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Prague Spotlight

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By: David Farley

Pop quiz – which one of the following statements about Prague is false: along with Lyon and Turin, Prague is the capital of white magic; eggs are one of the main ingredients in the bewitching 650-year-old Charles Bridge; Mozart loved Prague and was more well-received here than in Vienna; Franz Kafka, a lifelong Prague resident and one of the greatest Czech writers, referred to it as a mother with claws that never let go.

Before we give the answer, consider this: After the Iron Curtain came down in 1989, curious travelers caught a glimpse of Prague as a beautiful but beaten down city, stuck in a miasma of gloom, as the frowning masses shuffled by centuries-old facades long blackened with soot and smog.

But that was then. The world has since rushed in to re-discover the city whose ancient nicknames – Golden Prague, the City of a Hundred Spires – speak of a place that has long captured the atavistic side of the western imagination. And despite the crush of tourists who invade the city every summer, Prague is just that: it’s a bewildering mixture of architectural styles – where Gothic burgher houses hug Baroque palaces that sit next to Art Nouveau apartment buildings; it’s a mishmash of twisting medieval alleyways and lanes, conspiring to render the naïve traveler directionless within minutes of wandering; it’s a beer-lovers Mecca, where the brew is arguably the world’s tastiest (and affordable enough to have seconds or thirds). Moreover, it’s a city with enough soul to bring the traveler back again and again, hoping to discover why this city – Prague, the capital of Bohemia – has a pull like no other.

What lures people to Prague may never be found, but travelers will have fun trying to find out. Three days will be enough to see the main sites – the castle, the Old Town, and Mala Strana – but there’s so much more to Prague. Five days will allow the traveler to dig a bit deeper, to stroll the cobbled streets with abandon, stopping occasionally for a pint of delicious Czech beer; and a week will leave time for seeing some of the wonderful off-the-beaten-path parts – like Zizkov and Vinohrady – of the city that that few tourists take the time to discover.

Which brings us to the answer to our pop quiz: which one of the above statements was false? None, of course. With a city as rich in history and culture as Prague, we could have never made this stuff up.

Attractions

Prague is divided into 22 numbered sections. But Prague 1 (Old Town, Mala Strana, the castle district known as Hradcany) and Prague 2 (Nove Mesto, or New Town, which encapsulates Wenceslas Square and the under-visited neighborhood Vinohrady) is all tourists need to remember.

The best way to see Prague is by foot. Unless your hotel is far from the city center, or you loathe a good walk, there may be no reason at all to step on public transportation during your stay in the Czech capital. If you do, you’ll soon realize the city’s Soviet-built subway system consists of just three lines, making it very easy to use. Built in the ’60s and ’70s at the height of the Cold War, the stations were intentionally built deep into the earth to double as bomb shelters should a nuclear war commence (some escalators can take minutes to descend!). Buy a ticket and validate it in the yellow box before hitting the escalator that will bring you down to the platform. Also, an extensive tram/street car system will take you anywhere you want in the city (buy tickets from the machines on the tram platforms – or in subway stations – and then validate with the small yellow boxes when you get on). If you can help it, steer clear of using taxis. Even though the Prague taxi industry has slowly begun to clean itself up (thanks a high-publicity stunt by the city’s mayor in which he took a taxi, dressed incognito as an Italian tourist, and was charged five times the regular amount), finding an alternative is always safer.

The Prague Information Service (www.pis.cz) operates three offices (in Old Town Hall; in the Charles Bridge tower on the Mala Strana side of the river; and Hlavni Nadrazi, the main railway station) and can book walking tours, day trips, accommodations, transportation information, concert tickets, and historical information. Hours vary depending on location and season. Prague Tours (Hajní 1363; 222/518-259; www.guidingprague.com) a private company started by a Czech-American woman, offers walking tours that can be customized to your interests.

