The beautiful capital of the Czech Republic is steeped in football history. When capital of Bohemia and part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, Prague was a prime mover in the development of the game in Central Europe. The key was the classic passing game often learned on the street – and the eternal inner-city rivalry between Sparta and Slavia.
A century on, the rivalry is still alive and well – although Sparta have seen much more European action. As a century ago, Sparta are based by the Letná parkland, while Slavia now play at a relatively new arena at their old haunt of Eden in Vrsovice.
With a handful of key other clubs in town, visitors often have a choice of games to take in on any given weekend.
Their name an echo of another time, Dukla Prague remain at their fittingly Communist-era ground in Dejvice, Prague 6. A merger with Pribram, a club 40 miles south-west of Prague, took many twists and turns until FK Dukla Prague emerged as a serious, and recently top-flight, entity.
Even more confusingly, there are two teams called ‘Bohemians’ in the Prague football scene: Bohemians 1905, the rightful heirs of the century-old club where Euro 76 penalty hero Antonin Panenka played for 24 years; and FK Bohemians Prague, formed when the original Bohemians were in crisis, and who refused to play 1905 in 2010. Both play in green and white, with the classic kangaroo badge, a memento from a pre-war tour of Australia by the original club. But only 1905 play at the Dolicek ground, opened shortly after the Australian tour; the Strizkov ground (in fact in Letnany, Prague 9) holds fewer than 1,000.
There’s another difference between the two: FK Bohemians have just been relegated from the second flight, while Bohemians 1905 are back with the big boys.
Close to Prague’s main train station, Viktoria Zizkov are a solid, working-class club, relatively successful in the immediate post-independence era, now looking to find a way back to the top flight.
Václav Havel Airport is 10km (6 miles) west of the city centre, served by city bus Nos. 119 (to Dejvicka, metro line A, 24-min journey time) and 100 (to Zlicin, metro line B, 18-min journey time), tickets Kc32 from machines in Arrivals, Kc40 from driver, and are valid for 90mins altogether.
The Airport Express (AE) bus (every 30mins, 35-min journey time) runs to the main train station, Hlavní Nádrazí, tickets Kc60 from the driver.
Airport-recommended AAA radiotaxi (222 333 222) charges around Kc500 to town. Prague taxi drivers have a notorious reputation – avoid cabs parked near tourist locations and major hotels.
A three-line metro network is complemented by trams and buses. Ticket machines offer one-day (Kc110) and three-day passes (Kc310). See DPP for details.
The city centre is walkable if occasionally confusing with two types of street numbering, red and blue, according to the age of the building.
Rooms can be booked through the Prague Information Service (Old Town Hall, Staromestske namesti). Nearly every stadium has a hotel nearby it.
Behind Sparta’s, the Art Hotel is a stylish, 24-room lodging brimming with original art. Integral to Slavia’s revamped arena, the Exe Iris Prague is a four-star business and conference hotel, while the nearby Slavia Hotel is more affordable.
Around Zizkov, a short tram hop from the main train station, you’ll find the comfortable, four-star Ariston, the bargain-basement Hotel Victoria nearby and rooms available at the Sklep restaurant immediately opposite the ground.
Near Dukla, the wonderfully named House of the Army (‘Dum armády Praha’, DAP) is a contemporary three-star converted from a stern, authoritarian institution close to Dejvicka metro station.
Also convenient for Sparta but also convenient for the city centre, the low-cost and wonderfully friendly Hotel Klára features on many generic booking sites. Nearby, the Hotel Belvedere is a reliably old-school four-star.
Czech beer is the best in the world – and practically the cheapest. Classic brews are best enjoyed in traditional beer halls dotted all over town, such as the unsurpassable U zlatého tygra, Prague’s own Golden Tiger. With a back room bereft of one-time regular, writer Bohumil Hrabal, this old bar still sports a photographic paean to Antonin Panenka, snaps of the pub team c.1998 and Slavia souvenirs. Oh, and evidence of Bill Clinton’s visit.
Just off Wenceslas Square, expat-friendly Paddy’s (Ve Smekach 21) is one of several sport-focused pubs. By the tourist-filled Old Town Square, on Tyn, The Dubliner is in similar vein, while nearby Caffreys also has Sky Sports TV. The most characterful is James Joyce, the former Molly Malone’s, where visits by Dennis Hopper, Richard Harris and Liam Neeson are displayed on the walls, alongside shelves of retro Irish sweets and biscuits.
After hours, the Roxy is Prague’s most established nightclub.
Don’t miss Giallorossa, a cosy, sympathetic, calcio-themed Italian restaurant, done out with match tickets and menus of Gazzetta pink. Next door is a sister pizza delivery service.
Finally, for a touch of local football history, the Café Slavia is a pre-war landmark where players and sportswriters met during the golden era. It’s since been revamped to suit modern tastes.
Near Charles Bridge, two outlets sit side by side: World-Wide Shopping at Karlovo 14 purveys Russian dolls in club colours from around the world; and Djepeto, at Karlovo 12, sells puppets of famous FC Barcelona players.
Two other stores sell general local football souvenirs: Footballmania on Perlová and the quirky Sportovní Suvenyry at Milady Horákové 687/10, an old-school shop for old-school Dukla, Sparta and other souvenirs.
Similarly old-school, the main office of travel agency Cedok sells various types of match tickets and sport-travel packages from counter 6 at the main city-centre office at Na Prikope 18.