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During its golden age in the 19th and early 20th centuries, Prague was a hotbed for intellectuals and artists. Bohemians, the original hippies, spent their mornings creatively splashing paint on a canvas or writing poetry on napkins, followed by long afternoons lounging in provocative cafes drinking coffee or sipping absinthe.

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Today, the Czech Republic’s vibrant historical capital is one of the most visited cities in Europe, and it’s not difficult to understand why.  An amazing 866 hectares of the old city are UNESCO protected for their Gothic, renaissance and baroque mix of architectural wonders. But there’s more here than just outstanding history and architecture—Prague has once again become boho chic. Here’s how to live out your bohemian dream in the City of a Hundred Spires.

Trover photo by Michal Bosina

Start with art

Bohemians value self-expression and creativity over status or material things, so begin your Prague tour with a visit to the National Gallery. Czechs love the arts, and the history of this gallery dates back to 1796 when a society of nobles wanted to raise the artistic tastes of the common folk. Permanent collections are displayed in eight locations, including five palaces, and range from a “Medieval Art in Bohemia and Central Europe 1200-1550” collection to the 21st century. The National Gallery houses one the most famous paintings in the world, Albrecht Dürer’s Feast of the Rosary.

Have a bite

Although there weren’t vegan restaurants in the 19th and 20th centuries, bohemians with their defiance of the norm, would have approved of a vegan diet. They likely would have flocked to Vegan’s Prague to indulge in familiar comfort dishes like avocado toast and bruschetta, or to try their vegetarian spin on Czech specialties, like meatless goulash. Also worth a visit is Farm Urban Kitchen & Coffee, an eco-friendly café serving an all-day brunch menu based on available produce acquired at the local farmers’ market every day.  It doesn’t get much more natural than that.

Trover photo by Geoff and Katie Matthews

Have a sip

Back in the day, café culture flourished as bohemian guests met to debate, write or sketch for hours for the price of a good cup of coffee. During the Czech Republic’s takeover by the USSR in 1948, however, the communist regime considered cafes elitist and most were closed. Coffee became coarsely ground, watery cups of swill. Fortunately, there is once more a renaissance of the Prague café.  And the beauty is that several of the original pre-Soviet cafes are again going strong. There’s the Grand Café Orient, the only cubist café in the world. Designed by cubist architect Josef Gocar in the early 1900s, the façade and floor plan are geometric, right down to the interior designs like the buffet bar and chandeliers.  Even Czech pastries, like venecek, which are usually round, are square here.  Order a coffee, along with a Prague ham sandwich or a palacinky-sladke (pancakes with sweet toppings); then kick back and pretend you’re Picasso. There’s also the Café Louvre, re-opened in its original 1902 location. This is where the likes of Karel Capek, Franz Kafka and even Albert Einstein hung out.

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Abandon inhibitions

The bohemians valued their freedom to live their life their own way without socially-defined restraints. A visit to the Sex Machines Museum, the only museum in the world of its kind, reminds us that sexual freedom of expression didn’t just start with the hippies in the 1960s. When you walk through the door and see the lipstick-red walls, you know you’re in for a ride as you view 7,300 exhibits, including screenings of erotic black and white films from the early 20th century.

Connect with nature

There’s no better place to get in touch with your childlike wonder like the bohemians loved to do, than with a visit to a green space.  Prague is filled with wonderful palace gardens, but the structure of these would be too restricting for a true bohemian, so head to Riegrovy Sady, a 100-year-old park filled with woods, walking paths, and lush grassy areas where you can lay and watch the clouds go by, listen to the birds and connect with Mother Nature. The park is also home to some small intimate cafes, or opt for the large outdoor beer garden, open from April to October.

Indulge in the green fairy

Let’s face it, bohemian artists were known for drinking beverages stronger than coffee, and absinthe was a favorite (maybe because it was frowned upon by social conservatives—after all, bohemians were political anarchists). Today the Czechs still like to resist conservative traditions, and Prague is home to absinthe bars, despite them being banned in some other European countries. At the Absintherie Bar & Museum (there are two locations, one on Jilska Street where they have, of course, regular art exhibitions and live music some days, and another at Franz Kafka Square), you can tap into your inner Vincent Van Gogh. Learn about the history of the “green fairy,” browse old bottles and paraphernalia in the museum, then sample more than 60 types of this licorice-flavored liqueur either in cocktails like zombies, in ice cream or even a slushie. It’s a must, though, to try the traditional style, poured over a sugar cube in a special spoon into a special glass. It will turn cloudy, but don’t worry—that’s a sign of good quality.

Shake a tail feather

No need to stop the party there; just move it over to Karlovy Lazne, the biggest music dance club in Central Europe. Located in a 15th-century building that once housed Roman baths, the club is spread over five floors, each with a different theme. Bust out your best dance moves, and sway across the original mosaic tiles while the LED lights strobe. If you like to choose how long you hang out in the crowds, reserve the VIP room or a private box right next to the dance floor. All that dancing getting you hot? Chill out in the ice pub, once of the few bars in the world where walls, tables, bar, glasses and everything are made from ice (reserve your 30-minute visit; parkas and gloves provided).

Photo courtesy of the K&K Hotel

Bohemian Relaxation

When it’s time to kick your feet up bohemian style, stay at the K&K Hotel Central, a boutique property that has beautifully balanced 1930s art deco architecture with modern luxury. Choose the breakfast option—the buffet is huge—but even better is the setting: a unique avant-garde glass cube. For more art deco from the bohemian days, choose the Radisson Blu Alcron, which has preserved the original marble floors, soaring ceilings and antique lighting.  The on-site restaurant is worth a visit, to sample its award-winning, Michelin-approved menu. The décor, with walls that showcase images of dancing couples and a 1930s fireplace, will have you feeling boho chic in no time.

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Kate Robertson

Kate Robertson

Kate Robertson

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