Windy cobble stone streets, medieval architecture and a city that arguably hosts some of the best culture in the world: this can only be Prague.
The Czech capital has served as home to revolutionaries, Bohemian kings, invading Axis powers and world renowned musicians and writers, who have all walked the cobblestone streets of this stunning city.
Although the city has seen its share of violent history, the City of a Thousand Spires has always been spared the ravages of war, making it one of the most romantic and historic cities in Europe. Now not only do discerning travellers visit this Baroque jewel for its gorgeous historic architecture, refined culture, high-style lodging and dining establishments, but also for the whole slew of goods that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
Shopping for Czech Handicrafts and High Fashion
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With the rapid influx of visitors and the growing new consumer economy that is fed by the Czech nouveau-rich, Prague is beginning to burst with specialty stores. While the shopping malls carry everything from designer baby clothes to Gucci bags, shops still have a small inventory compared to cities like London and Paris. However, there is still the occasional bargain to be found.
While the high-end mass marketers like H&M and Zara can be found in the area around Wenceslas Square and Na Prikope, more exclusive names in fashion like Cartier, Hugo Boss, Prada and Hermes tend to be found in the Parizska area. However, this high-end fashion can be found anywhere in Europe. The Old Town district is where some of the most beautiful architecture can be found, but also where the proud Czech designers have set up their boutiques. Stores like Boheme and Tatiana sell stylish and elegant fashion that, because it is in its home country, is much cheaper in price.
Prague isn't just known for its luxury fashion, however. In fact, some of their best buys involve items other than clothes. Some may know that the blood-red garnet is the Czech national gem, but not just because of its mystical beauty. The garnets that are mined and sold in the Czech Republic are among the finest in the world. Most of the garnets that are sold in Prague are mined just 63 kilometers northwest in Teplice. The Bohemian garnets are always the most sought after and the most expensive as the mixture of calcium and magnesium within causes them to be the deepest red. Depending on the quantity and whether the jewels are set in silver or gold, these beauties can run for as little as 700Kc or as high as 30,000Kc. However, as with any precious gems, there are always those that would try to sell fakes for a premium. To avoid garnet fraud, discerning visitors should only buy from reputable sources like Karlovy Vary for raw gems and Granat Turnov for beautiful jewellery, both of which can be found in Old Town.
While garnets are treasured, fine crystal has been produced in the Bohemian countryside of the Czech Republic since the 14th century. However, it was not until the 17th century that it became the preferred crystal of the world. Not much has changed since then, it is still sought after by royalty and the world's elite. Like garnets, Karlovy Vary is also the most reputable provider of fine crystal in Prague. However, for those who desire high quality custom made crystal designs, Moser Glass provides an outlet for those that have a design in mind, but just need crafters to make it for them.
Sample Prague's Best Brews
Beer is not a luxury in Prague, but everyone drinks it. From the lowliest street peddler to the Czech glitterati, they all enjoy Czech beer in the city. These brews have largely been overshadowed by German beer throughout history, however due to the influx of foreign visitors in Prague, these unique beers have been gaining a world famous reputation.
Visitors can stop just about anywhere that serves food in Prague and find a good Czech beer bottled and ready to be served. However, it is in the pubs that the true connoisseur will find the finest brews. What makes the pubs so special is that they have such an artisan dedication to beer that nearly all of them brew their own. Any respectable pub has their own brew with pipes that lead from the tank and right to the tap.
It's not hard to find a pub or a beer hall in Prague, they are much like Starbucks in North America – there is one on every corner. Beer drinkers can't go wrong with places like U Pinkasu and their special dark stout named Master 18 or U Cerneho Vola and their light and dark blends of Velkopopovicky Kozel. Of course, all pubs and beer halls serve up the ever popular Pilsner Urquell. Urquell is like the Budweiser or Molson of the Czech Republic.
Enjoy Prague's Many Musical Pursuits
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While judicious visitors will be tempted to enjoy the symphony while in the Baroque jewel that is Prague, there is so much more to the city's advanced musical culture.
This city was once called home by famous Czech composers like Dvorak and Smetana. To honour their memory and their work, Prague is now home to not one, but three full orchestras that play regularly in the city and abroad. Within the art nouveau Smetana Hall at the Municipal House, visitors are sure to find either that Czech Philharmonic, Prague Symphony Orchestra, on the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra playing, no matter when they visit. Each symphony is well worth the visit as each one is unique in its own right. While the Prague Symphony Orchestra is livelier with a daring repertoire, the Czech Philharmonic specializes in neo-Renaissance performances and the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra is sure to play something visitors have not heard before.
Alternatively, visitors that wish to have a lovely treat in a baroque setting should head to the churches. Chamber music has grown in Prague since the days of the Velvet Revolution and has become quite the business. There are flyers for church concerts plastered everywhere, however due to the influx of foreign interest in the chamber music, ticket prices to these events are now quite pricey. Places like the Chapel of Mirrors or the Church of St Nicholas hold chamber music concerts weekly, where visitors can hear classics from composers like Mozart, Bach and Handel in the kind of setting in which they were meant to be played.
In recent years another genre has grown in the city's underground. Prague has just recently gained renown for its Jazz clubs. Places like Reduta Jazz Club and Ugelt Jazz have helped make the genre famous in Europe. Reduta is home to Prague's annual International Jazz Festival while Ugelt Jazz features travelling groups and local musicians. However, both are home to an appreciative and refined group of fans.
Taste the Best of Prague
Executive Chef and Prague local David Sasek wanted to revive the Golden Age cuisine of Prague, but with the palate-teasing flare that comes with international cuisine. So when he created Coda inside the Aria Hotel, that is just what he did. By combining Czech staples with French technique and inspiration dishes like their Kulajda wild mushroom soup or crispy oven roasted Vodnany duck, he gives visitors a unique taste of the city's new food culture. The cuisine is paired with an extensive international wine list in a refined contemporary setting. Those lucky enough to dine there in the summer should try to get a table on their rooftop terrace that provides panoramic views of the city. However, the dining room has its own charms, like award-winning pianists like Mario Bihary playing every night.
Enjoy a Luxury Stay
While the city has luxury hotels like the Four Seasons and Hilton, those who want a new luxury hotel experience should head to the Hotel Josef. It is one of the most stylish hotels in town and, like Prague itself, it’s gorgeous. However, as visitors will soon notice, it is in stark contrast to the city outside. While Prague is beautiful in its historic buildings, the beauty in Hotel Josef is in its contemporary design. The hotel itself was designed by one of the most famous Czech architects, Eva Jiricna. She is famous for her use of both glass and steel to create simple, yet stunning contemporary buildings. Visitors will see her influences everywhere, from the massive windows that soak the lobby and rooms in natural light and the awe-inspiring glass and steel spiral staircase.