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An old friend gives me the insider scoop on Prague gems over a recent visit

I was visiting an old friend of mine in Prague, Jason. Jason and his partner have been living in Prague now for 7 years and are clearly authorities on this charming and picturesque European city. Not only was I excited to visit Jason (we hadn’t seen each other in 10 years!), but also to have a chance to see the city from a more local point of view. And Jason has discerning taste and an uncompromising demand for both quality and frivolity – so I knew he would point me in the right direction for all manner of rich Prague experiences. In fact Jason is a blogger too, his blog is all about shopping. As you can imagine my tour of Prague was at the expert level – we make sure to cover some of the must do touristy places, but also managed to have some more local experiences while I got reacquainted with my old friend.

First things first, Prague is an amazing walking city. Pack your comfy shoes because if you are the sort of person that likes to explore a city on foot, there is no better place than Prague. The city is small-ish and manageable – you can easily walk from end to end in the course of a day. In fact we set out with Jason’s super cute dog, Louis, and spent the day trolling around. It turns out Prague is one of the most dog friendly cities I have ever been to. Everywhere we went they put out a doggie bowl of water for Louis (named after Louis Vuitton

;)

You’ll want to take one of the charming trolleys for the fun of it, but it’s not totally necessary unless you are in a hurry. Oh and as the streets are cobblestones, ladies should avoid wearing anything with a heel as you will either spend the day wrenching your heel out from between stones or walking on your tiptoes to prevent it from getting stuck in the first place. In fact I had stupidly (in an effort to reduce my luggage and in a late night packing extravaganza) mistakenly shipped all my shoes from Paris back to Singapore. After about 20 minutes of walking around in my Sergio Rossi kitten heels, I hightailed it to a sporting goods store and bought a pair of Converse. So take a lesson from me and don’t forget your flat and comfy walking shoes.

Jason took us around and we explored quite a lot of places. These were the highlights and what I would recommend for a 3 day itinerary in Prague.

Sightseeing
Well there is no point in my covering the usual suspects of museums and classic sights that other guide books do. Yes you must see the Prague Castle, visit the Astronomical Clock in Old Town, tour the Museum of Communism, walk the Charles Bridge, visit the Jewish Quarter, etc. Have a look at your Frommer’s or Lonely Planet for these essentials.

Mucha Museum
However one tiny, but outstanding museum you might miss if you are not on the lookout for it is the Mucha Museum. Alphonse Mucha was an Art Nouveau painter and decorative artist. You may know him for his work on the Coca Cola ads in the early 1900’s or is Sarah Bernhardt pieces. This small gem of a museum takes you through his life and work – you can easily finish your visit within 1 hour. And by the way it also has a super cool gift shop with lots of tempting buys. I ended up leaving with a poster for Paul (who has an old graphic arts fetish) and some playing cards.

The Estates Theater
Jason made sure to point out this gem. So if you have time, attend the opera at The Estates Theatre. I myself am not a huge opera aficionado, but it will be something quite transformative to see it in such a historic venue. Opened in 1783, this is where Mozart frequently conducted his operas and in fact where Don Giovanni was premiered.

Kampa Island / Kampa Park Restaurant
Finally, if you time your walk of the Charles Bridge properly, you can walk over to Kampas Island at the end of the day. Explore the island a bit and then walk over to the Kampa Park restaurant just by the Charles Bridge where you can sit by the river and watch the boats go by as you enjoy a glass of wine and a have an appetizer or two (they are known for their fresh, high quality seafood) while the sun is setting.

Eating & Drinking
Well for starters, don’t miss Kampa Park, above. But beyond that, there are a variety of cool places to visit if you are a visitor to Prague. The list below is more about outstanding views or traditional Czech experiences versus the most exclusive restaurants in town. Although Kampa Park certainly fits in the top dining venues in town. So stay for dinner after your sunset cocktails if you are looking for a special occasion meal.

And if you are over by the Prague Castle, check out Cowboys rooftop bar and grill. It’s an excellent spot to have a drink and the burgers are quite good. Jason was telling us he brings all his guests to Cowboys because the view from the bar is simply outstanding – and it was!

Gut let’s get down to business…. in the Czech Republic, you simply must drink beer. The Czechs have a long history with beer. Starting with Budvar, the original Budweiser beer. This beer dates back to 1785, well before the launch of Anheuser Busch’s American version of Budweiser which launched in 1876. To be clear, Budvar has very little in common with the American version and is an amazing high quality Czech Pilsner. And the Czech Republic is also the home of Pilsner Urquell, the world famous pilsner of choice produced since 1842.

So you can stop in at any café in the middle of the day and enjoy a cold beer and some Czech sausages. In fact, not only can you, you should! There’s no better way to break up all the walking than with a frosty cold one. While you can do this anywhere, I will say there are 2 places that merit a special visit for drinking and eating. Once Jason knew I was interested in the Czech beer scene he made a point to take me to 2 very special places.

