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People enjoy the sunset near the site where Stalin's statue stood.
CITY GUIDE

A local’s guide to Prague

People enjoy the sunset near the site where Stalin's statue stood.
  • By Lenka Kabrhelova
  • Photos by Lenka Grabicova
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It’s difficult not to fall in love with the beauty of Prague. One of the few European cities that has escaped major natural disasters and destruction of 20th-century wars, it can feel like the set of a historical movie when you wander the cobblestone streets of the Old Town on a rainy day or watch the sun lower behind the silhouette of the Prague Castle.

At times, it seems as if the city gets lost in its own charms — trapped, architecturally, somewhere among medieval walls, art nouveau, socialist Brutalism and experiments of post-Communist transformation. But don’t let these monuments, sometimes ancient, trick you into thinking that Prague is not a living organism. Even if the movement is slow, there is plenty of change, with new cafes, restaurants, galleries and art venues popping up across the city. Pack Bohumil Hrabal’s stories or Egon Bondy’s poetry, download some Plastic People of the Universe tracks, and find the magic.

Meet Lenka Kabrhelova

Lenka came to Prague in 2018 after a decade of living abroad. A Czech native, she has dedicated equal time to the East and the West, having worked in Moscow and Washington. In a pursuit of equilibrium, she finally returned home to Central Europe. She misses being asked: “Where are you from?”

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IN THE ACTION
Vinohrady
This neighborhood used to be called Royal Vineyards, and the look is definitely still there. The leafy streets, art nouveau and neo-Renaissance buildings with hidden green yards and plentiful cafes, bistros, restaurants and design shops make it a popular residential area. Reserve some time to watch the sun set over the Prague Castle from Riegrovy Sady park. There are numerous boutique hotels and Airbnbs here. Find this neighborhood.
LOW-KEY
Dejvice
Home to ambassadors’ residences, several universities, lots of greenery and fine dining, Dejvice — which means “give me more” in Czech — is one of the best addresses in town. Its Functionalist villas — marked by simple lines, minimalist approaches and scattered like boxes on a hill — are standouts of European architecture philosophies. You can stay in one of the boutique hotels or Airbnbs. If you’re curious about what living in Socialist Realism would feel like, pay a visit to Hotel International. Find this neighborhood.
Neighborhoods