Wenceslas Square
The best place to start your tour is on Wenceslas Square, the tree-lined, Paris-like boulevard that’s crowned by the dark neo-Renaissance National Museum (Václavské námestí 68; May-Sept 10am-6pm, Apr-Oct 10am-5pm; 224/497-111; 110kc; www.nm.cz). The museum itself isn’t very interesting (unless you’ve come all this way to look at whale bones and fossilized rocks), but take note of the equestrian statue in front of the museum – sitting atop the boulevard is Saint Wenceslas, of Christmas carol fame. It was here, at the top of the king’s eponymous square that in August 1968, the Russian-led invasion bulldozed the Czech reform movement known as the Prague Spring. Soviet troops fired on the National Museum, thinking it was the Czech parliament. Twenty-one years later, hundreds of thousands of Czechs filled this space to help usher out the Russians and sweep in a new era of their history, the most poignant moment being when the crowd shook their keys in unison, a not-so-subtle way of saying, good riddance. Today, upscale shops and cafés line the long boulevard.

If you’re standing at the bottom of Wenceslas Square and facing the museum, turn left, walking down the pedestrian-only street Na Príkope, which means “on the moat”; during the Middle Ages, the spot where this street runs literally was a moat, forming the border between the Old Town walls and the outside world. Some of the best shopping exists along this stretch – everything from United Colors of Benetton to Marks and Spencer line the street. For a look at what the city was like before the international chains arrived, try the Museum of Communism (Na Príkope 10; daily 9am-9pm; 224/212-966; 180kc; www.muzeumkomunismu.cz), which is worth a quick visit for gaining a better understanding of the 41 years of Socialist rule. The video reel of the Velvet Revolution is worth the visit alone.

Further on, the imposing Powder Tower (Na Príkope; daily 10am-6pm; 50kc), is the only one of the city’s 13 original remaining medieval gates. Kings usually entered the city through these gates on their way up to the castle; today, tourists gawk and locals walk by without noticing it. For a fantastic view – and a good way to get a sense of the city’s layout – climb the tower to the top.

Old Town
After passing through the Powder Tower, let the pedestrian-friendly Celetna Street guide your way. On the left is the building known as the House at the Black Madonna, which houses the Museum of Czech Cubism (Ovocný trh 19; Tue-Sun 10am-6pm; 224/211-746; 100kc; www.ngprague.cz), reflecting the short-lived movement in the 1920s when a handful of Czech architects and designers were turning everyday objects into Cubist masterpieces. For a breather, head to the recently restored (and recently opened) Café Grand Orient, which is decked out with angular Cubist chairs, tables, lamps, and wall decorations.

Celetna Street eventually spills out onto Old Town Square, arguably one of the most beautiful public spaces in Europe. Undoubtedly, you’ll first notice the Old Town Hall, the tall Gothic “skyscraper” that once took up the entire western side of the square until the Nazis set it on fire just before retreating from the advancing Russians (it was one of the few architectural casualties Prague suffered during World War II). Note the 27 Xs in front of Old Town Hall. They mark the spot where, in 1621, 27 protestants were publicly beheaded (they were on the wrong side of the 30 Years War, an imbroglio that was part of the wars of religion that ravished Europe for centuries). The 15th-century Orloj, or astronomical clock, is one of the biggest draws in Prague (despite the underwhelming show of moving mechanical figurines it puts on hourly). For a great view, climb to the top of the tower (Prague 1; Apr-Oct Tues–Sun 9am-6pm, Mon 11am-6pm, Nov-Mar Tues–Sun 9am-5pm, Mon 11am-5pm; 50kc).

Continue on through Male Namesti (or Small Square) until it bottlenecks into a series of winding alleys. It’s here where Prague’s side streets become a disorienting (but fun) wander through one of the best preserved medieval towns in Europe. The best thing to do is to put away the map and get lost. You’ll stumble upon churches, intimate squares, and tiny cobbled lanes. You may even stumble upon the Mucha Museum (Panská 7; daily 10am-6pm; 224/216-415; 120kc; www.mucha.cz), dedicated to the fin de siecle Czech artist who became well know in France and Bohemia for his posters and panels, oil paintings, and stained glass – a stop in is a must. The museum exhibits some of Mucha’s work and gives an informative overview of his life.

