Czech culture goes beyond their beverages; their glass blowing, surrealist literature, well- preserved and astoundingly beautiful architecture, the home of classical music and modern clubs. Although most of that comes to a surprise to the tourists who come here for its beverages and the heavy meals to soak them up – beer is such an iconic item that broods of beer aficionados come to the Czech Republic mainly for the golden stuff in the glass. The best place to sample some Czech beer is at one of Prague’s best beer gardens.
The Czechs love of beer is so woven into their culture that they have turned every social space into an opportunity to drink beer. You can get beer in movie theaters, McDonalds, zoos, public parks, libraries, and of course the many beer gardens of Prague. I’ve seen people drinking on the streets, in bookstores, on trams, in churches, and in spas. If you continue to drink into a sleepy stupor every night and have to be touted out on the arms of slightly more coherent, yet resentful, friends, you can solve that problem by just sleeping in a brewery. You can have it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
On average, The Czechs drink 142 liters per person per year – which it is mind bending for the fact that all of the women have the same body frame as Uma Thurman. How they magically metabolize beer without gaining a pound I’ll never know (and sadly did not inherit those genes).
Beer is so ubiquitous it is usually cheaper than bottled water.
Why do they drink so much of it? We can only assume it might have something to do with the years of economic instability, the historical consistency of being invaded and controlled by Germany and/or Russia and/or Austro-Hungarian Empire, being sold to Hitler during WWII by the Allies and then falling under a totalitarian communist regime that inhibited all expressions of art, freedom of the press, and free speech for 60+ years – or – maybe it’s because Czech beer is pretty amazing!
So, here is a list of the best Prague beer gardens to experience this liquid tradition that is just as sacred as Chinese tea pourings or Ethiopian coffee rituals in places that give you the full Czech experience.
#1 Strahov Monastery Beer Garden
Petrin Hill is one of my personal favorites. It is a large sloping park that has so much space you can bring a table bottle of your favorite Czech beer and a blanket to make a beer garden wherever you like. But, if you are looking for more of a structured experience on the hill, visit Strahov Monastery, an old monastery turned into a beer hall + garden.
The monastery has been lively since the 1400s, but the brewery didn’t begin until the turn of the century. The bold, white building is colored in with patches of bright summer green ivy, creeping their way around light fixtures and into windows. It feels like a bit more of a romantic getaway because trust me, nothing is sexier than a belly filled with goulash and hops.
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The interior is decorated with a blending of old and modern brewing tools, bringing the traditional heritage into the 21st century. Large copper brewing machines greet you at the doorway and their shine will warp your reflection and get you accustomed to how you will be perceiving the world for the next few hours. There are images painted on the walls that illustrate the steps of how beer was made, like an old-timey infographic written in a language that looks so old the fact that it is still spoken feels anachronistic.
If you have the good fortune of being there on a sunny day and snag a picnic table, you will be rewarded with an expansive view of this red roof topped city. The menu extends beyond sausage and dumplings if you are looking for a meal that provides some actual nutrients. They have an array of beers, which come in two different types of glasses that mirror the shapes of their females and males, long and leggy or short and stout.
It’s a nice 20-minute walk from the Prague Castle. Although the idea may be good for walking off all of the liquid and leavened bread you just consumed, it might be hard to avoid stumbling into another tavern on the way (you can’t throw a stone without hitting one). As one of the most atheist (and alcoholic) countries in the EU, it feels very appropriate that the Czechs would reclaim this medieval sanctuary into a hedonistic haven for the 21st century.
- Address: Strahovské nádvoří 1/132, 118 00 Praha 1, Czechia
- Hours: Daily 10am-10pm
#2 Letná Beer Garden
Although this one is on the list for many a Prague must-do, I would be remiss to not begin your drinking adventures at Letna Beer garden. It’s the quintessential image that pops into your head when you are asked: “DON’T THINK ABOUT A BEER GARDEN.”
Take the tram to either the Letenské Náměstí or Strossmayerovo Náměstí stops and start following the smell of sausage and hops wafting down from the apex of the park. The slight incline will lead you to expansive grounds that are neatly patterned with picnic tables shaded by native trees (even in the summertime the Czechs limit their sun exposure). Letna Beer Garden is settled on the precipice of the hill that allows you to see Prague in all of her splendor: the peaks of the castles, churches, and a view of the bridges line and curve themselves around the Charles River, which becomes consecutively smaller and smaller like Russian nesting dolls (maybe I should avoid talking about the Russians…).
The space is abundant with picnic tables, which decreases the change that you will have to negotiate a seat with a laconic local who is hogging an entire table to themselves and will side eyes you for even suggesting to share.
