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When I lived in Prague in 2009, it felt like I was in on a little secret. While all my other classmates were studying in more “traditional” places like London (yawn) and Paris (zzz), I was exploring the lesser-known corners of a city I had barely heard of before I decided to study there.
Well, it’s nearly 2019 and let’s just say that the secret is out — if there ever was one, and I wasn’t just living under a rock the whole time.
Even when I lived there in 2009, it wasn’t undiscovered at all – there were hoards of people in the Old Town cluttering up the streets every time the astronomical clock neared its hourly, disappointing show. Tourist restaurants and museums had already started to pop up and clutter the streets with gimmicky shops shilling absinthe and endless variations of the tired “Czech me out” pun-emblazoned souvenirs.
But it was never hard to get off the beaten path in Prague, just by getting off the Old Town – Charles Bridge – Prague Castle circuit.
Well, 10 years have come and gone since I called this city home and while it is a little harder to find the alternative Prague I once found rather easily, it is by no means impossible.
Here are my favorite ways to get off the beaten path in Prague and experience the hidden, local side of the city.
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Explore the sprawl of Vyšehrad
It’s kind of hard to believe that a fortress offering sweeping city views can make the list of hidden gems in Prague… but truly, so few tourists make it to Vyšehrad that this place surely deserves a place of its own on this list. In fact, even though I lived in Prague for six months, I never made it there until my most recent visit.
Despite being located within the city of Prague and not a far walk from a metro line, Vyšehrad enjoys relative tourist-free peacefulness. Meaning “upper castle” in Czech, this fortress is on the right bank of the gorgeous Vltava River, offering views of Prague’s bridges and the famous Prague Castle.
While the views alone would be enough to convince someone it’s worth a visit, there are several interesting places within Vyšehrad that shouldn’t be missed.
The most obvious of which is the beautiful Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul, which is far less crowded than the tourist-packed St. Vitus yet, in my opinion, similarly awe-inspiring. And at a mere 50 crowns to enter (about $2 USD), it’s well worth the price of admission.
The Vyšehrad Cemetery just outside the Basilica is also interesting to visit, as you’ll find the resting places of several famous Czechs, including the famous classical musician Antonín Dvořák, the playwright and inventor of the word ‘robot’ Karel Čapek, and Art Deco darling Alphonse Mucha.
Another thing not to miss is the Rotunda of St. Martin, one of the oldest
Stroll down Náplavka Riverbank
Not a far walk from Vyšehrad, it’s a great idea to combine a trip to Prague’s offbeat fortress and the lovely Náplavka Riverbank.
While it was a bit quiet when I visited recently in winter, I’ve been told that it’s bustling in spring and summer, when it becomes the closest thing you can get to a beach party in a landlocked country like the Czech Republic.
You can drink on boats tied up to the boardwalk, explore the Saturday morning farmer’s market (one of the best in the city), or just sit with a beer enjoying Prague’s drinking in public laws.
In the winter, you can actually hang out on a floating sauna at Lázně
Check out the DOX Center for Contemporary Art
Now that Prague’s National Gallery is open for the first time in nearly a decade, there are lines to match. My guide on my Prague food tour estimated that the lines to get in take over an hour, maybe even two.
While I love visiting a museum or two on my travels, I certainly am not about to wait in line for hours just to enter. So I made it a point to go out to Prague 7 during my time to explore the DOX Center for Contemporary Art. This museum is relatively new, having opened in 2008, and since it’s far from the major tourist sights in the city it’s more popular with locals than tourists.
There were a handful of excellent exhibits while I was there. My two favorite were Welcome to Hard Times, a take on today’s bizarre nonstop political news cycle, set in an interactive gym. The most impactful piece to me was the rock-climbing wall, on which a map was printed, identifying a handful of the border walls all over the world.
To me, this piece is about the futility of walls in the face of people’s determination to climb them.
The other exhibit I really enjoyed was #DATAMAZE. There were quite a few interesting projects as part of this exhibit, the most interesting of which was one where someone created a bot to randomly purchase items off the dark web, bringing up questions of whether or not a robot can commit a crime.
There were also commentaries on oversharing in social media, data privacy, consent in image-sharing, and many other topics. In my opinion, it was contemporary art at its best, bringing up intriguing topics in a way that is accessible to the public rather than deliberately inscrutable.
Exhibits are subject to change, obviously, so check DOX’s program here.
Explore the fantastically unique Cross Club
Cross Club is a short walk from the DOX Center for Contemporary Art. You’re bound to pass it on your way to DOX if you take the metro there, so I recommend bundling the two together.
So, what is Cross Club? It’s hard to describe properly, but basically, it is a multipurpose art center, club, café, bar, and restaurant at the heart of Holešovice, one of Prague’s alternative neighborhoods.