Josefov
Prague’s Jewish Ghetto, situated between Old Town Square and the Vltava River, looks a lot different than it did when thousands of Jews lived in the once-cramped quarters for centuries. Named after 18th-century Austrian emperor, Joseph II (many might remember his characterization in the film Amadeus), the neighborhood was largely razed at the end of the 19th century. Today, it’s a hodgepodge of gorgeous Art Nouveau buildings sprinkled with Jewish sites including the Old-New Synagogue, the oldest working synagogue on the continent; and the Old Jewish Cemetery, one of the most beautiful and haunting cemeteries in Europe – over 100,000 people are buried here in a space the size of a small city block. One price allows admission into the cemetery as well as five synagogues (Old-New, Pinkas, Spanish, Klausen, and Maisel), the Robert Guttman Gallery, and the Ceremonial Hall. Purchase tickets at the Reservation Centre at U Starého hrbitova 3a or at the Jewish Museum (U Staré školy 1; daily 9am-4.30pm; 290kc; www.jewishmuseum.cz).

Near the river, and on the border of Josefov, aficionados of historic interior design will delight in the Museum of Decorative Arts (17 Listopad 2; Wed–Sun 10am-6pm, Tues 10am-7pm; 251/093-111; 120kc; www.upm.cz), a fascinating tour through Czech design. Housed in a neo-Renaissance palace and founded in 1885, the museum exhibits an impressive permanent 20th-century collection of Art Nouveau and avant-garde sculptures as well as stained glass. We especially like the display of toys throughout the ages, which include a fascinating display of dolls from centuries past.

Mala Strana and Prague Castle (Hradcany)
Take the 14th-century Charles Bridge to Mala Strana, situated in the shadow of the castle and Prague’s most breathtaking neighborhood. Photo opp: the pedestrian bridge is the city’s most popular landmark. Flanked by two Gothic bridge towers and lined with Baroque sculptures, the bridge is crammed with tourists and the souvenir-hocking merchants who love them. But don’t let that you stop you – if you’re weary of crowds, go early in the morning, when you’ll have the stone span all to yourself. Stroll across at night, when Prague Castle and many of the city’s spires and towers are illuminated, for one of the most magical walks you’ll have in long time.

The narrow cobbled alleyways that make up Mala Strana are a lure for filmmakers (countless period pieces have been shot here, including Amadeus and Les Miserables), thanks to the neighborhood’s less trampled lanes that appear – at least on the surface – relatively untouched by modern times. Be sure to stop into St. Nicholas Church (Malostranske Namesti 25; Mar-Oct 9am-5pm, Nov-Feb 9am-4pm; 50kc) the 18th-century powder blue-domed church that dominates the Mala Strana skyline. The high-Baroque interior, complete with flourishes of cherubs and larger-than-life saintly sculptures, is one of the finest examples of the period.

Prague Castle (Prague 1; hours vary by season; 350kc), is known in Czech as Hradcany and is one of the biggest complexes in the world, housing the office of the president, a post office, the stunning gothic St. Vitus Cathedral (Prague 1; hours vary by season; 100kc) and the simpler, but equally as stunning Romanesque basilica of St. George (Prague 1; hours vary by season; 224/373-368; 50kc). St. Vitus is a fun wander: head up the high campanile for a stunning view of the entire city, examine the intricate stained glass windows (some of which were made by Alfons Mucha), and take a trip down to the crypt to see where Czech kings rest.

After a stroll around St. Vitus Cathedral, pass behind it, stopping into the church of St. George and Golden Lane. This tiny cobbled lane, flanked by colorful connected houses, was once the home of several alchemists (hence the name of the street) who were employed by Emperor Rudolf II in an attempt to turn metal into gold. Later, in 1917, Franz Kafka lived in house number 22.

In front of the castle is the branch of the National Gallery (Hradcankse Namestí 15; Tues–Sun 10am-6pm; 220/514-634-7; 150kc; www.ngprague.cz) that houses a collection of old European masters. The Czech collection of medieval and Renaissance art is not as impressive as you might find in, say, Florence or Paris, but the gallery boasts a number of great canvases from the likes of Albrecht Durer, Rembrandt, El Greco, and Bronzino.

