Prague


WHAT TO DO

Prague is without doubt one of the most fascinating cities in all of Europe. The capital of the Czech Republic, it is bisected by the Vltava River. Nicknamed the "City of a Hundred Spires," Prague offers a variety of stunning architecture - from the soaring verticals of Gothic to the beauty of baroque and elegance of art nouveau. Its maze of cobbled lanes and hidden courtyards is a paradise for the aimless wanderer, where you can stumble across ancient chapels, unexpected gardens and old fashioned pubs that serve some of the best beer in the world. The 1989 Velvet Revolution freed the Czechs from communism and bequeathed to us all a gem of a city. With excellent museums, historic landmarks and delicious cuisine, Prague is sure to please.

The city was the capital of Czechoslovakia and (since the Nazi occupation in 1939) the main city of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. It is home to a number of famous cultural attractions, many of which survived the violence and destruction of the 20th century. Prague is best explored on foot and the first spot to start your adventure is in the heart of the Old Town (Stare Mesto) at the Old Town Square (Staromak). Note: Since 1992, this historic center of Prague has been included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. One of Europe's biggest and most scenic urban spaces, the Old Town Square has been the city's principal public square since the 10th century and was its main marketplace until the beginning of the 20th century. There are busking street performers, casual cafes and food vendors, plus Christmas and Easter markets - all watched over by Ladislav Saloun's brooding art nouveau statue of Jan Hus. It was unveiled on July 6, 1915 - the 500th anniversary of Hus's death at the stake. Jan Hus was a church reformer, an inspirer of Hussitism, a key predecessor to Protestantism and a seminal figure in the Bohemian Reformation. He was burned at the stake for heresy against the doctrines of the Catholic Church. The most famous landmark on the square is the splendid Astronomical Clock. Every hour (on the hour), crowds gather beneath the Old Town Hall Tower to watch the clock in action. It is one of Europe's best known tourist attractions and each performance lasts 45 seconds. Take some time after you take your pictures to admire its intriguing symbolism. Four figures beside the clock represent the deepest civic anxieties of 15th century Praguers: Vanity (with a mirror), Greed (with a money bag), Death (the skeleton) and Pagan Invasion (represented by a Turk). The four figures below these are the Chronicler, Angel, Astronomer and Philosopher. On the hour, Death rings a bell and inverts his hourglass, and the 12 Apostles parade past the windows above the clock, nodding to the crowd. On the left side are Paul (with a sword and a book), Thomas (lance), Jude (book), Simon (saw), Bartholomew (book) and Barnabas (parchment). On the right side are Peter (with a key), Matthew (axe), John (snake), Andrew (cross), Philip (cross) and James (mallet). At the end, a rooster crows and the hour is rung. The Old Town Hall was founded in 1338 and today houses the Old Town's main tourist information office, as well as several historic attractions. Be sure to climb the clock tower for an excellent view of the square. Just off the square is the impressive Church of Our Lady before Tyn. Its distinctive twin Gothic spires make it an unmistakable Old Town landmark. Like something out of a 15th century fairy tale, they loom over the Old Town Square - decorated with a golden image of the Virgin Mary. Dating from the 14th century, the church's name originates from the Tyn Courtyard located behind it. Though majestically Gothic on the outside, its interior is smothered in heavy baroque. Two of the most interesting features are the huge rococo altar on the northern wall and the tomb of Tycho Brahe, the Danish astronomer who was one of Rudolf II's (Holy Roman Emperor) most illustrious court scientists.