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Eat

BREAKFAST
If Cafe at Werich Villa
Confectioner Iveta Fabesova is famous for her modern take on classical Czech desserts such as vetrnik or venecek. She opened her first cafe in Vinohrady because “there was nowhere to go for breakfast.” At the Werich Villa location, you get much more than a morning dose of carbs and caffeine. You can enjoy konakova spicka and other deliciously prepared pastries, soft omelets and great coffee while breathing Czech history and culture. The villa had a number of important inhabitants, most notably actor Jan Werich, famous for his political satire and forced into exile in the United States before World War II. He is remembered with an exhibition right next to the cafe.
BTW: Take an early-morning stroll around Kampa park before you head to the cafe. It can be enchanting.
If Cafe, U Sovovych mlynu 501/7, Prague 1, 118 00
BREAKFAST
Bistro 8
Wherever you’re headed in the morning, Bistro 8 in Prague 7 (there’s a second, central outpost, in Prague 1) can help get you ready for the day. Eggs in all forms, breakfast sandwiches, pancakes, granola and good coffee — local food from sustainable farms is the main goal here. The airy, clean design is all complemented by a friendly atmosphere, reasonable prices and plenty of choices for non-meat-eaters.
BTW: If you come for brunch on the weekend to the Vinohrady location, take a stroll to the nearby Church of the Most Sacred Heart of Our Lord, a visually striking modernist masterpiece of Slovenian architect Josip Plecnik’s.
Bistro 8, Veverkova 1410/8, 170 00 Praha-Letná, Czechia
LUNCH
Cafe Nona
A true gem of socialist-era architecture known as Brutalism, the National Theatre’s New Stage building hides Nona on its third floor. The menu is simple, but the food is tasty. Get the liver dumpling soup if it’s on a daily menu or a quiche and a homemade lemonade. A window table is a must here to enjoy the view of bustling (and politically significant) Narodni street while sipping your cappuccino or tea. Students, intellectuals and artists are frequent guests here, which, combined with the retro vibe, make it a unique spot.
BTW: If you come in the evening to watch a play or grab a drink, you can catch artists pre- or post-performance.
Cafe Nona, Narodni 1393/4, Prague 1 – Nove Mesto, 110 00
LUNCH
Kuchyn
Ask locals about dining inside the castle, and you’ll get a skeptical look. Most of the restaurants there are considered tourist traps and dutifully avoided, with one exception: Kuchyn (“Kitchen”), on a mission to bring the non-tourist crowd back (with a little help of gorgeous city views and great beer). Located in the Salm palace owned by the National Gallery, it serves classic Czech dishes, such as roasted pork, goulash, and bean or lentil soup. There is no menu; simply peek across the chef’s shoulder into the pots and pick whatever your nose and eyes like the most.
BTW: Climb up the castle to erase any guilt about calories. The view is worth it. While digesting, you can pop in the National Gallery next door.
Kuchyn, Hradcanske namesti 186/1, Prague 1, 118 00
DINNER
Nejen Bistro
There is something special about a restaurant with a burning fire pit inside — cozy while ratcheting up the intensity of the fragrance and taste of the food. Nejen Bistro’s menu is small and focuses on meat; anything from the grill is delicious, particularly the chicken with Jerusalem artichoke, and the duck breast with beetroot, apple and ginger. The duck liver pate with currant melts on your tongue. Save room for dessert: The sorrel ice cream on cocoa crumble with rhubarb is not one to miss.
BTW: Try one of the homemade gin and tonics or a sauvignon blanc from Moravia.
Nejen Bistro, Krizikova 263/24, Prague – Karlin, 186 00
DINNER
Kantyna
Grilled, roasted, braised or minced: Have meat any way you like at this dual restaurant-butcher shop. Grab your tray, wander the stations and pick what pleases your senses, with the options of classic side dishes such as potato pancakes or a simple salad and with condiments like apple horseradish. Homemade lemonades are great, but your stomach might thank you for a good old pint of Pilsener. Don’t forget to look up: The halls of this building that used to be a bank are beautifully decorated.
BTW: The slightly grim look of the street is not an accident. It’s named after political prisoners of the Nazi regime who were held in a building at the top of the street.
Kantyna, Politickych veznu 1511/5, Prague 1, 110 00
LATE-NIGHT
Public Interest
An advertising director, an architect and a former director of national railways thought the city lacked a good bar, so they set out to create one. Voilà! Fast-forward to 2014, and this simple and sleek place hidden off the main streets of the Old Town is one of the most highly regarded venues in Prague. Amid the Western pop culture decorative touches, the specialty here is champagne and cocktails (there is wine and beer, too).
BTW: Try the vodka martini or one of the cocktails made with champagne. If you love tarragon and subtle herbal notes, Dragon Fizz is the way to go.
Public Interest, U Milosrdnych 12, Prague 1, 110 00
LATE-NIGHT
Cafe V lese
The “Cafe in a forest” is considered the heart of the buzz on Krymska street, the flagship example of Prague gentrification. This retro-styled place is surrounded by other bars, though, rather than trees. This proclaimed activist hotbed is full of action. Pop in for a drink, a slam-poetry evening, a live talk show, a flea market or a discussion. There are two bars: upstairs and downstairs, in the cellar turned music club. You can sip your beer while listening to one of the frequent live music shows.
BTW: Check the online schedule ahead of your visit. International bands and musicians are often playing here.
Cafe V lese, Krymska 12, Prague 10, 101 00
(Prague illustrator Ilya Bazhanov for The Washington Post)
LOCALS THINK YOU SHOULD KNOW
  1. Tourist traps are real. Watch out for taxi services that will attempt to rip off foreigners and exchange offices offering bad rates.
  2. Read Vaclav Havel (a dissident playwright and former Czech president) and Milan Kundera (a contemporary writer). There is plenty to learn about Czech culture and history.
  3. Ice hockey is a national obsession. Jaromir Jagr is not a relative of Mick Jagger.
(Prague illustrator Ilya Bazhanov for The Washington Post)

