36 Hours in Prague
THE bad news about Prague is that your guidebook is probably already out of date, as some of its brightest and best attractions have appeared only in the last couple of years and several old favorites have been recently renovated, redecorated or otherwise renewed. The good news is that you now have another reason to go off the beaten track and explore the city’s courtyards and cobblestone lanes. With luck, you’ll find something that no one else has discovered.
1) GREAT GLASS
The soaring stained-glass windows of St. Vitus Cathedral have inspired generations of the faithful and visitors alike. For an up-close glimpse of original windows and the master craftsmen who made them, visit Old Town’s overlooked Umelecke Sklenarstvi Jiricka-Coufal (U Milosrdnych 14; 420-737-666-851; www.vitraz.cz), an “artisanal glassworks” where some of the cathedral’s windows were produced and are now restored. Replicas of historical windows are available for purchase. A reproduction of a medieval window depicting Charlemagne, resplendent in knight’s armor and wielding a sword, costs 30,000 koruna (about $1,500 at 20 koruna to $1).
2) DINING HOUSE
One of Prague’s most prominent modern constructions is the Dancing House, a curvy riverfront building designed by Frank Gehry and Vlado Milunic, resembling a couple — often called Fred and Ginger — in midstep. In March, the restaurant Céleste (Rasinovo Nabrezi 80; 420-221-984-160; www.celesterestaurant.cz) opened on the top floor of the building, with views of the river and Prague Castle. Served alongside the panoramic scene are the inventive creations of Gwendal Le Ruyet, like an intensely flavored lettuce velouté, with chunks of garlicky escargots and aromatic tarragon foam, costing 275 koruna; a recent entree of skate in a light green crab sauce was 590 koruna.
3) SKY HIGH
Most hotel bars in Prague are forgettable, lacking locals and atmosphere, but not so Cloud 9 (Pobrezni 1; 420-224-842-999; www.cloud9.cz), a sky-high lounge that opened in the Hilton Prague last September. (Be aware that the Hilton Prague and the similarly named Hilton Prague Old Town are not the same.) Long and spacious, the bar has many intimate nooks and corners, along with spectacular views of the Vltava River and city rooftops. Though house cocktails like the Mystic (vodka, fresh lime, brown sugar and plenty of peppery, house-made ginger syrup; 160 koruna) are excellent, the nonalcoholic “mocktails,” like the Baby Zombie made with guava and citrus juices (80 koruna), and Ginger Rain, with ginger syrup, ginger marmalade and lime (100 koruna), are even more refreshing, and perhaps a better accompaniment to the bar’s finger-food platters (with enough snacks for about four people, 890 and 990 koruna). Normally open until 2 a.m., the party can go much later, as it did when the entire Slavia Praha soccer team showed up to celebrate a player’s birthday recently.
4) MODERN MEMENTOS
Skip the crystal shops and get some unusual souvenirs at Futurista (Soukenicka 8; 420-222-311-453; www.futurista.cz), a new boutique featuring work from local designers. T-shirts bearing crude expressions in Czech and anti-Communist slogans cost around 300 to 500 koruna, while the Czech designer Maxim Velcovsky’s white ceramic “Republica” bowl, shaped like the Czech Republic itself, is 1,590 koruna. If Bohemian glass is a must have, try the Artel Design Shop (Celetna 29, entrance on Rybna; 420-224-815-085; www.artelglass.com), which updates traditional crystal designs with modern colors and shapes, like the asymmetrical “Glacier” bowl by the American designer David Wiseman (82,800 koruna), and 60s-style “Mod” Champagne flutes (5,900 koruna each).
5) A LITTLE BREAD
Not to be missed are a number of the city’s delicatessens, pastry shops and cafeterias that have been serving lunch and treats since early in the 20th century. Jan Paukert (Narodni trida 17; 420-224-222-615; www.janpaukert.cz) is a 93-year-old deli that claims to have invented the chlebicek, or “little bread,” a popular open-faced sandwich topped with any number of ingredients, including roast beef, ham, egg salad, salami and smoked salmon (19 to 28 koruna each). To burn up some of the calories from lunch, walk a couple of blocks to the Mysak pastry shop (Vodickova 31; 420-731-653-813; www.gallerymysak.cz), which was founded in 1911 and reopened in like-new condition last year. There, you can get the house karamelovy pohar, a bowl of ice cream topped with caramel, chocolate and walnuts, for 120 koruna. Before indulging again, get some more exercise with a 40-minute walk across the Vltava River to the Holesovice district for an apple tart (28 koruna) at the Erhartova Cukrarna (Milady Horakove 56; 420-233-312-148; www.erhartcafe.cz), a 1937-vintage confectionery that was renovated with pitch-perfect period décor in 2007.
