An Unfound Guide to Prague:
Blog by Yasmeena Faycurry 📍 Chicago
This is a guide to Prague for the anti-tourist. Here, you will not find a list of the most popular places to visit. Instead, you will find some of the most unique spots Prague has to offer, as well as some staples for local inhabitants. I hope you enjoy!
Pretext: If you ask any local about the food scene in Prague, they will likely tell you that communism destroyed it. Under communist rule, Czechs had one recipe book to cook from. The book dictated everything from where to get ingredients to how to serve dishes. Whatsmore, portion sizes were listed by the hundreds, suggesting that recipes were made to feed the masses, not to be enjoyed by individual parties (Atlas Obscura). As a result, Prague, the culinary delight of Europe, was reduced to dull homogeneity. While Czechs have since brought color to their culinary culture, you’ll find that most dishes remain simple and practical, with the most popular dishes being sausage, goulash, meatloaf, Moravian sparrow, pork knuckle, fried cheese, and garlic soup.
Unlike food, beer culture has bounced back especially fast after communism. The country has had a long relationship with beer, with the first Czech brewery being established in the early 13th century by the Břevnov monastery (according to Prague’s official tourism website). The golden drink has remained an important part of Czech culture ever since. After the Velvet Revolution, Czechs invested deeply in brewing and have become the ultimate beer connoisseurs. They have the second highest beer consumption per capita in the world just under Latvia (according to the OECD) and are known for their pale lagers with lighter flavor and lots of foam. Here is a nice source on beer culture in the Czech Republic if you’re curious.
Now on to the recommendations!
By far, this is one of the most beautiful coffee shops in Prague. The space used to house Cafe Jedna, but it is now filled by Kolektor. Inside, it is airy and bright with floor to ceiling windows and Bauhaus style furnishings. They serve beer and coffee and have wonderful desserts as well! The cafe is located in the Fair Trade Palace which also houses Prague’s Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. The museum has an impressive collection of paintings and sculptures from artists of the 19th-21st century (both Czech and international). While the museum is too large to finish in one visit, I recommend stopping by and checking out pieces from Czech artists like Jan Preisler, Jindrich Stryrsky and Toyen (Prague-Now).
*Kolektor is located in Prague-7. It is one of the smallest Prague districts and stretches along the left bank of the Vltava. Once a sleepier part of the city, Prague 7 has since developed into a lively, creative area home to an eclectic collection of art spaces, food spots, and bars (Travel Mag).
Cafe Bar Propaganda
For a more lowkey bar experience, I recommend Cafe Bar Propaganda over in New Town. It’s a small two-room cafe with a selection of board games (including chess) and a fairly priced menu. While most of the crowd is Czech, this place is welcome to tourists — just don’t be obnoxious, otherwise they will likely overcharge you. They have great music and are open until 3am.
*Cafe Bar Propaganda sits to the right of the Vltava and is located in Prague-1. Most of Prague 1 is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and includes some of the city’s most important spots like Prague Castle, Old Town Square, the Charles Bridge, the Jewish Quarter, Wenceslas Square, and Charles University (Prague-1 official website).
Panelák is a Czech and Slovak term for a panel building constructed of prefabricated materials. Post-war housing shortages and Czechoslovak communist ideology inspired the building of these panel houses back in the 50s. They were an affordable way to provide lots of housing, while slashing costs with their uniform design. The apartments in these buildings were designed bare-boned and simplistic. According to Bloomberg’s City Lab, the floorplan of a typical panelak apartment contained a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and living room (which also served as a dining room). In reality, however, floor plans varied depending on the town and family’s size and many have since been renovated and customized further. The belief of the panelak design was that it would foster more ‘collective’ living throughout cities and offer easy access to nature with the vast greenery surrounding each building (Elman, Columbia University School of Architecture). Some see these buildings as concrete ghosts of communism, while others continue to inhabit them for their affordable price and convenience. Fun fact: In the city of Most, 80% of citizens still live in Paneláks (Tres Bohemes). Many Panelák facades have been painted over in vibrant colors to liven up their appearance and you can spot them throughout your visit. Jižní Město is home to the largest housing estate in the Czech Republic if you’re interested in visiting a particular location (Wilson). It’s about an hour outside of Prague’s center by public transportation.
As known from Maxim Biller’s The Spirit of Rieger Park, the Rieger Garden is a great place to catch a view of Prague. Even though it is only 10 minutes away from Wenceslas Square, this park is not seen by many tourists. The garden, itself, is on a slant overlooking Prague Castle, and from what I’ve gathered, you can catch an amazing sunset. So bring a picnic, maybe grab a local beer from the nearby kiosks, and enjoy yourself!
*Rieger Garden is located in Prague-2, the smallest administrative district in the country (Prague-2 official website). Národní muzeum, Žižkov television tower, Kavárna Pražírna, and Unijazz’s new reading room are all only a few blocks away! Vyšehrad and the Dancing House belong to this area as well, although they are a bit further away (near the Vltava).
