coffee

Best Prague cafés (according to us)

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[If you are reading this, you may have been pointed to this page by Google. Great! But in reality, this is an older post about breakfasts in Prague. If you want to see our updated, 2015 version of the same post, please click here. Thank you for reading, and enjoy your coffee!]

With the Prague Coffee Festival near, it's about time we update the list of our favorite cafes in Prague. Sadly, winter has come early this year (as we write this, the temperature is below 10C/50F, and it's early October), which really means the coffee season has begun. What may be great news for cafe owners is a piece of bad news for ice-cream vendors (although Czech rarely do believe in seasonality when it comes to having ice-cream). The following list is a list of cafes we love and recommend, in no particular order of preference:

EMA Espresso Bar Opened in June, the newest entry on the Prague coffee scene has quickly become very popular. The modern interiors referencing Czech functionalist architecture are full of light and create a nice atmosphere; the staff is nice and knowledgeable and uses their La Marzocco Strada EUR 20,000 machine to prepare cup after cup of delicious coffee. You can always get espresso or drip coffee either from the coffee roasters of their current preference - JB, based in Bavaria, or their "coffee of the week", which includes anything from Square Mile, Bonanza Coffee Roasters, Doubleshot, Union etc. In addition to coffee, EMA offers a few easy and quick fixes: sandwiches, focaccias, two salads, and a small selection of cakes. They do plan to put more focus on food in the future with the addition of a chef, but you should not expect a restaurant. EMA will always remain an espresso bar at heart. One think should be noted: as a true espresso bar, EMA does not offer wifi to its guests. And for those who don't like coffee, EMA offers a small selection of great teas by TeaJay and home-made lemonades.

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Muj salek kavy

A long-established Karlin district's staple, Muj salek kavy is loved equally by locals, expats and travelers, and can get quite easily crowded, especially when they close down their outside seating for the winter. The cafe is owned by Doubleshot, arguably the best known independent Czech coffee roasters, and the owners make great use of their own roasts, using their custom-made Spirit Duette coffee machine. Breakfast is served from Monday to Friday until 11am and the whole day over the weekend, and a light lunch or dinner can be had afterwards, including a daily soup. The food is good, but let's face it: the coffee is the star in this establishment. We hardly ever get a cup of coffee without some of their delicious cakes. Our favorites include their cheese cake, carrot cake and banana-and-coffee cake. They are on the sweet side, but we like them. The staff speaks fluent English (one of their baristas is a Melbourne native) and is very welcoming.

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Monolok

Nestled in the heart of the Vinohrady district's residential area, Monolok is our favorite place to go when we want to enjoy a cup of great coffee in a quiet, relaxing atmosphere. One of their baristas has currently finished third in the World Cup Tasting Championship (no, we're not making this up), and the waiters are generally very friendly and attentive. Coffee and some simple dishes can also be served in their tiny but nice courtyard. The interior design of this place is lovely, simple and airy

Café Lounge

This definitely IS your daddy's café. While other establishments may unapologetically form a part of the recent hipster café trend, this café and restaurant clearly evoke times long past, the times of Belle Epoque and the First Republic. The café may feel a bit cramped on first sight, but it is very cosy and fills up very quickly. They serve espresso-based drinks, vacuum pots, drips and cascara drinks. This is the only café on the list that features a proper kitchen and doubles as a full-fledged restaurant, and the food is not bad. About the desserts: the Czech baked sweets on the table are nice, but definitely skip the desserts in the glass vitrine. If you want some elaborate cakes, visit the nearby Cafe Savoy instead (but skip the coffee there). In addition to coffee, Café Lounge serves local wines with a focus on organic wines made in Central Europe. The café also rents out picnic baskets in the summer.

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I Need Coffee

Owned by the former co-owner of the Leeda fashion label, I Need Coffee sells nice coffee; cakes and macaroons made by Chez Lucie, a famous Czech food blogger (and our friend); some sandwiches; kremrole (Czech merengue-filled rolls); Czech ciders; croissants with jams from Hradec Kralove etc. They also serve breakfasts, mostly of the meatless kind. All served in beautifully designed cups and tableware. The one-room café is beautifully designed in a minimalist fashion. In addition to coffee (and this is the only café on the list that does not offer drips) and food, you can buy some cool books about design, designer towels and glassware, and sometimes a themed T-shirt. I Need Coffee is a great place to stop on your way to or from the Vysehrad Castle.

