First published on BelfastTimes.com April 2015
Prague is a beautiful city steeped in history and culture. On my third and recent visit I asked my friend Magdalena, a native of the city, to show me some of the “real” Prague as well as discovering something new on the traditional tourist trail. What resulted was a perfect mix of the historic sights and an insight into the local art, music and food culture of the city.
To get my sightseeing fix I joined the masses in Wenceslas Square to marvel at the famous 15th Century Astronomical Clock on the side of the Old Town Hall. On the hour you’ll see the procession of the twelve apostle figurines and for those with a head for heights for 120Kč (around £3) you can climb the tower for a panoramic view of the city.
One thing I enjoy doing at home or away is to walk around a tranquil cemetery and ponder over the fascinating stories that lie beneath my feet. The Old Jewish Cemetery offers a particularly poignant tour, with 1000s of tombstones crammed into the graveyard. With the deceased buried in as many as 12 layers it’s no surprise that up to 100,000 Jews are interred here. The ticket price of 300Kč (about £8) includes a visit to several synagogues in the area, in the vicinity you’ll also find KAFKA Snob Food a relaxed friendly place with a beautiful interior, perfect for a coffee and slice of cake.
No trip to Prague would be complete without a stroll along the famous Charles Bridge. You’ll find craft stalls, artists and buskers on the cobbled walkway over the river Vltava. Once across take a right down U lužického semináře, stop off at Bakehouse for some tasty takeaway treats and follow the wall to the gated archway of Vojanovy Sady, these enclosed gardens offer blissful respite from the bustling streets of tourists of Malá Strana.
When you’ve refuelled with your picnic take the uphill pilgrimage to the 9th century castle. Here you can explore the Gothic architecture of St Vitus Cathedral, the grandeur of the Old Royal Palace and the colourful houses of Golden Lane. My first visit here had me shooting a medieval crossbow, it’s not as easy as it seems although I did manage to hit the target, just not my own!
The city’s resplendent beauty is best discovered at night when the streets are at their quietest and buildings are illuminated to show off their full glory. Meandering the cobbled streets with the imposing architecture of the Old Town will make you stop in your path to study the myriad of Gothic, Renaissance, Romanesque and Art Nouveau structures to name but a few.
To quench your thirst make your way to the Golden Tiger (U Zlatého Tygra) on Husova street for a taste of what the Czechs do best – beer. Here you’ll find the best pilsner beer in Prague, locals queue every day from 3pm so don’t expect a seat but take a spot at the bar and take in all the commotion. For a touch of sophistication pull up a barstool in Tretter’s on v kolkovně and order a speciality cocktail, made using quality ingredients their cocktails demand a price similar to what you would pay in Belfast. The New York style bar has a touch of the 1920s jazz era with the Art Deco imagery and waiters in white jackets unfortunately they haven’t extended the theme to the music.
There is a huge art scene in Prague with Contemporary Art taking the forefront. Most nights you’ll find Private Viewings – open invites to new exhibitions – not only is this the one time admission to the galleries are free but they’ll also have champagne, the odd canapé and maybe a shot of Slivovitz on offer. We popped into Leica Gallery Prague for the fascinating exhibition from two important figures of the Czech arts scene, Staša Fleischmannová and Olga Housková. The twins, now in their 96th year lived in a time of two totalitarian regimes, their work includes photography and paintings from their post war lives. Magdalena who curated the current Unreal exhibition in Gallerie GUD (Art Gallery for Children) gave me my own after hours private viewing of the gallery which includes works from prominent Czech artists including Karel Štědrý and Petr Pisarik.
The local food scene is an exciting one. Café Louvre on Národní offers up authentic Czech cuisine in its historic high-ceilinged room, the goulash served up with gnocchi is delicious. For hip eateries Dlouha is the street to visit. For meat lovers it is impossible to walk past Naše Maso especially if you like a cow almost fresh from the field. While the butcher busies himself in the back the staff out front prepare the fresh cuts for the masses. The steak tartare here is a must although the juicy hamburger was just too tantalising to pass up. A náš tatarák and náš hamburger will set you back £7 and dogs eat for free – bargain!
A couple of doors down is the fish equivalent – a fishmongers with delectable oysters to tempt you inside. We, however, opted for the delights of Blue Fjord further up the street. Another eatery with your food for you to pick on one side and tables on the other. Here the fish bouillabaisse is to die for and the battered fish is the lightest, freshest fish I have ever tasted. Possibly better than our own at home although our hand cut fried chips are hard to beat! Don’t be put off by the limited space if there’s no free table the lovely guys will bring your food to the café come grocery store next door.
It wouldn’t be a night on the town without finding a gig to attend. We met up with Radomir who took us to Blues Sklep, his friend, Marketa Bednarova, was singing with a new band, and boy did she blow us away with her powerful rendition of God Bless the Child and other blues favourites. Blues Sklep has a line up each night of blues, jazz or folk. Well worth a visit. If it’s a dance you’re after James Dean offers the cheesy packed out club experience downstairs, upstairs is a little tamer. To club like the locals check out Roxy, a gallery with a bar, or the tardis of Klubovna 2.Patro and party with the coolest djs in town, both on Dlouha street.
It was a joy to discover the vibrant art and music scene in Prague all while enjoying great food, great atmosphere in the bars and clubs and great company. By immersing myself into the Czech culture (with the help of Magdalena) I felt I really connected with the city, so much so that Prague will always hold a very special place in my heart. I cannot wait to return.
Getting around is easy, the city is walkable but hop on the tram, bus or metro from only 24Kč.
You can book flights to Prague direct from Belfast International Airport through Jet2 Airlines.