We have one rule whenever we travel: we visit the main sights early in the morning or late in the evening to beat the crowds, and see the other, more local things during the day. When we visit a city, we prefer to see how people live there today, and not necessarily how they lived there in the past. And Prague is no exception. Especially during the high season, we recommend getting up early, seeing the sights before all the other people get to see them, and then just walk and explore the surrounding districts. And the Karlin is a place you should not miss if you travel like us - it has a great local feel and great places to eat and drink. That is why we sometimes visit it with the guests of our Prague Foodie Tour and that is why we think it is worth a visit even during the off-season.
Letna district is arguably one of the best places to live in Prague. It benefits from its location just across the river from the busy historical centre, which means you’re near it all if you want to, but not in the middle of it all if you don’t. Nestled in between two parks, the Letenský park and the Stromovka, the area is great for families: there’s always somewhere to go or something to do, and far from traffic, too. Also, the people of Letna create a lively, healthy community, as witnessed by the mayor of the entire Prague 7 district, who was voted in as an independent candidate of a purely local movement.
The Letna is spread over a hill and the plain at its top has always been a strategic point for military purposes. It was even used by Soviet helicopters that landed here during the 1968 invasion. Today, it is known for its relative affluence, a Bohemian feel with lots of art-related spots, incl. the National Gallery or the Academy of Fine Arts, and a plethora of independent galleries, and for the splendor of the ubiquitous 1930s Constructivist buildings.
It is also a great place to visit if you want to see something outside of the centre and just browse a few streets with the locals. Last but not least, Letna is the neighborhood of our awesome Prague rental apartment (if you’re reading this from the apartment now - because we set this as the load page on the computer's browser - welcome in Prague!).
Now, we have suggested a cool walk from Letna to the Holesovice district a while ago on this blog, but we thought Letna needed a closer look. Here’s our small guide to the neighborhood.
The Vinohrady district is a place of many appeals. Originally a place for vineyards (which is what “Vinohrady” means, anyway), Vinohrady witnessed a population boom in the late 19th and early 20th century, becoming the fourth biggest town in the Czech Republic alone before it became a part of Prague in 1922. It is a district of affluence and beauty, with Art Deco houses and lush trees and beautiful parks overlooking either the centre or other parts of the city. It is also very popular among expats and young professional: it is very near the centre, but not directly in it, and it has nearly everything you’d want for a comfortable life. If you live in Vinohrady, there would be very few motives to move out of it.
And it is also a great place for other things: Vinohrady has probably the highest concentration of specialty coffee places in Prague: it actually boasts more good cafes than the central district. It is also a great place for Vietnamese, Mexican or Italian food, with some fancy fast food thrown into the mix. And the Jirak farmers’ markets can be a reason alone to move in. What to see, where to eat and what to drink? Here’s our Vinohrady neighborhood guide.
Yes, let's face it: this summer in Prague has been extremely hot so far, and is likely to remain so for at least the next week. It is hard to do anything in Prague in temperatures that reach 35C/95F: eat, walk, or even sleep. But that does not mean your vacation in Prague has to be ruined by great weather. No, we think you can use the heat to explore Prague in a slightly different way. Searching for shade can take to you places that are less exposed to tourism and more local. And that's not a bad thing. This is where we'd go.
The first of May is a very special day in the Czech calendar. You can be sure that certain things will simply happen on the first May day. The Communists will have a rally, again. The few Neo-Nazis and Anarchists we have will try to beat each other somewhere (although that is sooo 90s). And couples in Prague will kiss each other under the blossoming Cherry or Cherry Blossom trees in the Petrin park.
Let’s get one thing straight right away: St Valentine’s Day is not something that the Czechs would traditionally celebrate, and is by some seen as an import of the 1990s. (The decorations of many retail shops would indicate otherwise, but that’s an entirely different issue.) Still, many of our guests ask us about romantic things that can be done in Prague ahead of St Valentine’s Day, and truth be told, the week of St Valentine’s Day is a small season by itself in the midst of what is one of the slower months for our tours. That is why we have created a few Prague itineraries that are best enjoyed in two, whether you like St Valentine’s Day or are against the whole idea. We think a romantic itinerary is in season the whole year around.
Thus we bring you our best ideas for a nice St Valentine's Day spent in the company of your significant other. Just like with everything we do, this post is really written for ourselves: we write about the things we would love to do to spend a few nice, romantic hours together. If you're like us, we think you may like these.
OK, the winter may not be the best time of the year for a long walk, but honestly, the temperatures are not at all bad and if you wear an extra layer, you can see a part of the town that is not on the radar for most foreign visitors. If you've done all the major sights (and we're guessing you have) and wish to see something less crowded, one of the options is our home district, Prague 7. It isn't far and we think it offers a great variety of things to see and do. (And eat, too, don't worry - we know how hungry you can get after a walk, ok?)