Next, make your way over to the New Town (Nove Mesto) and Wenceslas Square (Vaclavak). Originally a medieval horse market, it is named after Saint Wenceslas, the patron saint of Bohemia. More a broad boulevard than a typical city square, it has witnessed a great deal of Czech history - a giant Mass was held here during the revolutionary upheavals of 1848; in 1918 the creation of the new Czechoslovak Republic was celebrated here; and it was here in 1989 that the fall of communism was announced during the Velvet Revolution - a non violent demonstration and transition of power occurring from November 17 to December 29. At the southern end of the square is Josef Myslbek's muscular equestrian statue of Saint Wenceslas, flanked by other patron saints of Bohemia. Near the statue, a small memorial to the victims of communism bears photographs and handwritten epitaphs to anticommunist rebels Jan Palach and Jan Zajic. Looming above Wenceslas Square is the neo Renaissance National Museum, designed by Josef Schulz as an architectural symbol of the Czech National Revival. Its magnificent interior is a shrine to the cultural, intellectual and scientific history of the Czech Republic. The museum's main building reopened in 2018 after several years of renovations. Just around the corner from the square at Jungmannovo namesti is the novelty Cubist Lamp Post. Angular but slightly chunky and made from striated concrete, the world's only cubist lamp post is worth a quick visit. Also Instagram worthy is the Dancing House, located at Rasinovo nabrezi 80. Built in 1996 by architects Vlado Milunic and Frank Gehry - the curved lines of the narrow waisted glass tower clutched against its more upright partner led to it being christened the 'Fred and Ginger' building, after legendary dancing duo Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. After taking a few pictures, head to nearby Resslova 9 and the must visit National Memorial to the Heroes of the Heydrich Terror. The Church of Saints Cyril and Methodius houses a moving memorial to the seven Czech paratroopers who were involved in the assassination of Nazi SS officer Reinhard Heydrich in 1942, with an exhibit and video about Nazi persecution of the Czechs. The paratroopers hid in the church's crypt for three weeks after the killing, until their hiding place was betrayed by a Czech traitor. The Germans besieged the church, first attempting to smoke the paratroopers out and then flooding the crypt with fire hoses. Three paratroopers were killed in the ensuing fight; the other four (including Jozef Gabcik) took their own lives rather than surrender to the Nazis. In the crypt itself you can still see the bullet marks and shrapnel scars on the walls, along with photographs and the busts of the seven brave heroes. On the Resslova side of the church, the narrow gap in the wall of the crypt where the Germans inserted the fire hoses is still pitted with bullet marks. Note: the assassination of Heydrich was the only successful government organized assassination of a top ranking Nazi in the Second World War. In addition, the church appeared in the 2016 film based on the assassination, Anthropoid.

From there, pay a visit to the captivating Mucha Museum at Panska 7. This museum features the sensuous art nouveau posters, paintings and decorative panels of Alphonse Mucha - as well as many sketches, photographs and other memorabilia. The exhibits include countless artworks showing Mucha's trademark Slavic maidens with flowing hair and piercing blue eyes, bearing symbolic garlands and linden boughs. Other highlights include a powerful canvas entitled Old Woman in Winter and the original 1894 poster of actress Sarah Bernhardt as Giselda, which shot him to international fame. In 1910 Mucha was invited to design the Lord Mayor's Hall in Prague's Municipal House, and following the creation of Czechoslovakia in 1918, he designed the new nation's banknotes and postage stamps. His crowning achievement however, was the Slav Epic - a series of huge, historical paintings which has been on display in the city's Veletrzni Palac since 2012. Note: the Slav Epic is currently on a world tour. Be sure to watch the interesting video documentary about Mucha's life, it certainly puts his achievements in perspective. The museum is open every day from 10a-6p. After that, go check out the aforementioned art nouveau Municipal House and Lord Mayor's Hall (Primatorsky sal) at namesti Republiky 5. Every aspect of its decoration was designed by Alphonse Mucha, who also painted the superbly moody murals that adorn the walls and ceiling. The Smetana Hall, centerpiece of the stunning Municipal House is the city's largest concert hall - with seating for 1200 beneath an art nouveau glass dome. It is the home of the Prague Symphony Orchestra. Next to the Municipal House is the Gothic Powder Gate, dating from 1475. The gate was built during the reign of King Vladislav II Jagiello as a ceremonial entrance to the city, but was left unfinished after the king moved from the neighboring Royal Court to Prague Castle in 1483. Around the corner at V Celnici 1301 on the Square of the Republic (namesti Republiky) is the Museum of Communism. It tells the story of Czechoslovakia's years behind the Iron Curtain in photos, videos, stories and other fascinating exhibits. The empty shops, corruption and fear in socialist Czechoslovakia are well conveyed - there are rare photos of the Stalin monument that once stood on Letna terrace and its spectacular destruction. Do not miss the video about the protests leading up to the Velvet Revolution. Note: the museum is open every day from 9a-8p.

