Here are 6 steps to avoiding tourist traps, shady drug dealers, and overpriced bagels in Prague:
1. STOP going to Lucerna Music Bar.
Most of the Czechs I know try to avoid Lucerna’s overpriced bar and tourist-infested dance floor. Expats.cz said it was convenient to Wenceslas Square, but it took me almost four months to find the front door.
Instead, go to Futurum.
“We’re going to go dancing at Futurum tonight!” my friend Lenka told me one day after class. Based on her enthusiasm, I concluded that Futurum is where locals go for a crazy night out.
While singing along to Aqua’s “Barbie Girl” (“I’m impressed you know all the words!” said Lenka), I witnessed some dude groping a woman under her shirt. She didn’t seem to mind the PDA. They just kept dancing. Because that’s the kind of place Futurum is.
2. STOP going to Cross Club.
You know that spot in your town “everybody” goes to that seems cool at first, but really isn’t that cool, and after a while you realize that the kind of people who go there are people you don’t really like? Cross Club is that place.
Tourists flock here, hoping to buy drugs from the shady dealers hanging around the bathrooms, and while the live music is a nice touch, moshing with NYU students all night gets old.
Instead, go to Radost FX.
I’ve eaten vegetarian food, sipped on cappuccinos, rifled through used CDs, and partied my ass off in an underground club — all within the same building at Radost FX. I discovered this cafe / vegetarian restaurant / second-hand record shop / discotheque while getting lost in my neighborhood, Vinohrady.
I don’t even mind when tourists show up, because Radost’s multiple venues make it easy to avoid them.
3. STOP shopping on Wenceslas Square.
Václavské náměstí is an important Czech historic site, but none of the retail shop brands lining the boulevard are Czech. I thought I would, at least, score some deals due to the country’s low exchange rate, but in doing the math, a pair of sneakers found at my local mall cost almost twice as much in Prague.
Instead, shop off the beaten path.
One-of-a-kind pieces from some of Prague’s own designers cost me pennies — all found while strolling down alleyways and taking side streets off the main tourist areas.
Le Boheme is my favorite find, a funky little shop near Old Town Square where, after being fitted for a custom blazer, I watched owner Renáta Vokáčová construct new designs in the back of her shop. Even one of the city’s most famous designers, Helena Fejková, offers couture fashion for considerably less than any other designer I’ve ever met.
4. STOP going to Bohemia Bagel.
I thought bagels were an Eastern European thing, and that I’d be swimming in them in Prague, but that hasn’t been the case. Stopping by this expat joint one day, I wasn’t impressed by the nearly $2 poppy seed bagel with cream cheese. I didn’t come to Prague to eat Caesar salads, Philly cheese steaks, and brownies anyway.
Instead, go to Cafe Savoy.
Located near my favorite bridge, Most Legií, Cafe Savoy’s interior has been restored to its turn-of-the-century architectural glory. I’ve traded Bohemia Bagel’s free wifi and takeaway coffee cups for Savoy’s decadent plates of food, pâtisseries, and creamy café au lait.
5. STOP going to Starbucks.
Seriously. Stop it. The flagship location replaced Café Radetzky, a 135-year-old teahouse Franz Kafka used to frequent, so a little bit of Czech history died with your latte.
Instead, go to Krásný Ztráty.
Krásný’s cafe drinks and snacks are satisfying after a day spent studying next to Václav Havel. No joke, I was writing a paper in Krásný’s quiet back room, the former president and playwright sitting adjacent to me with a cup of coffee and a newspaper.
It’s pretty easy to meet famous Czech people if you go to the places Czechs like to hang out. Perhaps you’ll get lucky and spot the current President of the Czech Republic, Miloš Zeman, with a milkshake and a comic book.
6. STOP going to Charles Bridge during the day.
Charles Bridge isn’t that long of a bridge, but it takes over an hour to cross during the day because of the crowds. I made the mistake of using it on one of my first days in Prague, and felt like a calf in a herd of tourists.
Instead, go in the early morning or late evening.
The crowds thin out between 11PM and 7AM. Crossing the bridge off-hours makes it easy to stop and rub all the good-luck statues. The brick walkway is particularly nice for a stroll after a night of drinking.
This article was originally published on July 3rd, 2012.