Among the Gothic spires of the Czech Republic’s Bohemian capital, where even a casual stroll is a visual treat, there’s a thriving modern shopping, dining and arts scene
With its colourful jumble of architectural styles spanning a thousand years, gold-tipped towers and verdigris cupolas, splendid vistas and cobblestones, Prague has the requisite looks of an old-world archetype. Despite having stood in for Paris, Vienna and London in countless films, when viewed up close its charms are very much its own. Thanks to Prague’s compact size, shopping is easily navigated on foot. Parížská (‘Paris’) Street in the Old Town, a tree-lined boulevard of ornate Art Nouveau façades, is where to find designer boutiques, from Cartier, Hermès,Louis Vuitton to Prada, Agent Provocateur and Tiffany & Co. Those popping the question in Prague – as many do – should visit local jeweller Halada and Roberto Coin. Nearby Dušní Street is the heart of the (tiny) Fashion District, with home-grown labels Klara Nademlynska, Timoure et Group and Tatiana.
The Czech Republic is famous for its handmade crystal, but those in the know frequent only a few glassmakers. Moser has lead-free crystal in luminous hues in its flagship store; the two Artel boutiques offer modern designs created by founder and style guru Karen Feldman; and Material sells show-stopping chandeliers.
Auction house Dorotheum is a must for antique glass and porcelain, while Antique, Kaprova 12, has the finest selection of jewellery set with local Bohemian garnets.
Nestled in Malá Strana
, Prague’s oldest and most picturesque district on the left bank of the Vltava River, Mandarin Oriental, Prague has many iconic sights within easy reach – the 14th-century Charles Bridge
, the Baroque St Nicholas Cathedral
and Prague Castle
which towers overhead. The Castle, a city within a city, is worth exploring for its extraordinary architecture; sights include St Vitus Cathedral
and the Old Royal Palace
. The Lobkowicz Palace
, on the Castle’s eastern side, includes works by Canaletto, Bruegel the Elder and Velázquez, as well as original scores by Beethoven and Mozart. Crossing Charles Bridge into the Old Town is Old Town Square
, a vast plaza encircled by burghers’ houses, palaces and a Gothic cathedral anchored by the Old Town Hall’s tower, with its medieval Astronomical Clock
. Crowds gather here on the hour to watch the centuries-old spectacle of 12 rotating Apostles, ending with a death knell and golden rooster’s crow. Nearby is the former Jewish Quarter, with the Old-New Synagogue
, Old Jewish Cemetery, Jewish Museum
and a synagogue inscribed with 80,000 Holocaust victims’ names.
Romancing the arts
The city that embraced Mozart has three opera houses, two ballet companies and three symphony orchestras, the Czech Philharmonic being the preeminent body. Book a plush box at the State Opera
, Estates Theatre
or National Theatre
. The art scene has had a revival in recent years. Museum Kampa
puts on quality exhibitions, as does the Rudolfinum Gallery
across the river. Somewhat edgier is the art scene in Holešovice
, where old factory buildings are being converted into galleries and studios. The DOX Centre for Contemporary Art
also stages shows, which are often provocative.
Green and pleasant
Among the abundance of greenery in the city centre, Petrín Hill offers miles of trails and vistas at every step. A flatter, still scenic, option is Kampa Park and the Vltava riverside. Malá Strana is dotted with beautiful formal gardens, open from April to October. A different perspective opens up on the Vltava, where the Prague Venice boating company has sightseeing trips year-round.
If walking on the quaint cobblestones has taken its toll, the award-winning Spa
at Mandarin Oriental, Prague, located in a former Renaissance chapel, provides a divine 90-minute pedicure. It includes a reflexology foot massage and a warm wrap to seal in moisture.
For those curious about Czech food, yet wishing to hedge their bets, Essensia
at Mandarin Oriental, Prague has a two-part menu offering modern Czech dishes and Asian classics. Authentic Czech food is served in a retro ambience at Olympia
, while La Degustation Bohême Bourgeoise
offers a molecular take on Bohemian flavours. Chef Riccardo Lucque’s Aromi
and La Finestra
are popular Italian eateries, while Bellevue
, in Frank Gehry’s ‘Fred and Ginger’ building, have stunning vistas. Partake in Prague’s proud café tradition at Café Savoy
, with its tall windows, ornate ceiling and delicious cakes, or at the Slavia
, across the river, which has a stylish Deco interior, great views and sumptuous filled crêpes.
Prague’s nightlife is admittedly young. By contrast, the Barego bar at Mandarin Oriental, Prague is grown-up, yet relaxed, with delicious cocktails including the best Martini in town.
Bar and Books
, all red leather seats and dark wood panelling, near Old Town Square, is the destination for whisky aficionados, while the Hemingway Bar offers 200 rums and premium absinthe. Other options include traditional stalwarts Tretter’s and Bugsy’s.