Following the Museum of Communism, wander around the neighborhoods of Karlin and Josefov. The Karlin district, one of Prague’s hardest hit areas during floods that swept across Central Europe in 2002, has transformed in recent years into a hip, leafy enclave, ignited by the opening of stylish cafes, concept shops and art galleries. Karlin has a great local feel - be sure to visit Muj salek kavy at Krizikova 105 for some tasty treats and top notch coffee. Close by is the Josefov district, the city's former Jewish ghetto, where several old synagogues and the town hall survive along with the powerfully melancholy Old Jewish Cemetery - all now part of the Prague Jewish Museum. Located at Maiselova 15, this museum consists of six Jewish monuments clustered together: the Maisel Synagogue, Pinkas Synagogue, Spanish Synagogue, Klaus Synagogue, the Ceremonial Hall and the Old Jewish Cemetery. There is also the Old New Synagogue, which is still used for religious services. In one of the most grotesquely ironic acts of World War 2, the Nazis took over the Prague Jewish Museum (first established in 1906 to preserve artifacts from synagogues that were demolished during the slum clearances in Josefov around the turn of the 20th century) with the intention of creating a 'museum of an extinct race'. They shipped in materials and objects from destroyed Jewish communities throughout Bohemia and Moravia, helping to amass what is probably the world's largest collection of sacred Jewish relics and a moving memorial to centuries of oppression. Note: a regular ticket gives admission to all six main monuments and a combined ticket includes the Old New Synagogue as well. If you are short on time, do not miss the Old New Synagogue nor the Old Jewish Cemetery. Completed around 1270, the Old New Synagogue is Europe's oldest active synagogue and one of Prague's earliest Gothic buildings. The interior, with a pulpit surrounded by a 15th century wrought iron grill, looks much as it would have 500 years ago. On the eastern wall is the Holy Ark that holds the Torah scrolls. The Pinkas Synagogue contains the entrance to the Old Jewish Cemetery, Europe's oldest surviving Jewish graveyard. Founded in the early 15th century, it contains around 12000 crumbling stones heaped together, but beneath them are perhaps 100000 graves - piled in layers due to the lack of space. The most prominent graves include those of Mordechai Maisel and Rabbi Loew. The oldest stone is that of Avigdor Karo, a chief rabbi and court poet to Wenceslas IV, who died in 1439. Note: the museum is open from 9a-6p and is closed on Saturday. Next, head to the Prague City Museum at Na Porici 52. This outstanding museum opened in 1898 and is devoted to the history of Prague from prehistoric times to the 20th century. Among the many intriguing exhibits are an astonishing scale model of Prague as it looked in 1826 and the Astronomical Clock's original 1866 calendar wheel with Josef Manes's beautiful painted panels representing the months. Note: the museum is open from 9a-6p and is closed on Monday. From there, make your way over the river to the Holesovice neighborhood and the magnificent Veletrzni Palac at Dukelskych hrdinu 47. The National Gallery's collection of Art of the 19th, 20th and 21st Centuries is spread over four floors and is a strong contender for Prague's finest museum. It has an unexpectedly rich collection of world masters, including works from Van Gogh, Picasso, Monet and Renoir. The holdings of Czech interwar abstract, surrealist and cubist art are an added bonus. Note: the museum is open from 10a-6p and is closed on Monday.

