome; its foundation was once the base of a Stalin monument that was torn down in 1962. If you want to continue the local Prague vibe, head over to a hip Lokal directly down from the park on Dlouhá 33 for the best and worst of barflies with a hipster flair.
Frantiskanska Zahrada is tucked behind the Church of Our Lady of the Snows and is a stone’s throw away from tram stop Václavské náměstí numbers 2, 5, 6 or 9. Enter through the Passage Svetozor, stop for an ice cream first, then make your way to the end of the hallway, enjoying the passage shops and restaurants if you’ve got the time (the coffee shop downstairs has incredible vintage movie posters on display). Inside the gardens, find a bench and take in the fresh air. Rose trellises and apple trees abound. For a moment of stillness in the heart of the city centre, this is where you’ll want to go; it’s a lovely a green space to rest your feet from all that walking.
U Pinkasu is a beer garden on the grounds of the Church of Our Lady of the Snows. This is an ideal place to cool down with a local brew. And because the beer gardens are set amidst stone, you’ll also feel the cooling effect of the rocks. It’s a win-win situation, especially in the height of the summer. The garden gets crowded on Saturdays, so plan accordingly or be willing to wait or squeeze into the picnic style tables. When ordering, go for a pivo tmava (dark beer).
Around the corner from the Frantiskanska Zahrada at tram stop Václavské náměstí is Langhans Gallery & Coffee Shop, which is also the Centre for People in Need. Langhans’ mission is to provide discussions and education with a focus on “tolerance, solidarity, humanitarian and development aid, and freedom and democracy in both local and global context.” They serve Mama Coffee, a Fair Trade brand that also happens to have a few of its own coffee shops around Prague. Ask for kava (coffee) with a smile, and know in advance that they do not have non-dairy milk.
Maybe you want to send a postcard or letter to someone from the heart of Bohemia. Make your way to the Main Post Office down the block from Langhan, but don’t just toss your postcard or letter into the mailboxes outside. Go inside first to soak up the art in one of the most ornate Post Offices in all of the Czech Republic (and maybe even all of Europe).
Just around the corner from renowned Café Louvre is an architectural beauty: Palace Adria is a Rondocubist design that is often overlooked. On the ground floor of the building, theatres, antique shops, and art galleries set the tone. Go upstairs and, if weather permits, have a seat al fresco and soak in the sights. The entire corner is unique and represents the feats in architecture that make Prague so distinct and famous.
It makes sense that the city of Prague would find a way to cherish their beloved President, Vaclav Havel. The first President of the Czech Republic (formerly Czechoslovakia), Vaclav Havel is a household name, and residents of all ages adore him. You’ll see posters, books and photos of him strewn throughout the city. This square, decorated in his honor, sits inside the external fixture of the Opera. Go under the glass block construction and you can’t miss the hearts that identify Love Square; the only love square in the entire world. Take your crush there and confess your feelings, or just hug someone you care about.
Klub Vzorkovna, aka the Dog Bar, has grown in popularity over the past few years. An underground bar that’s equally kitsch as it is clever, it’s full of swinging chairs and unique seating arrangements, and is home to a dog the size of a small horse. There is no sign, so look for the burgundy velvet curtain that covers the entrance on Národní třída street . Be sure to have cash; you’ll exchange it for a chip that can be swiped after every order. If you have any remaining crowns (the currency of the Czech Republic) at the end of the night, the door person will give them back to you upon departure. Be sure to say, dekuji (duh-kwee, thank you) or hezky vecer (hes-key v-cher, good evening) on the way out.
On Střelecký Island, visitors can soak up the energies of a centrally located green space. The island is a popular picnic site for families and lovers, so feel free to bring your own vittles and maybe a blanket. It offers a bit of wildlife, like ducks, swans and beavers, but also an altered perspective of the Charles Bridge, Kampa Park in the distance and Prague overall.
U Staré Studny (at the old well) is a downstairs wine and cognac bar that sit behind an old metal gate. It offers tasting courses and workshops, so it’s well worth it to check out their webpage which isn’t just in Czech, but also English. The location is tucked on a side street off the Vltava River, so it’s rarely ever crowded and is near local shops and neat architecture.
A local student, that is. Both Studentský klub Celetná (a cave bar that’s part of Charles University) or Skautský institute (with a view of the Old Town Square) are primarily for students, but open to the public. They are within 500 meters of each other and have coffee, tea (čaj, chai), and beer for super cheap. Ask for pivo (beer) or červené víno (chair-v-nee vee-no, red wine) and you’re sure to get a grin from the barista. Both are nice places to sneak away from the crowds common in this part of the city.
Most people visit the Old Town Bridge museum by going upstairs for a breathtaking view of Prague. But what they don’t know is that your ticket also gains entry to the basement—Staroměstská mostecká věž. Here, curated to move from oldest to more recent, is a collection of items found somewhere along the Charles Bridge. If anything, it’s a nice peek into the past and a reminder that we’ve all lost something at some point.
While the NH Hotel might be impressive on its own, what sets it apart is a cable car that zips visitors to a bar/café, Bar Tower Lounge. The elevator will appear to be like any other from the outside, but once you step inside, you’ll see the glass windows and the cable line. With a stunning view of Prague, most will be inclined to stay for two rounds, if time permits.
Forty-five minutes to an hour on public transport from the city centre will take you into the gorgeous natural beauty of the outdoors, often referred to in direct translation from Czech as “the nature”. With sloping hills and rocky cliffs converging around a small gorge, this diverse landscape is perfect for gentle hiking through blooming flowers in the spring or watching multi-colored leaves change hues in autumn. Two open-air swimming pools and a children’s wading pool draw residents seeking a refreshing dip in a landlocked country during the summer months – head northwest into the park from the Divoká Šárka bus stop and follow the stream to find them. Time Out tip: Czech hiking style is punctuated with stops at the pub, so there are restaurants and refreshment scattered throughout the area. Nearby:*Divoká Šárka is in a remote area, so these suggestions instead fall along the public transport lines used to travel there. Misto: For breakfast on the green Metro line before continuing to the nature reserveKlášterní Pivovar: For a thirty-minute public transport trip (or fifteen-minute taxi) to a monastery brewery and restaurant to refuel Lemon Leaf: For a full day of outdoor enjoyment take a thirty-minute tram ride to finish at a popular beer garden