Whether you stop in for a cup of freshly-roasted coffee, a beer, or a meal during day hours or come in the evening for live music or to dance into the wee hours, Cross Club is the beating heart of a more local side to Prague.
If you want to truly experience Prague at night, head to Cross Club. Skip the tourist traps like Karlovy Lázně, which may be the biggest nightclub in Central Europe but is also basically just filled with backpackers and tourists, serving drinks at twice the price and half the quality of other clubs and bars in the city.
Eat authentic Vietnamese food
Nowadays, Prague has plenty of international dining options, but while most of these restaurants are relatively new phenomena, the Vietnamese food scene in Prague has been vibrant for a while. That’s because the Vietnamese make up the 3rd largest minority group in the Czech
As a result, there are countless great Vietnamese restaurants around the city and even a neighborhood called “Little Hanoi” on the outskirts of Prague. The ones I hear the best praise for are Mr. Banh Mi (Rumunská 30) in Prague 1 for Vietnamese sandwiches, Pho Vietnam Tuan & Lan (Slavíkova 1) in Vinohrady for pho, and the massive Sapa market complex in Prague 4.
I haven’t had a chance to explore Sapa yet, but my friend Crystal (who is of Vietnamese descent) did when she was in Prague recently and she gave it two thumbs up! Check out her video below.
Eat like a local
One of my favorite traditions when traveling is to do a food tour that takes me to the nooks and crannies of a city that I may not have explored independently.
I joined Eating Europe for their Eating Prague tour and loved it. Despite having lived in the Czech Republic for six months, most of the dishes were actually new to me, and I had only visited one of the locations on the tour previously. I especially loved our final stop, Cafe Louvre, where we had delicious Czech svíčková (beef tenderloin in a slightly sweet root vegetable purée with cranberries and cream) and the best apple strudel I’ve ever tasted.
I recommend joining a food tour on the first day of your trip so that you can know what you like, what you didn’t get to try, and get tips from a local food-obsessed guide, and so you can prioritize the rest of your meals. Check out the tours here.
Shop and snack at Jiřího z Podebrad Farmer’s Market
The Jiřího z Podebrad square (often mercifully abbreviated to Jirák) near the metro stop of the same name is one of my favorite hidden gems in Prague. At the meeting point of two of my favorite Prague neighborhoods, Žižkov and Vinohrady, this square is one of the best local neighborhoods in Prague. I used to live just a few blocks away on Slezská Street, so I feel a huge affinity to this area. Somehow, this market is not at all that far from the Old Town, yet it has an entirely local vibe.
My top tips? Get a plum and poppyseed filled koláč from one of the bakers or a drool-inducing sandwich or burger from Kaiser Franz if you’re feeling especially hungry (or hungover).
There are also stands selling fresh produce, baked goods, excellent espresso, and plenty of other farmer’s market staples.
Luckily, whereas most farmer’s markets are a once-weekly, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it affair, the Jiřího z Podebrad Farmer’s Market runs four days a week. Wednesdays through Saturdays. I’m not sure exactly when it closes, but I wouldn’t get there too much later than 1 or 2 PM if you want prime selection.
Drink your way through Vinohrady’s cool bars
My favorite bar in all of Prague is Bar & Books (Mánesova 64), where you can enjoy being surrounded by books and cigar smoke and feel
For a totally different scene and for a more active night, I love Radost FX (Bělehradská 120) for dancing – or at least, I did when I still went out dancing (I’m old now). Radost FX was literally Prague’s first electronic music club in the post-communist era, and despite the years of
Hang out in Letná
Letná is best known for its park of the same name, home to one of Prague’s most beloved beer gardens thanks to its lovely views. But what is there to do in Letná besides its beloved beer garden?
I had the chance to find out, seeing as I went in December – hardly beer garden weather in Prague. Letná has a ton of great coffee shops worth exploring and spending some time in when you want to get off the beaten path in Prague.
Letná is home to a handful of great museums, including the National Technical Museum (which comes highly recommended) and the contemporary branch of the National Gallery. There’s also a lovely café
Don’t miss grabbing a pastry at one of Prague’s most beloved cukrarnas (bakeries), Erhartova. If you have time and want to have a lazy day in Letná, see if there’s a movie on at Bio Oko, a casual yet artsy cinema house filled with bean bags and lounge chairs in addition to your standard movie seats.
A short walk from Letná but technically (I think) in Holešovice, you’ll find some other lovely coffee shops including the book-filled Ouky Douky and the cozy Kavárna Liberál. You can also do alternative bar crawl of Letná if you prefer some guidance or want to meet up with fellow travelers.
Explore beer history
Prague is synonymous with beer for many, and if you’re a beer lover there are a handful of historical places you should visit that are well-known but not too crowded.