Now it's time to explore the charming Lesser Town (Mala Strana) district, a hillside area with splendid views across the Vltava River to the Old Town. Prague's scenic centerpiece, the Charles Bridge, links the Lesser Town with the Old Town. Strolling across the Charles Bridge (Karluv most) is everyone's favorite activity - and it will seem like half of humanity is sharing it with you. Note: if you want to experience the bridge at its most atmospheric, try to visit it at dawn. In 1357 Charles IV commissioned Peter Parler (the architect of St Vitus Cathedral) to replace the 12th century Judith Bridge, which had been washed away by floods in 1342. The new bridge was completed in 1390 and took Charles' name only in the 19th century - before that it was simply known as the Stone Bridge (Kamenny most). Today the bridge is filled with a gauntlet of hawkers and buskers, all beneath the impressive gaze of the baroque statues that line its walls. The first monument erected on the bridge was the crucifix near the eastern end in 1657. The first statue - the Jesuits' 1683 tribute to Saint John of Nepomuk - inspired other Catholic orders, and over the next 30 years a score more went up. The most famous statue is the monument to Saint John of Nepomuk. According to legend, Wenceslas IV had him bound in armor and thrown off the bridge in 1393 for refusing to divulge the queen's confessions (he was her priest), though the real reason had to do with the bitter conflict between church and state. Tradition says that if you rub the bronze plaque on the monument, you will one day return to Prague. Once over the bridge, turn right along the river and head to the Franz Kafka Museum at Cihelna 2b. This engaging museum about the life and work of Prague's most famous literary son explores the intimate relationship between the writer and the city that shaped him through the use of original letters, photographs, period publications and video installations. Note: the museum is open every day from 10a-6p. After leaving the museum, make a quick stop on the river to say hello to Prague's celebrated swans. They provide a nice photo op with the Charles Bridge and Old Town in the background. Next, make your way to the spectacular Saint Nicholas Church, one of Central Europe's finest baroque buildings. On the ceiling, Johann Kracker's 1770 Apotheosis of St Nicholas is Europe's largest fresco and it is quite impressive. The building was begun by famed baroque architect Kristof Dientzenhofer; his son Kilian continued the work and Anselmo Lurago finished the job in 1755. Mozart tickled the ivories on the pipe organ in 1787 and was honored with a requiem Mass here on December 14, 1791. Note: the church hosts classical music concerts in the evening. Nearby at Karmelitska 9 is the Museum of the Infant Jesus of Prague. The Church of Our Lady Victorious (kostel Panny Marie Vitezne), built in 1613, has on its central altar a 2ft tall waxwork figure of the baby Jesus brought from Spain in 1628 and known as the Infant Jesus of Prague (Prazske Jezulatko). At the back of the church is a museum, displaying a selection of the frocks used to dress the Infant Jesus. The Infant is said to have protected the city from the plague. Today the statue is visited by a steady stream of pilgrims, especially from Spain and Italy. It was traditional to dress the figure in beautiful robes and over the years various benefactors donated richly embroidered dresses. The Infant's wardrobe now consists of more than 70 costumes donated from all over the world. From one divine being to another - a short distance away on Velkoprevorske namesti is the John Lennon Wall. After his murder on December 8, 1980 - John Lennon became a pacifist hero for many young Czechs behind the Iron Curtain. An image of Lennon was painted on a wall in a secluded square, along with political graffiti and Beatles lyrics. Despite repeated coats of whitewash, the secret police never managed to keep it clean for long and the Lennon Wall became a political focus for Prague youth. Note: a lot of Western pop music was banned by the communists and some Czech musicians were even jailed for playing it. Today the wall is covered with images of Lennon and tourist graffiti. "Imagine all the people living life in peace. You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one" - JWL.

Petrin Hill is one of Prague's largest green spaces. It's great for quiet, tree shaded walks away from the crowds down below. The hill provides commanding views of the city and once upon a time it was draped with vineyards. You can also still see the quarry that provided stone for most of the town's Romanesque and Gothic buildings. In the peaceful Kinsky Garden (Kinskeho zahrada), on the southern side of Petrin, is the 18th century wooden Church of Saint Michael (kostel sv Michala). Take the Petrin Funicular Railway from Ujezd up to the top (it runs every ten minutes). From Petrin, it's an easy walk down to the Strahov Monastery. In 1140 Vladislav II founded the monastery for the Premonstratensian order, a religious order of Canons of the Catholic Church. The present monastery buildings, completed in the 17th and 18th centuries, functioned until the communist government closed them down and imprisoned most of the monks - they returned in 1990 after the wall came down. The main attraction here is the magnificent Strahov Library. It is the largest monastic library in the country, with two spectacular baroque halls dating from the 17th and 18th centuries. You can peek through the open doors, but you can't go into the halls themselves - it was found that fluctuations in humidity caused by visitors' breath was endangering the frescoes. The stunning interior of the Philosophy Hall (Filozoficky sal, 1780) was built to fit around the carved and gilded, floor to ceiling walnut shelving. The feeling of height here is accentuated by a grandiose ceiling fresco, Mankind's Quest for True Wisdom - the figure of Divine Providence is enthroned in the center amid a burst of golden light, while around the edges are figures ranging from Adam and Eve to the Greek philosophers. The room outside the hall contains an 18th century Cabinet of Curiosities, displaying the remains of sea creatures. Another case contains historical items and the library's most prized possession, the Strahov Evangeliary - a 9th century codex in a gem studded 12th century binding. A hallway leads to the older, but even more beautiful Theology Hall (Teologisky sal, 1679). The low, curved ceiling is thickly encrusted in ornate baroque stucco work and decorated with painted cartouches depicting the theme of 'True Wisdom', which was acquired through devotion. When exiting the library be sure to stop in next door to Klasterni Pivovar Strahov. Dominated by two polished copper brewing kettles, this little pub in Strahov Monastery serves up two varieties of its St Norbert beer - dark (tmavy) and amber (polotmavy). It opened in 2000 on the site of a monastic brewery that was in operation from 1628 to 1907.

