The Czech Republic lies at the heart of Central Europe and at its center is the beautiful and historic city of Prague. With a population of more than 1.3 million residents, the city is situated on either side of the Vltava River in the middle of Bohemia that is one of the three historic Czech territories; the others being Moravia and Silesia. The city has seven "Chapter Divisions" or districts.
North & Western Suburbs
This is mainly an area of residential buildings and parkland, containing Prague's largest park —
A walk to the west of the park brings the visitor to the
To the south of Stromovka lies
Situated on the hill overlooking Prague, Hradcany is made up of
Covering the area just below Hradcany and bordering the river, Mala Strana is just across
Prague's Jewish Quarter can be reached by a short walk from
Dating back to at least the 13th Century, this area is rich in history. Places to visit include the
Prague's Old Town is centered around
There are several churches of note here including the
This is Prague's main commercial and business district. It is based around Wenceslas Square at the top of which is the
Walking along Legerova or Ke Karlovu (where you will find the
Vysehrad & the Eastern Suburbs
Centered upon the ancient rocky fortress of
Since the Velvet Revolution in late 1989 and the opening up of its borders, the Czech Republic - and Prague in particular - has seen an enormous explosion in tourism resulting in major building and renovation programs to accommodate the influx of leisure and business visitors.
With its luxurious five-star hotels, one-room apartments in private houses, country houses and converted castles, budget accommodation and botels, Prague can now begin to rank itself as one of the best cities for people to visit with accommodation available to suit a wide variety of tastes and budgets. With the great increase in the number of rooms available, there is now accommodation to be had at any time of the year - even at the last minute (although, as always, it is advisable to book in advance).
North & Western Suburbs
The North and Western suburbs of Prague are the place to go if you want to be able to explore the bustling, main part of the city by day but return to a quiet neighborhood at night. Not to worry however, despite being a little ways off the beaten tourist track, these areas are accessible by public transportation to the center. One option for those looking for a fancy, quiet and relaxing accommodation can try Crowne Plaza Prague, where you will find all the comforts of home. The Hotel Wienna is another comfortable, quiet option offering horseback riding and tennis, that won't be quite so hard on your wallet. Another affordable, no frills option is the Hotel Pyramida, just a short distance from Castle Hill. For a more down home, rustic feeling, Pension Villa Maria will make you feel right at home. They also organize free airport and train station pick-ups along with day trips out of the city.
One of the oldest districts of Prague, Hradcany is home to Prague Castle and with its cobblestone streets is steeped in history, charm and things to do. To get the real historical feel of the area, the Hotel U Krale Karla is a great choice. Located in a former Benedictine structure, this building has been around since before the 17th Century. The Grand Hotel Evropa is another landmark hotel, situated in a beautiful building with surprisingly affordable prices, but no shortage of charm. For a more unusual type of lodging, try the Albatros Botel, a hotel on a boat with comfortable, clean rooms, you can't get a better river view anywhere. For a more luxurious experience, the InterContinental Praha can provide you with mountains of relaxation in their swimming pool, solarium and sauna, not to mention any of the numerous services they provide to their guests. Even more exclusive is the boutique Hotel Savoy, where the stars stay in Prague. Fear not budget travelers, not all accommodations in this district are pricy landmarks, for the budget backpacker, the Old Prague Hostel is a great place to stay, with a great location and extremely affordable prices.
Mala Strana is also known as the "Lesser Side" and is another of Prague's oldest districts, situated across the Charles Bridge below Prague Castle, it is home to many foreign embassies. Incredibly close to all the action of Prague's center, but mostly removed from the hoards of tourists, Mala Strana is a great area to stay in. Common in Mala Strana are Pensions like Pension Dientzenhofer, a small, comfortable guest house located in a 16th-century building, named for being the birthplace of Kilian Ignaz Dientzenhofer, a well known Czech architect of the time. Hotel Hoffmeister is on a slightly larger scale than the small pensions, and fits in perfectly with the grand buildings of the district. It also boasts a good restaurant with great wines. Hotel Pod Vezi is a great place to experience "magical Prague," quiet, cozy and quaint on the inside, but with tons of activity as soon as you step out the front door. Hotel U Trí Pštrosu is another hotel with a history. It was originally the first coffee house in all of Bohemia, and nowadays is an elegant, fanciful accommodation.
The old Jewish Ghetto, Josefov is another district ripe with history and culture, along with wonderfully medieval narrow, winding cobblestone streets. Josefov and the surrounding areas is a good, interesting central location. Hotel Maximilian is a quiet hotel close to Josefov, as well as easily accessible to the rest of the city's major sights. Special features of the Maximilian include a Thai Massage studio and a floating pool. Casa Marcello is another nearby option, tucked behind a convent and featuring a Mediterranean feel, it is another quiet, relaxing option. Hotel Josef is another hotel with modern amenities in ancient surroundings, including a courtyard where you can enjoy your breakfast from the restaurant.
