With a beer-brewing history reaching back to 993, Prague is certainly a major destination for beer fans. The Czech Republic is the home of Pilsen (Plzeň) that gave name to Pilsners, as well as Budweiss (České Budějovice) that has produced the real Budweisser since 1256. But there is more to Prague than just beer, so let’s look at some options you might otherwise overlook. First, the most common question…
Absolutely! Water safety in Prague is among the best worldwide, although one wouldn’t think so seeing the excessive amount of bottled water in Prague shops. Shortly after the Velvet Revolution, Czechs were sold a bill of goods by marketers and forgot that their own tap water is actually great.
Tip: If you pick up a bottled water during your stay, re-fill it at your hotel or the restroom of any restaurant.
For years, restaurants only sold bottled water (typically licensed by Coca-Cola or Pepsi) and it’s often more expensive than beer. As a tourist, you can help out in the new trend of returning to basics by asking for a carafe of tap water - most restaurants will oblige. Some now list tap-water with lemon or mint on their menus for a small fee, which is understandable given their high rents and still better than the excessive use of plastic. The more enlightened trendy cafés and restaurants automatically provide tap water for free, but those are exceptions.
If you are a fan of mineral waters, we encourage you to enjoy our Czech brands instead of the typical imported Perrier or St. Pellegrino. Many restaurants and most local stores carry bottled mineral waters from renowned Czech spa regions. The most popular brands are Mattoni, Korunní, Magnesia, Ondrášovka and Poděbradka. Versions with fruit images are flavored, sometimes with artificial sweeteners and, in our view, unnecessarily so.
Their high mineral content gives them their specific natural flavor, sometimes slightly salty, but still mild and odorless compared to the healing water you can get directly from the spring. Join us for one of our tours to get a taste of the famous healing waters of Karlovy Vary (Carlsbad) or Mariánské lázně (Marienbad).
Both bottled spring-waters and mineral-waters come in carbonated and uncarbonated versions, usually (though not always) designated by the color of their cap:
Some trendy cafés and many grocery stores carry glass bottles of Czech mošt, which is a juice obtained through heating the fruit rather than simply pressing it. It is most often produced from apples (Jablečný mošt), but occasionally you can find sweeter versions made from grapes, pears or cherries. Mošt is not fermented or carbonated. It’s usually clarified, but may contain natural sediments and some versions may even appear cloudy, depending on their level of processing. Unlike regular apple juice (Jablečný džus), there are no additives or sweeteners added and it’s an excellent drink for kids and adults alike. This all-natural drink is now regaining popularity.
Let’s be fair, this is not either Italy or France, but we do have a long history of wine making. As evident from the fresco in the St. Wenceslas chapel, this 10th century King personally took care of the vineyard now visible on the far-right end of the famous Prague Castle panorama. The Emperor Charles IV grew up in France and is credited with bringing new varieties and boosting Czech wine production in the 1300s. Jan Neruda’s ballad about Charles IV suggests that, like the Czech nation, the wine first seems sour, but then it gains sweetness as you get to know it.
The wine-making industry suffered during the Communist era, but that’s nearly 3 decades behind us and Czech (particularly Moravian) wines are on the rise, improving in both selection and quality every year. One of our favorite wine regions is Mělník, just outside of Prague, where a majestic castle overlooks its vineyards and rivers. See our Mělník Tour to get a first-hand experience of small-town Bohemia and the opportunity to taste its local wines.
Not everyone in the Czech Republic is into beer. Almost as a counter-culture movement, Prague bursts with cafés and tea-rooms. While cafés attract the intellectuals they always did, tea-rooms hidden in courtyards and passageways are networking sites for students, artists and spiritually-oriented people who enjoy their exotic Oriental flair. Their interiors mix inspirations from the regions in which tea is grown as well as from the Middle-Eastern traditions of drinking it, occasionally along with smoking water pipes with flavored tobacco.
Take off your shoes, sit among soft cushions, watch the candlelight, relax or even meditate. Quiet music is likely to play in the background. The expertly-brewed tea that arrives is prepared with as much devotion as in its country of origin. The tearoom experience offers a welcomed rest to Prague visitors, so we include it as a part of several our art and historic tours see.
For the past three hundred years, coffee has connected Prague’s aristocratic, business, political and intellectual elites and is the true blood of the city – really important things are decided over coffee or wine, not beer. This became apparent in the recent elections, where opponents were not divided so much into left and right, but into ‘cafés against pubs.’ Yet this divide is deceptive, as many Czechs are happy to go to a café in the afternoon and yet visit a pub in the evening.
There are four truly iconic cafés in Prague that shouldn’t be missed. Café Louvre (1902) is a large establishment with gilded ceilings and pool-tables in the back that still attracts intellectuals and students alike. Café Imperial (1914) is lavishly decorated with Art Deco tilework and currently run by a celebrity chef – by far the most posh of the four (which is both good and bad). Café Slavia (1884) received its current Art Deco interior at the end of WWI. Located just across from the National Theater, it is the café that most defined our recent history and offers stunning views of the Vltava and Prague Castle. Just across the river is Café Savoy, with a remarkable interior dominated by a Neo-Renaissance ceiling from 1893. Renowned for its in-house patisserie and an extensive wine collection, the café features a truly gourmand menu with prices corresponding to the extraordinary experience.
As for the brew itself, expect Italian brands that dominate the market here. In most restaurants it’s difficult to get a home-style big mug of coffee with milk. The Italian serving-style favors stronger coffee in smaller cups, frothy cappuccinos or milky lattes. Observing that hole in the market and quickly filling it, many establishments now offer Americano, meaning a bigger cup, not too strong and optional milk on the side, or Flat White.
To the contrary, many modern cafés boast the expected full selection of miniature to oversized cups, specialty roasts, flavored syrups and artistic creations in the foam. There are plenty of options aside from chains such as Starbucks and Costa Coffee. Ask your guide for recommendations and feel free to stop in one of the many cafés if you get momentarily weary during your tour.