6) ART TOWN
It might not yet rival Venice, but Prague has several new museums, galleries and biennales that have started to position it as a serious forum for modern art. One of the biggest is the Dox Center for Contemporary Art (Osadni 34; 420-224-930-927; www.doxprague.org), which opened more than 30,000 square feet of exhibition space last fall. It has a show opening on June 4 that will include an extensive exhibition from the Scottish artist Douglas Gordon. A more intimate space, the three-year-old Hunt Kastner Artworks (Kamenicka 22; 420-233-376-259; www.huntkastner.com) is a single-room gallery. Running through June 6 is an exhibition featuring photographs and installations from the young Czech artist Jiri Thyn.
7) END OF THE LINE
Though the Czech Republic is home to more than 100 breweries, it is challenging to find anything beyond a few international mega-brands in the city center. For a full night of rare brews, take the No. 11 tram out to Namesti bratri Synku, where you will find Zly Casy (Cestmirova 5; 420-604-241-454; www.zlycasy.eu), a pub with a rotating selection of microbrews and hearty Czech pork-with-more-pork fare (entrees, around 90 koruna). On a recent visit, the taps included a fragrant chestnut-honey lager from Milan Rambousek. About five minutes away, the brewpub Pivovar Basta (Taborska 49; 420-261-222-530; www.ubansethu.cz) serves one of the city’s richest and most full-bodied amber lagers (30 koruna a half liter, about a pint), as well as seasonal specials and pickled sausages (44 koruna). To finish up the night, get back on the No. 11 tram and continue out to its terminus at Sporilov, where you’ll find the Prvni Pivni Tramway, or the “first beer tram” (Na Chodovci 1a), a theme pub with three standard beers and one rotating microbrew. Decorated with old tram seats, the pub even has strategically placed tram handrails over the urinals in the men’s bathroom; also in the men’s room: graffiti by the Czech cartoonist Igor Sevcik. Be sure to cover your ears: throughout the night, the bar staff rings an old tram bell when each guest leaves.
8) A TASTE OF AMERICA
Soak up the previous night’s excess with brunch at the newest Bohemia Bagel branch (Dukelskych hrdinu 48; 420-220-806-541; www.bohemiabagel.cz), a life-saving stalwart for the city’s expatriate community and anyone craving a taste of American fare. The menu includes bagel sandwiches, burgers and diner classics like huevos rancheros and pigs in a blanket (full brunch menu, 199 koruna). Once you’re ready to get back on that horse, consider the 1.5-liter pitcher (about 50 ounces) of mimosas, enough for seven friends or one very thirsty individual, for 350 koruna.
Czech Airlines flies direct to Prague daily from Kennedy International Airport in New York, while Delta will do the same three days a week starting June 18. Many other airlines serve the city via connections in Europe, and one-stops can be cheaper. A recent online search found nonstop round-trip prices from New York in June from $777 to $1,219.
A taxi from Ruzyne Airport takes about 40 minutes to the city center and costs about 600 koruna, $30 at 20 Czech koruna to $1. Or you can take bus No. 119 from just outside the arrivals lounge to Dejvicka, the terminus station, and transfer to the metro or a tram from there, all for a single 26-koruna ticket.
The newest splashy hotel is the 160-room Sheraton Prague Charles Square (Zitna 8; 420-225-999-999; www.sheraton.com/prague), which opened in March. Doubles in June start at 3,500 koruna, or $175. A special offer through June includes airport transfer, welcome drinks, flowers and dinner for two in the hotel restaurant, from 6,000 koruna a night, with a two-night minimum .
Generally less expensive but still stylish is the Hotel Yasmin (Politickych veznu 12; 420-234-100-100; www.hotel-yasmin.cz). Opened in 2006, it has 196 rooms decorated by the local designer Barbora Skorpilova. Doubles officially start at 149 euros, about $207 at $1.39 to the euro, but online specials in June were recently as low as 117 euros.