Further Afield
While most of Prague’s tourists stick to the historic center, they’re missing out by not venturing outside Old Town and Mala Strana. Vinohrady, which is encompassed in the bigger area known as Nove Mesto (literally “New Town”), is a leafy and charming neighborhood that boasts quiet streets and great restaurant, bars, and cafes. The neighborhood is easily reached by subway (take the green line to Jirího z Podebrod) or by foot. It’s also home to one of Prague’s (and Europe’s) most intriguing churches: The Church of the Sacred Heart (Námestí Jirího z Podebrad; 9am-4.30pm; free) looks like a cruise liner crashed into a Timex somewhere in the Mediterranean. The architect, a Slovenian named Joze Plecnik, incorporates early 20th-century modernism with classical elements that offer a feast for the eyes. The Art Nouveau apartment-lined square isn’t bad either.

Further on in Vinohrady, you won’t be able to miss the Zizkov TV Tower (Mahlerovy sady 1; 10am-11.30pm; 242/418-778; free; www.tower.cz). This Orwellian-looking shaft was built by the Soviets (for, among other reasons, to help block out propaganda frequencies coming from the West). Praguers have hated the dominating tower ever since it was built, but thanks to local (and infamous) artist David Cerný, opinions may be changing. The artist installed van-sized babies that appear to be crawling up and down the moon rocket-like tower – standing directly underneath the tower and looking up is one of most underrated off-the-beaten-path outings in Prague. After craning your neck looking up for a while, take the lift up to the tower’s lookout point.

You don’t have to be an architecture buff to appreciate the “Dancing Building” (Rasinovo nabrezi 80) as locals call it. Situated two bridges south of the Charles Bridge (on the Old Town side of the river) this curvy building was designed in the mid-90s by “star-chitect” Frank Gehry, perhaps the most famous living architect today. The building earned its nickname because the structure, a swirling glass façade attached to the more rigid core of the building, resembles a man and a skirt-wearing woman dancing.

Hotels

With each year, Prague’s hotel market gets more diverse. Which is good, considering that for the first half decade after the Velvet Revolution, travelers’ lodging options were mostly limited to bland socialist-era hotels with their cold linoleum floors and formica furniture. Those days are long over. Today, the Czech capital is crammed with exciting accommodation options, from intimate boutique hotels and quiet pensions to major luxury chains. The bad news, however, is that while Prague can be a relatively inexpensive central European capital overall, that factoid doesn’t necessarily hold true when it comes to lodging. Unless you want to rent a private room in someone’s apartment (look for the room-hocking old ladies on the train platform of the city’s main railway station) or can endure one of the few no-frills hotels that are sprinkled around the outskirts of town, expect to pay Paris prices. That said, here are our top picks of Prague’s high-end, moderate, and budget lodgings.

In the years following 1989’s Velvet Revolution, anybody who was anybody stayed in the boxy, gray riverside Intercontinental Hotel (Namesti Curieovych 43/5; 296/631-111; www.icprague.com) – from visiting dignitaries to Michael Jackson – because it was the only luxury lodging in the city. The hotel is still one of the most comfortable places to rest your cobblestone-weary feet, but it now has some competition. The newest, the Mandarin Oriental (Nebovidska 459/1; 233/088-888; www.mandarinoriental.com/prague), is set in an old monastery in leafy Mala Strana. This cathedral of comfort offers all the perks you’d expect from one of the world’s leading luxury hotel chains. Likewise, the Four Seasons (Veleslavínova 2a/1098; 221/427-000; www.fourseasons.com/prague), located across the river in Old Town, boasts castle views and enough pampering to make you want to call it your second home. The independently owned Aria Hotel (Trziste 9; 225/334-111; www.ariahotel.net) – in an embassy-crammed section of Mala Strana – is located in a Renaissance-era palace with each room dedicated to a different musical genre or musician, from Billy Holiday to Beethoven.

