Get Cultured: Prague – A Local Guide to the City’s Best Restaurants, Bars and Galleries
Resident Sarah Lambersky provides a sophisticated guide to the best of what this eclectic city has to offer.
On your first day here, seeing this is a must:
On your first day in Prague, get high — in elevation that is. Put on your hiking shoes and walk up to the top of one of the city’s hills to take in a macro view of the skyline. Petrin Hill (Prague 5) or Letna Park (Prague 7) is best. I often hear visitors remark that Prague is a small city, when in fact, they haven’t ventured beyond the confines of Old Town (Stare Mesto). Standing on a hill offers a unique perspective of Prague that will most likely be missed by relying on GPS or maps handed out at hotels. Starting your trip from a vantage point above the Vltava River, you can stand back and appreciate the city’s red rooftops, interesting architecture and expansiveness.
Most people don’t know this, but to get a true taste of the local culture…
Escape Old Town! (Yes, this means going off the map.) To get an authentic sense of the city, spend time in a neighbourhood and you will get a true taste of the local culture. Neighbourhoods are great because you can stop by some of the city’s best bakeries and sample delicious bread or baked goods made with poppy seeds or tvaroh (quark),; dine at a restaurant that does not have an English sign touting “traditional Czech food”; or drink a Czech beer in a local pub. Each neighbourhood has a different vibe but all will offer the visitor a non-touristy experience of the city. Now, if you are like me and define culture and travel by food, then hop on the tram (7, 18 or 24) to “Albertov” and have a meal at Restaurant Pod Slavin (Svobodova 144/4, Prague 2). Here you will find an excellent, low key authentically Czech restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating (smoking and non-smoking), lots of beer and lively groups of locals chowing down on large platters of some of the Czech Republic’s best food. Other neighbourhoods to visit to get a taste of the local culture include: Vinohrady (Metro Stop Namesti Miru), Zizkov, Karlin (Metro: Krizikova), Holesovice or Dejvice/Bubenec (Metro Dejvicka).
For a glimpse of daily life, I recommend this form of transportation:
Prague has a very popular and extensive tram system that will take you almost anywhere you need to go in the city. They are cheap and run often, however if you are looking to take a tram past midnight, the frequency slows down and they tend to be more sporadic. A few notes of caution: You cannot purchase a ticket on the tram. You must either buy it at a yellow machine which are at some, not all tram stops, or you must find a metro station, or a convenience or tobacco store that sells tram tickets (the fun in this is guessing which stores actually sell tickets as there are no signs/stickers indicating whether or not the store offers them). Tickets are available for purchase in 30 minute, 90 minute, 24 hour and 72 hour blocks of time. Once you get on the train, you are expected to validate your ticket by inserting it into one of the machines. Prague’s transportation system runs on the honour system, so no one regularly checks tickets, but you are expected to pay your fare. Keep in mind that there are random spot checks by undercover transportation agents and it’s just is not fun to be caught, fined and kicked off a tram, so best be on the safe side and buy a ticket. Note: If you are travelling during the hotter months, trams are not air-conditioned and body odour can be overpowering at times.
I had my best night’s sleep at:
I live in Prague and have not personally stayed in a hotel in the city, but I have sent several guests to the following spots (all of which received good reviews): The Augustine Hotel — a luxury hotel located in a former converted monastery with a brewery and an excellent spa in the basement; The Icon Hotel — a modern boutique hotel with large rooms and a restaurant on the main floor known for its hamburgers; Andel’s Hotel — good location, but appeals to a business clientele, however the service is good and the interior design is bright and welcoming.
The meal at this local eatery had me salivating for days:
Prague is known for many things, but a culinary destination is not one of them; unless of course you consider beer and beer related cuisine as something that will make you salivate. Personally, I don’t know if I would go so far as to say that any meal in particular has left me salivating for days, but I have found some decent spots for food. For something offbeat and different, I would go to Luka Lu in Mala Strana for Balkan food. Luka Lu has lots of grilled meats, fish, salads, Balkan cheeses and excellent bread. If you are looking for Italian, I would go to Aromi in Vinohrady, which is known for its pastas and fish. For soup, a Czech staple, I love Polevkarna, a tiny soup “kitchen” in Karlin that serves up a solid rotation of vegetarian and meat based soups. Finally, for something more sophisticated and experiential, try the tasting menu at Sansho, one of Prague’s highly regarded restaurants serving Asian cuisine — tapas style (meant to share). One new comer to the restaurant scene that I highly recommend is Essence Restaurant located in Zizkov (Prague 3). Essence has a bit of everything on its menu, a modern interior, great service (an anomaly in the city) and an eager chef who aims to please.