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TriCafé

The owner of this small café near the Charles Bridge is a photographer (and some of his equipment is on display in the café) who used to work at Café Lounge. TriCafé serves good coffee, nice home-made cakes and nice savory treats. To call the design of this café minimalist would be an understatement: the café features just the bare essentials: the bar, a few tables and chairs. That's it. However, the atmosphere is very relaxed and nice (even though the Charles Bridge is just few steps away), and you can see they all put all their heart into their little cafe.

Kavárna Pražírna

If you need a dose of caffeine and you're near the I.P. Pavlova subway stop at the border of the New Town and the Vinohrady district, the Prazirna is the place to go. As the Czech name of the place suggests, the café roasts its own beans. The place is located in a cellar and is popular among locals, especially in the evening. If you need wifi, sit in the first room, while the second room will provide more privacy. While we are not blown away by their selection of small nibbles (clearly there's space for improvement when it comes to food), they do understand their coffee and they always welcome you with a smile.

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AlCafetero

One of the first gourmet coffee establishments in Prague, this mom-and-pop operation has been on the coffee map for years. The owner reigns supreme in this café (e.g. refusing to serve sugar with the coffee), and a visit to this café is more like a visit to the owner's living room: it's small, and it's personal. That said, the place has a loyal following, and offers some nice small dishes, cakes and pastries made by the owner's wife (who, incidentally, comes from the same small town in Eastern Slovakia as Jan's mom).

Mezi zrnky

Mezi zrnky in the Vinohrady district is a diminutive café replacing the now extinct Cup Up café. Their barista Jara is a coffee geek full of ideas: recently, the café organized a coffee pairing with food. This café can serve also as a bistro: the establishment offers a daily soup and some other small dishes. It is small, with the seating capacity of no more than ten, but it's quite cosy. We love their tables decorated with newspaper shreds.


Flat White in Prague

The most common complaint we get from our coffee-loving Australian guests is that they went on for weeks without a nice cup of flat white. What is "flat white"? Well, it's basically a cappuccino with a double shot of coffee, usually served in a short glass. We think it might be called a "latte" in Australia but here "latte" means a coffee drink with a single shot of coffee, milk and milk foam. To be honest, Jan had a flat white a few weeks ago for the first time, having heard about it so much on the tours, and is a complete convert. There is no going back.


Prague Cafes: Going Local vs Playing Tourist

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As far as truly ‘local’ activities go, relaxing with a book or a laptop and slowly sipping coffee in a café surely ranks near the top. Yet very few travelers allow themselves the luxury of spending time doing next to nothing in a café. There are simply too many other things to do and see. Therefore, kicking back in local cafés becomes something of a guilty pleasure for many. As much as I love to see people checking one sight after another in Prague, I have to confess that it also makes me a bit sad because relaxing in a café provides some unique insights into the local culture and should be something you do in between sights.

Luckily, there is a strong coffeehouse culture in Prague, and the city’s historic cafés have long been included among the must-sees. Almost every guidebook features top traditional coffeehouses, and if you google ‘Prague's Best Cafés’, you will get a lot of advice on the ‘best’ cafés.

However, this also means that cafés that once oozed with local atmosphere now hardly have anything to offer beyond  their history and their polished wooden floors, big picture windows, and unique interiors. And because these places are crammed with guidebook-carrying tourists, the waiter tends not to care if you are coming back. Ordering a cup of coffee in these establishments can be a huge mistake and the locals have moved on, and so did the atmosphere that made the cafés so appealing in the first place.

The Cafe Slavia, the atmospheric The Cafe Louvre and the only Cubist-style coffeehouse in the world, Grand Cafe Orient, are three examples of cafés destroyed by tourism. Established in 1863, Cafe Slavia became a meeting place for artists and intellectuals – it’s regular patrons once included Franz Kafka, Rainer Maria Rilke, Jaroslav Seifert and the composers Smetana and Antonin Dvorak. Today, it is packed with tourists hunting for pictures of beautiful Art Deco architecture and the astonishing views of Prague Castle.

