One of my New Year’s resolutions is to travel more, so I jump at any opportunity to dust off my suitcase. Although I’m even happy packing up the car for a trip down south, there is nothing better than hopping on a plane to get in the holiday spirit.
Regular G Spotters will know that I had a ball in Krakow earlier this year, so decided to try a few days in another Eastern European city – this time Prague. I think I may have been the only one of my friends that hasn’t been, but it seemed to be the place to go about 20 years ago. The flight connections are now so good that it is getting more popular and the Jet2 direct fight from Belfast International was a breeze, only taking about 2ish hours. Granted there was a rather rowdy stag party on board, which I later found out is what the city is famous for, but I still had high hopes for a positive cultural experience.
Although we had a guide book that covered all the usual hotspots – Charles Bridge, Prague Castle, Old Town Square, The Jewish Quarter and although I had some great advice from my fellow BT contributor, Lyndsay Malone, I wanted to try and spot some hidden gems off the beaten track.
TO STAY: If you want something that is just outside the hustle and bustle of the main tourist area, then Andel’s hotel is perfect (http://www.vi-hotels.com/en/andels-prague/) The hotel is named after the city district of the same name, both of which mean “angel” in Czech. This 4-star design hotel has just the right amount of friendliness that doesn’t overwhelm you, but makes you feel that the staff really care about your stay. Andel’s is a part of the VI Group, so as we stayed with the chain in Krakow we knew what to expect. The rooms (239 in total) are bright and spacious, there is free WiFi, a large restaurant, wellness centre, relaxing contemporary lobby area and the buffet breakfast covers all types of tastes and cuisines – oh and the bar also does the best Caprioska cocktails in the city!
As it is located outside the Old Square, we needed to get a taxi in and out, but it worked out well and meant we could return to our oasis of calm after a day in the sun. Oh and my advice on the taxi front is to barter. Even though they work off a meter, there seems to be some discrepancy and they can charge you what they want, which we found to our peril. Agree the price in advance and it’s ok to haggle. It cost us about 200 Czech Koruna to get into the Old Square which is about £5.
TO EAT: The guide books took us on a culinary tour of the city, but maybe there was too much choice as we struggled a bit with where to go – and as I love my food I found this a bit disappointing. If the weather is good and you enjoy a quiet restaurant, there is a lovely place called The Manes Gallery that has a great roof top terrace with views of the Vltava River. If you are looking for something quick and easy, then head to the Old Square and down the maze of side streets. We came across a few places that didn’t look much from the outside but had traditional Czech cuisine, which is very reasonably priced.
TO SEE: It’s hard to go to Prague in July and not escape the crowds, but my travel companion and I just wanted a relaxing break so my best bit of advice to enjoy the city is by water. We opted for a 2hr tour booked through Prague Boats (http://www.prague-boats.cz/) which was about £12. We found this direct option cheaper than booking on a tourist website.
The boat has a well stocked bar and you can sit back and listen to a recording of the history of the city without having to walk your way around it. We had such a lovely time on our day cruise that we booked an evening jazz cruise with dinner. Make sure to book in advance though as it gets very busy and you will more than likely have to share your table. The meal was much nicer than we thought and enjoying Prague lit up at night is definitely worth the effort.
The New Town also has its fair share of places to go and things to do, although it is a bit run down and could do with some refurbishment. We stumbled across Styl & Interier, which is cross between a designer boutique, coffee shop and garden hideaway.
It seemed like we were the only people there that weren’t local, but I liked that and there were a lot of creative types and girl pals catching up, so when I closed my eyes it kind of felt like I was back with my friends on the Lisburn Road.
Never one to turn down the chance of a speciality cocktail, I heard about Tretters (http://www.tretters.cz/en/) and knew we had to try it. It really is like a traditional bar from the 1920’s with a retro cash register, tiled interiors and staff decked out in white uniforms. The only downside was the smoking – I forget that smoking indoors is still the norm in many European cities, something I don’t miss at home.
LAST WORD: My overall impression of Prague is that it is a perfectly fine place for a short city break. I know that sounds a bit of a cop out, but I don’t really have strong feelings either way. I think I was spoilt with Krakow, so maybe nothing can live up to it. I found parts of Prague very tacky and I was sick of saying that I didn’t want to go on a pub crawl. But then mixed with this view was the serene garden in Styl & Interier, the quality old skool cocktails in Tretters and the home from home in Andel’s.
I haven’t given up on the city though and think it might be better off-peak or in the winter months as I’m sure the picturesque buildings look amazing with a hint of snow. Not sure how a river cruise will work frozen, but with mulled wine everything seems possible and as it’s only 161 days until Christmas, I better start planning!
By Grainne McGarvey. Spotting local hidden gems from the world of beauty, health, fashion, tourism and hospitality. I have my ear to the ground (quite literally) to keep you up to date about the new or interesting products and services from our neck of the woods. If you know one – get in touch on twitter @grainnemcgarvey or at www.pulseprni.com