Geographically, politically, and culturally at the heart of Europe for most of its 1,000-year history, Prague is the capital of the Czech Republic and a city of unbelievable beauty. Its skyline, a sea of red tiled rooftops interrupted by slender gothic spires and green copper domes, is bewitching enough. But look beyond the picturesque scenes and you’ll find an increasingly cosmopolitan city packed with stylish restaurants, lively nightspots and any number of places where you can quaff what may be the world’s best beer.
Prague’s historical centre is compact and can be explored in a day. Unmissable sights include Prague Castle, the Old Town Square with its medieval astronomical clock, Wenceslas Square, and the historic Charles Bridge that spans the Vltava river. New Prague is well represented by the DOX Centre for Contemporary Art (www.dox.cz), housed in a former industrial complex. The Veletržní Palace (www.ngprague.cz/en/5/sekce/veletrzni-palace) exhibits Czech and international art from the past three centuries.
Not content to be merely a beer connoisseur's paradise (but yes, it’s still that too – even the city’s fast-food outlets offer Czech pilsner on draught), Prague has upped its culinary game and shaken off its meat and dumplings image. At centrally located V Zátiší (www.vzatisi.cz) you can start with sashimi, move on to curry, and finish with cheesecake. For weekend brunch with a view, try Zlatá Praha (www.zlatapraharestaurant.cz), towering high over the city. Francouzská Restaurace (www.francouzskarestaurace.cz) is a treat for all the senses, offering creative tasting menus in a stunning art nouveau dining room.
Ideal for those who like to drink, dine and dance without moving much, SaSaZu (www.sasazu.com) is a pan-Asian restaurant with a nightclub attached. It’s located in the Holešovice district, a former industrial neighbourhood turned hip enclave where new venues open all the time. After most places have closed down, the party continues at Le Clan (www.leclan.cz), which lists its opening hours as “2am to ?”.
A great way to combine sightseeing with shopping is to stroll through the Havelske Trziste daily market which lines the route from Wenceslas Square to the Old Town Square. Souvenir hunters will enjoy perusing the ceramics and the handcrafted wooden toys. To get your (preferably steady) hands on exquisite chandeliers and porcelain dinnerware, visit Celetná Crystal (www.czechcrystal.com). The Museum of Czech Cubism (www.ngprague.cz) at the House of the Black Madonna has a shop selling reproduction cubist furniture.
Most of Prague’s best festivals and events celebrate Czech culture and tradition. Even if you can do no more than hum the second movement of Dvořák’s New World Symphony, you’ll probably enjoy the classical music festival thrown in his honour each September at the Rudolfinum concert hall (www.dvorakovapraha.cz). If you’re in Prague on 30 April head for Petřín Hill, where Pálení čarodźjnic or Witches’ Night is celebrated: it’s a traditional event combining the dressing-up aspect of Halloween with the burning-stuffed-effigies aspect of Bonfire Night. Not offbeat enough? Then try one of the many shows across town that make up June’s Prague Fringe festival (www.praguefringe.com).