In 2018, the Czech Republic will celebrate its 100th year, which has me thinking about one of my favorite cities, Prague. I love Prague’s Old Town (Staré Město). It’s easy to spend weeks there taking in its baroque and gothic wonders of music, art, and architecture while wandering cobblestone streets. But what about the other Prague, the Prague that’s off the beaten path?
There is an emergent and distinct Bohemian spirit that is flourishing in the Žižkov and Holešovice neighborhoods of Prague, which has given rise to a whole host of artistic and cultural attractions too exciting to overlook. While both Žižkov and Holešovice have humble origins as working-class neighborhoods, they both have, in recent years, become vital and popular epicenters for avant-garde art galleries, culinary exploration, and vibrant nightlife bolstered by exciting historical attractions. If you want to see a new side of Prague, check out my top picks for exciting travel experiences in Žižkov and Holešovice below.
Žižkov is located a mere 4.1 miles east of Old Town and is situated primarily in the district of Prague 3. Unlike Old Town, Žižkov has a reputation of being an edgy neighborhood that is off the “Disneyland tracks”. In addition to having the highest number of pubs per capita of any neighborhood in Europe, Žižkov is home to a lively scene and set of attractions all its own. My personal recommendations for a rich experience in Žižkov follow, but with so much to do, you should feel free to pick and choose based on your interests.
1. The TV Tower
In exploring Žižkov, the TV Tower is an unconventional must-see. Designed by architect Václav Aulický in the 1980’s and completed in 1992, this one-of-a-kind, 709-foot transmitter tower with steel tubes supporting nine cubical pods has a distinct rocket-like appearance and is truly an example of high-tech architecture worth seeing. It also offers incredible views from an observatory situated 305 feet up and from a restaurant (Oblaca) situated at the 217-foot mark on the Tower. Oblaca is known for its mixed drinks and boasts both good regional and international fare.
If you really want to get into the spirit of things, you can even rent an amazing luxury room situated in the TV tower (above the restaurant) and enjoy the sweeping views throughout your stay (though there is only one room available in the tower, so you will want to book it well in advance of your trip). On a final note, while artist David Černý’s ten famous sculptures of babies crawling along the pillars of the TV Tower (pictured above) were recently removed for maintenance, they are expected to be reattached to the tower in Spring 2018, so if you are traveling to Prague on or after that timetable, be sure to take them in when you inspect this architectural marvel.
2. Olšany Necropolis
The TV Tower is just the start! Žižkov is literally home to an entire necropolis, which once served as the burial grounds for approximately two million people. The Olšany necropolis dates back to 1680 when it was built to accommodate plague victims and is so large that it is comprised of twelve cemeteries covering burials that span its history from the seventeenth century to the Napoleonic Wars to World War I and World War II. Included are Orthodox and Muslim sections, the largest Jewish cemetery in the Czech Republic, the graves of numerous Czech artistic and political luminaries, and the burial grounds of soldiers from all over the world. The rich history and incredible art nouveau monuments to be found in this literal city of the dead are not to be overlooked in your travels. If you are a literature buff like me, you will want to seek out the final resting place of famous author Franz Kafka in the New Jewish Cemetery within the Olšany necropolis.
3. Riegrovy Sady Beer Garden
Riegrovy Sady Beer Garden, while not technically in Žižkov, is just on the outskirts in the neighboring district of Vinohrady and it's just pure fun. This outdoor social center, open from April to October, is a giant, 1000-person party, featuring a wide variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages (eight different chilled beers, including the Czech Republic's famous Pilsner Urquell), a very large projection television screen for exciting sports games, and great pub food (be sure to try the tasty grilled sausages). Come with friends for a great time or come alone and make lots of friends!
Even if you're not in the mood for a party crowd, the Riegrovy Sady park in which the Beer Garden is situated has amazing views of Prague Castle and there are three other charming restaurants for those lunches or evenings when you want a more relaxing, sophisticated venue.