Cafe Louvre is another café of this kind. The Parisian-style café with a billiard hall is part of the First Republic's heritage, and its famous patrons included Albert Einstein, Karel Čapek and Franz Kafka. However, the combination of crowds of tourists, coffee of poor quality and disinterested waiters makes me pass this establishment by without any regret.

The Grant Café Orient is another remnant of the past. However, for a rare chance to see cubist architecture up close, I recommend that you enter the fabulous geometric balustrade and climb the teardrop-shaped stairwell to the Grand Café just to see the really beautiful interior with many interesting details and a narrow terrace. Do not order anything, just look.

Two traditional cafés that we still like (although we would not order coffee there) are Café Imperial and Café Savoy. The former is an Art Deco gem with ornate mosaic and tile-covered interior. Ask for some Czech classics such as Braised Veal Cheeks or Marjoram Braised Lamb Shank and observe the steady stream of local businessmen and ladies, all wearing smart suits, having their lunch. The latter is a charming little spot to for a rich breakfast before a stroll around the Petrin Hill.

So, what are the atmospheric local coffee shops I want you to discover and spend some downtime in? My first-choice café is Al Cafetero. This small, non-smoking, family run café is true coffee lover’s paradise. The owner will be your most accommodating host, offering samples, souvenirs and a friendly chat. Try the delicious, awesome-tasting coffee made from a vacuum pot, but be prepared to be offered neither milk nor sugar with your coffee.

Můj šálek kávy ("That's my cup of tea") - This place is what a coffee shop should be: great coffee, good atmosphere, nice staff, convenient hours and it a really ‘local’ vibe. 

The baristas turn out some of the city's best espressos and drip coffee. You can stop by for breakfast in the morning, for a tasty lunch in the afternoon, or just sit down with your book/newspaper/laptop after dinner and catch up on your reading.

Café Lounge - This Malá Strana spot combines elegant interior (formerly a residential apartment) with nice food, friendly service and good-quality coffee. You can easily spend hours here reading, talking or just looking around and sipping some gorgeous Moravian wines. Besides, it is a non-smoking café with a lovely garden.

Dům kávy is a perfect place to purchase premium coffee beans, coffee makers, grinders, espresso machines, etc. Although more a shop than a café, Dům kávy serves one of the best cappuccinos in town.

What I like about these five cafés is that despite their appealing atmosphere, locals still far outnumber tourists, the coffee is great, the staff is friendly and reliable, and the cafés are still what they should be – places to linger over coffee rather than take photos. And I hope that doesn’t change.


24 Hours: See the best of the city in just one day

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In just one day, you'll get a mere glimpse of Prague, but beware: it will surely whet your appetite for more, and you may have to extend your stay in the end!

Historic building around every corner, spires in almost every view – sightseeing in central Prague can feel overwhelming at first. But Prague is a wonderful city to stroll around (if you don't mind the cobblestones). Take time to wander down its narrow streets, savour every mouthful of delicious food and every sip of great beer, but - most importantly - resist the temptation to follow the crowds of tourists and sightseers. Our advice to anyone who finds him or herself with 24 hours to spare in the Czech capital is to stop, breathe, appreciate, indulge and maybe try some of these ideas.

Start the day with the Prague Castle, the most noticeable and impressive of Prague's landmarks. Come early in the morning and enjoy the place's history without hurry. Take a leisurely wander around Hradčany (If you're facing the castle gates, go to the left, follow the gardens and castle walls and then pass the square until you get to some smaller streets. Wander around, be sure to visit Nový Svět, don't miss the tiny pink house at the end of that street) and look up for impressive architecture without fear of bumping into other tourists. Secreted in a valley that used to be the northern moat of the Prague Castle is a pedestrian tunnel linking deer gardens on either side of the Powder Bridge. This simple 2002 creation by architect Josef Pleskot of AP Atelier is off the beaten track and all the better for it. Halfway through the tunnel is a niche with the remains of the preserved foundations of the original Renaissance bridge on display. Move up the moat's slope to the plateau, where you find Eva Jiřičná's first building in Prague, the Orangery in the Royal Garden.

Walk down the Petřín Park, former vineyards, a beautiful collection of lawns, orchards and pavilions, and treat yourself to breakfast at Café Savoy. Sit at a window table overlooking the leafy square outside and order one of several all-day breakfasts (we recommend Savoy Breakfast with a juicy portion of Prague ham served with horseradish and grain mustard. Tip: Book a table in advance and save place for dessert).

