Head to the Czech capital this August for spectacular concerts with a castle backdrop and thrilling performances held under the stars. Or wine and dine in a pretty villa garden or on the Vltava riverbank
Prague’s summer is notoriously fickle. Breezy days that are perfect for wandering under the Gothic spires alternate with the baking sun that Czechs call ‘tropical’ – plus the odd booming shower that sends everyone running for the nearest doorway.
Preparation for a concert in the Spanish Hall at Prague Castle
One comforting constant, not just for the summer but surviving seemingly unchanged for centuries, is the passion for ancient music – and the ritual surrounding it. The Collegium Marianum stands out from the Czech capital’s dozens of string ensembles, with its virtuoso handling of historic arias rendered on period instruments, and its venues, which make the most of the city’s stunning 17th- and 18th-century architecture. This summer, players take to Prague Castle’s fabulously ornate Spanish Hall for an event to remember.
With the city’s long, grey winters, time on the grass and under the stars is never wasted, and the Czech passion for theatre shines through at Letní Letná. It’s no accident that the first freely elected president after the Second World War was a playwright, and Vaclav Havel is surely smiling somewhere as he witnesses the crowds packing into tents on this small promontory overlooking Old Town to cheer on the New Age-style acrobatics of Cirque Trottola.
Boats on the Vltava river, upstream from the embankment known as Náplavka
Just sipping a Bohemian lager after a feast of roast duck and potato dumplings offers as much inspiration to some sensualists, especially in the garden of a 19th-century villa such as Letenský Zámeček, which commands a glorious view of the lights of the city’s medieval quarter just across the Vltava river. Dress up or stay casual amid the students and guitar players who gather nightly at the nearby picnic tables.
A Prague farmers’ market
Another fine spot to catch the sun glinting through a mug of Pilsner Urquell is the newly opened riverbank amalgam of bars, grills, improvised stages and floating cafes and theatres known as Náplavka. Follow the hip crowds down to the embankment just upstream of the Functionalist Mánes Gallery to check on fashionable imbibers at the cyclist bar Bajkazyl or one of a dozen other hangouts here. If you make it to sunrise – most do – you’ll be just in time for one of Prague’s new farmers’ markets, which sets up organic local produce stalls on Saturdays.
Arguably Prague’s greatest shrine to Art Nouveau, the florid decorative style epitomised by the city’s own Alfons Mucha at the turn of the 20th century, is Municipal House, a lovingly restored pile featuring a Vienna-style coffee house, mosaic-filled concert hall for the Prague Symphony Orchestra and gilt-trimmed galleries currently running the ‘Vital Art Nouveau 1900’ show.
Prague’s gloriously Art Nouveau Municipal House
The city’s remarkable range of surviving historic churches, synagogues and palaces form a blissful retreat on hot August days, with metre-thick walls that offer a cool, refreshing space to explore the ages. The Convent of St Agnes of Bohemia, with its arresting collection of the National Gallery’s medieval art, offers the finest frissons, with 14th-century altarpieces and icons worthy of Monuments Men. Another historic building to escape the heat from is the award-winning Spa at Mandarin Oriental, Prague, the only one in the world located in a former Renaissance chapel. Here, under vaulted ceilings, you can relax and be revitalised with a choice of therapeutic and pampering rituals.
American documentarian Will Tizard has lived in Prague for 20 years, covering arts, travel and politics