Sophie Lam soaks up the soaring gothic spires, summer concerts and superb beer of the Czech capital

WHY GO NOW?

Because Prague is a fairytale city of turrets and towers, and in summer it resonates with the sound of music, with concerts held in princely squares, multifarious churches and on leafy islands. Mozart loved Prague and vice-versa, and celebrations of his 250th anniversary are well underway. Among the highlights is a production of Don Giovanni at the very place it was premiered, the beautiful Estates Theatre (1), as well as an exhibition at the Prague State Opera (2) (00 420 261 215 298; www.mozartprague2006.com).

TOUCH DOWN

Bmibaby (0870 264 2229; www.bmibaby.com) flies from Birmingham, Cardiff, Nottingham and Manchester; British Airways (0870 850 9850; www.ba.com) from Heathrow; easyJet (0905 821 0905; www.easyjet.com) from Gatwick, Stansted, Nottingham Bristol and Newcastle; Czech Airlines (0870 444 3747; www.czechairlines.co.uk) from Heathrow, Stansted, Manchester and Edinburgh; Jet2.com (0871 226 1737; www.jet2.com) from Belfast and Leeds/Bradford; and Flyglobespan (0870 556 1522; www.flyglobespan.com) from Glasgow.

Ruzyne airport is around 20km north-west of the centre. Bus 119 departs every 10 minutes between 4.15am and midnight for Dejvicka station at the start of the green Metro Line A; singles cost 20 crowns (Ck20/50p). The Airport Express bus takes you as far as Nadrazi Holesovice on the red Line C for Ck45 (£1.10). Large luggage is charged at Ck10 (25p) per item on public transport. Cedaz minibuses depart for Dejvicka (Ck60/£1.45) and Namesti Republiky (3) (Ck90/£2.20) every 30 minutes. Door-to-door transfers cost Ck480 (£11.60) for up to four passengers.

GET YOUR BEARINGS

Prague sits astride the deceptively docile river Vltava, which flooded in 2002. On its west bank lie the lanes and alleyways of Mala Strana (lesser quarter) and Hradcany, draped down a hillside and topped by Prague Castle. Across the landmark Charles Bridge is bustling Stare Mesto (old town), Nove Mesto (new town) and Josefov (Jewish quarter), where most tourists converge for the union of architectural styles, countless churches and medieval lanes.

The Prague Information Service (00 420 221 714 444; www.prague-info.cz) has branches at the Old Town Hall (4), the pink building next to the Astronomical Clock and the main railway station (5). Both open Monday-Friday 9am-7pm, until 6pm at weekends (closing an hour earlier between November and March).

CHECK IN

Haul yourself up to Hotel Neruda (6) at Nerudova 44 (00 420 257 535 557; www.hotelneruda.cz) and you'll be rewarded with a tranquillity that can be hard to find in summer- time Prague. The hotel has arguably the best location in the city, directly underneath the castle. As the sun sets and the tangle of tour groups and stag parties descend on the Old Town, Nerudova is all but deserted. Simple, smart doubles start at €180 (£129), including breakfast. Hotel Yasmin (7), just off Wenceslas Square at Politickych Veznu 12 (00 420 234 100 100; www.hotel-yasmin.cz), boasts quirky Space-Age design and a lurid colour scheme. Doubles start at €140 (£100), with breakfast. Brand-new budget beds can be found at the Czech Inn Hostel (8) at Francouzska 76 (00 420 267 267 600; www.czech-inn.cz), part of a new wave of designer hostels. Dorm beds cost Ck390 (£9), doubles from Cz1,400 (£35), room only.

TAKE A RIDE

Public transport consists primarily of a three-line underground system and a network of trams. Tickets covering both, as well as buses, can be bought at Metro stations and cost Ck20 (50p) for a 90-minute duration, Cz80 (£1.90) for a 24-hour pass or Ck220 (£5.30) for three days. Tickets must be validated before boarding (00 420 296 191 817; www.dpp.cz).

However, the summer months are the perfect time to hop into one of the kitsch convertible Skodas that hover around Old Town Square (9). A sightseeing trip around Stare Mesto, Josefov and up to the castle costs Ck250 (£6).

TAKE A VIEW

The verdant Petrin Hill (10) slopes up from Mala Strana and is easily identified by Petrin Tower, the scaled-down version of the Eiffel Tower at the top. The funicular railway to the summit is closed for maintenance at least until August, so for now you'll have to take the strenuous route. Start on the grassy lower slopes, then weave your way up the paths and trails. Stop and catch your breath as you enjoy unsurpassed views of the red roofs and spires below.

