At Butterfield & Robinson, we pride ourselves on scouting out the best places in the world to walk, bike and immerse ourselves in local culture, no matter how far flung. Along the way, our journey often takes us through some of the world’s most famous and culturally rich cities. Never ones to squander an opportunity, we asked veteran guide Lewis Evans for a B&R-inspired list of things to see and do that you won’t find in a travel guide.
Prague Sights: What to See + Do
One of Prague’s claims to fame is that it was nearly unscathed by the Second World War. Visiting the following four sights – preferably but not necessarily in order – justifies the city’s reputation as one of the most beautiful in Europe. Ascending on foot or by funicular to the Strahov Hill provides you with great views of town as well as a stark contrast between Soviet design and Prague’s medieval beginnings. Prague Castle is a must-see and is as enjoyable from the outside as from within. Stop for a coffee in the gardens of Villa Richter before allowing yourself to be swept across the Charles Bridge by the streams of visitors, who you’ll have to endure until you’ve had your fill of the Old Town Square. This is when you branch out on your own. The 1st district is delimited by a large highway on stilts and train tracks. Stay within these and you can’t go wrong.
The hill offers an excellent view over Prague and contains numerous iconic architectural highlights. First is Strahov Stadium, erected by the Soviets and designed to be the future home of the Eastern Bloc-only-Olympics. Stand in awe of its vast size and take in its ugliness before planned renovations begin. Next, within walking distance of the stadium is the Strahov Monastery, a 12th-century collection of religious buildings that includes a heavily gilded library and a very old brewery.
Prague Castle (from the outside)
Predictable but not to be missed. With 9th-century roots, and ongoing construction, Prague Castle is a sprawling concoction of beautiful buildings, churches, chapels, courtyards, secondary royal residences and more. There’s enough to see here to spend an entire day. Unless you are a castle buff, pop into the St. Vitus Cathedral to admire the stained glass, before meandering through the grounds on your way downhill in the direction of the Charles Bridge.
Mala Strana (Lesser Quarter), Charles Bridge and the Old Town Square
More staples for any Prague visitor, but for good reasons. Mala Strana, packed with cobblestone alleys and lined with shops and restaurants, gives you an excellent idea of what Europe would look like had WWII not happened. No visit to Prague is complete without a pensive stroll across the Charles Bridge. (Keep your ears peeled for the musicians from Prague’s Musical Academy for the Blind.) Another series of winding streets leads you to Prague’s Old Town Square. Take in the bell tower and its wooden musicians, admire the beautiful facades that hem the square and proceed to the next step.
Get lost in Stare Mesto (Old Town)
Head north to the Jewish Quarter, then south to Wencelas Square overlooked by the ominous National Museum, and don’t stop until you are thoroughly lost. Prague’s 1st district is one of the most beautiful square-kilometres in Europe.
Prague Hotels: Where to Rest Your Head
Crème de la crème:
As pictured above, this converted 14th-century monastery sits at the foot of the Prague Castle (see below). Surrounded by high walls and outfitted with a lavish spa, this is every weary traveller’s home away from home. The breakfast spread is epic. The Dalai Lama stays here when in town.
A 19th-century jewel within walking distance of the 1st district. The library, the cigar lounge, the wrought iron terrace and the lobby replete with green leather bar: everything is designed to throw you back to the glamorous decades of the Belle Epoque. Also features an in-house restaurant, Le Papillon, and full spa services.
Sax Vintage Design Hotel
A 22-room bohemian paradise a stone’s throw from the Old Town and Charles Bridge. Each room is individually furnished with retro designer pieces. The hotel has a spa and gym, and a longstanding tradition of 5 o’clock tea on the rooftop terrace. A perfect (and hip) place to unwind after a day in the city of a thousand spires.
Inexpensive, but Chic:
Housed in two new buildings built around a courtyard, Czech star architect Eva Jiricna has blended the medieval surroundings with her new and bold designs in this inexpensive boutique hotel in the Jewish Quarter and heart of the Parizka shopping district. For excellent views of Prague, I recommend the top floors of the pink house.
Prague Restaurants: Where to Eat + Drink
Crème de la crème:
La Degustation Boheme Bourgeoise
Tasting menus are based on a late-19th-century Czech cookbook at this newly anointed member of the Michelin family, pictured above. Each course is accompanied by its own amuse bouche. Accord three hours for this refined and surprisingly light Bohemian extravaganza.
With a maximum capacity of 24 and hidden in the plush Art Deco folds of the Raddison Blu Alcron Hotel, chef Roman Paulus, conjures up unforgettable dishes in the most intimate setting, earning a Michelin star in 2012.
This café, restaurant and wine bar serves canapés in a languid, fin de siècle, atmosphere. Steps from the Spanish Synagogue in the Old Town.
Order fresh pastries, soups and paninis from the blackboard menu and sit on the mismatched furniture amongst a stack of newspapers and temporary art exhibits. Don’t expect to find many tourists here. A great place to stop after the Jirak Farmer’s Market.
A Prague institution in the Old Town, this café house has weathered both time and multiple regimes. Stop for a coffee, snack, lunch, or a good dose of a bygone era. An excellent place to people watch.
About the Author
Veteran B&R Guide Lewis Evans can ask for a coffee in five European languages. And while this often results in him being served a crusty cheese sandwich, he’s terrific at pretending that’s what he ordered.