Letna Beer Garden is true to its title and really only provides you with…beer. This isn’t Smorgasbord in Williamsburg. The dimpled glass mugs found in taverns are traded in for plastic cups ( understandably), so you can pair the only beer on tap, Gambrinus 10° ( even post-communism, the Czechs don’t understand to concept of options) and pair it with a freshly cooked sausage.
The beer garden expands into the rest of the park (even though most people are drinking in most corners of it). You can peruse the grounds and see everyone stretched out on picnic blankets, playing sports, or monkey about on the playground. Your alcohol-induced intelligence might give you the fantastic idea to jump aboard Europe’s oldest carousel or dance around the giant metronome (please don’t, for everybody’s sake).
- Address: Letenské sady, 170 00 Praha 7, Czechia
- Hours: Daily 11am-11pm
#3 Hospůdka Na Hradbách Beer Garden
Prague’s neighborhoods are numbered- literally- Prague 1, 2, 3. It is a way of organizing the city based around its distance from the epicenter of the city: Old Town Square. Although it is an architectural feat, OTS can sometimes feel a little congested with British stag parties drunkenly bumping into newlyweds who are taking photos in front of the Astrological clock and inadvertently reminding the groom of the life he is now confounded to. If that isn’t the type of people watching you are interested in, I suggest you get out of the center and start exploring some of Prague’s other numbers.
If you are still looking for a place to reenact your favorite Game of Thrones scenes then Czech (I’m sorry) check out Hospůdka Na Hradbách beer garden. This beer garden is located within the walls of Prague’s OTHER castle (one city is not limited to a singular castle) Vysehrad, located in Prague 2. Hop on the red metro line to Vysehrad and walk 5 minutes towards the cathedral.
It is a fortress of an old battlement, which is believed to be the original castle until the Přemyslid dynasty loaded up their goats and donkeys to what is now Prague Castle. After years of being used and then abandoned, attacked and then renovated, it is now a preserved historical site and holds one of Prague’s oldest surviving buildings: the Rotunda of St Martin from the 11th century.
This place has everything. You can explore the Gothic St. Peter and Paul Basilica, which are classically decorated with colorful frescoes and is filled with music when the Angelus’ bell ringing happens every noon. You can then creep under the edifice in a guided tour that takes you through passages of old battlements. For the artistically inclined, there is an art gallery that highlights modern Czech work and a sculpture garden embedded near the Vyšehrad Slavín Cemetery.
This cemetery has the decomposed bodies of important Czech’s like Karel Capek, Antonín Dvoráak, Alfons Mucha, and Bedrich Smetana. Also located in the cemetery is the Devil’s Column, which is three large cylinder stones closely pushed into the ground and supporting each other like three drunken friends leaning on each other to stay upright. The origin story of these columns is still shrouded in mystery but are hypothesized to either be an old sundial for early Slavic people or the response to a medieval priest winning a bet against a goat devil – both are options.
Once you have finished observing the hidden history of Prague, you can saddle up on a picnic table under the beige Pilzer umbrellas and comfortably view the river. The beer garden is surrounded by a lush park for recreational activities (and by recreational activities I mean drunkenly panting around looking for the subway entrance). The picnic grounds have a softer view of the city that overlooks the sparsely placed red rooftops popping out like rubies in an emerald forest.
You can feast yourself on the Balkan inspired menu that expands outside of the traditional Czech goulash, dumplings, and sausage. Enjoy an array of grilled meats – lamb sausages, kielbasa, pork, chicken, and lamb chops accompanied by the occasional vegetable. Pair your meat nicely with your choice of classic Gambrinus, Kozel, or Pilsner. It is more popular amongst the Czechs and attracts a younger crowd and during the summer there are concerts and musical performances.
- Address: V Pevnosti 16/2, 128 00 Praha 2, Czechia
- Hours: Monday-Friday 2pm-12am, Saturday & Sunday 12pm-12am
#4 Parukarka Beer Garden
If your inebriated wandering has led you past the tourist traps and stunning architecture of Wenceslas Square, try to make your way to Parukarka in Prague 3 where you can see the whole city illuminated by the setting sun.
A slightly distant destination (but seriously, this isn’t Rome. Nothing is too far away from each other here), this is where the Czech’s go when they want to get lit without the crowds of Italians or Aussies pugnaciously shouting around.
This garden holds more of a modern plasticy vibe with branded picnic umbrellas and neon signs in contrast to its more traditional beer garden ambiance. If you don’t get a table, there are plenty of places for you to bring your own blanket and lie out under the pastel evening clouds. Like all good parks departments, there are playgrounds for children to run around in as their parents willfully pretend for a moment they are still childless.
This is the only beer garden that serves your beer in portly glass mugs instead of its slender plastic counterpart. The sounds of the cacophonous clinking of beer mugs add an extra sparkle to the sunset.
