When you tell people that you're going to Prague these days, there's always some naysayer who'll tell you that it's too touristy. Sure, holidaymakers flock to the Czech capital in their millions each year, drawn by an alluring combination of improbable beauty and eminent affordability. The good news is that Prague rewards the inquisitive, and if you venture off the tourist trail even slightly, it becomes like one of those old Choose Your Own Adventure books. Whether you want cool and cosmopolitan, dark and decadent, or magic and melancholy, this hallowed, haunted city has it all.
Prague Castle (Pražský Hrad)
Usually visitor's first stop when hitting the sights, the immense castle compound dominates the surrounding Hradčany district, topped by the soaring spires of St Vitus Cathedral. There's plenty to see if you like wandering around state rooms. The more casual visitor will enjoy the Lilliputian alchemist's houses of Golden Lane, getting a closer look at the cathedral's scary Gothic facade, and trying to make the Castle guards laugh. Impressive, although in truth the best view is from the other bank of the Vltava, especially when the castle is lit up like a UFO hovering over the city.
Žižkov Televison Tower
Hogging the skyline on the other side of central Prague is the bizarre Žižkovský vysílač, a true masterpiece of Communist era hideousness. The viewing deck gives a superb panorama of the city, made even better because you can't see the TV tower from it. Easily one of the city's ugliest buildings, and thereby one of its most interesting, made especially surreal by the creepy black baby statues crawling up and down it. Avoid while under the influence of drugs!
Old Town Square
Staroměstské náměstí is the heart of the old city, a wonderful jumble of architectural styles watched over by the daunting twin spires of Tyn Church. The square is perhaps the most breathtaking of Prague's public spaces, and certainly the most touristy. Tour groups cluster around the Old Town Hall's astronomical clock, waiting for it to do its party piece every hour - which frankly, doesn't amount to much. The square is lined by overpriced cafes and restaurants. It's worth stumping up the price of a beer or coffee to take in the atmosphere, but unless you're loaded, eat elsewhere.
Charles Bridge (Karlův most)
Charles Bridge has spanned the Vltava for well over six hundred years, surviving floods, battles and hordes of sightseers traipsing across it every day. The popularity creates a carnival atmosphere, with entertainers and musicians competing with the city's stunning riverscape for passerby's attention. In the summer it can be shoulder to shoulder, so if you can handle a very late night or very early morning, visit at sunrise. You'll have the bridge almost to yourself and seeing the Golden City awake in purple dawnlight is a magical moment.
If the Old Town Square represents the Prague of history and legend, Wenceslas Square is pulsing heart of a go-getting new city eager to catch up with the West. More of a wide boulevard almost half a mile long, gently sloping up towards the grave facade of the National Museum and the elegant equestrian statue of St Wenceslas.
Also check out: Strahov Monastery, where you can peek through the doorway of one of the most extraordinary libraries in the world. The Jewish Cemetery, where you can literally feel layers of history beneath your feet - in the days of the Jewish Ghetto, restricted space meant residents buried their loved ones several deep. Municipal House, an ostentatious riot of Art Nouveau excess, standing in sharp contrast to the blackened Gothic Powder Gate next to it.
Eating & Drinking
Hergetova Cihelna (Cihelna 2b, Prague 1)
If you feel like splashing out a bit, Hergetova Cihelna represents one of the best value swanky options in the city. Stylish, buzzy and relaxed, it serves expertly crafted, top-end nosh that you won't be afraid to eat, and the view of Charles Bridge from the terrace is something to cherish. Overall, a dining experience that will nourish you when you're back doing the day job.
Cafe Louvre (Narodni 22, Prague 1)
Effortlessly elegant, with high ceilings and suave waiters, the Louvre makes you feel special from the moment you walk in the door. It creates a sense of luxury and well-being without ever being snooty. Browse the papers while taking breakfast, enjoy lunch with friends, or have a few beers over a game of pool in the billiard room. Constantly awash with the relaxed, cosmopolitan chatter of people enjoying their lives. Class.
PopoCafePetl (Italska 18, Prague 2)
Your humble guide once used to give the far left corner table of this laid back watering hole as his postal address. A little off the beaten path, Popo's is the perfect introduction to Czech drinking culture, with a young, chatty crowd gathering nightly for laughs and lively conversation over several beers.
U Medvidku (Na Perštýně 7, Prague 1)
There are beer halls in Prague that are deeper, smokier and more atmospheric, but few do it as well as At the Little Bears. But then, they've been doing it for over 500 years so they've had plenty of practice. Sup lovingly poured Budvar (the original Budweiser), or sample some treats from their onsite microbrewery. Then soak it all up with some very respectable Czech pub grub.
Chapeau Rouge (Jakubská 647/2, Prague 1)
A cornerstone of post-Revolution debauchery, Chapeau Rouge is still vulgar, vivid and vibrant. An elder statesman of the Prague nightlife scene, it is obnoxiously unwilling to grow old gracefully. Not for the shy or retiring type, it is a go-to place for those hunting booze, chance encounters and mischief.
"Lee is a freelance writer and film critic living in Brno, Czech Republic. When not obsessively watching and writing about movies, he loves football, eating out, cooking and traveling."
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