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Insider Guide: Best of Prague
By Fiona Gaze, for CNN
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Pretty by day, pretty by night
CNN Insider Guides are thoroughly checked for accuracy. Given the fluid nature of the travel industry, however, some listings may fall out of date before guides can be updated. The best practice is to confirm current information on official websites before making plans to visit any business or attraction.
(CNN)Perhaps the most important advice to give someone visiting Prague? Get lost.
The Prague of today is a shinier, more grownup version of the Prague of the 1990s, a thriving and evolving cultural scene with top-notch dance, jazz and gastronomy.
No longer is this just a destination for those on the hunt for cheap beer -- although there's still plenty of that.
It's still a historic, byzantine city forged in the Middle Ages.
The best way to discover this city of 1.2 million is to wander its maze of cobbled backstreets, stumbling upon a church, a café or an art gallery to which you'd be hard-pressed to find your way back.
Beyond the requisites of the Charles Bridge, Prague Castle and Old Town Square -- worthy destinations in their own rights -- there's a wealth of spectacular sights, quirky attractions and vibrant neighborhoods to discover in the Golden City.
Tower Park Praha--One Room Hotel
View of Prague from the former Žižkov Television Tower's One Room Hotel.
The retro-futuristic Žižkov Television Tower -- nicknamed "The Rocket" -- has been a point of contention since its completion in 1992.
While often ranked among the world's ugliest buildings -- helped by the addition in 2000 of a series of sculptured babies crawling up its sides courtesy of artist David Cerny -- a recent renovation saw the addition of Prague's most exclusive hotel: one room, at a height of 66 meters, providing unmatched views of the city.
Advertised as a six-star accommodation, the One Room Hotel features an entire wall of east-facing windows, meaning best of Prague views are accessible from any point in the room -- even the bathtub.
A stay here also includes a limousine and driver, and the tower features a bar, French-Asian restaurant and observation deck.
Long before he planned out the menu of New York City's Hospoda restaurant, Oldřich Sahajdák based this best of Prague Michelin-starred restaurant, which serves only tasting menus, on recipes by the 19th-century Czech cook Marie B. Svobodová.
Fittingly, the two set menus (one six-course, one 11-course) explore the culinary heritage of the Czech lands, and change seasonally, with a selection of wines paired accordingingly. Appetites should match wallets here: big.
Pioneering what chef Miroslav Kalina has dubbed the "new Prague cuisine," the eponymous Kalina is a new addition to the fine-dining scene, with an impressive range of wines and Cognacs to go with well-executed game and meat specialties with a French twist.
The menu changes by season, but the cote de boeuf for two, served with a variety of winning sides, is a must for any meat lover.
A butcher's paradise, this sleek restaurant adorned in tile and copper in the former RFE/RL building off Wenceslas Square is a cut above most cuts of steak, procuring beloved and lesser-known steaks served on wooden slabs with a variety of sauces like black truffle.
Fish and vegetables get the same quality treatment, all with a nod to traditional Czech butchery and farm stylings.
The only downside is that portions are quite small.
The Czech Republic's Moravian wines may not be known the world over, but RED Pif has a selection of the sunny southern wine region's best.
It also offers a considerable list of French varieties, all in a hidden corner spot that serves a daily menu of thoughtful Continental dishes like duck confit and coq au vin, as well as some excellent desserts.
With just a few tables inside, it's best to book ahead to avoid disappointment.
Shady outdoor tables across the cobbled street make for a good place to linger on a summer evening.
Most days, there's a farmers market on somewhere in Prague, selling fresh cheeses, pastries, bread, organic produces and fresh juices.
The one on Náměstí Jiřího z Poděbrad, affectionately called Jiřák, sets up camp Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays in front of the Church of the Most Sacred Heart of Our Lord, a unique design by Slovenian architecht Josip Plečnik.
Several restaurants host stands at the market, with ready-made Slovenian, Thai and Balkan specialties perfect for packing as a picnic to enjoy in the nearby Riegrovy sady park.
Valuing the art of classic mixology, Hemingway's has more than 200 types of rum on deck -- it even founded the country's first rum club.
It also has expertly handled, best-of-Prague traditional cocktails, a wide variety of champagnes, and it is the place to sample that oft-misunderstood Green Fairy: absinthe.
Plush leather banquettes, a dark-wood bar and lots of intimate corners to lose yourself for a bit.
Hemingway Bar, Karoliny Svetle, 26, Prague 110 00 Czech Republic;
If a day of pavement pounding has wound you up for some dancing, there's SaSaZu, one of the hottest -- and largest -- spots in Prague to take in a regular lineup of international DJs and music gods and goddesses.
Past headliners have included Paul Van Dyk, Morcheeba and Lily Allen, and there are 5,000 square meters of dance floor on multiple lounge levels overlooking the stage.
