Prague is one of Europe’s most visited cities. Millions of tourists come to the Czech capital each year for its romantic hilltop castle, its intricate astronomical clock and its statue-lined medieval bridge.
And 2018 is busier than ever, with the city celebrating 100 years since the founding of Czechoslovakia. Yet for all its headline attractions, some of Prague’s most unique experiences are to be found away from the tourist trail. From strange sculptures to nuclear bunkers, here are six alternative activities to enjoy in the Czech capital.
Once the city’s industrial centre, Holešovice has in recent years reinvented itself as a bona fide hipster hub. Former factories and industrial spaces have been transformed into everything from artisan coffee shops – such as the shabby-chic hangout Vnitroblock and the Bitcoin-only café Paraleni Polis– to centres of contemporary art, including airship-topped art gallery DOX and innovative theatre space Jatka 78.
Spend an afternoon wandering the tram-filled streets of Holešovice and you’ll also stumble upon other hipster-tinged highlights, including upmarket Asian-fusion restaurant SaSaZu, riverside craft beer pub Pivovar Marina and steampunk music venue Cross Club, notable for its retro-futuristic scrap metal interiors.
After all that, you may need a breath of fresh air. Head to the beautiful Stromovka Park for a pond-side picnic or climb the hill to Letná Park for views over Prague’s majestic Old Town.
David Černý has gained an international reputation for his unusual, provocative sculptures. Remember the London bus doing press-ups back in 2012? Or the map of the EU in Brussels that managed to insult every member state? Well, Prague is David Černý’s hometown… and his odd artworks are everywhere.
His best-known city sculptures include Babies, a series of faceless toddlers climbing Žižkov Tower, and Horse, an homage to the famous St-Wenceslas-on-horseback statue, except this time with a lifeless horse. But lesser-spotted works include Piss (two male figures urinating on a map of the Czech Republic), Hanging Out (a life-sized figure of Sigmund Freud dangling from a rooftop) and Franz Kafka’s Head (a gigantic metal bust of Kafka composed of 42 layers that separately rotate). Oh, and then there’s Brown-Nosers.
Prague may be best-known for its frothy beer, but the locals are also partial to another less-intoxicating tipple: tea. The Czech capital has some remarkable tea shops, but they’re usually found away from the tourist centres; tucked down side streets, buried underground and even hidden in apartment blocks.
There are dozens of čajovnas dotted around Prague, and every local has a different favourite. But here are three great places to start: Čajovna Na Cestě, a hard-to-find Arabic-themed tea shop with the best masala chai this side of India; A Maze in Tchaiovna, a colourful, cavernous place with rooms secreted behind bookshelves and wardrobe doors; and Čajovna Banyan, a cosy little spot that also offers shisha.
During the Cold War, several nuclear bunkers were built across Czechoslovakia to protect citizens in the event of attack. Today, most have closed their doors – but a few have opened up to curious visitors.
With daily guided tours in English, the 1950s Nuclear Fallout Shelter in the basement of the city centre Hotel Jalta is a popular choice. But for a better sense of the scale of some of these facilities, head deep underground to the Prague Nuclear Bunker Museum, and its great collection of Cold War memorabilia.
The Czech Republic is, by most measures, the least religious country on earth. Yet it remains home to hundreds of beautiful churches – and, within these church walls, some very unusual religious artefacts.
You could easily spend half a day exploring Prague’s best ecclesiastical oddities. Start with the bearded woman statue in Loreto Church; this is St. Wilgefortis, who prayed for facial fuzz to free her of an unwanted betrothal. Then visit the Infant Jesus of Prague, a tiny 16th-century wax figurine with an array of ever-changing outfits. Then end at the thief’s hand in the Basilica of St. James. Legend has it that a thief tried to steal jewels off a statue of the Virgin Mary, but she came to life and grabbed his wrist. After he was cut free, his arm was ceremoniously hung up on a meat hook as a warning to other would-be thieves. Whether you believe the story or not, one thing is true: there is a withered human arm hanging up in the church.
Plus, if you have time, you can also take a day trip to Sedlec Ossuary, a chapel decorated with human bones.
Forget ice hockey: the true national pastime of the Czechs is mushroom picking. If you happen to be in Prague during late summer or early autumn, you’ll see lines of Czech families heading deep into the forests with wicker baskets. Once picked, mushrooms are either used in cooking or preserved (dried or pickled) for the winter. If you fancy giving it a go but are nervous about which mushrooms to pick, you can visit the Czech Mycological Society for advice, or download the Czech-made Mushrooms App.