After the breakfast, take the 12 tram for a trip past the sites of Malá Strana and on towards the Holešovice district and the DOX centre for contemporary art, which has the potential to kick-start the gentrification of the northern part of Holešovice. David Černý's famous Entropa sculpture was shown here in early 2010, with further edgy shows soon following in its footsteps. Unless you had a coffee at the centre's roomy terrace, visit arguably the best coffee house in Prague, Muj šálek kávy (which translates as "My cup of coffee" in English) and enjoy every sip of a perfectly prepared cappuccino.

With your caffeine addiction well fed, climb up the steep Vítkov Hill and enjoy an exquisite view of Prague. Even though the austere National Memorial looks like it was build by the Soviets, it was actually completed before the Communist era. Now run by the Czech National Museum, it boasts impressive interiors, and hosts a permanent exhibition on 20th century Czechoslovak history - a great way to learn about Czechoslovak history and the life in Czechoslovakia in the past century.

Now take the subway and after just ten minutes (take the C line to the “Vyšehrad” station), you'll find the best kept secret in Prague – Vyšehrad. Situated on a rocky outcrop just south of the centre, Vyšehrad (which means “castle on the heights”) offers a stunning view looking back over the city and Prague’s ‘main’ castle. The Vyšehrad Park is a perfect spot for a picnic or a romantic walk on the winding path that offer sweeping views. The area also houses the splendid Vyšehrad cemetery where many famous figures of Czech and European culture and science were laid to rest: look for a map directory of the famous names at the entrance.

Now it's time for a traditional Czech dinner! Depending on your budget, head over to either La Degustation Boheme BourgeoiseČestr or Lokál. Eating at the former is a memorable experience, and with such impressive food and wine pairings, the real surprise is that the restaurant is yet to receive a Michelin star (we blame the biased Michelin commissioners). Tip: have a piece of smoked beef tongue with chickpea puree and pickled shallots and bear in mind that the LDBB has no a la carte menu and that each of the seven courses of the Bohemian tasting menu is preceded by its own amuse-bouche, so reserve at least three hours for a meal.

We love Cestr – this Czech Steak House reminds us so much of our childhood. Inside, the restaurant feels like a butcher's shop: clean, bright and metallic; a place you know uses only top-quality meat. Beyond the atmosphere, Cestr truly triumphs on the plate – real Czech recipes, composed of Czech ingredients and prepared by Czech chefs. Pick up your piece of meat from the menu printed on paper, folded around a cardboard "map" of cuts from a cow. Tip: splendid beef tartar, superb steaks, rich gravy, homemade fries, Valhrona chocolate cake with homemade peanut ice cream, tank beer and poppy seed buns in vanilla crème.

Lokál brings the traditional beer hall concept bang up to date. The interior features wooden wall panels decorated by graffitis and a glass bar counter housing stainless-steel barrels and cooling pipes. Do not expect fine dining, but rather “like mum used to make” food, lots of locals, low prices and great beer. Enjoy either fast and high-quality meals such as pickled cheese, headcheese or sausage made by the Dolejsi family of butchers from Davle, or bigger, regular meals like Beef Tenderloin with Cranberries; Pork, Dumplings, and Cabbage; or Roast Duck with Red Cabbage. Tip: Waiters will keep bringing you extra beer if you finish your first glass, so make sure you say "no" before it's too late.

In the evening, take a twilight cruise of the Charles Bridge. The crowds along this biggest tourist attraction begin to thin out as the sun sets. The shadows fall and the statues become silhouetted by the remaining light. It’s a magical place to be at this time of day. Make sure that you spend some time on Kampa Island, which is just off of Charles Bridge. Walk through the park and enjoy the view of the bridge and across the river.

And finally, there's no better place to end the night than in one of Prague's bars. Go to the Hemingway Bar and try Absinthe with cold water dripped over a sugar cube into the drink (that makes it significantly more palatable) or head to a small, very pleasant Vinograf Wine Bar and discover wonderful Czech wines.

Have a wonderful stay whatever you are up to and remember: stop, breathe, appreciate and indulge.

What are your tips for getting the most out of the city?