Prague was rightly popular with visitors before the pandemic, but life here often felt a little out of hand before 2020. As a small counterbalance to an immense tragedy, the pandemic presented the city with a chance for a much-needed reset. Residents had time to rediscover places and neighborhoods that they had long left to tourists. The sudden lack of foreign guests forced restaurateurs to refocus on customers who actually live here. Historic attractions were renovated. And new projects that continued with openings in 2020 and 2021 have made the city even more fun than before.
As a result, Prague now feels like a place with less touristy tricks and more local flavor. It also has a younger vibe than many visitors would expect, explains Jan Valenta, who blogs about local restaurants and offers food tours through his company, Taste of Prague.
“The biggest difference, I think, between a western country like the US and a post-communist country like us is the distribution of wealth across generations,” Valenta said. “The older generation here doesn’t have the money to spend in the restaurants that young people go to.”
Mr Valenta, 44, notes that he defines young people as “very generous”. Regardless, the city has a more youthful vibrancy than in previous years, which could explain the newfound popularity of public spaces, including the banks of the Vltava River, as well as islands and parks.
“There’s more sense of community than five years ago,” said Mr. valentine. “People are more willing to meet outside and spend time together. That’s a very new development, I think, and it’s great.”
Some of those new spaces include Čapadlo, a quaint yet overlooked spot on the Old Town embankment that debuted in mid-2021 as an open-air concert venue and multi-purpose meeting place. Even attractions with a bit of history, such as the popular Rašín embankment promenade known as Náplavka, took on new features during the pandemic, including new cafes and pop-up bars in the former ice storage vaults in the retaining wall along the riverside walkway.
Less sophisticated, but more direct in terms of local memory: Retro Muzeum, an exhibition of everyday objects from Czechoslovakia’s normalization era of the 1970s and 80s, which opened earlier this year in the Kotva department store in the Old Town (adults, 220 koruny, or about $10) ). The commie-kitsch collection of clothing, furniture, interior, packaging and collectibles fits perfectly with the setting, a renovated but still bizarre Brutalist building from 1975.
Barbecue, beer and bakeries
Most of the big new draws are in the world of food – and many are fond of the central areas of the Old Town and Malá Strana. That may sound daunting, but Prague’s metro and extensive tram network make getting around the city easy, as Melissa Joulwan, a resident of Prague and co-host of the literary travel podcast Strong Sense of Place, often tells visitors.
“People who are not used to public transport may not understand how easy it is to get around, and places that seem far away are actually not far away at all,” she says. “It’s so nice to look at the architecture in other neighborhoods – there’s always something beautiful or interesting to see.”
With a 72-hour ticket that costs 330 koruny, or a 30-minute ticket for 30 koruny, it’s easy to get to up-and-coming neighborhoods like Holešovice, where Big Smokers began serving their perfect Austin, Texas-esque barbecue to a relaxed public in late 2019 (the Big Taste platter serves four smoked meats and four sides, enough for three dinners, for 765 koruny), not far from a popular smash burger takeaway that opened under an unprintable name in 2021 Take Another Subway and in minutes you can check out the newcomers to the once run-down Smíchov district, such as the world-spanning Manifesto Market food court. The stylish Anděl branch opened in September 2021, shortly before closing its original location near the Florenc metro station; highlights include tacos, Italian seafood sandwiches, and Brazilian barbecue. Just around the corner is another 2021 arrival, Bon Ramen, the third outpost of a local micro chain.
Even neighborhoods with an already enviable list of restaurants have gotten nice newcomers. The Karlín neighborhood was cool half a decade ago, but with the advent of casual eateries like the 2021 home-cooking-inspired Kro Bistro & Bar, serving rotisserie chicken, roasted cauliflower, and house-made kimchi, it’s only gotten cooler. The extensive development projects transforming the nearby embankment are underway, but they already have a handful of new cafes, bars and restaurants, such as Ye’s Kafe Wine – a daytime cafe serving great vino, homemade lemonades, creative brunch dishes, cakes and easy cocktails.
One trend is running all over the city: better bakeries and pastry shops. With the 2020 opening of the newest, sixth branch in Smíchov, it’s easy to find an Antonínovo Pekařství (or Antonin’s Bakery) in Prague, even if the name isn’t easy to pronounce; an espresso with a poppy seed-covered loupák bun or a gingerbread-like perník is an ideal mid-afternoon pick-me-up.
There are now three branches of Icelandic Artic Bakehouse – a source for super flaky almond croissants and Icelandic cardamom-scented Kleina pastries – including a Smíchov branch that opened in 2021. And you’ll find Cronut-esque “crobliha” pastries, a cross between a Czech kobliha pastry and a French croissant (about 110 koruny), right across town at Oh Deer Bakery’s four branches, three of which will open in 2020 or opened later. More traditional sweets, including the small cakes sometimes called kolache in English, can be found in the Vinohrady district of Kus Koláče, which launched in mid-2020 and received rave reviews.
Due to social distancing and other public health restrictions, Prague’s famous drinking culture has seen less growth than in previous eras. That said, a handful of major watering holes have opened, including this year’s grand reopening of the vintage-1912 American Bar in the historic Obecní Dům, or town hall, on Republic Square, after a lengthy closure. Other newcomers include Pult, a specialty beer bar that focuses on expertly tapped foam-topped Czech lagers, and Oh My Yalta, a cocktail bar run in collaboration with cult Czech distiller Martin Žufánek, maker of great absinthe, unusual fruit distillates and a treasured local gin known as OMG.
Where to lay your head?
The recent cancellation of virtually all coronavirus restrictions and a severe, residents-pleasing reduction in short-term apartment rentals have only heightened the sense of a city in full bloom.
While a few hotels closed for good during the lockdown, they were offset by some wonderful newcomers, such as 2021’s Hotel Cube, a contemporary boutique hotel housed in a former 1920s cinema (in August, doubles start at around $149, or approx. $157). Famous for Viennese coffee and gourmet groceries, Austria’s Julius Meinl group opened its first Prague hotel this summer, the Julius; many of the 168 rooms and suites have full kitchens or kitchenettes (double rooms start at around 145 euros in August). On that same New Town square, Senovážné Náměstí, the Hyatt’s new Andaz Prague opened its 176 luxuriously appointed rooms earlier this year; the landmark neoclassical building, Cukrovarnický Palác, which the hotel translates as Sugar Palace, dates back to 1916 (in August, double rooms start at around 342 euros).
That seems enough to warrant a visit. But to sweeten the deal, the city has just launched a new tourist card, Prague Visitor Pass (1,800 koruny for a 48-hour version). In addition to unlimited travel on public transport, it offers free entry to dozens of museums, galleries, gardens, towers, and historic sites.