Instant weekend ... Prague
Instant Weekend ... Prague (01. Feb 2009)
Magazine: The Guardian
Author: Annabelle Thorpe
Why go now?
Because Prague starts celebrating the arrival of spring sooner than almost any other European city. St Matthew's Fair is the first spring fair in Europe and has been an annual event for 400 years; these days it's mostly a huge funfair with more than 130 rides, but it's a classic weekend day out for Prague families and runs from 21 February to the end of March. Then come the Easter markets (28 March-19 April), with stalls selling glass, jewellery and wooden toys.
Prague is like Venice; the more you walk, the more hidden streets and quiet corners you will discover. Mala Strana, on the other side of the Charles Bridge to the Old Town, was Prague's most colourful quarter - home to artists, poets, musicians and drunkards and once off the main drag of Mostecka, there are old ateliers and traditional beer halls to discover. Stop off at the Kampa Museum (museumkampa.cz), a temple to bohemian art.
Prague's cafe culture spans nicotine-stained dens where earnest chaps debate over espressos to design cafes where the media elite mix cocktails with cappucinos. For the former, try the Franz Kafka Café (Siroka 12), where wooden booths hide behind the frosted glass windows. Café Café (Rytirska 10, cafe-cafe.cz) is the latter, all chandeliers and a cake counter to die for.
The streets to the north-east of the the Old Town Square, between Pariska and Rybna,form an elegant neighbourhood with renaissance town houses, one-off boutiques and small restaurants and bars. Sip cocktails among the leather armchairs and scarlet walls at Tretters (V Kolkovne 3), browse through the antiques at Bric a Brac (Tynska 7) or stop for lunch at Asian-themed Nostress (Dusni 10, nostress.cz).
Pariska is lined with familiar designer names and gaggles of immaculately dresssed ladies. But the fun is dipping in and out of the one-off shops dotted around the old town; try Fauna Liko (na Perstyne 17) for traditional wooden toys and mobiles, Ceska Keramika (Celetna 4) for hand-glazed kitchenware and Blue (bluepraha.cz, several branches) for the city's famous hand-blown glass.
Worked up an appetite?
The jury is still out on Bedlounge (Dlouha 2, 00 370 5 222 314358), which opened in early January, and serves up cocktails and brasserie-style dishes to diners who are reclining on massive, white-cushioned beds. La Degustation Boheme Bourgeoise (Hastalska 18, 00 420 222 311234; ladegustation.cz) has seven-course tasting menus of Czech and European dishes. But a stay in Prague isn't complete without a beer-and-pork fest in a dingy cellar (more fun than it sounds), try U Radnice (U Radnice 2).
Big night out
From thrash metal to operetta, music dominates and defines Prague; at the National Opera House and Theatre (narodni-divadlo.cz) you can get same-day tickets from as little as £2. If you like your nightlife smoky and atmospheric, then Prague's jazz scene should hit the spot; the Charles Bridge Jazz Club (Saska 3, jazzblues.cz) has concerts each night. Clubbing tends to head towards the grungy, but if you want to glam it up head to Duplex (Vaclavske nam 1, duplex.cz), perched at the top of one of the tallest buildings in the city with a sprawling terrace and beautiful bar staff.
The morning after
The Mala Strana area of Prague has some beautiful walled gardens that are easy to miss and so remain tranquil in spite of the crowds. The Wallenstein Garden (Letenska) and Vrtbov Garden (Karmelitska 25) are both charming. The Mucha Museum (Panska 7, mucha.cz), dedicated to the art nouveau works of Alphonse Mucha, is housed in the exquisite 18th-century Kaunicky Palace.