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The Lowdown | Prague

Spires for Miles Words by Evan Rail

Where Prague, Czech Republic

Quick Quote $800 per day including hotels

Best Season Spring

Thinking of Romance, history, beer

Best Portrayed in Amadeus and The Unbearable Lightness of Being

A generation after the Velvet Revolution, Prague is absolutely blossoming, with its appealingly romantic but previously somewhat rundown nature infused with new sophistication. Home to some of the best restaurants and nightlife in the former Eastern Bloc, the Czech capital boasts dozens of newly cleaned-up parks, riverside promenades and charismatic neighborhood squares, inviting days of exploration on foot. It's also home to one of the best public transportation systems in Europe, meaning visitors can move from historic sites like Prague Castle, Charles Bridge, and the Old Jewish Cemetery to surprisingly cutting-edge restaurants, cafés and fashion boutiques quickly and with ease.

Where to Stay

The Emblem Hotel, in the heart of Old Town, filled a 1908-era apartment building with 59 rooms styled by Canadian designer Alison McNeil. The rooftop Library Suite boasts a stunning standalone copper bathtub, as well as a “hidden” bookshelf door. The Malá Strana district tucked below Prague Castle is Prague’s most romantic neighborhood—and the Hotel Three Storks are Malá Strana’s most romantic lodgings. The on-site Waldštejnská Hospoda, a popular pub and restaurant, originally opened here in 1915. The Hotel Cosmopolitain offers easy access to the boutiques and restaurants of the trendy Petrská district in New Town, with the many attractions of Old Town just 5 minutes away by foot. The in-house restaurant, Next Door, is run by celebrity chef Zdenk Pohlreich, serving high-level reinterpretations of hearty Czech classics.

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Words by Evan Rail Prague Editor

Evan Rail moved to Prague in the year 2000, taking a job as the weekly restaurant critic at the city’s now-defunct English-language newspaper until 2006. His work has appeared in The Best Food Writing, The New York Times Book of Wine, and other anthologies. He splits his time between central Prague and the beautiful forests of South Bohemia.

Where to Eat

Prague has come a long way from the days of boiled cabbage and goulash. The first city in the former Eastern Bloc to earn a Michelin star, Prague is home to a dynamic food scene, led by a cast of international restaurateurs and a new generation of well-traveled locals.

“Prague is a gawker’s paradise. Remember to pack some painkillers, because you’ll probably get a kink in your neck from staring up at all of the beautiful arches, doorways, statues and façades.”

A favorite of visiting actors, Chef Paul Day’s Sansho gracefully bridges British and Asian influences, serving dishes like soft-shell crab sliders and pork belly with watermelon and hoisin. Nearby, Chef Jan Puncochár’s elegant Grand Cru pairs Anjou pigeon, foie gras ice cream and other French fare with a list of over 1,200 great wines. At Prague Castle, try the new Kuchyn for chicken in paprika-cream sauce, beef with forest mushrooms and other slow-braised Czech classics. Even districts like Smichov are getting in on the act with Taro, whose 7-course tasting menus take modern Vietnamese to a new level. A spacious, casual atmosphere makes Nordic-inspired Eska feel relaxed and comfortable, through the kitchen works with cutting-edge techniques, unusual house fermentations and often foraged ingredients. In Old Town, Chef Radek Kaspárek’s Field dresses traditional local favorites like lamb, trout and heritage vegetables with such unusual flavorings as lemon balm and tonka beans, creating to-die-for tasting menus with accompanying, multi-course wine pairings.

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What to Do

The former Jewish district of Josefov houses a multi-site museum spread among four synagogues, the must-see Old Jewish Cemetery, and its traditional charnel house. Not included but equally important is the Old-New Synagogue nearby, home to the legendary Prague Golem. The recently reopened Museum of Decorative Arts houses a glorious collection of historic artifacts — antique clothing, posters, clocks, housewares and other stylish wares — in a beautiful Neo-Renaissance building dating from 1899. Right in the heart of bustling Old Town, the Convent of Saint Agnes of Bohemia offers visitors an often-overlooked spot of calm and quiet in its well-tended gardens, as well as the country’s best museum of Medieval art. Overlooking the Vltava river and facing Prague Castle, the ancient fortress at Vysehrad boasts spectacular views, an 11th-century Romanesque rotunda and a Père-Lachaise-style cemetery hosting the ornate tombs of Czech cultural luminaries, including Antonín Dvorák, Bedrich Smetana and Alphons Mucha.

An emerging arts district

Long dismissed as a forgettable industrial zone, the old Prague neighborhood of Holesovice is emerging as the new Art District 7, thanks to its excellent DOX Centre for Contemporary Art, as well as a blossoming arts and design scene. Get lunch at a neighborhood fave like Phill’s Corner, which doubles as a design shop selling unique housewares by local makers, then stop by Továrna, a former factory which now houses artists’ studios. Fill in your afternoon at some of the area’s many small galleries, like Galerie Petr Novotny or Cursor Gallery, before heading to the Trade Fair Palace, the Czech National Gallery’s main collection of modern art, housed in a remarkable Functionalist building from 1928. In the evening, follow the locals for rotisserie chicken, coleslaw and porchetta at the artsy new bistro Pipca, then get a nightcap at an underground dive like Cobra, which serves cocktails and craft brews in a dim, decadent lounge.

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