4. Communism and Nuclear Bunker Tour
The Cold War period from 1947 to 1991 was a frightening time for all involved, but for those of you who didn't experience life in a nuclear bunker first-hand, you can get an eerie sense of what it may have been like in Žižkov's Communism and Nuclear Bunker Tour, which is about 500 feet northwest of the Olšany cemeteries.
You'll walk along the metal-walled tunnels to see, not only equipment and machine rooms with authentic gasmasks, uniforms, helmets, army gear, and original equipment, but also the barren rooms that people would have huddled in to stay alive. The tour guides do a good job of providing one with historical background which imparts the very real risks and fears during the Cold War and the mindsets of those who were in constant preparation for the possible fallout. The tour runs for roughly two hours and has two showings, one at 10:30 am and one at 2:30 pm. In an age in which nuclear proliferation has again become a hot topic, it's a stark reminder of why we should all strive for peace.
5. The National Monument
No trip to Žižkov would be complete without seeing the National Monument situated on Vítkov Hill. The monument (opened to the public in 2009 after two years of restoration) includes a statue of Jan Žižka on horseback. Žižka (representing Czech interests) defeated the invading King Sigismund in the Battle of Vítkov Hill in 1420 A.D. The statue is the third largest equestrian monument of its kind in the world and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is situated under the statue. The monument, which dates back to 1938 (with the statue unveiled in 1950), has its own long and storied history. Built initially to honor the World War I Czechoslovak legionaries and once used to promote communism, the monument has, in more modern times, come to be an important symbol of national autonomy and pride. The scale and the emotional impact are intense. If you really want to get a sense of the transformational journey of the Czech Republic and its people, then the National Monument and Vítkov Hill are definitely a great starting point. Be sure to check out the military museum while you are there.
6. On Tap
When it comes to drinking and nightlife, Žižkov is the reigning per capita pub neighborhood of Europe, but a handful of places really stand out. In addition to the Riegrovy Sady Beer Garden mentioned above (not in Žižkov, but close), Bukowski’s (in Žižkov) offers a great ambience for drinking with an atmosphere that I would characterize as industrial library in honor of its namesake, poet and drinker Charles Bukowski. With eclectic chairs, lighting fixtures made from bottles, and great mixed drinks (including Mojitos!), Bukowski’s is a sound choice. For more of a club scene, I would highly recommend the Palác Akropolis Klub. In addition to containing a radio station, a restaurant, and some very interesting art galleries, this building has three stages on its underground level where all types of musical performers from DJ’s to bands will have you drinking and dancing the night away with an enthusiastic crowd that’s ready to party. The main stage is usually used for larger acts and Megadeath has performed there in the past. The place is really packed on prime nights and while the drink prices are fairly reasonable, it may take a while to get served, so you may want to visit one of Žižkov’s many bars before going over there. If none of these options sound just right, don’t worry, in Žižkov, pubs are as plentiful as Starbucks are in the United States! Speaking of pubs, U Slovanské Lípy is a Žižkov pub that has a casual, comfortable atmosphere in which to hang out and relax with a nice, chilled beer. For those who stay at the hostel on top of this pub (Hostel Lípa, which has a lot of fans based on some of the pub friends I made), it's really quite convenient.
U Slovanské Lípy (as mentioned above), is not only a pub, but also a really a fantastic Austrian Brasserie. The grilled pork neck with garlic sauce was delicious! And of course, the beers were perfection. Another solid dining option is Lavička, which is one of my favorite dining venues. It serves Czech and other European cuisine. For the English-speaker, they have menus in English and really friendly English-speaking staff. I adore their pineapple ravioli for dessert. Yes, I'm starting with dessert here; it's that good! But that's not the only delicious item on the menu. The goulash is very tender and tasty, as well as the pork medallions with gnocchi. After a long, fantastic day of taking in all the amazing sights, it's a really nice, relaxing restaurant to unwind.
Pracovna is not easy to find (being on a small side street, roughly at the corner of Vlkova and Pribyslavska streets), but it's very near Bukowski's (mentioned above) and well worth it! I love the light-and-airy feel of this shared café and workspace, and the food is fabulous. You must try the hummus and you can't go wrong with any of the homemade baked goods which are nothing short of phenomenal.