For more moderately-priced digs with enough comfort to keep even the most hardened traveler satisfied, Hotel Maximilian (Haštalská 14; 225/303-111; www.maximilianhotel.com) and Hotel Josef (Rybná 20; 221/700-111; www.hoteljosef.com) – both in or near Josefov (the old Jewish Ghetto), both re-designed by famed Czech-born architect Eva Jiricna – offer an artsy, boutique ambience with plenty of perks (large breakfast buffets, high-speed internet, plasma-screen TVs – and, at Maximilian, a sensory deprivation bath). Set in a quiet, less-trampled section of Old Town, Bellagio Hotel (U Milosrdných 2; 221/778-999; www.bellagiohotel.cz) offers warm and spacious rooms with free high-speed wireless Internet access. For a fashionable place that’s just out of the center – in the buddingly hip Zizkov neighborhood – Arcotel Teatrino (Borivojova 53; 221/422-111; www.arcotel.cc) is a chic boutique hotel with small-ish, but comfy rooms and a great breakfast served in an old theater space.

But if the above options are busting your bank account, have no fear: Prague boasts plenty of budget-style hotels as well: the 78-room Hotel Elite (Ostrovni 32; 224/932-250; www.hotelelite.cz) is housed in a renovated 14th-century building behind the National Theater in a neighborhood that’s loaded with great restaurants and bars. The Flathotel Orion (Americká 9; 353/232-100), located in the leafy and quiet neighborhood Vinohrady, has apartment-style rooms, complete with kitchens. Hotel Ibis (Plzenska 14; 221/701-700; www.ibishotel.com), a Euro-wide chain, offers clean, comfy rooms in the up-and-coming Smichov district, as well as several other locations in Prague.

Restaurants

Ten years ago, it was impossible to mention Prague’s dining scene to foodies without smirks and laughter ensuing. The city had plenty of restaurants, but most served standard pub grub that, while hearty, was meant to complement the excellent beer that Czechs produce (and not the other way around). But that’s all changed. The restaurant scene in Golden Prague is shining brighter than ever. The pub grub is still there (for a real treat, try goulash with dumplings or another hearty Czech dish at one of the many gastro-pubs that have sprung up recently), but it now has competition with nouvelle Czech, Asian fusion, French, sushi, Mexican, and a plethora of other types of cuisine. And best of all, it’s relatively cheap. There aren’t many Michelin stars here – and don’t expect to find Alain Ducasse or Jean George – but you can eat well here for half the price you’ll find in western and central European capitals.

When it opened in the mid ’90s, Kampa Park Na Kampe 8B; 296/826-102; www.kampapark.com), serving up succulent seafood in the shadow the Charles Bridge, kicked off a haute dining revolution in the Czech capital that has yet to slow down. Tommy Sjoo, Kampa Park’s Swedish cofounder, has since begun an eatery empire; one of his latest is Hot (Wenceslas Square Václavské namestí 45; 222/247-240; www.hot.bacchusgroup.cz), which dishes up sizzling pan-Asian delights to the beautiful crowd in a SoHo-like ambience on Wenceslas Square. Vinarna V Zatisi (Liliova 1; 222/221-155), located on a narrow Old Town lane, serves top notch international fare in a recently re-designed dining room. For a less flashy and more traditional experience, Palffy Palac (Valdštejnská 14; 257/530-522; www.palffy.cz) is a Mala Strana mainstay housed in a Renaissance palace that’s been satisfying Prague’s upper crust (and visiting foodies in the know) for years with its well-prepared continental and Czech cuisine.

Thankfully, Prague now boasts very good restaurants in all price categories. More moderate picks include the hip Hergetova Cihelna (Cihelná 2b; 296/826-103; www.cihelna.com), housed in an old brick factory near the river in Mala Strana and dishing up tasty wood-fired pizzas and inventive Asian-inspired plates. For an equally tantalizing menu, Zahrada v Opere, or Opera Garden (Legerova 75; 224/239-685; www.zahradavopere.cz), hits a high note with international dishes like Brazilian steak and risotto served in a minimalist dining room. Dynamo (Pstrossova 29; 224/932-020) and its diverse menu of Czech and Asian-leaning dishes is a favorite among hip locals. Just up the street, popular Universal (V Jircharich 6; 224/918-182) is a straightforward (but perennially hip) eatery that regularly receives accolades for its French-leaning dishes and big salads.