Be sure to check out U Pinkasů to pay a pilgrimage to the first ever tank of Pilsner Urquell ever tapped in Prague! Easily one of the most famous beers of all time, eating a meal with a perfectly poured glass of Pilsner Urquell is a Czech must. Don’t miss the delicious and surprisingly spicy sausages in dark beer – it’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever eaten in Prague.
The monastery at Strahov, Klásterní Pivovar, has a fantastic brewery making old-style and new beers – 3 permanent offerings and several rotating taps. The monastery itself dates back to 1140 but the brewery is a newer development, but still quite an interesting piece of beer history.
Why it’s by no means off the beaten path, the oldest brewery in Prague is also worth visiting as well, U Fleků, though check your bill carefully as I’ve heard they can be a bit… unmeticulous, shall we say… with their bills.
If you prefer a little guidance and context, I recommend this 3-hour beer and microbrewery guided tour or this beer & Baroque tour that takes you to some beautiful monasteries and lets you try out their homemade beers.
Hang out in trendy Žižkov
Best known for its concentration of bars and nightlife, Žižkov has been called “up and coming” for the better part of a decade and yet it’s never quite gotten that popular with tourists.
There is one main reason why travelers come to Žižkov – namely, the absurd but interesting communist TV Tower slash art installation by David Černý comprising of several giant babies crawling up the tower. The other reason why travelers may come to Žižkov is the New Jewish cemetery, where Franz Kafka is buried.
There are several places worth visiting in Žižkov, but it really depends on what your “scene” is. If you’re a fan of live music or want a late night out, check out who’s on at Palác Akropolis – this huge complex similar to Cross Club in terms of multifunctionality has a restaurant, multiple bars, a concert venue, and a nightclub. For a more casual vibe, check out Pivo a Párek, beloved for its beer and sausages (hence the name).
There’s also an arthouse cinema – Kino Aero – and several great coffee shops. I recommend just reserving some time to stroll around the area on a free day and popping into whatever catches your eye.
If you prefer to explore the neighborhood with some guidance, this bar crawl of Žižkov run by Bohemian Alternative Bar Tours is well-reviewed.
Check out the St. Cyril & Methodius Crypt and Church
This benign-looking church has a remarkably interesting history. It was home to the final chapter in a story of one of the most daring attempts to overthrow the Nazi occupation.
In short, two Czech soldiers trained by the British RAF parachuted into the Czech Republic and entered Prague by stealth. They attempted to execute the Nazi leader, Heydrich, who was overseeing the occupation of Bohemia and Moravia (now the Czech Republic). They succeeded in hitting him, but he wouldn’t succumb to his wounds until the next week.
They went into hiding, and the Nazis responded with
Eventually, the Nazis closed in on them, and under pressure of torture a 17-year-old boy gave up their locations in the St. Cyril & Methodius Church. They were hiding in the crypt, and as the Nazis flooded the crypt, they committed suicide to avoid being taken alive.
You can see a plaque and memorial to their daring sacrifices at the church in which they met their end.
PS – Thanks to Amos for sharing this bit of hidden Prague history with me on my recent visit!
Explore the Výstaviště Praha (Prague Exhibition Grounds)
I had no idea that this place even existed until I was wandering through Holešovice one day on my recent trip. There are several gorgeous buildings in this complex that would make an Instagrammer go nuts, but luckily the secret isn’t out with these types (and I’m not going to write an Instagram guide to Prague, so these places can remain Prague hidden gems).
Located on the edge of Prague’s biggest part, Stromovka, these exhibition grounds are composed of several interesting buildings. My favorite building in the complex is the Industrial Palace, which looks a bit like an abandoned Art Nouveau train station.
You can also find a planetarium, the Lapidarium of the National Museum (which hosts some of the original statues from the Charles Bridge) and just a bunch of other really cool buildings with zero other people around, save for a few families making their way to the aquarium on the grounds.
Try a communist-themed escape room
Escape rooms aren’t my thing because I’m super anxious and slightly claustrophobic, but I know many people who love them! Prague is well-known for its variety of escape rooms and their creative themes.
One interesting looking escape room is
Check out the House of Black Madonna
Czech Cubism is one of the most distinct architectural contributions of Prague and the House of Black Madonna is a great example of this.
Close to Ovocny Trh, the House of Black Madonna is at once uniquely Cubist and blends into the Baroque architecture of the Old Town it’s set in.
You can stop for a coffee at the Grand Café Orient, the only Cubist interior in the world still in existence, or you can stop at the two floors dedicated to cubist art which make up part of Czech Museum of Fine Arts.
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Do you have any other favorite off the beaten path places in Prague? Share your hidden gem favorites!
Note: I was a guest of Eating Europe on my most recent trip to Prague, but all of the opinions expressed are my own.