From the monastery, continue down the hill until you reach the city's most popular attraction - Prague Castle (Prazsky hrad). Looming above the Vltava's left bank, its compact ranks of spires, towers and palaces dominate the city center like a fairy tale fortress. It's the largest ancient castle complex in the world; within its walls lies a fascinating collection of historic buildings, museums and galleries that are home to some of the Czech Republic's greatest artistic and cultural treasures. The castle has always been the seat of Czech monarchs as well as the official residence of the head of state. Its history begins in the 9th century, when Prince Borivoj founded a fortified settlement here. Note: there are two kinds of ticket (each valid for two days), which allow entry to different combinations of sights within the complex. I recommend visiting the Story of Prague Castle Museum, the Old Royal Palace and the totally awesome St Vitus Cathedral. Housed in the Gothic vaults beneath the Old Royal Palace, the Story of Prague Castle is one of the most interesting exhibits in the castle. It traces 1000 years of the castle's history, from the building of the first wooden barricade to the present day. The exhibits include the grave of a 9th century warrior discovered in the castle grounds and replicas of the Bohemian crown jewels (the actual jewels are locked away inside St Vitus Cathedral), including the gold crown of St Wenceslas. If you have a serious interest in Prague Castle then you should begin here as an orientation. The Old Royal Palace is one of the oldest parts of the castle, dating from 1135. It was originally used only by Czech princesses, but from the 13th to the 16th centuries it was the king's own palace. At its heart is the grand Vladislav Hall and the Bohemian Chancellery, scene of the famous Defenestration of Prague in 1618. The Vladislav Hall (Vladislavsky sal) is famed for its beautiful, late Gothic vaulted ceiling designed by Benedikt Rejt. All the presidents of the republic have been sworn in here. A door in the hall's southwestern corner leads to the former offices of the Bohemian Chancellery (Ceske kancelare). On May 23, 1618 - Protestant nobles rebelling against the Bohemian estates and the Habsburg emperor threw two of his counselors out the window. This Second Defenestration of Prague sparked off the Thirty Years' War. Built over a time span of almost 600 years, St Vitus is one of the most richly endowed cathedrals in Central Europe. It is vital to the religious and cultural life of the Czech Republic - housing treasures that range from the 14th century mosaic of the Last Judgement and the tombs of St Wenceslas and Charles IV, to the baroque silver tomb of St John of Nepomuck, the ornate Chapel of St Wenceslas and stunning art nouveau stained glass by Alphonse Mucha. The most beautiful of the cathedral's numerous chapels is Parler's Chapel of St Wenceslas. Its walls are adorned with gilded panels containing polished slabs of semiprecious stones. Wall paintings from the early 16th century depict scenes from the life of the Czech's patron saint, while even older frescoes show scenes from the life of Christ. On the southern side of the chapel a small door (locked with seven locks) hides a staircase leading to the Coronation Chamber, where the Bohemian crown jewels are kept. Conclude your tour of the city by taking a relaxing, one hour boat cruise on the Vltava River or explore on four wheels with the entertaining Prague Old Car Tours - they offer sightseeing with commentary in classic cars.

