By Mike Dunphy
With castles, cathedrals, palaces, gardens, and cobbled lanes aplenty, it’s difficult not to have a good day in Prague. However, many visitors never leave the well-trodden route running from Wenceslas Square, through Old Town Square, across the Charles Bridge, and up the hill to Prague Castle. To locals, Prague is so much more. Here’s one perfect day that helps keep you clear of crowds and selfie sticks.
Rise and Shine
Perched high on a bluff over the Vltava River, the seventeenth-century Vyšehrad Fortress is one of the Czech nation’s spiritual homes: Its cemetery is the final resting place for some of the country’s most beloved figures, including composers Antonín Dvořák, Bedřich Smetana, and Alphonse Mucha. Seen from atop the fortress walls, the sunrise reflects beautifully off the river as it burns through the mist and is worth waking early for.
Stretching along the river from Vyšehrad to Šítkov Water Tower, the one-mile pedestrian-only Náplavka riverbank thrives in early evening, when locals come down to unwind and sip cold suds. In the morning, it’s almost all yours, with the city’s famous skyline rising higher on the horizon with each step. Cross Legií Bridge to the west bank for coffee and breakfast on the outdoor patio of Café Bella Vida.
Prague’s fairytale-like Wallenstein Gardens hide behind a tiny door off sidewalk on the way to Malostranská Metro station. Created in the 1620s along with the adjacent palace, this well-manicured baroque garden merits exploration with a frescoed pavilion, an artificial cave with stalactites, a koi pond, a pair of albino peacocks, and couples stealing kisses among the hedges.
The National Gallery of Prague has branches throughout the city, but its largest is north of the river bend in the Holešovice neighborhood, popular with expats and hipsters. The fairly unattractive building from 1928 was the first example of Functionalist architecture in Prague, but its art collection – including works by Picasso, Renoir, van Gogh, and Klimt – never fails to impress.
West of Holešovice along the river, hilltop Letná Park not only provides panoramic views of Prague, but also historical significance: During 1989’s Velvet Revolution, nearly a million people came here to protest the communist regime. Today, Letná remains tranquil under the spread of leafy trees and is home to a popular beer garden. Happily, in Prague, it’s never too early to raise a mug.
Continue on from the park to the Nový Svět neighborhood, where the old city walls still run along the backside of the castle district and cannonballs from the eighteenth-century Prussian siege protrude from buildings. Ring the doorbell of the U Raka Café and step into its gorgeous, tiered garden for perhaps the best apple strudel in town.
Evening through Late Night
The retro-furnished Pilsner Urquell bar and restaurant Kolkovna Olympia may open its doors to a major tourist artery, but its traditional meaty menu features some of the best versions of Czech classics in town, particularly its much-loved roast pork knee with horseradish, mustard, and sauerkraut.
These former royal vineyards of Riegrovy Sady now make up the main playground of the trendy Vinohrady and Žižkov neighborhoods, east of the main train station. Come evening, half the neighborhood can be found strolling the paths, picnicking on the grass, tossing Frisbees to dogs and children, and relaxing at one of two great beer gardens. The western slope is the best spot in Prague to watch the sun go down behind the castle.
Krymská Street in Vršovice has become Prague’s epicenter for all things cool, with cafés, clubs, bars, and boutiques spilling down the cobbled hill. By nightfall, particularly on weekends, many of the revelers take their drinks outside, creating an unofficial block party.
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