Prague is so much more than just the Charles Bridge, the Prague Castle and the Old Town. We want you to see more of Prague so that you can bring home a much truer image of what Prague is and how people live here. Today’s Prague escape will take us to the Vrsovice district. Vrsovice always played second fiddle to the upscale Vinohrady district. But with the reputation of the Krymska street and the surrounding areas rising, it has recently become a hip place to be, boasting a communal spirit, restaurant days and many street events. And for a few hours’ trip outside of the tourist centre, Vrsovice with its parks and views is hard to beat. Here’s our Vrsovice itinerary:
“Food is not a toy!" Do you remember your mom telling you off at the dinner table when you were a child? And do you remember disagreeing with her, convinced that, in fact, food in an excellent toy? Well, if you still carry some inner wounds from that time of your life, we have some good news for you: there is somebody who was not afraid to make this unfulfilled child's dream come true and they are based in Prague, too!
Usito [read "oo-shi-to"] is a fun label run by two friends, Kateřina Holaskova and Veronika Holadova, who create food-themed hand-made toys and decorations from fabric. They met in college in the Moravian town of Zlin where they both studied arts. One day they were having a cup of coffee in one of Prague's cafes, when suddenly they got inspired by the poor little bored face of Katka's child... And that is how the idea of cloth pizzas and cakes was born; to make sure kids enjoy some quality coffee time, too! Yes, the Slivovitz plum brandy toy particularly makes you wonder who the stuff is REALLY designed for, but everyone who has ever been on our tour knows that… ehm… “cultural heritage” must be passed on to the next generation from early age!:-)
1) What do you love the most about Prague?
V: I'm a Prague native, so my relationship with the city is quite typical; I love the old center, all the sights, Petřín... What I love about Prague is all the possibilities. The fact that you get an idea and you can also go and make it happen. There are pubs, galleries, theatres... In the real life, nobody actually has the time for all these things, but it's the feeling that you simply CAN."
K: I'm quite the opposite: I was not born here, so even I've lived here for 10 years, I'm still getting to know the city... or actually, I don't know it at all! I haven't had time to walk it all around yet. But I love all the classy Czech pubs!"
2) Do you have any secret tip for a hang-out place in Prague?
V: You mean where we hang-out together with Katka? Definitely pubs! ;-) Well, I love walking so I have my own routes that I like. I start, for instance, in the Vinohrady district and go to the Lesser Town as I like passing trough the city center. Then Petřín and also Letná. This is where I live right now and I just feel like I can walk anywhere I like from there!"
K: This is sad as I don't actually have any secret tip and listening to you, Veronika, I have just realized how little I have walked trough Prague! This is also why I'm so glad when someone comes to visit, because that's my chance to get to see the city. I don't really feel any urge to go to the Charles Bridge, to be honest, actually, I avoid that, but just Iike Veronika, I do love the Lesser Town.
3) What does your ideal Saturday in Prague look like?
K: I go to see an exhibition when I have some free time. Veletrzni Palace or Rudolfinum Gallery are my favorites. I make plans only for myself and... don't really care about the kids now when I think of it! :-D But even with kids you can often go to a gallery as they usually have some activities for children too.
V: When I have some time off, I definitely don't go to the city center. :-) I prefer parks and a nice and calm walk like to the ZOO and back. Stromovka and Letna parks or even the green suburbs of Prague like Dablice or Cimice. No people, basically!:-)
5) You get the best coffee at...
K: I agree!
V: Oh, and a real heart-warmer is that little tiny place close to U.S. embassy... Kafirna is the name! It's a small family business with just two tables or so.
6) Where do you shop for toys when you don't make them yourself?
V: I must confess, I prefer to buy books over toys because, being from the "industry”, I'm a bit biased. I feel like there are toys everywhere, so I rather buy a book or a board game.
7) What are your favorite eating out places in Prague?
K: Recently, we started going to Wine & Food Market on Strakonicka street. That's not quite as Czech, sorry for that,:-) but it's guaranteed for quality! For the proper Czech classics it's definitely Lokal.
Where can you get Usito toys and decorations?
Some of our guests arrive in Prague with kids. We love kids, pay special attention to them on the tour, and (without bragging too much) we think that kids love us back, at least on the tour… We always try to provide traveling families with tips that might help them enjoy Prague as a family. Some parents then to avoid the major sights and take the family "out of the beaten path" (gosh, we love that cliche) but that's not a bad thing: we actually think that’s where kids can interact with local kids. (No, there’s not going to be too many local kids playing at the Charles Bridge.) To help parents navigate their way through Prague, we have designed three itineraries that we think your kids (and you, of course) will like.