WHERE TO EAT

Prague has plenty of great places to eat and have a drink or two. It boasts a proud history of serving its nation’s cuisine, including favorites such as beef and pork dumplings, rice and potato side dishes, the classic fried cheese (smazeny syr) and Hungarian influenced meat and vegetable soup (goulash). With so many tasty options, the enchanting Czech capital is sure to please. Begin at the famed Cafe Savoy, located at Vitezna 5 on the left bank of the Vltava River. The Savoy is a beautifully restored belle epoque cafe with a lavish wooden interior. They do an excellent breakfast and the classic Czech cakes are scrumptious - I enjoy cake any time of the day. Do try the Tahitian vanilla cheesecake or the Savoy cake with dark chocolate, cherries and marzipan. Another great spot is Cukrkavalimonada at Lazenska 7, around the corner from the John Lennon Wall in the Lesser Town. This cozy cafe combines minimalist modern styling with Renaissance era painted timber roof beams. The breakfast menu offers savory pancakes, ham and eggs, fresh baked croissants and the hot chocolate is out of this world. They also do fresh juices, including orange, grapefruit and a very refreshing lemonade. Keeping with cake for breakfast - the pistachio cheesecake is dynamite. Kavarna Slavia is located at Narodni trida 1 on the Vltava's right bank. It is the most famous of Prague's old cafes, a cherry wood and onyx shrine to art deco elegance with polished limestone topped tables and large windows overlooking the river. It has been a celebrated literary meeting place since the early 20th century - Franz Kafka hung out here and it was frequented by Vaclav Havel (statesman, writer and dissident) in the 1970s and '80s. The least touristy of Prague's grand cafes, the Kavarna Lucerna is part of an art nouveau shopping arcade designed by the grandfather of the just mentioned ex president Vaclav Havel. Filled with faux marble, ornamental metalwork and glittering crystal lanterns (lucerna is Czech for lantern), this 1920s gem has arched windows overlooking David Cerny's famous sculpture Kun, hanging beneath the glass domed atrium. The Lucerna is found at Vodickova 36 in the New Town.

For lunch, head to Mistral Cafe at Valentinska 11 in the Old Town. Pale stone, bleached birchwood and potted shrubs make for a clean, crisp, modern look, and the clientele of local students clearly appreciate the competitively priced, well prepared food. Go with the fish and chips in crumpled brown paper with lemon and black pepper mayo, and wash it down with a giant glass of Pilsner Urquell - a Czech lager. For some more cheap eats, I always like to sample the local street food in every city I visit. Street food in Prague may not appeal to everyone, but it is available if you need a quick snack before heading off to Prague Castle or exploring the Old Town. Try these options for street food if you're in a hurry or on a budget: trdelnik (chimney cake) - these fluffy, hot, sugar sprinkled rolled pastries are baked before your eyes and sold fresh all over town. This street food is perfect if you have a sweet tooth, like me. Mulled wine is a favorite cold weather drink. Usually made from red wine, mulling spices are used to deepen the flavor of the wine and sugar or honey sweetens the drink. You can order mulled wine at restaurants and bars, but during cold weather, you'll be able to buy a mug of mulled wine from vendors. It is customary for tourists to sip and enjoy mulled wine at Prague's annual Christmas Market while browsing for souvenirs. Sausage carts on Wenceslas Square do a steady business of feeding those on the go throughout the day. Sides include a slice of brown bread and sauerkraut. Hot, filling and easy to take with you, sausages, with a dollop of spicy mustard and ketchup are a favorite street food in Prague, and they pair nicely with a plastic cup full of premium Czech beer. Note: it's rarely mentioned in any books, but Saint Wenceslas is also known as the Sausage King - no relation to Abe Froman. Finally there's the previously mentioned fried cheese (smazeny syr) - these sandwiches, available from Wenceslas Square vendors, are thick slices of cheese, breaded, fried and topped with mayo (or tartar sauce) before being sandwiched into a thick bun. If you're looking to avoid health issues, make your way up above Prague Castle to Restaurace U Veverky at Eliasova 14. This highly rated traditional pub has some of the best tasting and best value lunches in the city and is worth the trek. The setting is classic with a drinking room in the front and two dining rooms in the back. The restaurant has a great local feel with the welcoming smell of grilled onions and beer. Get the roasted pork spread and the sirloin steak tartare, a classic Bohemian dish with delicious bread, garlic and spices. Located at Vodickova 31 in the New Town is the excellent Mysak. It is one of Prague’s best options for specialty coffee, Prague ham and open faced sandwiches served on house made sourdough bread. In addition, traditional Czech cakes and pastries like apple strudel are served at its bakery.