Vysehrad & the Eastern Suburbs
Located a little farther from the center, Vysehrad, the Eastern Suburbs and the surrounding areas, such as Zizkov and Vinohrady are a good option for those wishing to be slightly more removed from the big, crowded city atmosphere. Hotel U Tri Korunek, located in the Zizkov area is very popular with tour groups, and is situated in an area with an abundance of nightlife, so you won't be bored a little ways from the city center. Dorint Don Giovanni is an easy ten minutes by metro from the center, and features luxurious artwork and fountains as well as well equipped business facilities. Standard Hotel Prague, is very tourist oriented, arranging tours and providing information on the city and local culture, and also features wonderful gardens which are a particularly nice place to spend time in the summer. Pension Brezina, in the Vinohrady area is just a short trip from major attractions and features three different types of newly redone rooms. Another Vinohrady pension is Pension Holiday Home, quiet and comfortable within walking distance from the central sights of Prague.
Prague also has a number of recognized camping sites and although these tend to be situated outside the city, they have the advantage of being extremely cheap and are usually clean and well looked after. The location of these sites is no real disadvantage as public transport is always available and it is cheap and fast to get anywhere in Prague.
Corresponding with the increase in the number of rooms available, a number of accommodation agencies have been established: some are located at the airport and the main railway station, Hlavni Nadrazi. The largest travel bureau in the Czech Republic is Cedok (formerly the state travel agency). It offers accommodation at all prices and last-minute bookings can be made at their offices. At the airport, Cedok can be found at the arrival hall, and their main office in Prague is at Na Prikope at the bottom right of Wenceslas Square.
Entertainment in Prague is extremely varied and still comparatively cheap compared to other European capitals. From nightclubs and discos to rock concerts, classical and traditional Czech music venues, dance halls, theaters and cinemas galore - whatever the visitor requires, there is plenty of it in Prague.
The Czech Republic has a massive cultural heritage and this is reflected in the number of halls, theaters and other venues used for concerts, recitals, opera, ballet, plays and other events. Prague's main theater is the National Theatre, built in the late 19th Century. Opera and ballet are performed here as well.
For centuries the Czechs have been renowned for their ingenuity and originality, which again is reflected in the number of specialized theater groups and theatrical displays which are around. Perhaps the most famous of these are the Black Light Theatre, the National Marionette Theatre and the Image Theatre as well as the magic lantern shows at the Nova Scena (an extension to the National). It must be said that some of these productions are blatantly aimed at the tourist market but nevertheless they provide an insight into the traditions of Czech mime and puppet theater.
There are several theaters (some with productions in English) that put on plays by the most famous of playwrights from Shakespeare to Vaclav Havel – the former Czech President. Even if a play is in Czech, several theaters now have translation facilities available - but it is wise to check prior to booking.
At the Stavovske Divaldo (Theatre of the Estates) and the Statni Opera Praha (State Opera House) you can catch Opera and ballet performances. There are regular classical concerts and recitals held in a variety of venues from the National Museum and Smetana Hall (Smetanova Sín) of the Municipal House, to the Dvorak Hall of the Rudolfinum and the halls of the Liechtenstein Palace.
Churches also play a prominent role in bringing music to the people with frequent recitals at lunchtime and in the evenings. The Prague Spring Music Festival commences around May 12 (the anniversary of Smetana's death) each year and lasts for some three weeks, attracting top artists from all over the world.
The Czechs have a reputation for a love of jazz, and there are several excellent jazz clubs in the area. The most famous but perhaps not the best is the Reduta on Narodni where Presidents Havel and Clinton once performed. It is advisable to book ahead, particularly if a popular musician is playing. During the summer months, a number of jazz bands can be found strolling the city's streets and squares, particularly around Charles Bridge and Old Town Square.
The Czech film industry is thriving, with many Western films now being shot in the Czech Republic (Mission Impossible was shot in Prague). There is also a huge number of cinemas (kino) at which all types of film are shown. Most western films are shown in Czech with English subtitles. Films are advertised with large posters displayed on any available wall and outside the cinema itself will be a detailed listing of all films being shown in Prague cinemas.
Prague has a vibrant nightlife with many clubs and dance halls both in its center and in the suburbs. It has now become a regular spot on the pop/rock concert circuit, with most major artists having performed in Prague at one time or another. The area around Wenceslas Square is the hub of club entertainment including places like the extremely popular Lucerna on Vodickova.
