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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 Given the fluid nature of the travel industry, however, some listings may fall out of date before guides can be updated.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.
Located on the banks of the Vltava River, steps from Charles Bridge, the Four Seasons combines five-star luxury with historical significance in the city's Old Town.
The Premier River Rooms in the hotel's neo-classical building, which dates to 1827, were unveiled in 2012 and conceived by French designer Pierre-Yves Rochon.
Offering picture views of Charles Bridge, the Lesser Town and Prague Castle across the river, the rooms are decked out in beige and gold and feature marble bathrooms.
Attached to the hotel, the restaurant and lounge CottoCrudo provides a place to unwind over cocktails and fresh Italian fare.
Hotel U Zlaté Studne
The Golden Well Hotel, as it's also called, offers views over Prague Castle's Royal Gardens and is home to the fine-dining restaurant Terasa U Zlaté Studne, in the Lesser Town.
The Tycho Brahe Suite, named after the famed astronomer, has an original frescoed wooden ceiling dating to the 16th century, Renaissance furnishings and a private Jacuzzi.
The suite comes with an iPad and iPod, the best views in the house and a la carte breakfast.
Buddha-Bar honors Asian interior design with ... French colonial influence. Eh, it's complicated.
In the maze of streets behind Tyn Church in Old Town, Buddha-Bar is a colorful retreat of modern, Asian-inspired decor and full amenities that includes the Buddha-Bar restaurant and nightclub.
Premier Rooms are available with either a king or twin beds and feature rain showers, standing baths with dragon mosaics and an in-house music library.
For an extra €40, you can book your pet a stay for the night.
Prague's first boutique design hotel, the four-star Hotel Josef was conceived by noted local architect Eva Jiricna, recipient of the 2013 Jane Drew Prize.
Located close to the Powder Tower on the border of Old and New Town, at Josef, the design is in the details, and contemporary artistry is everywhere.
Among the Superior Rooms, No. 803 has a balcony with views over to Prague Castle, a king-size bed and a designer limestone bathroom.
At this apartment-style hotel, guests can enjoy their own self-catering facilities while still having access to hotel amenities like breakfast (without a time limit), cleaning and concierge services.
Upon arrival, visitors receive a 20-minute orientation of nearby Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square.
Rooms are modern and simply decorated, within easy reach of any of the city's main sights.
La Degustation Boheme Bourgeoise
Rabbit with lard, beetroot essence and mustard.
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.
Having created quite a stir since it opened in 2011, Sansho presents an Asian-fusion tasting menu of six courses, to be shared among the table.
The benched tables are shared -- so be prepared to rub elbows with your neighbor as you reach for softshell crab slides, 12-hour beef rendang and sticky-toffee pudding.
British chef Paul Day varies the menu daily based on inspiration.
Beverages include a selection of beers from local independent breweries.
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.
Following the Prague locavore trend, Nota Bene, located a few blocks from the National Museum, gets all of its products from local farms.
Its changing menu might include homey Czech classics like baked rabbit, roast duck or svickova na smetane (beef tenderloin in cream sauce with dumplings).
In connection with the BeerPoint pub downstairs, the restaurant offers rotating taps of beers from local microbreweries.
The bright, airy space fills out most nights, so reserve in advance.
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.
Stroll down the cobbled steps of the Vltava's lamplit embankment to Jazz Dock, an ideal venue for both intimate concerts to swinging big gigs by a lineup of renowned international stars.
It's also a chance to sample the best of Czech Republic's homegrown talent.
Open till 4 a.m. in spring and summer, there's a comprehensive variety of cocktails to soak yourself in, and the terrace opens right onto the water for an extra cool vibe.
Easy to miss among the winding lanes of Lesser Town just below Charles Bridge, Vinograf is nigh impossible to leave once found.
It has only a handful of tables in a narrow, vaulted room, lined with wine bottle after wine bottle and chalk menus of open specials.
This is the best place in Prague to try Czech and Moravian wines from small vintners.
There are also regular wine-tasting events.
When you just don't want the night to end -- and in Prague, that's usually the case -- Repete is a red-lined cocktail bar and cafe that's open till 5 a.m., close to Old Town Square.
Its prices are low for the tourist zone, and the clientele is a happy mix of students, locals and visitors.
The vaulted rooms include a private lounge, and the bar will even order pizzas or burgers for you from a nearby restaurant.
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.
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.
The preeminent name in Czech glass and crystal, the Moser brand has been manufacturing custom wares since 1893.
Past fans include Emperor Franz Josef I and King Edward VII, and, while based in the spa town of Karlovy Vary, Moser has a showroom and shop on Prague's Na Prikope shopping street.
Available in a wide selection of styles and colors, Moser's crystal and glass drinking sets, vases and accessories are all hand-cut and use only ecologically friendy, lead-free crystal.
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.
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.
It's worth the trek to Holešovice, a dynamic former industrial district, to the DOX Center for Contempoary Art, which at any given time has multiple exhibits of local and international artists.
DOX, housed in an expansive revitalized factory, has pioneered the local art scene, challenging the status quo in acquiring big names and experimental projects.
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.
Looking across to the Lesser Town, this expanse of green, topped by Prague's own mini-Eiffel Tower, is a swath of walking paths affording views over the cityscape.
Take the funicular up from Ujezd to avoid the climb, and wander the Mirror Maze and Rose Gardens at the top, or walk across to Kinsky Gardens, past the infamous Hunger Wall.
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.
U zlatého tygra
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.
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.