For a big chunk of the Noughties, Prague was a favourite among raucous stag parties, who’d come for the budget booze and bunk beds. Today, though, they’ve mostly migrated elsewhere, and while you’ll still find reasonably priced lagers, there’s much more to the Czech capital. Perhaps you’ll visit for the history, from the 9th-century castle to the cobbled alleys dotted with baroque churches and neoclassical townhouses. Or maybe to explore the outer neighbourhoods — including the edgy, club- and gallery-lined streets of Holesovice — connected to the Old Town by the ornate bridges that span the Vltava. Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, Prague has transformed into one of the world’s most enchanting and hedonistic capitals — complete with some of Europe’s smartest hotels.
For city views: One Room Hotel
It’s a bit of a schlep from the Old Town, but you don’t stay here for the location; you’re here for the views. Located 230ft up the former Zizkov Television Tower, surrounded by leafy streets lined with arty drinking dens, the One Room Hotel — featuring, of course, one very exclusive room — has the best rooftop panoramas in the city. A window stretches the width of the suite, and you can marvel at the sights from your bath, or spread out on the bed, which is rumoured to have cost 1m koruna (£35,000). A meal at Olbaca, the 216ft-high restaurant, is included (order the truffle gnocchi), and there’s a mini-golf course downstairs.
Rooms: From €575 (£505) a night, half board.
For a serene stay: Boho Hotel
There’s an intimate and peaceful vibe to this glass-fronted boutique hotel, located in a repurposed 18th-century factory between the Old and New Towns. The bright-white walls of the 57 bedrooms are lined with photographs taken around the city by one of the hotel’s owners, while grey and blue accents create a calm and elegant post-sightseeing hangout space. After a lavish breakfast in the light-filled restaurant, book on to the hotel’s personalised city tour or chill out in the gold-tiled spa, with its plunge pool, Finnish sauna and steam room. The feeling is luxe but the price tag reasonable — leaving more cash for cocktails in the super-slick bar.
Rooms: From €188 (£166) a night, room only.
For history buffs: Augustine
Set inside a warren of buildings that once formed part of the 13th-century St Thomas Church and Monastery, the Augustine — in Prague’s Lesser Town — combines history with contemporary design in its 101 bedrooms. Four monks and one friar still live on the grounds — you can book tours with them on certain days, or you may prefer to sip a 5.8% St Thomas lager, brewed from a recipe dating back to the 1200s. Czech MasterChef judge Marek Fichtner is behind the restaurant.
Rooms: From €240 (£212) a night, room only.
For retro vibes: Hotel Sax
Part museum, part quirky hotel, Hotel Sax pays homage to all things ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. Furniture and ornaments — including vintage tea sets, clocks and phones — have been lovingly chosen by the owners and displayed in cabinets in the hotel’s public spaces. Jazzy neon art and monochrome prints add to the retro feel, while the 22 rooms are comfy and colourful, with plenty of space to lounge around on the leather armchairs. A ’70s soundtrack that’s big on ABBA is piped into the breakfast room, ensuring a sprightly start to the day.
Rooms: From €70 (£61) a night, B&B.
For old-school glamour: Art Deco Imperial Hotel
It’s hard to know where to cast your eyes in this glittering palace, which first opened its doors in 1914. Is it the carpet, which switches from leopard print to blood-red swirls as you stroll from room to room? Or the gold-plated swan’s-head sink taps? Or maybe it’s the tiny shimmering tiles by the entrance. No, wait — it’s the pert breasts of the naked lady sculpture in the glam coffee and reading area, just off reception. Once you’ve stopped snapping pictures, sink into an armchair in one of 126 plush bedrooms, dressed with gold palm-tree print curtains, or dine on duck confit and potato dumplings in the glamorous surrounds of Cafe Imperial.
Rooms: From €100 (£90) a night, B&B.
For a hip hostel: Meet Me 23
Banish any stuffy, cramped misconceptions you might have of hostels. Cue Meet Me 23, one of Prague’s newest openings that’s located inside a neo-Renaissance building dating back to 1879. Technology is a big deal (you’re greeted by a virtual receptionist and unlock your room with your phone) and the decor combines old features with new additions — the original wide staircases and ultra-high ceilings are augmented with neon murals, black chandeliers and art installations including a vintage Skoda mounted on a wall. Restaurant Meet Beer serves cheap, locally brewed beverages and Czech comfort food. The rooms, ranging from private doubles to six-person dorms, are basic but colourful, with a handy subway map painted on the wall.
Rooms: Dorm beds from €20 (£17.50) a night; doubles from €36 (£32) a night, room only.
For style on a budget: Mooo by the Castle
The clue’s in the name: these eight apartments are kitted out with all things bovine. That’s 35 original cow paintings from Italian painter Paolo Tinari, a chandelier festooned with pictures of cows and even a white-and-gold life-size cow that greets you at the entrance to this 16th-century building. A spiral staircase winds its way up to the one- to three-bedroom flats, which come with small balconies overlooking a courtyard. This is one of the best-looking, best-value digs in town.
Rooms: From €85 (£71) a night for a self-catering one-bed apartment.
For an intimate escape: Miss Sophie’s Hotel
Located in an 18th-century former nunnery, this 16-bedroom boutique hotel excels at all things shabby-chic. From the high ceilings and rough-and-ready wooden headboards to the artfully scuffed-up soft-grey walls and vases crammed with pink roses, it’s a cool space that immediately makes you feel relaxed. And that’s before you check out the new spa — featuring a large hot tub, bare-brick walls, infrared sauna and the option to choose your own music. This subtly lit space is available for private bookings only, so wallow around in the warm water before heading across the street to the sister hostel for free pancakes and wine tasting.
Rooms: From €87 (£76) a night, B&B.
For full-blown fun: Hotel Josef
The slick and contemporary 109-room Hotel Josef is a jarring contrast to the surrounding Old Town — and that’s a good thing. Designed by Eva Jiricna, it’s a fun choice for those who prefer modern minimalism over original features. Sip a Josef Royal (a pomegranate and prosecco cocktail) beneath dangly pink lights in the lobby, eat freshly baked croissants in a yellow perspex chair and whizz around town on a free-to-hire electric scooter.
Rooms: From €139 (£123) a night, B&B.
For lovebirds: Four Seasons
Whether you’re a rock star, royalty or a romantic couple, it’s hard to fault the city’s ritziest hotel. It commands a prime location seconds away from the Vltava, sandwiched between Prague Castle, the Old Town and the Jewish Quarter. So the key sights are all a walk away — if you can bring yourself to leave. If not, there’s a plush spa, as well as a slick Italian restaurant, CottoCrudo. The 157 Pierre-Yves Rochon-designed guest rooms come with huge windows, and sparkly chandeliers hanging from the high ceilings.
Rooms: From £250 a night, room only.
Published in the Jan/Feb 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)