When the dinner bell rings, head to Nejen Bistro at Krizikova 24 in the Karlin district. It is emblematic of the new breed of restaurant that is transforming Karlin into one of the city's hottest neighborhoods. Its quirky interior has won design awards and its kitchen's fancy Josper grill turns out superb steaks, beef ribs and Nejen's signature Black Angus burger with caramelized onions, cheddar cheese, cucumber mayonnaise, tomato and French fries. They have a nice beer and wine selection and the home made fruit Gin & Tonics are splendid. My favorite place in Prague is the outstanding Field, located at U Milosrdnych 12. At Field restaurant, Executive Chef Radek Kasparek focuses on food in its natural form. This Michelin starred eatery emphasizes the raw origins of ingredients, serving modern cuisine that is as simplistic as it is delicious. It features an a la carte menu as well as a ten course tasting menu with wine pairing option. The service is superb and the decor is an art meets agriculture blend and minimalist chic. Note: the restaurant is open every day and reservations are highly recommended. The most popular (and fun) spot in town is Lokal, found at Dlouha 33 in the Old Town. Part of the well known Ambiente restaurant group, this classic Czech beer hall with modern styling has a daily changing menu of traditional Bohemian dishes and smiling, friendly service. Enjoy several glasses of Pilsner Urquell along with the mouthwatering Prague ham with creamy whipped horseradish. Also try the chicken breast schnitzel fried in butter with bread dumplings and be sure to save room for the cheesecake. Note: this place is always busy, mostly with locals. U Mikulase Dacickeho is an honest to goodness, old fashioned wine bar (vinarna) - complete with traditional atmosphere and excellent local cooking. Located at Victora Huga 2, the food here is classic Czech with well prepared roast pork and duck main courses, as well as grilled sausages and goulash. The decor takes you back to the Middle Ages with dark woods and red tablecloths. In addition to the wine list there are a few beers on draft. Note: the restaurant is closed on Saturday and Sunday. Last but certainly not least there is U Modre Kachnicky at Nebovidska 6 in the Lesser Town. A plush 1930s style hunting lodge hidden away on a quiet side street, the 'Blue Duckling' is a pleasantly old fashioned place with quiet, candlelit nooks perfect for a romantic dinner. The menu is heavy on traditional Bohemian duck and game dishes, such as roast duck with walnut stuffing, cabbage pouch and bacon potato dumplings. Also on the menu is the classic specialty Svickova - sirloin steak prepared with vegetables, served with bread dumplings and cranberries. The wine list is extensive and the desserts are delectable.

Prague has a number of cool spots to enjoy a drink. It has some of the best beer on earth, so you can't visit without savoring a glass of pilsner or two. There are more than a few pubs in town and I would like to share some of my favorites. Pivovarsky Klub is located at Krizikova 17 in the Karlin district. This bar has wall to wall shelves lined with more than 200 varieties of bottled beer from all over the world and six guest beers on tap. Rest on a bar stool or head downstairs to the snug cellar and order some of the pub's excellent grub to soak up the beer. U Slovanske Lipy can be found at Tachovske namesti 6 in the neighboring Zizkov district. This unassuming pub is something of a place of pilgrimage for beer lovers. The reason is its range of artisan brews such as those from the Kocour brewery, including their superb Catfish pale ale. Another classic pub is U Zlateho Tygra, located at Husova 17 in the Old Town. Also known as the 'Golden Tiger', it is one of the few Stare Mesto drinking holes that has hung onto its soul - and its reasonably priced pours of Pilsner Urquell, considering its proximity to the Old Town Square. Note: this was the place that Vaclav Havel took Bill Clinton in 1994 to show him a real Czech pub. Prague beer aficionados are constantly debating where the best Pilsner is to be found. However, there’s no doubt that one of the best taps is at U Jelinku. Found at Charvatova 1 in the New Town, this beer hall has been in business since the beginning of the 19th century. It has a matchless atmosphere where time seems to have stood still. Be sure to get the classic snack, the 'talian' - sausage with bread and other delights, to go with your crisp and refreshing Pilsner Urquell. One last pub is Hostinec U Kocoura at Nerudova 2 in the Lesser town. 'The Tomcat' is a long established traditional pub, still enjoying its reputation as a former favorite of the late president Vaclav Havel. It draws a mostly local crowd and has relatively inexpensive beer for this part of town - 35czk or 1.50usd for a glass of Pilsner Urquell. Note: pubs in Prague are now even more enjoyable due to the smoking ban that went into effect in 2017.

