A lingering cup of coffee in a café, while you read a newspaper, chat with friends or even play a game of chess, is a long-established and venerated Central European ritual. As part of the former Habsburg Empire, Prague has a coffee house tradition, although it does not have quite the same range of coffee varieties offered by Viennese cafés. In addition, 40 years of communism had a negative impact on coffee culture in the former Czechoslovakia, but it is re-emerging, and there are many places to enjoy it in Prague.
There is no such thing as “just a coffee” in a Czech café (kavárna), although espresso (often referred to as “presso”) served from a coffee machine is probably the most common form, usually served with milk (s mlékem). Czech Espresso, like the Italian original, comes in various forms, such as ristretto or lungo. Cappuccino, latte and macchiato are also ubiquitous; the former is often served in a tall glass. Viennese coffee (Vídeňská káva), is crowned with a generous lashing of whipped cream, like the Austrian schlagobers, and Algerian coffee (Alžirská káva), is served with whipped cream and a dash of liqueur. Irish coffee (Irská káva) is also common on menus. Some cafés will serve your coffee accompanied by a glass of still water.
Of course you can order other drinks in a café, although the widest selection of teas is more often found at a tea house (čajovna). Food served ranges from basic snacks such as crisps or peanuts to full meals available throughout the day, and a number of cafés serve breakfasts, including continental and British-style. Cakes are a staple of Czech cafés; apple strudel (zavín) and medovník, layered honey cake, are two favorites.
You can find a selection of newspapers in cafés, although English language/international newspapers are usually available only in the tourist-oriented establishments in the centre of Prague. Some cafés also have board games such as chess.
The most famous Prague cafes include Grand Hotel Kavárna, Cafés Imperial, Louvre, Slavia and Savoy and the café in Obecní dům. All of them have managed to retain at least some of their turn of the century Mitteleuropa spirit of the Viennese coffee house. Inevitably though, given their prime central locations, they are more expensive and have a more international clientele. Cheaper or more “local” alternatives do exist, and we have listed a selection below. They do not have non-smoking areas, internet access or Wi-Fi, unless stated otherwise.
President Caffe, Vila Portheimka, Matoušová 9, 150 00 Prague 5, 150 00, www.presidentcaffe.cz
Housed in the Baroque Portheimka, where the headquarters of classical music station Classic FM, are located, stylish President Caffe is a relative newcomer to the the Prague café scene and a peaceful spot to unwind from the bustle of busy Smíchov. It serves snacks. Non-smoking area. Open daily.
Dobra Trafika, Újezd 37, Malá strana, Prague 1; Korunní 42, 120 00 Prague 2, www.dobratrafika.cz
As their name suggests, the two Dobrá Trafika establishments are newsagents as well as cafés, and they sell gifts too. The Vinohrady branch doubles as a small gallery, with photographs and paintings regularly for sale. It also manages to successfully create a period atmosphere, thanks to its 1930s decor. Both branches offer a full range of coffee and tea varieties, as well as snacks. The Vinohrady café also has a garden. There are separate non-smoking areas in each café, although non-smokers can unfortunately only enjoy the cozy back room of the Vinohrady branch if they are prepared to put up with industrial quantities of nicotine. Open daily.
Café 35, Institut Francais, Štěpánská 35, 111 21 Prague 1, www.ifp.cz
Although just a stone´s throw away from Wenceslas Square, the café at the Institut Francais is a hidden gem. French newspapers are available in Café 35, allowing visitors to indulge in a classic café pastime. It also doubles as an exhibition space. It serves breakfast, including croissants and pastries, and lunch. Non-smoking café. Free Wi-Fi. Closed on Sundays.
Elbow-room is at a premium at the cozy Vinohrady branch of this establishment, which has a well-established feel. The source of coffee and tea, which is not usually an issue in most cafés, is taken seriously here. And if you have been hunting for fair trade coffee or tea, which is catching on in Prague, Mama Coffee is your place. You can also order products on-line from the company´s website. Only serves drinks. Both cafes are non-smoking. Wi-Fi. Open daily.
Kavárna Kaaba, Mánesova 20, 120 00 Prague 2, www.kaaba.cz
Kaaba is different. Amidst the serried ranks of the Art Nouveau tenements of Vinohrady, this café and newsagent tribute to 1950s kitsch, is rather a culture shock. Kaaba serves a wide variety of coffees and teas as well as snacks, cakes, pastries and breakfasts. It is popular with students and a younger crowd. Non-smoking area, but the lack of a partition means smoke can be a problem. Free Wi-Fi connection from 8.00 to 18.00.
Kavárna Kabinet, Terronská 25, 160 00, Prague 6, website currently inaccessible
In a quiet corner of Prague 6, Kabinet successfully evokes the atmosphere of a bygone age, with dark paneling and eclectic furniture. The café takes its name from the Kabinet or teacher´s office, and there are many references to education, with glass cases containing stuffed animals and plenty of books, which you can read. The café serves snacks, including desserts. Open daily.
Kava Kava Kava, Národní 37, 110 00 Prague 1; Lidická 42, 150 00 Prague 5, www.kava-coffee.cz
Both Kava Kava Kava cafés in Prague serve a wide range of coffees, as the name suggests. It also offers a variety of snacks including soup, salads and sandwiches. Non-smoking area. Free Wi-Fi. Open daily.
Kavárna Medúza, Belgická 17, 120 00 Prague 2, www.meduza.cz
Like Kaaba, Kabinet and the Dobra Trafika, Medůza is another period café, and no less successful in creating a particular ambience. Popular with professionals and a young crowd; the café is also a gallery. Snacks and hot meals are served. Non-smoking area. Free Wi-Fi. Open daily.
Café Montmartre, Řetězová 7, 110 00 Prague 1
The centrally located Café Montmartre has a local following and is famous for its literary associations as well as for being a cabaret venue in the First Republic. The vaulted ceiling and relatively small space give this busy café an intimate atmosphere. Café Montmartre serves snacks, including soups, cold dishes and desserts. Open daily.
Ouky Douky Coffee, Janovského 14, 170 00 Prague 7, www.oukydouky.cz
Those who have been in Prague for a long time may remember this café in its previous incarnation, as the Globe, English-language bookstore, café, exhibition venue, and an expat institution. The café, bookstore and exhibition venue remain, although now catering to Czechs. The café serves a range of snacks as well as breakfasts. Non-smoking area. Paid internet access.
Kavárna Galerie Rudolfinum, Alšovo nábřeží 12, 110 01 Prague 1, www.galerierudolfinum.cz
The recently refurbished Rudolfinum café is a classic example of the Central European café, very grand and traditional, and housed in the Prague musical institution of the same name. Few people seem to know about it, which allows you to enjoy some of the atmosphere of a Viennese coffee house without everyone else wanting to do so at the same time. Serves cakes and sandwiches. Free internet daily except Monday
Café Rybka, Opatovická 7, 110 00, Prague 1, www.rybkapub.cz
Hidden away in one of the back streets of the Old Town, quirky Café Rybka is a bookshop, publishing house and gallery rolled into one. The café serves snacks. Open daily.
Kavárna Velryba, Opatovická 24, 110 00, Prague 1, www.kavarnavelryba.cz
Around the corner from Café Rybka, Velryba also has a strong local following and is popular with a younger crowd, especially students. Open daily.
Where do you go for a quiet cup of coffee, or a boisterous afternoon with friends? Share your top tips below!