Now we should first and foremost issue a disclaimer here: we do not have kids ourselves. However, we grew up in Prague, and still can remember the places and the things we did and loved growing up, and we have many friends with kids who can help us out. We created three full-day itineraries that the whole family could enjoy. You can combine them or do them in parts - it’s all up to you. That said, we don't think you necessarily have to have kids to enjoy these walks. There's lots of culture and fun stuff and food along the way, anyway! We do describe things we like ourselves, so if you are like us, you may like them too.
Itinerary 1: “Everybody loves chocolate, pizza and mirror mazes!”
Everybody loves a cup of hot chocolate, right? If you can subscribe to that notion, start your day at Choco Café. Their hot chocolate is phenomenal and a single cup contains about a whole bar of chocolate. If you want to go local, buy the "Horicke trubicky” rolls (a thin wafer rolled into a large canoli-style pastry and filled with whipped cream) and dip them in the hot chocolate. You can definitely skip lunch if you have this chocolate after breakfast because it is very, very rich. On the other hand, please avoid if your kids tend to go out of control after a substantial sugar intake.
From Choco Café, walk to the river bank, and turn left to the National Theatre. Cross the bridge and stop half way on the Strelecky ostrov island. Kids might enjoy the obstacle course that has been recently developed there. Continue further to the Ujezd area and take the funicular to the very top. It’s a great ride with really nice views of the city. When you’re at the top, you absolutely MUST visit a venue that no Sunday walk with the kids could do without when we were kids: the mirror maze and the mirror hall with the funny (distorting) concave and convex mirrors. We loved them, and we think your kids will, too.
After the climb to the top of the Petřín lookout tower (a small copy of the Eiffel tower), head over to the Prague Castle via the Strahov Monastery. We actually prefer the walk itself over the Castle itself (but then again, we've seen it already). The walk on the slope to the monastery offers great views of the city and space to run around. Do not make the mistake of taking the shortest route possible from the Monastery down to the Castle. Instead, turn left at the Loretta and walk down to the New World, an absolutely empty but fantastically picturesque area that avoids the crowds, and walk on into the Deer Moat, a beautiful park in the steep valley below the castle. (Deer Moat is usually closed during winters.) Beautiful gothic church or monumental courtyards full of history? Whatever! Your kids may love the Museum of Toys the best out of the entire castle.
We reckon this whole trip tool a few hours, and by the time you’ve visited the castle, you’ll be starving. There is an easy - and very popular - fix for that. Walk down to the Malostranske namesti square (about 10 minutes from the castle), hop on the tram (line no. 5) and go to Pizza Nuova for dinner. Who does not like pizza, right? And you’ll be eating well: the pizza there, praised by the famous Heston Blumenthal himself, is delicious, and the pasta dishes do not lag behind in quality. The restaurant is quite family oriented and kids love to run around the place, chased down by parents and members of staff.
Now, we have another tip after the kids have fallen asleep or passed on to the babysitter. Hemingway Bar. You know that after a day like this, you’ll be in dire need of a drink. And when you’re at it, you should do it well: Hemingay Bar is a local favorite and the place to go to for delicious drinks. Try one of their Becherovka drinks to taste a bit of the local poison!
Itinerary 2: "Walking with Animals”
This walk is more suitable for lovely and sunny days because there is some walking involved, mostly through the beautiful Stromovka park, our “home turf”, if you will (we live just behind the corner). One of the biggest parks in Prague, the Stromovka is a magnet for young families, joggers, dog walkers and even cross-country skiers when the snowfall allows it. Kids are welcome: the park incorporates several playgrounds and offers many activities for kids.
We start the walk at the Holesovice Exhibition Grounds. Built in 1891 for the Centennial State Fair (which also saw the development of the Petrin tower and the funicular to the Petrin hill, among other things), the Exhibition Grounds occupy a special place for all the kids (and adults) in Prague as the venue for the St Matthew’s fair, the annual fair with rides and shooting ranges and hot dogs and balloons and cotton candy etc. that takes place in March and April. Beyond this popular (read "crowded") event, the grounds today seem a bit derelict, especially when compared to their counterparts in Vienna or elsewhere. Still, the grounds accommodate the first stop on our walk: the Sea World ("Morsky Svet" in Czech). The Sea World is basically a series of smaller or larger aquariums showing the Czechs (who sadly live in a landlocked country) what fish and animals can be found under the sea. The Sea World organizes recurring daily events like the “shark feeding” and many others.
Walk into the Stromovka park past the Planetarium observatory and follow on to reach Vozovna, the old-tram-depot-station-turned-restaurant for a small snack. The food or coffee are nothing to write home about and not worth a special trip, but it is great as a stop on your way, and especially if the weather is nice, the visit can turn into a really pleasant experience. Did we mention there is a playground right next to it?
