Prague is a continental epicenter. It’s not only the Czech Republic’s capital, but arguably the region’s most culturally relevant city. And the word is out, with tourism on the rise. Yet there’s more there than the usual tourist to-do list.

Prague’s history is one of external influences mixing with local traditions. Home to the great kingdoms of Bohemia and one-time capital of both the Holy Roman Empire and the Habsburg’s Austro-Hungarian dynasty, Prague has always been a cultural crossroads. Today, its role as regional metropolis has helped build a vibrant local cultural scene, one with a decidedly Czech flavor.

The black spires on several churches and clock towers mark the square in the Old Town neighborhood of Prague
Old Town Prague is a good example of external influences mixing with local traditions © Jason Najum / Lonely Planet

Old World Prague living (and drinking)

Prague’s Old Town (Staré Město) is where most visitors eventually find themselves. It’s a beautiful district, restored and well-maintained, offering Prague’s baroque take on old world plazas and cathedrals. Even though the Czechs do a good job of keeping things Czech, the quarter has inevitably taken on some tourism aesthetics, so one must dig a bit deeper for more untouched local experiences. Beer is a necessary part of any Czech exploration, so even if you don’t partake, have a seat and soak it all in. Traditional beer halls are like wood-carved time machines, offering carb-heavy glimpses into yesteryear.

An arched stone wall marks an underground bar with an old brass tap and glass steins on the bar
The bartender's not always open to non-locals (at first) at U Hrocha © Jason Najum / Lonely Planet

In the heart of the Old Town you’ll find U Zlatého Tygra, a popular old-time hangout that has managed to host visiting presidents while still giving priority to its local clientele. It’s a good example of a classic Czech pub. For a step deeper into the local watering hole community, walk across the Charles Bridge and find U Hrocha. This is a local’s spot – walking in, the apparently surly bartender will assess your beer-drinking authenticity, sometimes turning clients away. Yet behind the harsh exterior are warm suds-slingers looking for a laugh – so if you’re given a hard time, just smile and say “come on, just one.” Chances are he’ll let you in.

A row of young people sit on the concrete riverbank, looking at an old-world bridge across the river in Prague
People-watching is a favorite pastime in Náplavka, an area by the river © Jason Najum / Lonely Planet

Hanging Out Like a Local

Continue your exploration into the local scene with a stop at Zázemí. A spot for those on the slightly grungier end of the hipster spectrum, Zázemí offers cheap beers with live local music and art events – a rare find in the increasingly touristy Old Town.

A short walk outside of the Old Town, located in the city’s bustling “new town” (Prague 1) you’ll find Cafe Jericho. Hidden on a quaint side street, this cafe/bar hybrid is a low-key local hangout, with budding artists on display and regulars drinking on the front stoop. A great option for work or play, day or night.

A market stall features four huge pans of food, with long-handled wooden spoons to stir them, and long strings of sausages hung vertically in the front
Strings of sausages and pans of street food greet pedestrians at the Náplavka Farmer's Market © Jason Najum / Lonely Planet

Next head to Náplavka, the riverfront area just outside the downtown core. This local favorite offers a variety of boat-bars and street food stalls, with great options for Czech food and drink in a lively outdoor environment. If on a budget, do as the locals do and pick up a corner store pilsner and just sit by the river and people-watch. On summer Saturdays pass by the Náplavka Farmer's Market (until 2pm for late-risers).

For more outdoor chilling, head across the river to Letná, a city park built into the riverfront hills. The views alone are worth the short trek, but enjoy the afternoon and have a cold draft beer and some grilled sausage in the Letná Beer Garden. This tree-covered haven serves food and drink until 10pm on summer weekends.

Rows of tables full of beer-drinking people are arranged under a shady canopy of trees on a bluff that overlooks the city of Prague
Scores of young people flock to the Letná Beer Garden for outdoor chilling © Jason Najum / Lonely Planet

Don’t forego the culture

If the arts are more your scene, explore the nearby Holešovice neighborhood. This former slightly sleazy industrial area has revitalized into one of Prague’s coolest districts. Bio Oko is an arthouse cinema showing a range of popular and independent films. Trafo Gallery is an artist’s collective offering Czech modern art, and DOX is one of Prague’s premiere contemporary museums. For more local events, head a few minutes west into Prague 6 to Klubovna for live music and other cultural happenings.

A long row of graffiti marks a wall in Prague, in front of two multi-story apartment buildings, one purple and one cream.
Prague is teeming with street art and cool districts to explore © Jason Najum / Lonely Planet

Finally for a peak into where the cool kids hang, the guys from Žižkovšiška are moving their underground yet very popular Sunday Jam Sessions to an outdoor garden setting for the summer. Definitely worth checking out.

Prague is both a city of obvious beauty and hidden treasures. Exploring these local gems and spending time in neighborhoods like Holešovice, Žižkov and Vršovice will give you a better appreciation and fuller view of one of Europe’s most compelling cities.

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