Above: View from Smetana Hotel in Prague, Czech Republic

Prague: An Off-Season Escape

Prague is the great jewel of central Europe. Little damaged during World War II and mostly free of communist-era eyesores, it is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Gothic spires and finial-topped domes punctuate the skyline of its oldest neighborhoods, Staré Město and Malá Strana, situated on either side of the Vltava River. And Nové Město, the “New Town” founded in 1348, has a wealth of extravagant historicist and art nouveau buildings. Presiding over it all is the largest castle complex in the world, centerpieced by St. Vitus Cathedral.

The Hideaway Report hasn’t covered Prague in some time, however, because its great beauty has led to a surfeit of tourism. In the shoulder season, Prague is crowded, and in summer, its most popular sites — Old Town Square, Charles Bridge and the castle — can be unbearable. But we couldn’t stay away forever. Prague remains a destination of great interest to members, so we resolved to visit in the winter off-season, hoping to find a city that felt true to itself, not one resembling a theme park.

With the goal of adding to our longtime hotel recommendations — the Four Seasons in Staré Město and the Aria Hotel in Malá Strana — I made reservations at four properties, two on each side of the river. I also reserved tables at a dozen restaurants, ranging from traditional to cutting-edge, in order to get a sense of Prague’s current culinary scene. And I resolved to ferret out a range of compelling attractions to augment the most famous three.

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