Calling an area this central “off the beaten path” can be quite daring, but we think the stretch of the Old Town between the National Theatre and the Charles Bridge can offer a truly authentic, local experience, with many venues frequented more by locals than foreign visitors. You see, most of Prague’s visitors move between the two bridges along the river bank, which surely is beautiful, but sadly bypasses some hidden, shady streets just a block away from the river that can offer some nice culinary and shopping opportunities.
And on top of that, this area, which takes the total of some 15 to 30 minutes to explore at a leisurely pace, is just utterly beautiful, with a nice, quiet atmosphere that can be enjoyed literally seconds from the madness that is the Charles Bridge. Just a few steps away, you have an area where you can fall in love with Prague all over again, have a breather or contemplate the day in some of the nicest cafes and bars in Prague, and talk to the owners of some of the nicest and cleverest shops in the entire city. What follows are our personal tips for the area.
Whenever we travel, we think coffee first, everything else second, so we’ll start with cafes in the area. Tricafe is a proof that you can find solitude and calm in the shadow of one of the most crowded sights in the world. Visiting the cafe is like visiting friends: you get a smile, good coffee and cakes made in-house, some of them gluten free. Their bench outside is one of the best places to enjoy coffee in Prague in the summer we know of. Original Coffee, the specialty coffee offshoot of the local Mama Coffee empire, is a great place to get some work done, or reconnect with home: great coffee, some snacks, and lots of power outlets and strong wifi in a well-lit room. One of their baristas, Zuzana, was the 2014 and the 2015 Czech Cup Taster Champion. Go there if you like your coffee with a side order of hipster. Both of these cafes are so good they made our list of the best cafes in Prague.
If you definitely need a cigarette with your cup of joe, Standard Café is the place to go. A local student hangout, the Standard offers solid coffee, and we actually like their home-made lemonades in the summer, too. Avoid like the plague if you don’t like cigarette smoke. Finally, if hot chocolate is your drink of choice, Choco Cafe in Liliova street is a must. This family-owned place and a local favorite melts a whole chocolate bar in a cup. Don’t get crazy with the flavor combinations: it can be easily overdone. Add the local horicke trubicky rolls to your cup of chocolate for a dose of instant happiness. (Defibrilator sold separately.)
The Karoliny Svetle street that stretches in between the two bridges is laden with many bars but only one is the best one in Prague: Hemingway Bar. Mind you, this is not a hidden gem. Consider yourself lucky if you get a seat without a wait. But the wait will be worth it: Hemingway Bar truly serves some of the best cocktails in town and watching the bartenders at work is pure zen. Hemingway Bar's new sister, Cash Only Bar, is just two blocks away, and compared to it's older brother, it's a streamlined experience with a dozen monthly drinks, plus the usual suspects if you ask for them. A great place for just one or two drinks before you move on to other things. Guess what: no credit cards are accepted at that place. Bonvivant’s cocktail tapas café has gained a loyal following in the fairly short time of its existence, and we can understand why: a simple room dominated by a well-stocked bar with some skillful baristas creating nice drinks. The owner, Eduard, is the kind of character who's fun to watch even if he just does banal things, like slicing tomatoes. And it gets better when he fixes you a drink. He's also a chef (formerly of Home Kitchen) and his tapas and small dishes are solid and creative. This bar can be a place you will be happy to come back to again and again.
If all the sightseeing and walking around the town made you hungry, Red Pif might just be the place to rest your weary legs. This wine bar and restaurant has long been known for a great selection of natural wines and some solid cooking, now from the hands of Stephen Senewiratne, the former sous-chef at Prague Mandarin Oriental's Spices restaurant. This is a place for a hearty meal and a glass of good wine with it. If you want something smaller and reasonably priced, Bistro & shop no 19 might fit the bill. The bistro offers only a soup and two dishes a day, and a few cakes, but what else do you need, really? A selection of designer Czech tableware and aprons by local young designers? Ok then, they have that, too.
The area around town is really one of our favorite destinations for shopping. First, we never forget to visit our friends Martina and Honza at Kurator, a tiny shop that sets up regular curated displays of new works by young local and foreign designers. We love Martina and Honza's style and even let them compile a shopping guide for Prague on this blog, so we definitely recommend a visit: Martina will show you what's new, what's special, and if you're hungry, you might just get a small snack to go.
Jan was a sucker for the fashion pieces sold at Denim Heads even before they relocated to the bigger place at Konviktska street they now occupy. Japanese raw denim, leather notebooks, hand-made boots and cool canvas bags, you name it, they have it. Although they now offer a selection of hand-crafted fashion pieces for women, this is still a place that is rough and edgy with a distinctly masculine smell.
For women who like to make a statement with their clothing, we’d recommend a visit to Leeda, one of prominent local designers who have been on the map for quite some time now. Their pieces are deceptively simple. The fact that Tilda Swindon bought several pieces on her last visit really nicely describes the brand. On top of it, the shop sells a nice, if small, selection of jewelry by young Czech designers. Denisa Nová is another Czech designer with a shop in the area. Her pieces are artsy and full of contracts: tender and loud at the same time. Finally, the recently opened Mi Fashion Label shop with pieces by young Czech designers in Betlemska street confirms the area's position as a must-visit for anyone eyeing a local fashion designer's piece.
Finally, if you want to bring home a souvenir, we have two tips. For a tabletop book, head over to Kavka Art Books bookstore just between Kurator and Leeda. They may not have every book ever printed, but their selection is very well curated, and we could honestly spend a fortune there. For one of the best selection of modern Czech designer jewelry, glass, ceramics and home accessories, head over to the Futurista Universum design shop directly at the Bethlehem square.
Galerie Josefa Fragnera above the Futurista Universum shop is one of the best galleries in town that focuses on modern architecture. Owned by the Czech Architecture Foundation, the management of the gallery is instrumental in bringing new exhibitions about current state of architecture in Prague and elsewhere and its development. If you like to cook, the Laboratorio cooking school by Riccardo Luque, the owner of the Aromi/La Finestra empire, is the place to wind down and prepare some dishes with some of the hottest chefs in town. Finally, we cannot imagine a better way to wind down after a day of walking than in the Ponrepo cinema, watching a piece of some classic world cinema. If you like your movies old, tried and tested, and want to revisit an old favorite, Ponrepo is the place to go.