Lokál Nad Stromovkou
Lokal Nad Stromovkou is part of a chain of Czech pubs loved by locals. It’s a must if you want some authentic, homemade Czech cuisine and a nice crisp Pilsner (their signature). While it is more well known, it is definitely not a tourist trap. You’ll find many locals dining here, as well as a nice international crowd. Lokal is known for its great service, and all the dining details (down to the sugar cubes which come in heart form) have been thought out. Be sure to try their goulash and smažený sýr (fried cheese) which are fan favorites.
*Lokal Nad Stromovkou is located in Prague-7, along with Kolektor.
New Jewish Cemetery — to pay tribute to Kafka
The New Jewish cemetery was established in 1890 as an extension to the Old Jewish Cemetery, which had grown overpopulated. This cemetery is 10 times larger and is designed to hold ~100,000 graves (capacity for a whole century). It is still run by the Jewish community in Prague and houses notable figures including Ota Pavel, Viilem Flusser, Jiří Orten, and of course Franz Kafka (Prague’s official tourism website).
Kafka’s tombstone is in the shape of a crystal and was designed by L. Ehrmann, a German speaking Bohemian architect. To find the grave, “walk the main avenue east and turn right when you reach row 21. When you hit the cemetery’s wall turn left and walk to the end of this section. Kafka’s family grave is at the corner of this square (21–14–21)” (A Woman Afoot).
*The New Jewish Cemetery is located in Žižkov, Prague-3. Žižkov has been home to a grittier, blue collar neighborhood, but recently, it has transitioned into a more alternative, artistic area. The area is known for its high pub concentration, where you can’t walk more than 50 meters without running into a bar. You will also find the Church of the Most Sacred Heart of our Lord and Žižkov TV tower here (Eating Europe).
This coffee shop is a favorite among Prague locals. They roast and sell their own beans and have a delicious selection of sweets and sandwiches. Inside, it is very cozy with exposed brick and charming archways, and in the summer they have garden seating open as well. If you’re looking for a cute spot for breakfast or lunch, this is the place to go. And if you’re lucky, you might catch the cafe’s dog roaming around!
*Kavárna Pražírna is located in Prague-2, along with Rieger Garden.
Okay, this spot may not be the most off-the-beaten-path, but it’s a must visit if you’re in the Karlin neighborhood. Pivovarsky Klub is the mecca of pubs with over 250 beers to choose from and great traditional Czech grub to complement (Radio Prague International). It has the largest collection of bottled beer in all of the Czech Republic (which is pretty impressive) and was featured on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations.
*Piovarsky Klub is located in Karlin, Prague-8. Karlin is historically an industrial neighborhood. The area was nearly destroyed in the 2002 flood, but its rebuilding has inspired a cool, new atmosphere. Now you will find hip restaurants, bars, and galleries, many of which are housed in former factory buildings (Taste of Prague).
Unijazz’s Reading Room is a true local gem. It was established shortly after the Prague Spring by the Jazzová sekce publisher. The idea was to create a space where people could listen to unofficial music, although Čítárna later made films and books available to its patrons as well. After 24 years, the Unijazz Reading Room closed its original location in Jindřišská due to gentrification, and the property owner wishing to renovate the building for office spaces (according to Unijazz’s official website). Čítárna Unijazz has since moved to a new space in Žižkov. You can stop by whenever you want to listen to records or read books (English books included according to Czech blogger Sandra Kisic), and they are known to offer drinks and snacks for a very affordable price (one Euro or so per). I recommended checking their website for their events schedule — where they host film screenings, workshops, literature and art showcases, and more. Keep in mind these events will likely be held in Czech, so if you speak the language or are learning to, this could be a fun option! If not, you may want to bring a local Czech friend with you when you go.
*Unijazz’s Reading Room is located in Zizkov, Prague-3 along with the New Jewish Cemetery.
Cafe Savoy — guilty pleasure
Cafe Savoy is one of Prague’s most popular cafes among tourists and locals alike for its grand interior, great service, and delicious food. It is designed in an Art Nouveau style with 7 meter high ceilings decorated in a neo-renaissance style. According to Radio Prague International, Cafe Savoy opened back in 1893 as a traditional cafe, but closed shortly after due to WW1. A variety of shops opened up in the space afterwards, and during the communist regime, the cafe was turned into a recruiting office for the communist police. Most of the cafe’s original features were destroyed during their occupation and the cafe’s signature ceiling was covered over with plaster (although it has since been restored). In 2004, Cafe Savoy’s current owners re-opened the place and it has been a Prague staple ever since! Their veal schnitzels and cake Savoy are among their most popular dishes.
* Cafe Savoy is located in Prague-1 along with Cafe Bar Propaganda.