Oh, and the adjacent restaurant by the same name has earned Bib Gourmand status for its creative takes on pan-Asian cuisine.
With several shops dotting the capital, Manufaktura sells handcrafted wooden toys, marionettes and games, as well as handmade, organic soaps and cosmetic products, country-style earthenware furnishings and printed textiles, like folk-art table linens, as well as woolen blankets and decorations.
Manufaktura, Melantrichova 11, Praha 1, Prague Czech Republic;
Czech Fashion Center
Spread throughout a network mostly spanning off Old Town Square, these eight boutiques representing prominent Czech fashion designers offer a glimpse into the rapid rise of the latest catwalk looks to come out of the country.
For prized antiques from across Europe and the world, the Dorotheum, based in Vienna, is the leading name in local auction houses, with more than 300 years under its belt.
In addition to regular Prague auctions, in which visitors can participate, the central showroom also serves as a shop where priced items -- jewelry, paintings, statues, glassware, watches, tableware -- can be viewed and purchased.
The Estates Theater showcases drama productions, ballet and opera, with a seasonal emphasis on the works of Mozart.
If it was good enough for Mozart, who premiered his Don Giovanni here in 1787, it's good enough for a gander.
It's worth a visit just to marvel at the grand Classicist facade, but stepping inside (connected to the National Theater, it's been home to a program of performing arts since 1785) reveals the tiered grandeur of an immaculately maintained historical theater.
Old Jewish Cemetery. We're not being agist, that's actually the name.
There's much left to explore in this historic district wedged in Old Town, despite its being mostly razed at the turn of the 20th century.
The quarter, known as Josefov, houses the Old Jewish Cemetery, the Old-New Synagogue (dating to 1270), the Spanish Synagogue and other sights, incorporated through the Jewish Museum. The Pinkas Synagogue features a list of every local Jew -- 80,000 -- rounded up in the Holocaust.
This fortress, gardens and church are often overlooked.
The fortress dates to the 1720s, and its sprawling, shady gardens are home to the oldest surviving building in Prague, the Rotunda of St. Martin, as well as the soaring Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul, which sits next to the poetic Vyšehrad Cemetery, where many famous Czech personages -- such as Alphonse Mucha, Antonin Dvořák, Bedřich Smetana, Karel Čapek and Ema Destinnová -- rest to this day.
Over the past couple of years, this has become the place to be come a summer's day -- or eve.
The embankment that runs along Rašínovo nábřeží in New Town is home to farmers and flea markets on weekends and a series of floating restaurants, pop-up bars and cafes come any afternoon.
From the cobbled embankment, you might listen to Balkan brass or other live tunes as the sun sets over Prague Castle, or board the Forman Brothers' Mystery Boat Theater, a tugboat docked here that shows plays staged by the twin sons of director Miloš Forman.
On Rašínovo nábřeží, in Prague 2. Accessible by ramp from Mánes, or by stairs along the embankment.
Most venues open midday until late.
You didn't think we'd forgotten the beer, did you?
Beer 1, Communists 0.
As time-worn as the cobblestones leading up to nearby Prague Castle, The Black Ox, as it's called, has been gruffly pouring pints of liquid gold since roughly the early 1800s -- save for a closure by the communists in the mid-20th century before being reopened in 1965.
Former Czechoslovak President Tomas Garrigue Masaryk and dissident playwright-turned president Václav Havel are among its many past patrons, and little about the place has changed for what feels like centuries; smoke-stained walls and dimmed stained-glass windows color the room of long wooden tables crammed with stamgasti, or regulars, who eye new visitors as competition for their next pint of Kozel lager.
Few places have such a palpable feel of history as the Golden Tiger, where conversations throughout the ages have gone on to change the world beyond the pub's stained-glass windows -- or have just gone on to another pub.
The beloved Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal made this his home away from home. Václav Havel frequented here, accompanied on occasion by Bill Clinton.
Getting here when it opens at 3 p.m. is your best bet at scoring a storied seat for a solid pint of tanked Pilsner Urquell; although, if history has its say, you probably won't hold onto it long.
Dating to 1466, U Medvídků (or "At the Little Bears") is one of Prague's oldest microbreweries, and its maze of vaulted beer halls, unique brews -- including the incredibly strong X33 (with 12.6% alcohol content) -- and vast platters of Czech fare bear testament to its status as a favorite among locals and visitors alike.
The main pub rooms are upstairs, while the brewery is in the cellar, located past the garden in a passage at the back.
U Medvidku, Na Perstyne 7, Prague 110 00 Czech Republic;
Despite being somewhat of a tourist trap catering to large, boisterious groups of stags, this microbrewery has enough space in its many cavernous rooms and gardens to allow you to sit back and enjoy the house's only brew: a delicious, malty dark lager available by the 0.4-liter glass.
And there's something to be said for the live accordian music and 500-plus consecutive years of brewing that cuts past the kitsch right into timeless cool.