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 Vršovice.
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 Príbram, a club 40 miles south-west of Prague, took many twists and turns until FK Dukla Prague emerged as a serious, and until 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 Strížkov 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 Žižkov 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 Dejvická, metro line A, 24-min journey time) and 100 (to Zličín, metro line B, 18-min journey time), tickets Kč32 from machines in Arrivals, Kč40 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 nádraží, tickets Kč60 from the driver.
Airport-recommended AAA radiotaxi (222 333 222) charges around Kč500 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 (Kč110) and three-day passes (Kč310). 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, Staromestské námestí). Nearly every stadium has a hotel nearby it.
Integral to Slavia’s revamped arena, the Iris Hotel Eden is a four-star business and conference hotel, while the more affordable Slavia Hotel nearby is set in the club’s sports complex, with archive photos in the corridor.
Behind Sparta’s, the Art Hotel is a stylish, 24-room lodging brimming with original art. Also handy for Sparta and convenient for the city centre, the low-cost and wonderfully friendly Hotel Klára on Šternbekova features on many generic booking sites. Closer to the stadium, the Hotel Belvedere on Milady Horákové is a reliably old-school four-star.
Also walkable, the four-star Parkhotel on Veletržní, recently taken over by the French chain Mama, trying a little too hard to be hip and urban, offers workspaces and brunches.
Around Žižkov, a short tram hop from the main train station, you’ll find the comfortable, twin-building four-star Ariston, and Ariston Patio, the bargain-basement Hotel Victoria nearby and rooms available at the Sklep restaurant immediately opposite the ground. One tram stop away, near Hlavní nádraží station, the Carlo IV feels a very long way from gritty Žižkov – heated pool, sauna and fine dining in an ornate building dating back to 1890. Across the street from the station, Exe City Park provides mid-range comfort courtesy a Spanish chain.
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 Dejvická metro station. Closer to the ground and even more monumental, the Hotel International on Koulova comprises 278 rooms, 14 halls and architecture fit for a proposed visit by Josef Stalin himself – but the Soviet dictator died shortly before it opened. The Odessa-based Mozart group modernised and reopened it in 2016.
Of the many hotels in the tourist-swamped historic centre, the smart four-star Černy Slon at Tynská 1, renovated three-star Palac U Kočku on Jilská and U Tri Bubnu on U Radnice are set in heritage buildings close to all the sights. U Černého Medveda on Tyn is more basic than its exterior suggests. Right on the Old Town Square, the Grand Hotel Praha offers faint echoes of historic Prague with great views to boot.
On/near Wenceslas Square, the Meran is functional but suitable if location is what you’re after. At the five-star end of the scale, the Ambassador Zlatá husa features a Thai & Wellness spa and French restaurant in two century-old hotels joined in 1964. Even more historic, the Grand Hotel Europa awaits renovation by Marriott’s luxury W chain by 2020.
On nearby Ve Šmeckách, the K&K Hotel Fenix offers contemporary mid-range comfort and on the next street over, Štepánská, the Majestic Plaza is a notch above with a spa and two restaurants. Both are close to several key bars.
Czech beer is the best in the world – and almost 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 Antonín Panenka, snaps of the pub team c.1998 and Slavia souvenirs. Oh, and evidence of Bill Clinton’s visit.
By the tourist-filled Old Town, on Tyn, The Dubliner touts itself as Prague’s favourite Irish bar and probably isn’t wrong, while on the Old Town Square itself, Caffreys also has TV sports a-plenty. On Tynská, the Lion & Ball makes no bones about its Prem focus and on Karlova, the Irish Times Bar ticks the right boxes. Plžen-based chain The Pub has four branches in Prague, each with self-pour beer taps and match-winning burgers. The one on Veleslavánova near Charles Bridge contains a pull-down screen for Champions League nights.
Pick of the bunch, on Liliová, O’Che’s is a convivial marriage of Ireland, Prague, the UK and Cuba, with all-day English breakfasts, TV football on four big screens, Czech beers and Latin cocktails. Fish ‘n’ chips on Fridays.
In the same vicinity, don’t miss Giallorossa, a cosy, sympathetic, calcio-themed Italian restaurant, done out with Roma match tickets and menus of Gazzetta pink.
Off Wenceslas Square along Ve Šmečkách, Paddy’s Sports Bar is one of several sport-focused pubs in the vicinity, 13-screen Rocky O’Reillys on Štepánská is another. On the same street, The Londoners provides sport but also live music and Indian food.
The most characterful of the Irish pubs is James Joyce at U Obecního dvora 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 still Prague’s most recommendable nightclub for quality electronica.
Finally, for a touch of local football history, the Café Slavia by the National Theatre 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 Karlova 14 purveys Russian dolls in club colours from around the world; and Djepeto, at Karlova 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 Čedok sells various types of match tickets and sport-travel packages from counter 6 at the main city-centre office at Na Prikope 18.