High Five: Reasons to Czech out Prague

June 25, 2014

Still considered by some, unfairly, as simply a stag party city, the pretty Czech capital far surpassed my expectations during a recent visit. Effortlessly combining charming cobbled streets, wall-to-wall history and endless photo opportunities, Prague also has a great selection of quirky hotels, restaurants, bars (serving more than just the excellent local beers) and shops. It’s hard to choose just five reasons why I’d recommend a visit, but here goes…

Great on foot
Pack a sturdy pair of flat shoes – the cobbles will wreak havoc with dainty heels – and you’re all set for a sightseeing treat. Prague’s delightfully compact and it doesn’t take long to orientate yourself. Attractions such as the Castle, Old Town Square and Charles Bridge (go very early or late, to avoid the crowds) are must-sees; so too are the lovely little streets and squares that will reward visitors willing to lose themselves a little.

Fun on two or four wheels, too
Tired of treading the streets? Why not hop aboard a Segway? This was my first time on one, and I’m hooked. It takes a few minutes to master and, apart from a couple of minor mishaps (my apologies to the nice man I nearly knocked off the pavement) was an exciting way to see the city. Fancy something more sedate? Hire a vintage soft-top car for a couple of hours and allow the infectiously enthusiastic local driver (speaking perfect English) to show you the sights.

All that sightseeing can work up an appetite
Prague’s reputation for reasonably-priced food and drink is well deserved. The local fare’s quite meat and dumplings-dominated, but there are also lots of places serving delicious lighter meals. My favourites were the restaurants at the Aria and Hotel Paris, and the bistro at the Municipal House – an Art Deco masterpiece next to Prague’s Gothic Powder Tower that’s worth visiting for the architecture alone. A glass of wine, a sandwich and some fries came in at less than £10. Or try Marina Grosseto Ristorante, a floating restaurant with unbroken views of the Charles Bridge. I recommend the peppered tuna steak; sublime.

Think you won’t like the ballet? Think again
Culturally, I tend to be more Duran Duran than Debussy, but this visit to Prague has opened my eyes to the delights of a night at the ballet. As if the setting – the Národní divaldo (National Theatre) – wasn’t impressive enough in itself, that evening’s performance of Swan Lake is something I will never forget, leaving me tearful (in a good way) when the dancers took their final bow. It’s something I’d love to do again although, with London’s Covent Garden admission considerably more costly than the £9 ticket (yes, really) in Prague, I may need to start saving.

You’ll be glad you dragged yourself away
It’s impossible to be bored in Prague and a short break’s not nearly long enough to see everything. But, if you can bear to leave its ancient walls, there are treats galore in the surrounding Bohemian countryside. A visit to the UNESCO-listed historic town centre of Kutná Hora (the city of silver) is a must – if its Gothic Cathedral of St. Barbara wasn’t the inspiration for Harry Potter’s Hogwarts, I’d be very surprised. Or treat yourself to a two-centre holiday, combining a few nights in the city – I was at the Grand Hotel Bohemia, formerly KGB HQ – with a sigh-inducing stay in the rural surroundings of Chateau Mcely, a five-star Baroque mansion set in private gardens with a natural swimming lake, spa and stylish accommodation. I was lucky enough to have lunch in the terrace restaurant on a beautiful sunny day, sampling line-caught wild cod with fava beans and passion fruit mousse, followed by peanut butter ice cream with ricotta soup. The perfect finale to a spectacular few days.

Karen Carpenter