Easy Escapes

A Guide to Prague’s Design District

by  Lane Nieset | Jun 10, 2019
View of Old Town from Letna
View of Old Town from Letna / DaLiu/iStock

The Czech Republic’s capital is called the “City of a Hundred Spires,” many of which rise from the concentrated, cobblestoned historical center (home of animated astrological clock). But if you stroll uphill from the picturesque Prague Castle, you’ll come across a different side of the city that’s off the beaten tourist path. Art District 7 (which comprises the neighborhoods of Holešovice and Letná) is quickly transforming into Prague's design hub (and hipster hangout) as bars, concept shops, and contemporary art galleries take over the former industrial zone’s abandoned factory spaces and slaughterhouses. Here’s our guide to the best spots to eat, see, and stay in this up-and-coming hotspot.

What to See and Do 

After Communism, many factories in Holešovice couldn’t compete with Capitalism and fell into disrepair. Contemporary art center DOX opened in 2002 in a former Avia aircraft factory and was one of the first to breathe new life into the neglected neighborhood. Swing by the MOMA-inspired shop, Studio Qubus (you’ll fall for everything from the jewelry to the Czech glassware), before heading to the more modest gallery space at nearby La Fabrika, a complex of 20th century factories that are now home to a bar and concert hall with performances by jazz and gypsy artists (check the program to see if anything is on while you’re there).

Get your afternoon caffeine fix at three-year-old Vnitroblock, a former factory whose loft-like space houses a cinema, dance studio, sneaker store, performance space, and pop-up poke stand; or pause for lunch at Bistro 8, which doubles as a brunch favorite (dishes like coconut milk rice porridge start at 92 CZK or $4). Then, make your way to another newcomer on Prague’s performing arts scene, Jatka78, a contemporary circus and puppet theater set in the halls of Holešovice Market, which served as the neighborhood slaughterhouse for a century. One of the more unexpected market finds: Tràng An Restaurant, which cooks up some of the best Vietnamese pho (125 CZK, or $5) in the city. For something swankier, reserve a seat at the expansive Asian fusion restaurant-slash-nightclub, SaSaZu. Expect to pay anywhere from 295 CZK ($13) for a vegetarian tofu-filled rice paper roll to 795 CZK ($34) for grilled lobster and soba noodles, and get ready for the DJ to kick off around 9 p.m.

Neighboring Letnà is also lined with contemporary art spaces like the National Gallery Prague, housed in the former Trade Fair Palace, a Modernist beauty from 1928. But this half of District 7 is heavier on cafés and shops, such as indie bookstore Page Five. Show your love for print by purchasing one of the design-focused magazines (most are in English) and make your way to nearby Letná Park. Post up with a pivo (beer) in the eastern end at the beer garden, where you can snap some of the best shots over Prague’s Old Town.

Where to Stay

Housed in the 1960s Parkhotel, the city’s most famous Communist-era hotel building, the 10-story, 238-room Mama Shelter Prague is hard to miss with its blocky, concrete-and-glass façade hunched over Prague’s “Central Park,” Stromovka. One of the original architects, Zdenek Edel, assisted with the hotel’s contemporary revamp in 2015, which restored the bones of the building while adding playful touches like flea market-sourced vintage décor and a Pac-Man machine in the lobby. Rooms start at 59 euro ($66), but if you really want to splurge, go for the bohemian-inspired penthouse (219 euro, or $244), which can sleep three people and includes a suspended swing-style bed. If you’re fighting jet-lag and can’t make it out to one of the many beer gardens in town, no worries: the property has one on-site. 

Getting There

Most major European cities (Paris, London, Rome) offer direct flights to Prague — which clock in at under two hours— on budget airlines like Vueling and EasyJet. If you’re already in Central Europe, the train from Budapest, Bratislava, or Vienna is your best bet. While the journey from Budapest takes a little over eight hours, one-way tickets are a steal, starting at just 19 euro ($21). From the main train station (Hlavni Nadrazi), it’s a six-minute ride on the metro line C to the Holešovice railway station.

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