Riegrovy Sady
This is a park slightly outside of the center of town in the Vinohrady area. Located on a hill you can see the Prague Castle from its vantage point. Also, most notably the park houses ones of the largest and most popular beer gardens in Prague. Open from April to October, this beer garden is the place to come to watch football and other sports events on the big screen TVs. We watched the World Cup there and the crowd was rowdy but contained. Between the international crowd, the abundance of pilsner and a heated World Cup match, I was torn between people watching and keeping my eye on the game. Even Louis seemed to enjoy it with some well timed barks during excited parts of the match.

Kolkovna Group Restaurant
This restaurant is owned by the folks from Pilsner Urquell and as you may have guessed serves Pilsner Urquell and other local beers. Also it’s a really reliable place for good quality Czech food. We sat at a café table on the street and indulged in sausages, traditional Czech bread dumplings (“knedliky”) and goulash. Between a perfect summer weather, a full tummy, catching up with friends and drinking some amazing beer, it was an amazing afternoon. I would highly recommend it.

Shopping
Ok, so now here is where things get interesting. Jason always was and still is an expert shopper. So I was excited to hit the pavement and do some hard core retail exploration.

Flea Markets
We had a couple of requests for Jason…first and foremost we wanted to check out a flea market. We had heard tale of cool flea market scenes in Eastern Europe and beyond that were kind of jones-ing for antiquey, cool, old things as the flea market scene doesn’t exist in Asia (rarely are old / used things valued here). We hit the jackpot with Jason! He told us to an old school flea market, celled Kolbenova, outside of town where we found all manner of cool, idiosyncratic and just plain odd items. I was in heaven. I was tempted by all the old glass Christmas ornaments (but had to resign myself to the fact that these would not travel well) and the vintage jewelry. I ended up with a coin necklace and Jason emerged with mounted deer antlers (which look super cool in his guest bedroom) and a cool leather medicine ball.

Czech Crystal
Well if you know anything about the Czech republic, no doubt you will be familiar with Czech crystal. It can go from ornate to modern and I think my favourite examples were to be had in a store Jason took us to called Artel. Artel glass is world renowned as some of the highest quality Czech glass and has in fact received several design awards for its works. They had the coolest array of glass items from seriously chic highball glasses to bowls that would pass for works of art. This is a must if you are looking for glass or gifts to bring home.

Celetná 29 (entrance on Rybná)
Prague 1, Staré Mesto
Tel.: +420 224 815 085
Open daily: 10:00 – 20:00

Gifts, Objects d’Art & Cool Things
Lots and lots of stores…but a few of my favourites are…

Material
Lots of wonderful crystal, chandeliers, jewelry and homewares – not the ordinary assortment, but really cool, design-y type items with a chic and elegant flair.
Ungelt, Tyn 1, Stare Mesto
Telephone: + 42 775 568 667
Open daily: 10:30 – 20:00

Kubista
Kubista is part gallery / part shop and focuses on items inspired by the cubism design movement. Expect lots of modern yet retro looking items – everything from candleticks and lamps to dishes to jewelry to glassware to postcards and scarves.

Clothing & Shoes
When in Europe I always shop for clothing since it is hard to find my size in Asia. Definitely you should hit Parizska Street – it is the 5th Avenue of Prague with Prada, Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Dior, Gucci, Ferragamo and Hugo Boss mixed in with cool little, local boutiques.

Also, a few gems that Jason showed me were also quite impressive. For example a store simply called Outlet – here they had all manner of designer goods deeply discounted. From D&G to Versace to Prada to Tod’s to Armani to Etro to Ferragamo and more…,many items were up to 70% off. They have shoes (but not much past size 37), bags, clothes and accessories.
Masna 703/7, 110 00 Praha 1
Telephone: +42 222 314 827

And then there was Kali, another stand out store. Kali is a well edited boutique with both femme and glamorous garb from drapey tee’s to sequined party dressed (and lots of Diane Von Furstenberg).
Stupartska 9, Prague 1, 110 00
Telephone: +42 222 312 670

Skin Care, Organic Soaps and Wonderful Vinegars & Spices

Another must do (seriously you must go) is Dr Stuart Botanicus. This store has found millions of uses for plant essences and extracts. From face care and body wash and lovely soaps to infused oils and vinegars and seasoned salts to natural beeswax candles. Let’s just say I left with a large bag of Christmas presents.
Tyn 1, Praha 1
Telephone: +42 234-767-446

All in all Jason definitely showed us the best of Prague. And not only was it cool to visit a city I had never been to, but it was even better to reconnect with an old friend. Turns out Jason hadn’t changed one bit and we found ourselves laughing at the same old things and learning about each other’s new lives. I feel in love with the charming doggie Louis, offering to be his godmother should anything happen. And in general I fell in love with the city. Prague was a truly gorgeous city oozing with European character and elegance. And every experience from sitting on the river banks having a sundowner to learning about Czech glass was rich and satisfying, and will remain in my memory for a long while to come.

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