Brave the crowds and tacky souvenir shops between the Charles Bridge and hugely overrated Astronomical Clock in the Old Town Square. Then delve into the quieter streets of Stare Mesto. It soon becomes a place of charming bars and restaurants, offering classy shopping and clusters of buildings representing architectural styles throughout the ages. What’s more, it’s within walking distance of most attractions.
We recommend: Residence Karolina
Serviced apartments can be rather functional, but Residence Karolina’s have flair as well as the usual hotel amenities. Furry rugs, matching footstools for the sofas and heated towel rails taller than NBA basketball players are smile-raising bonuses. You get a range of teas, a Nespresso machine and multivitamin sachets too. But it’s the space that really appeals — even the smallest apartment covers 678sq ft. Rooms are large and airy, and the fully-equipped kitchens are ideal for cooking up a complex feast. It’s a thumbs up for the facilities too — washer-dryers and washing powder are provided, as are multi-plug extension cables for those armed to the teeth with electronics. Fold-down beds in the lounge area make the Karolina a good choice for families or small groups.
■ X-factor: The (more expensive) apartments on the upper floors have castle views.
■ Rooms: One-bedroom apartments from €80 (£68). residence-karolina.com
Best for style: Hotel Josef
The Josef is close to some of Stare Mesto’s best bars, shops and restaurants. The minimalist open-plan lobby gives way to starkly bright rooms with all manner of goodies. Bedside lights pop out of the headboards and there’s a free umbrella hiding among the robes and slippers. The shower cubicles are rather risque — out in the open with just frosted glass to hide the occupant from their roommate.
■ Rooms: Doubles from €99 (£84). hoteljosef.com
Best for views: Four Seasons Hotel Prague
Understated luxury and the comfiest beds in town are the order of the day here. Take your pick of room styles — modern, renaissance, baroque and classical. For dream views over the Vltava River to Prague Castle, pick the latter. Or cheat, by dining on the terrace of the Cotto Crudo restaurant.
■ Rooms: Doubles from €300 (£254). fourseasons.com/prague
Although New Town isn’t as pretty as Malá Strana or Stare Mesto, in most other cities it’d be the tourist honeypot. Wenceslas Square is its ugly, commercialised heart — more like a runway than a square. But look round most corners and you’ll find 19th- and 20th-century palaces and art nouveau buildings. Nove Mesto is where the stag/hen parties and serious nightlife are found, but accommodation is relatively cheap, and public transport links are great.
We recommend: Fusion Prague
Wow. It’s a word uttered a lot while wandering through this hotel-hostel hybrid that treats convention with disdain. Dark, futuristic corridors are lit by the blazing green lights of the room numbers; leaflets and information hang from the walls in mousetraps; reception lockers double as a bench, padded with cushions made from old jeans. Weird enough yet? Well, there are also glowing toilet cisterns, bedroom-wall cartoons and Airfix-like stag heads in the Vintage rooms. It’s not all zany gimmicks. Rooms are four-star level and the dorms are as striking and well-equipped as you’ll find in any specialist hostel.
■ X-factor: Along with the quality bedding and en suite bathrooms, Fusion is a fun, sociable place. As well as a playroom with an Xbox Kinect to play on, DJs ramp up the atmosphere in a rotating circular bar where TVs hide inside picture frames.
■ Rooms: Doubles from €64 (£54), dorm beds from €15 (£12.71). fusionhotels.com
Best for families:Hotel Suite Home Prague
The suites/apartments here are absurdly good value. All have fully equipped kitchens, so they’re great for self-caterers and longer stays. But most hallelujahs will come from those with kids — even the one-bedroom apartments have a fold-down bed and sofa bed, while the two-bedroom versions easily sleep six. Free wi-fi, 24-hour reception and breakfast are included.
■ Rooms: One-bedroom apartments from €68.87 (£58). hotelsuitehomeprague.com
Best for foodies: Radisson Blu Alcron Hotel
One of only two Michelin-starred restaurants in Prague, The Alcron is the only one inside a hotel. Diners pick up to seven dishes from a seafood-slanted a la carte menu, with each wine-matched if desired. The larger La Rotonde restaurant does an excellent boozy afternoon brunch, while the hotel is a dashingly-restored art deco building, full of Gatsby-evoking design touches.
■ Rooms: Doubles from €119 (£100). radissonblu.com/hotel-prague
On the western bank on the Vltava, in the shadow of Prague Castle, Malá Strana is a land of cobbles, waterwheels, pretty palaces and baroque churches. There are plenty of quirky attractions to be found down the smaller lanes too. Malá Strana quietens down considerably at night, but if it’s low-key wine bars you’re after instead of beery pubs, it’s just about perfect.
We recommend: Golden Well Hotel
On a quiet cobbled lane beneath Prague Castle, you’ll find the Golden Well. With just 17 rooms and two suites, renaissance-style furnishing and bags of original features from the 16th-century building, the romance factor is off the charts. We’re talking tapestries, bare stone walls, big spa baths and a rooftop terrace and restaurant revelling in dreamy views over the city. For all of its extras, it’s the service that really shines. The many great touches include free drinks and finger foods in the lounge, iPads to borrow, a DVD library, kids’ bathrobes and a choice of slippers.
■ X-factor: In summer, guests can access the rose gardens, using a private entrance once reserved for the Holy Roman Emperor.
■ Rooms: Doubles from €175 (£146). goldenwell.cz
Best for luxury: Mandarin Oriental Prague
This 14th-century former monastery does peaceful very nicely. Tasteful rooms, marble-drenched bathrooms and giant TVs are to be expected, but the vaulted ceilings and spa inside a renaissance chapel are a bonus.
■ Rooms: Doubles from €265 (£225). mandarinoriental.com/prague
Best for retro cool: Design Hotel Sax
Wonderfully cartoonish — the 60s-flashback decor means eye-popping circle patterns, paint splodges, egg-shaped chairs and curvy furniture. Facilities in the fun-sized rooms are far from retro, with free wi-fi and flatscreens welcome additions from this decade.
■ Rooms: Doubles from €80 (£68). hotelsax.cz
This is the area for repeat visitors; the ones who’ve ticked off the major attractions and want a more laid-back, moochy stay. It’s a leafy, well-to-do area but it has lots of excellent bars and restaurants. Although it’s only a short tram-hop away from Nove Mesto and Staré Mesto, the vibe is considerably less frenetic.
We recommend: Deminka Palace
On the cusp of Vinohrady and Nove Mesto, just uphill from the National Museum, Deminka Palace is a palace without the price tag. The green art nouveau entrance, vaulted roof and red-carpeted corridor with stucco and golden trim dazzle. But this introductory glamour isn’t quite matched by the rooms, although the double doors and high ceilings add stately grace. It’s solid and cleverly tarted-up rather than being luxurious, but a steal nonetheless.
■ X-factor: Even in peak season, advance booking can mean staggeringly cheap rates.
■ Rooms: From €41.30 (£35). deminkapalace.com
Best for local life: Louren Hotel
Wooden floors, comfy settees and sofas plus framed drawings of vintage cars give the Louren a homely, country club feel. It also has excellent, friendly staff, while its proximity to tram stops is a bonus.
■ Rooms: Doubles from €72 (£61). louren.cz
Best for pampering: Le Palais Hotel
The spa at this grand belle epoque affair with comfortable refinement is popular with moneyed locals, while heated floors, a one-hour ironing and shoe-shine service and a free minibar are divine touches.
■ Rooms: Doubles from €117 (£99). palaishotel.cz
Published in the September 2013 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)