Travelers traversing Europe on a shoe string will eat very well in Prague – not only because the price to quality ratio is advantageous to the traveler, but because there are a plethora of real budget restaurants in Prague as well. Kolkovna (V Kolkovné 8; 224/819-701; www.kolkovna.cz) was the beacon that set the city abuzz with a small gastro-pub movement. This “pub” is a local favorite not only because of its Art Nouveau atmosphere, but because it serves up above-average hearty Czech cuisine (goulash and dumplings and Svickova – braised beef served in a cream sauce and topped with cranberries and a dollop of whipped cream). Whether you want a late-night snack, excellent vegetarian plates, or find yourself suddenly in need for an American-style weekend brunch (or all of the above), Radost FX Cafe (Belehradská 120; 603/193-711; www.radostfx.cz) is the place. Located behind the National Museum, this uber-hip spot was one of the first American expat establishments to open in the early ’90s. The wannabe American writers may be gone, but Radost is still serving up Mexican, Italian, and Czech treats. As curious as it may seem, great pizzerias are legion in Prague. One of the best is Kmotra (V Jircharich 12; 224/915-809), which some argue makes the best pie this side of the Alps.

Nightlife

Thanks to the Czech proclivity for beer drinking (the country regularly tops the list as the highest beer-consuming nation in the world), nightlife in the capital has never been lacking. From traditional pubs (most close by 11pm) to hip bars (that stay open nearly all night) to DJ-fueled dance clubs that can erupt in pure hedonism at any moment, the Czech capital’s nightlife is enjoyable enough to tempt travelers to lengthen their stay.

Though the Old Town and Mala Strana have long had a stranglehold on Prague’s nightlife activities, Zizkov – a working-class neighborhood just out of the center – has recently emerged as the place to party in Prague. Neighboring Vinohrady is also a good place, particularly for those travelers who want to experience Czech nightlife sans tourists. The city’s subway and many of its trams/street cars stop running at midnight (until 4.30am) and are replaced by night trams and buses that run every 30 minutes.

For more nightlife event listings, such as concerts, performances, and visiting DJs, pick up a copy of The Prague Post, the long-running weekly English language newspaper.

Thanks to the tourist crush in central Prague, many of the city’s traditional pubs in the historic center have disappeared. The few that remain, however, happen to be the best. U Zlateho Tygra (Husova 17; 222/221-111; www.uzlatehotygra.cz) is the place former beer-quaffing and philosophical-musing president Vaclav Havel took Bill Clinton for a few pints of Pilsner Urquell. You’ll find Old Town’s last bastion of rough-and-tumble (but safe) characters here. Beers will continue to magically appear on your table until you can manage to sputter out dost! (enough!) to the waiter. A few blocks away is U Medvidku (Na Perštýne 7; 224/211-916; www.umedvidku.cz). Don’t be put off by the German tour groups who frequent this place. The large beer hall will absorb them, and the more you drink the less you’ll notice them. The beer, brewed in a town about 100 miles south of Prague, is known as Budweis in German, and the beer they’ve brewed for centuries is, you guessed it, Budweiser (in Czech, it’s called Budvar). After one sip, we predict you’ll wish the Budweiser back home tasted like this. Across the river in Mala Strana, U Hrocha (Thunovská 10; 257/316-890) is a perennial party favorite for locals who come for the pub’s salt-of-the-earth atmosphere and (very) cheap draft beer; expect to share a table here (which is the best way to meet the locals).

For hipper, more youthful ambience, La Casa Blu (Kozí 15; 224/818-270; www.lacasablu.cz) – tucked away down an Old Town alleyway – was founded by a few South American expats in the mid ’90s and today is one of the best bars in Old Town in which to sip cocktails and quaff brews. Bar & Books (Týnská 19; 224/808-250; www.barandbooks.cz), just steps away from Old Town Square, is a New York City spin-off where the only reading that takes place is on wine and beer labels.

In Zizkov and Vinohrady, the local favorite Palác Akropolis (Kubelíkova 27; 296/330-911) is a great place to pound a few pints of beer (and soak them up with some tasty pub grub) before heading down to the subterranean club to hear some live music. Or head over to nearby homey Hapu (Orlicka 8; 222/720-158) for some of the best (and least expensive) cocktails in Prague in an unpretentious and friendly atmosphere.