From there, walk past the “big circle”, avoiding joggers and in-line skaters, through the railway underpass and across the first bridge onto the Cisarsky ostrov island. If your kids love horses, they are going to love this place. The Cisarsky ostrov island is home to the Prague stables and features proper competition grounds for parkour competitions (not the hipster urban parkour but the real one, with horses).
After that, you cross the pedestrian bridge and turn left, waling along the river banks. After a minute, you will reach the gate to the Troja Chateau and their beautiful English garden. When you’re finished walking around the chateau, just cross the street from the side entry to reach the gate into the Prague ZOO, one of the top ten ZOOs in the World according to many surveys. In addition to the animals, the ZOO offers a kiddie train ride, a cable car (yes, the ZOO is set in a mountainy landscape), lots of playgrounds, a mountain walk with an unusual view of the city, and so on. You really don’t have to be a kid to enjoy the ZOO. Well, at least we love it. If you don’t like crowds, though, avoid the ZOO over sunny weekends.
The area offers something for the parents, too: in addition to the Troja Chateau with the beautiful English garden, you can enjoy the Botanic Garden, and the St Clara and Salabka vineyards that offer tastings of their wines. During the high season, you can get back to the centre by taking a steamboat. The ride back to the Jewish Quarter is nice and takes less than an hour.
Itinerary 3: “Sunday with something for everybody”
The third walk avoids the centre completely, and is a great local activity for an afternoon. Just like the previous walk, this one also takes place mostly within the district of Prague 7.
You will start at the Main Market in the Holesovice district with some food. Now, if it’s Sunday, you must visit the Sunday Family Brunch at SaSaZu. The Asian fusion restaurant, and the holder of the Bib Gourmand award, provides an army of nannies, lots of X-Box consoles and other games for kids, while the parents can enjoy a fantastic meal, get a quick massage and moms can get their nails done by the nail artist provided. In addition, kids prepare crepes for their parents in the kitchen with the chefs. It’s a very lively event with lots of expats visiting, so your kids can play with other kids and understand them, too. If you are not doing the walk on Sunday, we recommend instead visiting Hall 22 where local farmers sell their produce. It can be an educational event.
From there, walk to the Dox Centre for Contemporary Arts along the Osadni street (possibly buying nice cupcakes at Patissier at Osadni 5). The Dox centre, in addition to their exhibitions and an excellent design shop, organizes art classes for children and a toolkit for kids to turn their museum visit into a treasure hunt-like game. We think you can spend hours there. They also have a cafe inside if you’re thirsty.
After the visit, take the tram from the Ortenovo namesti stop to the Letenske namesti stop. This is the part where itinerary 2 and 3 overlap: if you get off at the second stop (Vystaviste), you can visit the Exhibition Grounds, the Sea World and continue on to the ZOO (see above) from here, if you wish. But you can continue on, up to the Letna district. When you get off the tram, you can ether walk back on the main street for a minute and have great cakes at the Erhart Café, a great 1930s-style patisserie, or turn right and walk to the National Technical Museum, stopping at Dum kavy in the Jireckova street if you crave good coffee along the way.
Nestled in the Letna park above the city, the National Technical Museum has been one of the most popular places for kids for nearly a century. A great exhibition (with texts in both Czech and English) of old and new cars, aeroplanes, trains, with installations about household products, astrology, photography, household products, TV broadcasting technology and so on. Fun for hours. Don’t forget to visit the small petting zoo behind the National Agricultural Museum next door!
From there, definitely visit the Letna park. Did we mention it has a huge, fenced playground? I guess we didn’t. The park is one of the most popular parks in Prague that offers stunning views of the city and great connectivity to the centre. We would recommend you walk the whole length of the park, finishing at Hradcanska subway stop.
Once you reach the stop, you can opt for any of the three suggestions we have for a great finish to a great afternoon. First, you can walk to the Prague Castle through the Royal Gardens, which is about ten minutes by walk from there. Second, you can take a tram for two stops to the Vozovna Stresovice stop and visit the Museum of Public Transit, a place we loved when we were kids: a museum devoted entirely to old trams, buses and subways. Third, you can walk for about five minutes and finish the day in a creative way at Vypalene kotatko, a cafe devoted to DYI decoration of porcelain products. Basically, you can buy any product they offer (cups, pottery, hair brushes etc.), use their brushes and paints, decorate the products in any way you desire, and let the staff complete the glazing and baking process of the porcelain with your decoration. We know you may not have the time to pick the products up a week later or so (which is the standard time for that), but we think they might be talked into shipping the finished products to your place. Well. you can at least try, right?
No matter where you end up, we wish you a great time! If you follow any of our suggestions, please share your experience in the comments below!