LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Prague

Historic football hub of derby lore and clubs obscure

Teams, tales and tips – a guide to the local game

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 or more on, the rivalry is still alive and well – although Sparta tend to see 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.

Welcome to Prague/Peterjon Cresswell

Their name an echo of another time, Dukla Prague remain at their fittingly Communist-era ground in Dejvice, Prague 6. A merger with Příbram, a club 40 miles south-west of Prague, took many twists and turns until FK Dukla Prague emerged as a serious and, until 2019, top-flight, entity.

Even more confusingly, there have been 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 played 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 stayed at the Ďoliček ground, opened shortly after the Australian tour – the small Střížkov ground (in fact in Letňany, Prague 9) where the breakaway club was based now only hosts junior teams. The men’s XI was disbanded in 2016, after two short seasons in the top tier.

Welcome to Prague/Peterjon Cresswell

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 second flight.

Mention must be made of Strahov, both the vast Commiebowl once of 250,000 (!) capacity, and the adjoining stadium one tenth its size, also referred to as Strahov, officially known as the Evžena Rošikého after a tragic wartime hero. 

Atop Petrin Hill, near Strahov monastery, the vast arena that once held Socialist sporting showcases, Spartakiads, has been a logistical conundrum for decades. Too expensive to demolish, too unwieldy to adapt, the Velký strahovský stadion or Great Strahov Stadium was key to Prague’s doomed bid to host the 2016 Olympics. It is now used as a training ground by Sparta Prague. 

Welcome to Prague/Peterjon Cresswell

Beside it, the smaller Strahov of 19,000 capacity has played host to almost every club in Prague while their own grounds were being rebuilt or homelessness threatened. Sparta, Slavia, Dukla and both Bohemians have all taken advantage of what is, essentially, an athletics stadium. The Czech Republic last played here in 2004 and the last Czech Cup final took place in 2009 but Strahov junior continues to take in waifs and strays. 

The most recent was Prague side Slavoj Vyšehrad, whose rapid descent from the second-tier FNL to the lowly Prague Championship forced the Šemíci (‘the Chemists’) to return to their tiny ground in Prague 4. 

The Czech national side, meanwhile, now seem to favour Slavia’s stadium over Sparta’s, perhaps a reflection of how the scales have now tipped in favour of football’s former underdogs.

Getting Around

Arriving in town, local transport and tips

Václav Havel Airport is 10km (6 miles) west of the city centre, served by city buses 119 (to Dejvická, metro line A, 24min journey time) and 100 (to Zličín, metro line B, 18min journey time), tickets Kč32/€1.35 from machines in Arrivals, Kč40/€1.70 from driver, and are valid for 90mins altogether.

The Airport Express (AE) bus (every 30mins, 35min journey time) runs to the main train station, Hlavní nádraží, tickets Kč60//€2.50 from the driver.

Airport-recommended AAA radiotaxi (222 333 222) charges around Kč500/€21 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/€4.60) and three-day passes (Kč310/€13). 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.

Where to Drink

The best pubs and bars for football fans

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 Týn, 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 Týnská, the Lion & Ball makes no bones about its Prem focus and on Karlova, the Irish Times Bar ticks the right boxes. 

Plzeň-based chain The Pub has four branches in Prague, each with self-pour beer taps and match-winning burgers. The one on Veleslavínova 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 Smečkách, Paddy’s Sports Bar is one of several sport-focused pubs in the vicinity, 13-screen Rocky O’Reillys on Štěpánská 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.

Where to stay

The best hotels for the stadiums and city centre

Rooms can be booked through the Prague Information Service (Old Town Hall, Staroměstské náměstí). 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 Šternberkova 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 to Sparta, 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 (‘Dům 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 Černý slon at Týnská 1, renovated three-star Palác U Kočků on Jilská and U Tří Bubnů on U Radnice are set in heritage buildings close to all the sights. 

U Černého Medvěda on Týn 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 a luxury global chain by 2024.

On nearby Ve Smečkách, the K&K Hotel Fenix offers contemporary mid-range comfort and on the next street over, Štěpánská, the Majestic Plaza is a notch above with a spa and two restaurants. Both are close to several key bars.