With respect to accommodations, hotels in Žižkov are very reasonably priced. I would recommend Hotel Theatrino or Design Merrion Hotel for the best value relative to price. Their rooms are comfortable and clean, breakfast is included, and their staff members are friendly as well as responsive.
Holešovice is about 1 mile northeast of Old Town, is situated along the beautiful Vltava River, and is primarily in the district of Prague 7. A former industrial meat packing district, today Holešovice has truly come into its own with a hip art scene that permeates a fun and vibrant atmosphere. Filled with cultural and social attractions, Holešovice has a lot to offer and I’ll share some of my favorites below.
1. The Grand Parks
While that’s not an official name, grand is a perfect way to describe Holešovice’s three beautiful, exciting, and extensive parks: Výstaviště, Letná Park, and Stromovka Park. While Výstaviště’s exhibition grounds (which border a planetarium and club ice hockey team HC Sparta Praha’s hall) subsume a theater, an incredible performance fountain which is currently being renovated (Křižík's light fountain), an aquarium, and an amusement park (Lunapark), they also contain the renowned, Art Nouveau Industrial Palace and the National Museum’s Lapidarium. The Lapidarium features incredible stone sculptures ranging from the 11th century to the 20th century and a variety of fascinating artifacts. From the hall of Hapsburg monuments to the artifacts of the Early Gothic Period, the Lapidarium will not disappoint. With so many activities from which to choose, Výstaviště is a great choice for just about any interest and travel group. If you’re there in the summer, be sure to check out the outdoor cinema.
Letná Park has lush trees and perfect grassy areas for relaxing in the summer breeze. Situated on Letná Hill, it affords some of the best views of Prague. The most stunning views are captured from the Hanavský Pavilion, a charming and elegant art nouveau, cast-iron building (and its luxury restaurant). You can also pick up a beer, wine, or soda in Letná’s Beer Garden.
Stromovka Park is simply magnificent. Used as royal hunting grounds beginning in 1268 and opened to the public in 1804, Stromovka Park, the largest garden park and nature preserve in Prague (roughly 235 acres), is home to massive and awe-inspiring tree-lined meadows, romantic duck ponds, horse stables, playgrounds, inline skating, cafes, and Štefánik's Planetarium. It’s the perfect place for a relaxing stroll and leads to a spectacular Baroque palace, the Troja Chateau (Troja Palace) and the Prague Zoological Garden, which is considered the 5th best zoo in the world! For me, the Troja Chateau, which includes mesmerizing ceiling paintings in the tempera technique (commemorating victory over the Turks) in the Grand Hall are a rare artistic treat, well worth seeing.
2. Prague’s National Gallery
Holešovice is also home to the largest of the buildings that comprise Prague’s National Gallery and one of the largest museums in Central Europe, the Veletržní Palác (Trade Fair Palace). With an excellent collection of modern art, this museum is extraordinary. Not only will you see the amazing works of some of the finest modern artists, such as Picasso, Gauguin, Munch, Mucha, Monet, Rodin, Klimt, and Van Gogh, but also the best collection of Cubist art ever. Don’t miss the works of Kupka and Kubišta, founders and innovators in the abstract art movement. Also, don’t miss the ground floor installations which features some wonderful contemporary art by some of today’s artists.
3. Avant-garde Awesomeness
Within Holešovická tržnice (the Holešovice Market) is Jatka78. In what used to be a slaughterhouse space is instead a sensational theater that casts a gritty, industrial glow with a dream-like quality, as well as a cultural center. It’s the very definition of bohemian. The renowned contemporary circus company, Cirk La Putyka is the astounding, must-see act there, but there are many other notable performance troupes, like 420People and 11:55 (a modern, edgy puppet theater group), and fantastic contemporary art installations that are equally worthwhile. This is definitely a can’t-miss spot!
4. Culinary Exploration
Coffee lovers from around the world will appreciate the Alchymist Coffee Museum. Browse through the aisles of original early 20th century coffee machinery and implements. Thanks to the great coffee served at the museum's cafe, you can feel the same caffeinated joy while viewing the pre-war photographs of people enjoying coffee. Don't miss the owner's collection of unique tarot cards of all sizes nor the cafe's scrumptious bakery goods.
