Twenty reasons to visit Prague

Last updated 05:00 12/03/2014
Prague
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FABULOUS ARCHITECTURE: Fireworks explode over the Charles Bridge and buildings in the Old Town district in celebration of the new year.

Prague
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PRAGUE AT NIGHT: Illuminated buildings in Old Town, including one of the Charles Bridge towers (L) and the National Theatre (R).
Prague
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PICTURE PERFECT: Prague Castle (Hradcany) looms over Lesser Town (Mala Strana) district, Charles Bridge and the Moldau (Vltava) River.

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Prague does a fabulous job of acting as an introductory course to architecture.

1 PRAGUE CASTLE

It's the largest castle in the world, but don't expect a Disney-esque fairytale affair with turrets and drawbridges. Prague Castle is essentially a small town on a hill overlooking the city, although there are some tremendous stand-alone buildings within it. The highlight is probably the Vladislav Hall inside the Old Royal Palace - the gigantic banqueting hall has a wow-inducing vaulted ceiling and was once used for indoor jousting.

See hrad.cz.

2 THE GOLDEN LANE

Also within the castle complex is this gorgeous narrow alley, where the houses have been restored to show what they were once used for. So there's a tavern, a fortune teller, a goldsmith and a film historian's hidey-hole that shows wonderful archive footage of the city projected against the wall of the living room. It's a good spot for shopping, too - different houses sell hand-painted glass, old books, pottery and handmade wooden toys.

See praguewelcome.cz/en.

3 FRANZ KAFKA

The Golden Lane's most famous former resident is notoriously uncheery author Franz Kafka. But the best place to get to grips with his nightmarish visions of bureaucracy and inner torment is the Kafka Museum. It takes a bold approach - far more about atmospherics than clarity. But there's enough explanation among the cunning use of sound and film set-esque furnishing to give an impression of a troubled, rather unlikeable man. And one whose works were always somewhat semi-biographical.

See kafkamuseum.cz.

4 DAVID CERNY

Outside the Kafka Museum is an art installation that always attracts giggling photographers. It features two statues with rotating hips, relieving themselves into a pool in the shape of the Czech Republic. It's a typical piece of irreverence from David Cerny, an artist responsible for numerous head-turning efforts in Prague, such as the freaky babies crawling up the Zizkov TV tower and the man dangling from a pole above Husova Street in the old town.

See davidcerny.cz.

5 MALA STRANA

The area in the shadow of the castle on the western bank of the Vltava River is one of swoonsome charm, irrespective of the tourist hordes that tramp through it. Mala Strana is a district of handsome former palaces, pretty churches and cobbled streets where excellent bars and restaurants can be found hiding in mediaeval cellars. The embassies and government offices bring just enough local life to stop it become a preserved relic.

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See praguewelcome.cz/en.

6 THE GOLDEN WELL

A strong contender for the title of the most romantic urban hotel in the world, The Golden Well in Mala Strana harks back to the 16th century. Up a quiet cobbled lane, it still has original earth walls and wooden ceilings. The massive king beds, spa baths and free personalised iPads for the duration are all part of making guests feel special. The rooftop restaurant and terrace has stellar city views.

See goldenwell.cz.

7 HOTEL-HOSTEL HYBRIDS

Prague's new trend for hotel-hostel hybrids should provide an agreeably lower cost alternative. The Mosaic House is a great example - a choice between stylish dorms and four-star private rooms. But the Fusion is the really striking option - it goes for high design throughout, with what must be some of the most impressive dorm rooms in the world for those picking the low-cost option.

See mosaichouse.com; fusionhotels.com.

8 ARCHITECTURE 101

Prague does a fabulous job of acting as an introductory course to architecture - most styles are represented here. The spindly gothic adornments of St Vitus' Cathedral sit alongside the Romanesque Basilica of St George inside the castle, while neoclassical theatres, baroque churches and painted renaissance houses stud the old and new towns. There are some modern-day stars too - such as Frank Gehry's fabulously whimsical Dancing Building opposite the Jirasek Bridge.

See praguewelcome.cz/en.

9 ART NOUVEAU

Of all the architectural styles on Prague's checklist, art nouveau has the most impressive representation. Look up as you're walking around and you'll not have to go too far to see decorative flowers and fruits. Hotel Europa and Hotel Central are magnificent examples, but the masterpiece is undoubtedly attention-monopolising Municipal House on Republic Square.

See praguewelcome.cz/en.

10 MUSEUM OF COMMUNISM

There's an undeniable pro-Western slant to it, but the Museum of Communism does an excellent job of explaining Czech history behind the Iron Curtain after World War II. There's a strong focus on everyday life under the communist regime - often mundane, regularly unnecessarily hard - but it's the video of footage of the Velvet Revolution that sends the hairs on the back of the neck up. Nobody died during the anti-communist protests that swept Czechoslovakia in 1989, but it took extraordinary bravery from hundreds of thousands of people to make change happen. With delicious irony, the museum sits right next to a McDonald's in the most brazenly commercial part of town.