TAKE A HIKE

Start with your back to the grand Rudolfinum concert hall (11) and turn left, then first right and right again. Pass the Old Jewish Cemetery - a haunting mass of gravestones - and the Klausen Synagogue as you follow the road round, arriving at the Old-New Synagogue. Turn right onto Maiselova, then left onto Siroka and continue until you reach the statue of Franz Kafka, the Prague-born poet and novelist, and the Spanish Synagogue. Double back and turn left down Pariszka until you reach Old Town Square (9), cutting across and turning right at the quirky Astronomical Clock (4). Follow Karlova until you reach the Charles Bridge, passing under the imposing gothic-style bridge tower. Cross the Vltava, passing the 30 baroque statues that line either side then walk down the steps on the left-hand side. Walk straight up Na Kampe, turn right into Velkoprevorske Namesti and end at the "Lennon Wall" (12), an urban canvas for Beatles-inspired graffiti.

LUNCH ON THE RUN

Kolkovna (13) at V Kolkovne 8 (00 420 224 819 701; www.kolkovna.cz) is an art nouveau gem in the heart of Josefov - and owned by the Pilsner Urquell brewery. Sip a glass of the trademark brew at a street-side table and share a plate of robust Czech fare such as pork with dumplings for Ck95 (£2.30).

WINDOW SHOPPING

Nowhere is the country's embrace of capitalism so evident as it is on Parizska, a genteel, tree-lined avenue that cuts through Josefov from Old Town Square (9) to Chechuv Bridge. Here you'll find Louis Vuitton lined up next to Moschino, Dior, Hugo Boss and the like. Mala Strana is the place to go for marionettes; and Havelsky Market (14) for fruit, vegetables and tourist trinkets.

AN APERITIF

You're in Bohemia, so you can eat and drink to your heart's content. U Cerneho Vola (at the Black Ox) (15) at Loretanske 1 is a smoky, atmospheric beer hall with brick flooring, communal tables and a healthy mix of tourists and locals. Half a litre of Pilsner Urquell will set you back Ck26 (60p). Alternatively, head for the roof terrace at Cowboy's (16) at Nerudova 40 (00 420 257 535 050; www.kampagroup.com). Wind your way up the spiral staircase for a glass of Bohemia Sekt (Czech sparkling wine, Ck95/ £2.30) with the city laid out below.

DINING WITH THE LOCALS

Hergetova Cihelna (17) at Cihelna 2b (00 420 296 826 103; www.kampagroup.com) is part of the modish Scandinavian-owned Kampa Group. The smart riverside eatery offers a modern European menu, complemented by Czech specialities such as bramboracka (potato and mushroom soup - Ck145/ £3.50) and duck breast with fennel baked in prosciutto (Ck595/£14.40). Smarter still is V Zatisi (18) at Liliova 1 (00 420 222 221 155; www.zatisigroup.cz), where roast rabbit with garlic and roast onion mash will set you back Ck595 (£14.40).

SUNDAY MORNING: GO TO CHURCH

The austere gothic towers of the Church of our Lady Before Tyn (19) (00 420 602 306 186; tynska.farnost.cz) dominate the skyline, yet the gilt-splashed baroque interior is unexpectedly bright. Sunday mass is celebrated at 9.30am.

OUT TO BRUNCH

Head to the hip SoNa district ("South of Narodni street"), where the Tulip Café (20) at Opatovicka 3 (00 420 224 930 019; www.tulipcafe.cz) serves anything from scrambled eggs to tortillas stuffed with egg, chilli, beans and salsa from Ck225 (£5.40) in a laid-back, convivial atmosphere.

A WALK IN THE PARK

Hop on tram 14 from Namesti Republiky (3) and alight at Stromovka Park, which was laid out in the 16th century as a hunting ground for Rudolf II. With its peaceful woods and lakes, this arboreal expanse feels a world away from the Old Town, and is a popular location for summer strolls and picnics.

CULTURAL AFTERNOON

Identified by the spires of St Vitus's Cathedral, Prague Castle (00 420 224 373 368; www.hrad.cz) sits at the top of Hradcany. The sprawling complex comprises a curious mis-match of architectural styles, from 10th-century Romanesque buildings to 20th-century additions. Major sites include the Cathedral (21) - the final resting place of St Wenceslas - as well as a quaint collection of 16th-century cottages on Golden Lane, the Old Royal Palace and St George's Convent and Basilica. The grounds open daily 5am-midnight, the historical buildings 9am-5pm. Ground admission is free but a range of tickets is available, from individual sights to a comprehensive ticket for Ck350 (£8.50).

ICING ON THE CAKE

Enjoy an alternative view of the city from the water. As temperatures rise in the narrow lanes of Stare Mesto, enjoy the cooling breeze on the Vltava by hiring a rowing boat or pedalo from Slovansky island (22). Since the river has a series of weirs, the water is calm enough for a leisurely ride. Pedalos cost Cz120 (£2.90) an hour, rowing boats Ck80 (£2).

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