Also within Holešovice Market, the ChefParade Cooking School boasts exceptional classes for tourists, teaching anyone how to craft a sumptuous 3-course Czech lunch (traditional or seasonal modern). Classes can be in groups or held individually and can be in English. Your assigned chef will take you on a tour of the local market if you opt for the tour, showing you all the ingredients that go into making the dishes you choose to make and how to purchase the freshest ingredients. After the tour or if you choose not to take the tour, your chef will then teach you how to prepare your feast. After preparation, you will dine with your chef, undoubtedly reveling in your delicious creation. The chef was so patient and responsive to questions.
5. But You Don’t Have to Cook
If you want a truly Bohemian eating experience, then Vnitroblock’s café is the place for you. A converted industrial building that used to be an abandoned factory, this creative multi-use space has become an artistic haven and a hipster's dream. As a creative center with a designer clothing showroom (with designs by ascendant designers), an amazingly good café with an impeccably-artsy ambience, an art gallery, a music venue, a dance studio, and an underground movie theater. The café is known for its excellent filtered coffee, but make sure to try their homemade lemonades, tasty cheesecake brownies, and amazing chai lattes. Soups and sandwiches are also part of the fare, so if you’re hungry for food and an experience, definitely stop by the café.
Pivovar Marina, which is positioned along the Vltava River, is both a brewery (which serves Czech food and outstanding Holešovice beer) and an Italian restaurant. It has a beer garden with views of the river. The inside ambience is akin to a luxury lodge combined with a brewery aesthetic. Great food (with a lot of variety from which to choose) abounds, so if you are looking for a taste of Holešovice’s local beer and/or a great meal, this restaurant and brewery (which follows a local brewing tradition in Holešovice that goes back to the late 19th century) is for you.
SasaZu is a Southeast Asian fusion restaurant with an unforgettable illuminated ambiance filled with sweeping lantern fixtures and statues carefully orchestrated to create an air of mystery and wonderment that complements the exceptional cuisine. From sushi to Peking duck to Bombay butter chicken, Malaysian lobster, and Chinese Shawarma, this restaurant will tantalize your taste buds with a singular flare. I recommend trying the Lobster Soup. You won’t be sorry!
For fine dining with spectacular city views, I recommend getting a good seat at Brasserie Ullmann, which is situated within the Letenský zámeček (which in fact houses three restaurants) at Letná Park. The dishes are, an assortment of Czech and French fare, are absolutely outstanding and the views can’t be beat.
6. Party Like Steampunk Royalty
The Cross Club is club of choice in Holešovice. This futuristic, steampunk-inspired club is really an imaginative, night-time realm with a variety of artistic and musical genres and styles that have been both the backdrop and the foreground for both live and electronic performances. For quality of sensory experience and nightlife, the three-floor Cross Club (with its assortment of rooms as well as its terrace) is the clear choice and you don’t want to miss it if you are in Prague. The place has a lot of style and energy, coupled by a more relaxed atmosphere on the terrace, so it’s a good mix.
The Cross Club also hosts cultural events (film viewings, book readings, theater performances, and more) as well as exhibits. It has a café that serves food during the day, and a restaurant (on the upper level of the place), so if you are only going to be in the area during the day, it’s definitely still worth stopping by the Cross Club.
7. Sleep in A Work of Art
While the more affordable Art Hotel Praha is centrally-located between Letná and Stromovka Parks for easy-access sightseeing, the Residence Milada luxury hotel is directly in the city center and nearby the main square, Strossmayerovo náměstí. Both highly-rated hotels are pleasant, relaxing, and clean with very friendly staff members to help you enjoy your stay, and both feature large, comfy rooms with free wi-fi. The Art Hotel might have a bit of advantage in that it offers free breakfast and oodles of contemporary art to feast your eyes on, but you can't go wrong with either choice.
**While this post is sponsored by CzechTourism,
all of the opinions expressed in the post are TravelFave’s.**