See muzeumkomunismu.cz.

11 CLUBBING IN A NUCLEAR BUNKER

When communism fell, plenty of Cold War relics became unnecessary. These included the 350-odd underground bunkers dotted across the city for people to escape to in the event of a nuclear attack. One of them - the labyrinthine Bunkr Parukarka - has been attacked with the spray cans and turned into a rather cool underground bar and club complex. The good news? It's far enough underground for noise not to affect the neighbours - DJs can turn it up and keep going all night.

See parukarka.eu.

12 THE PRAGUE SPRING FESTIVAL

For musical entertainment of a more refined and elegant nature, Prague has long been a great city in which to catch classical music. The Czech Philharmonic Orchestra calls the Rudolfinium in the old town home, but the performances spread across the city between mid-May and early June. That's when the Prague Spring Festival - one of the greatest cultural events on the planet - comes to town. Bring your tux or ball gown.

See festival.cz.

13 JEWISH HERITAGE

The Josefov area on the northern fringe of the old town was historically the Jewish quarter, and the Jewish Museum is spread over six monuments within the area. It was set up in 1906 to protect valuable artefacts during slum clearances, and the collection increased during World War II as the Nazis brought in items from around the country. The oft-repeated statement that the Nazis were planning to turn the area into a museum of an extinct race has no documentary evidence, however. It's well worth taking a guided tour to gain a better understanding. The Old Jewish Cemetery is hugely atmospheric, and the Old-New Synagogue is the oldest working synagogue in Europe.

See jewishmuseum.cz.

14 BEER

The Czechs drink more beer than any other nationality, with brands such as Staropramen, Pilsner Urquell and (the original) Budweiser becoming global bywords for quality lager. Beer's often cheaper to buy than water in Prague, but there are increasing moves to quality over quantity. Microbreweries such as Pivovarsky Dum and U Medvidku sell their own concoctions on the premises, while the cunningly named Prague Beer Museum is the best bar for beers sourced from around the country.

See gastroinfo.cz/pivodum; umedvidku.cz; praguebeermuseum.com.

15 PORK AND DUMPLINGS

All that beer is often used to wash down tremendously stodgy food. And while Prague's dining scene is far more diverse than stereotypes may have you believe, the most memorable dining experience is likely to be tearing into a large mountain of pig. Pork knees and pork knuckles are almost ubiquitous in pubs and restaurants. And any salad is purely tokenistic - the correct accompaniment is heavy, chewy dumplings. But you didn't come here to diet, did you?

See praguewelcome.cz/en.

16 MUZEUM MINIATUR

Bless Anatoly Konenko, a man whose work is simultaneously pathetically pointless and heroically impressive. He has devoted his life to making bizarrely tiny artworks - such as a model of the Eiffel Tower inside a wild cherry stone, or the Lord's Prayer written on a human hair - and Muzeum Miniatur is where he displays them. A few weirdly enjoyable minutes looking through microscopes is the least you can do to salute a man who spent seven-and-a-half years putting golden horseshoes on a flea.

See praguewelcome.cz/en.

17 KGB MUSEUM

Completing the duo of weird museums run by highly eccentric Russians is this cluttered collection of KGB memorabilia. It includes uniforms, trick cigarette cases that are actually guns, and a copy of Lenin's death mask. But it's the experience of being taken through it by the hyperactive Andrey that counts. He leaps around the floor swinging axes, foists AK47s on everyone for photo opportunities and babbles away about gangs of female snipers with infectious - if not always comprehensible - enthusiasm.

See kgbmuzeum.com/en.

18 ICE HOCKEY

In most of Europe, football is the main sport. But if you want to see Czech passions inflamed, head into a pub with TV screens when the national team is playing an ice hockey match. Better still, head to the Tipsport Arena to watch all-conquering local team Sparta Praha administer a thrashing - hopefully complete with token senseless violence - to their visitors.

See hcsparta.cz.

19 KUTNA HORA

About an hour by bus or train out of the city, Kutna Hora is perfect day-trip territory. A former silver mining town - and once almost as important as Prague - it is happily packed with weirdness. The Silver Museum includes tours of the old mining tunnels, while the Sedlec Ossuary is for the more morbid - a chapel made from the bones and skulls of thousands of deceased monks.

See kutnahora.cz.

20 KARLOVY VARY

Perhaps even more disturbing - the parade of portly Central European men in tiny Speedos is a horror to turn even the sternest stomach - is the spa town formerly known as Karlsbad. Its heyday was in the 19th century, and many of the grand old buildings remain. The star is the Grandhotel Pupp - which doubled as the casino in Bond flick Casino Royale - while geysers and glass museums provide thermal bath respite for wrinkly skin.

See pupp.cz.

- FFX Aus

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