Shopping

Most travelers aren’t lured to Prague for the shopping. That said, there are plenty of Czech-made products that are worth taking home. Besides beer and Absinthe, the Czechs have long produced some of the world’s best crystal (shops are littered about Old Town alleys). If you’re not in the souvenir-buying business, avoid places selling T-shirts with images of Kafka or anything that says “Prague: Czech It Out.” For chain store addicts, shopping malls – laden with all the multi-national names you can conjure – have bloomed in just about every neighborhood in the city. But hidden in the labyrinth of Old Town and Mala Strana streets, some intriguing shops lurk.

Mala Strana is a better place to get lost in the tangle of romantic alleyways than score a great deal at a boutique shop, but there are a few great places worth stopping for – namely on the tiny alleyway Saska Ulice (one block from the Charles Bridge gate tower, take a left at the bio-market on Lazenska Street and then make an immediate left onto Saska). The street that flirts with becoming a mini version of New York’s St. Mark’s Place or San Francisco’s Haight Street, with its funky clothes shops and record stores, is home to Myrnyx Tyrnyx (Saska Ulice; 224/923-270; www.myrnyxtyrnyx.cz), one of Prague’s first retro clothes shops. The tiny space is crammed with cool clothes from many decades past (owner Maya Kvetný often hauls back the best of the best when she’s in Los Angeles), as well garb from new Czech designers.

Like Mala Strana, if you if you know where to look in Old Town, you can find some interesting shops. For example, Kubista (Ovocný trh 19; 224/236-378; www.kubista.cz), part of the Cubist Museum (located in the House of the Black Madonna), sells not only the most beautiful Cubist furniture and household goods in the world – they sell the world’s only Cubist furniture and household goods. C’mon – you know you’ve always wanted a Cubist ashtray.

The area around Dlouhá Street has quietly become a hip section of Prague’s historic center for fashion, music, and galleries. Klara Nademlýnská (Dlouhá 3; 224/818-769; www.klaranademlynska.cz) is the outlet for this hip indie Czech designer.

The best places to feast on Czech literature in English is Shakespeare and Sons (Krymská 12; 271/740-839; www.shakes.cz), located on the fringes of the leafy and atmospheric Vinohrady neighborhood, and The Globe (Pštrossova 6; 224/934-203; www.globebookstore.cz), one of the first English-language bookshops to pop up in the former Eastern Bloc. Both bookshops sell new and used books.

When To Go

With Prague becoming part of the European grand tour for everyone from backpackers to luxury travelers, choosing when to go has become important. During July and August (the high season), the city fills to a tipping point with tourists, its humid streets and restaurants crammed. Spring and autumn are particularly ideal, when the weather is mild and prices less wallet-busting than in the summer months – these seasons offer the best bang for your buck. In winter, the low season, when the weather often dips below the freezing point (often until early April), travelers will be pleased to have Prague all to themselves. Travelers will also be happy that winter is the cheapest time to visit.High season:
July and August

Low season:
Winter

Best bang for your buck:
Spring and Autumn

Getting There

The only direct flight to from the United States to Prague is on Czech (www.czechairlines.com), in partnership with Delta (www.delta.com), from New York – JFK. The flight from New York takes approximately seven hours. Otherwise, a change in London (www.britishairways.com), Amsterdam (www.klm.com), Paris (www.airfrance.com), Frankfurt, or Munich (www.lufthansa.com) is necessary.

For train travelers, most international trains arrive at the city’s main railways station (Hlavni Nadrazi) which is in the center of town and linked by subway, while trains from Berlin and Vienna frequently stop at Holesovice station, located out of the city center, but linked by the subway as well.

Getting into Prague
There are three ways to get from Ruzyne Airport to the center of Prague: take bus 119 (8kc, about $ .30) (buy tickets from the tobacco stand in the airport) to the nearest metro station (Dejvice); take one of the white Cedaz mini vans that are parked in front of airport (90kc per person, about $4); or take a taxi (about $20).

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