If you need a beer break, Prague has some solid cocktail bars. Start at the top notch Hemingway Bar, located at Karoliny Svetle 26. This snug and sophisticated hideaway has dark leather benches, a library like back room, flickering candlelight and polite and professional bartenders. There's a huge range of quality spirits such as Absinthe and rum as well as first class cocktails and champagne. I enjoyed The Revenant - Pernod Absinthe, ginger cordial, kombucha lemongrass, lemon juice and orchid. Note: the bar is open every night and I advise making a reservation, by telephone only. Around the corner at Liliova 3 is the sister Cash Only Bar. This cocktail bar with a relaxed atmosphere offers signature drinks as well as forgotten and contemporary classics. An added bonus is they also serve their own special hot dogs in home made buns with in house relish and high quality sausage. Every night the bar is filled with the aroma of freshly made popcorn. Hidden away in the vaulted cellars of Hotel U Prince in one of Prague's most crowded corners (opposite the Astronomical Clock on the Old Town Square), the rad Black Angel's Bar pulls off the trick of seeming like a secret discovery. A cozy cluster of mirrored bars, leather couches and crystal lamps recreates the atmosphere of a 1930s cocktail bar. I enjoyed the From Dust Till Foam - gin, elderberries, lemon, Aperol and fresh grapefruit juice. Note: the bar is open every night from 5p-3a and reservations are recommended. The Blue Light is at Josefska 1 in the Lesser Town. It's a dark and atmospheric hang out where you can sip a caipirinha or cranberry and vodka as you cast an eye over the vintage jazz posters, records, old photographs and graffiti that adorn the walls. The background jazz music is recorded rather than live and never overpowers your conversation. Note: the bar is open every night from 6p-3a. If you want live jazz, head up the street to U Maleho Glena at Karmelitska 23. 'Little Glen' is a well established bar where hard swinging local jazz or blues bands play every night in the compact and steamy stone vaulted cellar. Note: most sessions start at 9p and it's a small space, so get there early if you want to hear the band. If you fancy classical music, take in a performance of Czech composer Antonin Dvorak's works in any of the many lovely churches throughout town.

WHERE TO STAY

Prague has plenty of places to call home during your stay and there are 2 that I especially enjoyed. Both are in prime locations that provide exceptional service, modern amenities and comfort. The first is Aria Hotel, located at Trziste 9 in the Lesser Town. Overlooking the beautiful 18th century garden of Vrtbovska zahrada, this stylish boutique hotel in a former theater is a short walk from Saint Nicholas Church and the Charles Bridge. Elegant, music themed rooms offer free WiFi, iPads and smart TVs as well as minibars, CD and DVD players. Other amenities include a fine dining restaurant, Coda as well as 2 lounges; 1 with a fireplace, another with a piano and glass ceiling. Daily breakfast is on the house and the concierge duo are a delight.

A second option is Augustine Hotel, also located in the Lesser Town at Letenska 12. Set in a group of buildings, including a former monastery, dating from 1284, this genteel hotel is just below Prague Castle and a short stroll from the Old Town. Featuring period details such as wood beams, the refined rooms provide complimentary WiFi, flat screen TVs, minibars, plus heated bathroom floors and some rooms have castle views. Additional benefits include an excellent restaurant, Augustine along with a posh bar, chic spa and the adjacent Wallenstein Garden.

Prague is full of history, charm, beauty and fantastic food. It treated me very well and I look forward to returning.

© 2016 Me and My Shadow Travel