Over the last few years there has been an increase in the number of casinos in Prague, although the visitor must be wary that some casinos can also mean arcades containing one-armed bandits, especially in the center of Prague. For a casino in the true sense of the word, where one can play roulette and card games, there are listings in most newspapers and other guides. Several hotels have casinos including the Hilton Atrium, the Ambassador and the Jalta.
The press provides regular and up-to-date listings of all concerts and theater productions: the Prague Post (the main English language newspaper in Prague), has an excellent section each week devoted to entertainment listings. In addition, there are a number of weekly guides which also provide information. There are several specialized ticket agencies where you can obtain tickets for all shows and at most three-star hotels and upwards, tickets can be bought from reception.
The growing number of visitors to Prague and the widespread availability of accommodation since 1989 has led to an increase in the number of restaurants, together with a great improvement in hygiene standards. The influx of people of other nationalities coming to live in Prague has had an impact on the nature of the cuisine, which has become much more cosmopolitan.
While restaurants up to the early 1990's were predominantly Czech - both in terms of food and decor - new restaurants have been refurbished and the standard of service has improved. There are restaurants in the city centre that only a limited number of Czechs can afford to visit, so the cuisine tends to be mainly either French or international, catering predominantly to European or American tourists and business people. There are however, innumerable restaurants catering to those on a more modest budget, and these tend to attract the Czech business and professional classes. These offer both Czech and international food of the highest quality.
North & Western Suburbs
These farther out suburb areas of the city still offer everything you would expect to find in more crowded areas, but with a neighborhood feel. For Italian food that will please the whole family, try the incredibly popular Pizzeria Grosseto , considered by many to be the best in the whole city. For a more local flavor, traditional Czech eateries abound in this area, as in the rest of the city. U Kavalira is a friendly Czech restaurant, specializing in chicken and pork dishes, with a great atmosphere. Kavarna Kabinet is an artsy, friendly neighborhood cafe and bar, with a good value. For something a little more upscale that digs a little deeper into your wallet, Le Bistrot de Marlene is a quaint little traditional French restaurant near the river that may be a nice break from traditional Czech fare.
This neighborhood, slightly removed from Old Town and touristy centers boasts a number of high quality, and high cost restaurants. Restaurant ADA is popular with Parliament members and stars, and features French and international cuisine. Likewise, Restaurant Hradcany has been voted one of the best restaurants in Prague, basing its changing local and international menu on fresh, seasonal ingredients. Also nearby Hradcany are a number of cheaper, more casual options such as Cantina, for those craving something a little spicier and more exotic than the Czech food you may have had enough of. Also nearby is JJ Murphy's, another departure from traditional fare, but with some of the best burgers in Prague.
This elegant part of town definitely boasts its fair share equally elegant eateries such as David Restaurant, specializing in game dishes. U Patrona has been named one of the most romantic in the city, with a five course menu you won't soon forget. Also quite common here, as in other parts of the city as well, are hotel restaurants being quite noteworthy, like U Tri Pstrosu, a historical restaurant in a hotel boasting traditional Czech dishes such as Goulash with Dumplings. Another popular restaurant located inside a hotel is Essensia inside the Mandarin Oriental, which provides its guests with fresh, refined Asian and international food. Restaurace Pálffy Palác serves up French cuisine inside a baroque palace, complete with rooftop terrace for warmer months. Hergetova Cihelna provides stunning views to go along with their elegant international menu.
Vysehrad & the Eastern Suburbs
These suburban areas of town have no shortage of variety when it comes to the food offerings. For traditional Czech meals, U Sadlu II, specializing in all kinds of game as well as other traditional Czech specialties. For something a little more on the lighter side, venture over to Knihomola for a good selection of sandwiches and salads, along with the live entertainment Wednesdays through Sundays. For great Italian food, Crazy Daisy serves up homemade pastas along with their full bar. The cuisine doesn't stop with Europe, however, as there are more exotic options available as well. Yang Zi Jiang in the Zizkov area dishes out typical Chinese fare, along with some more adventurous selections. Also in Zizkov is Mailsi, an excellent Pakistani eatery specializing in lamb dishes.
The Czech Republic has been producing some of the best beers in the world for centuries - in fact it has the highest rate of beer consumption (per capita) in the world. It was in Plzen that the first bottom-fermented beer was introduced in 1842, (hence pils) and production still continues there with Pilsner Urquell - the most famous brand - (For brewery tours, check out Pilsner Urquell and Gambrinus lager). The other main production centre is Ceske Budejovice in South Bohemia where Budvar is produced. Until recently, most pubs brewed their own beers but now the larger breweries have taken over - Western companies such as Bass have moved into the Czech Republic in a big way.
Wines from South Moravia and Melnik are the best of many produced in the Republic, but are still generally considered inferior to the best of the French and German wines. Spirits are readily available, but should you have stomach problems, try Becherovka, a herbal spirit from the Karlovy Vary area.