Do

Sunset at Stalin
The Soviet dictator is long gone from his pedestal above the Vltava River, yet everyone still refers to the vista by his name. Climb up from the riverbank or walk down from Letna Hill to experience the view “Stalin” (a statue likeness) and his stone comrades had before the sculpture of the group was demolished in 1962. Today, a giant red metronome counts the pace of the city. The plinth is an ideal spot for watching the sunset, skaters and people in general. There are occasional exhibitions in the bunkerlike area under your feet, which was shortly occupied by a pirate radio station and a rock club in the ’90s.
BTW: The monument is used as a cultural venue over the summer with live music and theater performances; check the online schedule to see what’s on during your trip.
Stalin, Letenske sady, Prague 7 – Letna, 170 00
Sapa Vietnamese market
Sapa is not just an authentic market where you can get the best pho in town and find practically anything you’d want to buy, from fruits and vegetables to hats, suits, toys and car parts. There’s also a Buddhist temple for worship, and it’s an institution for the local Vietnamese community, which is, according to the government, the third-largest in the country after Slovaks and Ukrainians. Originally invited to migrate to Prague under job programs by the Czechoslovak Communist regime, many Vietnamese decided to stay after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Others joined in the following decades.
BTW: Don’t get intimidated by the distance from the city center; Prague’s transportation system is efficient and easy to navigate. To get there, hop in the red line metro to Kacerov. From there, take bus No. 113 to Sidliste Pisnice. Vendors mostly speak Vietnamese or Czech.
Letna Park beer gardens
You are in the country of beer lovers. So yes, that means (almost) endless options of where, when, how and what beer you can drink. One great option is Vyletna, a beer garden/pub, sports center and civic project aimed at rejuvenating a historical building. Grab a pint and play chess, table tennis or a few tunes on the piano. If it’s packed, move just a few feet away to the next spot, Letna Beer Garden, for a gorgeous view of the city.
BTW: Pop in the National Technical Museum adjacent to the park, which has exhibits such as industrial design and photography.
Letna Park beer gardens, Letenske sady 32, Praha 7 – Letna, 170 00
Jatka 78
Formerly a slaughterhouse, a market hall and now a performance space, Jatka 78 is home to physical theater, dance, contemporary circus and other forms of experimental and independent art. The ambition of founder Rostislav Novak was to create an international meeting point for arts and ideas of different genres. His collective Cirk La Putyka popularized “new circus” in the Czech Republic, so much so that Jatka 78 sells out. The upside is that you don’t have to worry about the language barrier. Go to halls 7 and 8.
BTW: Reserve some time to visit the theater’s gallery and bar before the performance.
Jatka78, Jateční 1530, 170 00 Praha 7-Holešovice, Czechia
Convent of Saint Agnes
Founded in the 13th century by Agnes of Bohemia, the youngest royal daughter, this convent is one of the most important examples of Gothic architecture in Prague. Owned by the National Gallery today, it’s a place of beauty, peace and tranquility. The permanent exhibition will take you back to medieval Bohemia and Central Europe. Budget time to visit the gardens and check out sculptures made by contemporary Czech artists. And have all your senses ready — there is an interactive exhibition where you can touch copies of important Gothic objects of art.
BTW: Although the gallery is closed Mondays, the convent gardens are open every day.
Convent of Saint Agnes, U Milosrdnych 17, Prague 1, 110 00
Sauna on a boat
If you visit Prague in fall or winter: Let off some steam at this sauna on a boat (called lazne na lodi). Parked at the Rasinovo nabrezi embankment, this vessel will have you sweat, shiver and then relax while taking in a view of the Prague Castle, possibly even during the magic of dusk. You can dip in the Vltava River, you can do it naked, and you won’t get fined. (But a pair of swans might peck your back if you’re too loud.) The seasonal sauna accommodates 16 people and is open only in the evening, so book it in advance. In the summer, the barge converts into a beer garden.
BTW: In the summer, take the tram from Vyton south to Dvorce, and dip in the Vltava at Zlute lazne bathhouse. (Wear your swimsuit this time.)
Sauna on a boat, Rasinovo nabrezi, Naplavka, Prague 2, 120 00
Lenka Kabrhelova
Lenka came to Prague in 2018 after a decade of living abroad. A Czech native, she has dedicated equal time to the East and the West, having worked in Moscow and Washington. In a pursuit of equilibrium, she finally returned home to Central Europe. She misses being asked: “Where are you from?”
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Lenka Grabicova
Lenka is a contributing photographer to The Washington Post based in Prague.

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