If the weather betrays you and decides to downpour, you can escape into the graffitied underground bunker turned pub whose original intention was to protect the Czech citizens from nuclear warfare falling from the sky.
We can thank the limited creativity of the city planners who were in charge of renovating and reclaiming old or oppressive edifices- “ Old Monastery? Turn it into a beer garden. Bomb shelter? Beer garden. Playground? Needs to have a beer garden next to it.”
- Address: Jeseniova 50, 130 00 Praha 3, Czechia
#5 Žluté lázně – Beer Garden and beach!
Now, I don’t want to paint the Czech as being stuck in the past (but the fact that the FRIENDS theme song is still played in bars doesn’t help my case). So, if you are looking for a taste of more modern Czech life, one that highlights their leap into the 21st century after their 40 years relapse into the Dark Ages, Czech out (damn it I have to stop) Zlute Lanze. It is a multipurpose venue, set up on the “beach” of the Charles River with an atmosphere that is true to their Avante-Garde history.
This place is more than just a beer garden. It has everything: pizza restaurants, outside grilling, picnicking on grass or on the beach, concerts, volleyball, table tennis, and something untranslatable called NOHEJBAL? They have restaurants that serve more international foods (and have finally understood that a salad is not just a piece of parsley on your plate but can consist of many items found in a garden). Don’t worry, they still have the traditional meals you expected to soak up your beer induced coma with because they offer a wide WIDE selection of beverages that goes beyond the traditional Pilsner and Kozel – this place has clearly embraced international trade.
You can enjoy your beverages and booze at any height – overlooking the grounds on their outside picnic table terrace, the beer garden, picnic on the beach or grass. The branded umbrellas that shade most beer gardens are replaced with modern swatches of white material – stretched out like sail canopies to give an atmosphere of a sea resort (without the smell of the sea, or seafood, or anything thing else nautical).
The picnicking area is shaded with weeping willows dipping their long arching branches into the river and providing some ideal shade to make out with that cute Czech boy who becomes increasingly more attractive with each sip. If you choose to picnic on the beach, be sure to be vigilant with your snacks as there are swans and unaccompanied children roaming the grounds with an air of entitlement to your food.
I’m glad that the Czechs have finally caught up to the pleasures of beers on the beach, especially since one might expect the Charles River to actually flow with liquid hops instead of actual water (regardless I wouldn’t drink from either).
There is a giant fire pit for you to grab a stick and roast a hunk of meat over the flames, licking and cooking your meat with the same tenderness as roasting a marshmallow – all of your childhood summers of roasting marshmallows have prepared you for this moment. The fires are situated close to the beach where you might mistake the sounds of sizzling meat for the burning of lily-white skin that hasn’t seen daylight in a month. (I am very much included in this population). From lounging to paddle boarding, from drinking on the beach to volleyball, you can stay the whole day and feel fully stimulated- it’s like an adult playground.
- Address: Podolské nábř. 1184/3, 140 00 Podolí, Czechia
- Hours: Daily 9am-2am
Bonus- Czech Beer Festival
I spent my last night in the Czech Republic under a giant canopy with thousands of people celebrating the only recognizable tradition of the country we were in. Although it is not a true beer garden, the festival showcases almost 100 different kinds of native beers, ranging from commercial to microbrews (and let a few non-native beverages to slip in as well- as long as you’re drunk who cares where the beer is sourced). But I think that the British or Belgian beers are just a palate cleansers between their globally renowned brews, as the Czechs guzzle them down with the smugness of superiority.
You have to trade in your medieval money for giant fake coins that look like you could peel open and find chocolate inside like Hanukkah coins. These are called “tolars” and need to be exchanged by the waitstaff who are forced to walk around in traditional Czech attire.
There is not much else to do than to make your way through the rainbow of beverages and attempt to soak it up with sausage and rye bread, so be sure to spend your time there with good company- not the Czechs of course, they have no interest in talking to you.
2018 is their fourth installment of this 17-day festival that happens in May. In 2018 the festival falls on May 10th – May 26th. It really is the best way to end your time in this beer laden country, but not so much for helping you pack your bags for your flight the next day.
The Czechs live with full lives and bellies because they never know if it will be taken away, and the only reliable aspect of their culture that has been there since the dawn of their identity. Beer has been the only consistent cultural attribute in a history that has been so inconsistent.
It is a series of conversations she had with strangers she met while backpacking throughout Latin America for 5 months, overlapped with her personal stories about being a woman who travels alone.
She finds that the world often has more to teach us about ourselves and how the world actually works than staying in the familiarity of home. She wants to encourage others, across cultures, to connect with themselves and connect with the world through travel and believes that can be done best through storytelling.