The jewel in the crown of the Czech Republic, Prague has so much more to offer than beer and chocolate.
The City of Stories
Prague is a city for history buffs and lovers of fairy tales. Every single street carries its own mishmash of fact and fiction, history and myth, and each monument tells its own incredulous tale. The Astronomical Clock in the Old Town Square is a prime example; a mindboggling work of engineering dating back to the 1400s, legend has it that its creator was blinded so that he could not duplicate his stunning work, but that he knew his invention so intimately that he was able to disable it by feel alone, and nobody was able to repair it for 100 years.
Or how about the legend of the Golem of Prague; conjured by a Rabbi from riverbank mud to protect Jewish citizens from anti-Semitic violence, the Golem ran rampage all over the city until it was eventually defeated. The clay monster is supposedly still housed in the oldest synagogue in Josefov, the city’s Jewish district, where it can be reassembled if the need ever arises.
If It Ain’t Baroque, Don’t Fix It
Prague is no stranger to drama, and this is reflected in the city’s lavish appearance. The baroque style of architecture is everywhere you turn, from the breath-taking Prague Castle, which overlooks the city from atop a great hill, to the domes and spires of St Nicholas Church, to the statues on the iconic Charles Bridge, built by King Charles IV in the 14th Century. And unlike other cities which spent time under Communism, the grandeur of the city’s many religiously inspired buildings remains intact.
Art & Culture
Looking for an authentic cultural experience during your stay? Then why not take in a marionette show, one of the city’s traditional art forms, where classic stories are re-enacted with puppets. Or if that’s a little too creepy for you, then you could always visit the Black Light Theatre. Created by Jiri Srnec in the 1960s, it has spawned a number of imitators all over Prague, but the original can be found just off Na Príkopē.
And right next to the Black Light Theatre is the Museum of Communism — situated, rather ironically, above a casino. You could actually spend a rather surreal day visiting some of the city’s more diverse exhibits, from the Franz Kafka Museum, dedicated to the life and work of the absurdist author, to the Torture Museum.
Prague also plays host to jazz and classical music festivals all through the summer months, in addition to a Shakespeare festival, with live performances in both English and Czech.
In the Czech Republic, lunch is the biggest meal of the day, and dinner is just something you grab quickly while out for drinks with friends after work. This means plenty of restaurants offer a reasonable two or three-course lunch deal. A rustic soup is the traditional starter, followed by a hearty meat dish served with dumplings, and finally dessert and strong coffee.
That isn’t to say there aren’t plenty of top-notch restaurants catering to the evening crowd. Restaurant V Zátiší in Old Town (near the Charles Bridge) serves up modern twists on both Czech and Indian flavours. Bílá Kráva, also known as The White Cow, is a specialist steak restaurant on Rubešova Steet, not far from Wenceslas Square, and its signature dessert is an absolute must-have; homemade ice cream, prepared instantly at your table using liquid nitrogen!
And vegetarians needn’t worry. Meat-free dishes might be sparser on the menu, but you’ll still find something perfectly tasty — the best of which is deep fried cheese, served with potatoes and tartar sauce. A slightly odd-sounding combination, yes, but a local speciality, and positively delicious. Fortunately, there are plenty of scenic streets for you to walk off the heavy meals during your stay.
The Czech Republic is renowned for its beers, such as Pilsner (brewed in the city of Plzeň) and Budweiser Budwar (from Budweis). In fact, Czech beers are so good that the country has the highest beer consumption per capita in the world! Typically light and golden in colour, a Czech beer is served with plenty of foam, as it’s believed to aid digestion — nothing like a pint the in UK.
But if pale lager isn’t your thing, then don’t worry; Czech wine, while less famous, is equally quaffable. Try sampling a Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon from Moravia with dinner. You won’t regret it.
There are hotels to suit every budget in Prague. If you’re feeling flush, why not stay at the ARIA, the central Art Deco hotel where director Wes Anderson once met a loyal concierge who inspired him to create Ralph Fiennes’ character in The Grand Budapest Hotel. Further out towards the airport is the Vienna House Diplomat, which offers “the best breakfast in Prague”. It’s also possible to visit the city on a shoestring, with plenty of hostels dotted throughout Old Town.
Czech Airlines is currently putting on more frequent, affordable flights to Prague from Birmingham International Airport over the summer. The flight takes just under two hours, and when you land, the city centre is only a 20-minute taxi ride away.