Central Prague can often feel like it's populated entirely by tourists. Where are all the locals? If it's the weekend, they're probably out picking wild mushrooms, watching a football or ice-hockey match, or browsing the stalls at one of the city's excellent farmers markets.
Eat Like a Local
- Lunchtime Bargains
Praguers enjoy eating out, and weekday lunchtime is when office workers, shoppers and parents with toddlers go looking for a bargain. You'll see lots of restaurants and pubs with signs advertising polední menu (lunch menu) or denní nabídka (today's offer), usually offering a set menu of one or two courses and a drink for a set price, often as little as 100Kč to 150Kč. Visit www.zomato.com/praha/daily-menus for a list dedicated to publicising these deals.
- Foraging for Fun
It has been estimated that Czechs pick more than 20 million kilograms of wild mushrooms each year. From May to October, foraging for fungi and wild berries is one of the nation's most popular pastimes, when Prague's Divoká Šárka and Michelský Les woodlands (southeast of the city centre) are thronged with locals clutching wicker baskets. Czechs learn young how to identify edible fungi, so unless you've mastered the art of mushroom identification you'd better tag along with a local expert; otherwise you can sample the fruits of the forest at a farmers market, or at restaurants advertising hřiby or lesní houby.
Come Easter, the country celebrates with a mirthful rite of spring: Czech boys swat their favourite girls on the legs with braided willow switches (you'll see them on sale in street markets) or splash them with water, and the girls respond with gifts of hand-painted eggs, after which the whole family parties – the culmination of several days of serious spring-cleaning, cooking and visiting relatives and friends.
- May Day
The May Day holiday (Svátek práce) on May 1 – once the communist 'holy' day, marked by huge parades – is now just a chance for a picnic or a day in the country. To celebrate the arrival of spring, many couples lay flowers at the statue of the 19th-century poet Karel Hynek Mácha (author of Máj, a poem about unrequited love) on Petřín.
Prague students celebrate the first weekend of May as Majáles, a festival dating back to at least the early 19th century, which was banned under communism but revived in 1997. It starts with a midday parade – with bands, students in fancy dress, and a float bearing the Kral Majáles (King of Majáles) and Miss Majáles – from Wenceslas Square to Stromovka park, and there's an open-air party including live bands, student theatre and non-stop sausages and beer. For dates and details, check www.majales.cz.
- Ice Hockey
It’s a toss-up whether football or ice hockey inspires more passion in the hearts of Prague sports fans, but hockey probably wins. Games are fast and furious, and the atmosphere can be electrifying – it’s well worth making the effort to see a game, and take part in a genuinely Czech experience.
Prague’s two big hockey teams are HC Sparta Praha (www.hcsparta.cz), which competes in the 14-team national league (known as the Extraliga), and HC Slavia Praha (www.hc-slavia.cz), which is in the second-tier WSM Liga. Gifted young players are often lured away by the promise of big money in North America’s National Hockey League, and there is a sizeable Czech contingent in the NHL.
Both Sparta and Slavia Praha play at O2 Arena; the season runs from September to early April. Buy tickets online at www.ticketportal.cz, or at the stadium box office before matches.
Prague’s two big football (soccer) clubs are SK Slavia Praha (www.slavia.cz) and their great rivals AC Sparta Praha (www.sparta.cz), with fiercely partisan supporters all over the country. Two other Prague-based teams – FC Bohemians (www.bohemians1905.cz) and FK Viktoria Žižkov (www.fkvz.cz) – attract fervent local support.
The season runs from August to May, and matches are mostly played on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons. You can buy tickets (100Kč to 400Kč) at stadium box offices on match days.
The Czech national team performs well in international competitions, having won the European Championship in 1976 (as Czechoslovakia), and reached the final in 1996 and the semifinal in 2004. Home international matches are played at Slavia Praha’s 21,000-seat Eden Aréna in eastern Prague.
- Picnic in the Park
Get a taste for local produce by browsing the weekend farmers markets at Karlín, Vinohrady or Náplavka and putting together the makings of a picnic. Then join the crowds at Riegrovy sady in Vinohrady for an alfresco lunch (there's a beer garden here, too), or head down to Havlíčkovy sady, where you can sample Czech wine at Viniční Altán. From Náplavka, climb up to Vyšehrad – a favourite spot for weekend strolls – for a picnic with a view.
- Head to the Embankment
From late April to September, as evening approaches, the river embankment at Náplavka in Nové Město swells with crowds of walkers and gawkers, cyclists and strollers who throng here to take in various live-music events, evening drinks on quayside boats, and the breathtaking views towards floodlit Prague Castle.