Best place to find artisan handicrafts:
The Czech design scene continues to grow in choice and popularity year after year. Strong suits in this city lie in ceramic and glass/crystal pieces. If you can time your trip when Designblok (October) or Design Supermarket (December) are happening, you will be sure to discover some of Prague’s best up and coming and established industrial designers. Otherwise, I would recommend visiting Artel (crystal/glass), Qubus (ceramic), Batusek (ceramic), the DOX Centre for Contemporary Art shop,de-sign.cz (ceramic + jewelry + fashion) and Manufaktura (ceramic, wood).
Local celebration not to be missed:
Prague’s Christmas markets, which pop up all over the city in December are so much fun! They are great places to try local holiday foods, pastries, drink honey wine, and shop for small gifts such as wooden toys or kitchen items, glassware, cookie cutters, ornaments and other fun trinkets.
I would say most people come to Prague to party. However the city offers much more than its vibrant night scene. The city offers wonderful classical music and opera, concerts (a lot of big names pass through Prague), film festivals, and miles of running and bike paths.
For a more bucolic/green setting I escape here:
Stromovka Park, located in Prague 7. It is one of the larger parks in the city and is a favourite among the local community. Stromovka Park used to be the Royal Hunting Grounds for Ottokar II, the King of Bohemia in 1268. Today it is no longer a hunting ground but still has beautiful ponds, trails and trees and is used for its running and in-line skating paths. It is a green space perfect to take the dogs and/or kids where you can picnic, feed the ducks or just relax. When you are in Stromovka, you get the feeling you are sitting in a special place.
The art/music scene is alive and well here:
Prague is a great city for music. Everywhere you go you will see posters and flyers advertising concerts, bands, DJs and festivals. When in doubt, walk to a tram or metro stop to read the posters plastered on the billboards, or pick up a copy of the Prague Post newspaper or go to a website such as Expats.cz, which has both a listings section on what’s playing and who’s in town. The art scene is not as established as some of the other major European cities but DOX Contemporary Art Gallery, or the Museum of Young Art has interesting contemporary exhibits.
Where the locals get tipsy:
This city is certainly not short on bars or beer. When I first arrived to the city, all I could smell was beer wafting out the door of Prague’s numerous pubs. People drink all the time, as alcohol is accessible throughout the city’s vast network of pubs, bars, clubs, restaurants and cafes. If I had to choose, I would suggest checking out Lokal, U Fleku (a brewery and a restaurant), the Letna Park beer garden and Hemingway Bar and Tretter’s Club for a serious mix of cocktails.
Most ludicrous stereotype about the people here…
Czech people are miserable and don’t smile. I hate stereotypes and hear this one all the time. I think, in comparison to other cultures, Czech people might be more reserved towards foreigners, but that does not warrant the stereotype of “miserable” and “do not smile.” It takes time to make friends and meet people in any new city, but I will say that everywhere you go, it is common practice to greet people “dobry den” (hello) and “na sheldanou” (goodbye), so as a tourist, get in the habit of learning these two simple phrases. Try greeting people in shops, in apartment building elevators, in restaurants, and in museums. As a local, I certainly appreciate this polite formality of hello and goodbye as I go about my day.
If I had only 24 hours to explore Prague I would:
If I only had 24 hours to explore Prague, I would start my day off at Muj Salek Kavy (Karlin) for breakfast and the BEST coffee in the city. Then I would make my way over to the Kubista gallery to check out their collection of art deco and cubism work. Next, for a pick me up, I would walk over to Wenceslas Square and duck into Dobra Cajovna, a well-known teahouse in the Czech Republic that is tucked away in an alley off the main strip. Recharged, I would take a tram across the water and walk from Mala Strana up to the castle through the narrow streets taking in the sights. Once back down from the castle, I would go to Cukr Kava Limonada (Mala Strana) for lunch (it’s an adorable café with a sizeable menu of salads, sandwiches, pastries and fresh juices). Following lunch, I would cross back over the bridge and wander around Old Town and the Jewish area (the Spanish Synagogue is a must), and perhaps meander down Parizska Street for some window-shopping. After all this walking, I would step into the closest Thai Massage parlour (literally all over the city) and get some reflexology or a full body massage. For dinner, I would go to Essence in Zizkov followed by some wine at Veltlin (Karlin), a wine bar themed on growing regions from the former Habsburg Empire.
*For more in our “Get Cultured” series, check out last week’s guide to Buenos Aires and be on the lookout for the next installment in the series.
About Sarah Lambersky Originally from Toronto, Canada, Sarah caught the travel bug early on and has had the opportunity to live in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, New York and now Prague. In Prague, she teaches several marketing classes at Prague College’s business school, blogs about design inspired travel on Lamb411 and recently launched Countlan, a quarterly digital magazine dedicated to exploring how people all over the world entertain at home.
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