Back in 1992, the opening of the first McDonald’s in Prague was a red-carpet event. Gowns were worn, celebrities were summoned, paparazzi stood poised and 11,000 people lined the streets. With the ousting of communism after the Velvet Revolution in 1989, the ascent of Westernised, globalised culture was swift and the city’s newly liberated locals were hungry for all that had been suppressed during the 40-year Soviet rule.
Then came tourism, ushering in all the heady highs and inevitable lows of easy-spending, camera-wielding travellers to the compact, cobbled streets of Prague’s medieval Old Town, including a slew of stag parties, which the Czech capital has been at pains to curb. But times change and, in recent years, a new generation of young, creative, entrepreneurial locals — the first to be born post-communism — is reconnecting with traditional Czech culture through food, fashion, art and design. And many are now reimagining their city afresh for a new breed of inquisitive traveller.
The crucible of this cultural renaissance is the suburbs. There’s another Prague to be discovered beyond the Old Town for those who criss-cross the bridges spanning the Vltava River, and head away from the UNESCO-listed Hradcany Castle and the towering gothic spires of St Vitus Cathedral. You’ll find it in industrial-cool Karlín, in the city’s north. It was devastated by floods in 2002, neglected, then repopulated over the past decade by local creatives. Here, restaurants such as KRO and wine bars like Veltlin have upgraded Prague’s food scene with their focus on organic, all-natural produce, plucked from the Czech countryside.
The cultural revival is in evidence, too, in the former factory area of Holešovice, just to the north, which now hums with creative energy thanks to the DOX Centre for Contemporary Art, which hosts cutting edge exhibitions and is home to a fantastical events space in the cantilevered Gulliver Airship. And it’s also apparent in nearby Vinohrady, where pastel-toned buildings take on an almost Parisian feel and cosmopolitan boutiques such as Nila sell Czech brands alongside stylish Sandqvist backpacks, providing yet more reasons to stray away from the trappings of the Old Town.
All this is to say that modern Prague has evolved beyond the medieval rampants that have historically encircled it. Venture into the suburbs and you’ll be richly rewarded with inspirational art and innovative food — and barely a McDonald’s in sight.