Have you ever wondered what Prague people do when they feel like visiting a beach? Since Czech Republic is a landlocked country, the only option would be either to go abroad, or to create an artificial beach in the middle of the city. The only problem is that streets in the Prague center are so crooked and the center itself is so hilly that it would be impossible to do something like that. So, what’s the final solution? Meet Náplavka – an ‘urban beach’.
In fact, ‘náplavka’ is a legitimate word in the Czech language; it means ‘a narrow strip of land by a river, just above the water level.’ It was originally designed as a place for ships to land, but since the Prague public transportation system doesn’t use boats (there are just the tour ones), countless ‘náplavkas’ along the river Vltava are used as hang out spots, often filled with restaurants, boatels and such. The one we’re going to talk about is the most famous of all, known by locals simply as ‘Náplavka.’
This strip is some 1.2 kilometers long, just a few meters wide, and located between Jiráskův most (Jirásek’s bridge) at the north and Železniční most (Railway Bridge) to the south. Unless you took Vltava and re-routed it to go directly through Wenceslas Square, you won’t get more ‘downtown’ than that. The view of the Vltava gently flowing through the city center in mid-summer washing the feet of Smíchov’s old, tall houses on the opposite bank, can be breathtakingly beautiful.
So how exactly do you get there? The easiest way might be to go to Národní divadlo (The National Theatre) and then head down to Masarykovo nábřeží (if you’re going from the direction of Wenceslas Square and Národní třída, turn left when you reach the theatre and continue alongside the river). You will meet an island called Žofín, at the end of which Mánes’s art gallery is situated. This is your entry point – you will see the street dividing into two lanes, one following the trolleys, one heading down to the river. The second one leads to Náplavka.
Just in case you are in a hurry and do not have enough time to look at a map; the tram stops that are closest to Náplavka are Jiráskovo náměstí, Palackého náměstí and Výtoň. The nearest subway station is Karlovo náměstí – exit the side that says Palackého náměstí and you’ll emerge right at the tram stop.
The most amazing thing is that although the main street itself is very noisy and crowded, Náplavka, just a few metres below, can be at times almost perfectly serene. Yes, there are lots of people, and of course there are several restaurants, boatels, and restaurant boats, but most of the people are having a visibly great time. It makes perfect sense that some come to Náplavka every day, in the high noon (or afternoon), and eat / drink / meet / talk / read / write / study. And then, there are the parties.
To understand what I mean by ‘DIY punk haven vs. Coolest place in the city’ you’d have to spend a few nights there. First, let’s talk punk – the thing is, partying on Náplavka is cheap. There are no visible restrictions, apart from the most basic ones, no-one’s stopping you from drinking (or worse), and if you run out of booze, don’t worry – there’s always a večerka (an evening shop) open nearby. It’s not like the bar that officially runs the party you’ve just crashed into could do anything about the seventeen beer cans in your backpack. This place is legitimately free, which of course means that punks, hippies, and other alternative folks will seek it out like crazy. So, that’s what happens.
But don’t worry – when I say the place can get ‘punky,’ I don’t mean it looks like 1976 London. All kinds of people come to Náplavka to have fun, not to be obnoxious and destroy things. The atmosphere is just so friendly that you can meet practically anyone there and have a good time, no matter what. It’s like a perfect melting pot for every subculture there is, from dreadlock-covered Bob Marley enthusiasts to hipsters in skinny jeans and V-neck shirts. Farmers’ markets are held there, as well as all-night DJ parties, gypsy concerts, or plain ol’ rock-n-roll gigs. As soon as the sun sets, people usually start to dance.
One interesting thing is that Náplavka doesn’t have any kind of railing – the only thing between a mass of people and the depths of the Vltava is everyone’s sense of self-preservation. Luckily, no cases of drowning have been reported although one time, I saw a guy so drunk that he simply fell into the river. He was promptly rescued, but the lesson here is: be careful. Not just about your life, but more about your belongings; when a group of people sit on the bank, legs swinging in the air centimeters above the water, it’s easy to imagine a mobile phone falling from somebody’s pocket. You won’t get that phone back.
Also, there is a bicycle path running straight through the whole place. Since Prague is not exactly bike-friendly, it’s just polite not to ruin one of the few good paths by deliberately crossing it willy-nilly.
The coolness factor I talk about mainly refers to Bajkazyl, a café that is open during the summer season (they started early in March and will likely remain open until October or so). Náplavka has plenty of places where you can get a beer but Bajkazyl is where all the fun’s at – being run by Ondřej Kobza, that’s hardly surprising. Kobza is the guy who is responsible for the ‘Pianos on the streets’ project and also runs Café v Lese on Krymská street, so among the cool kids, he’s sort of a trend-setting guru.
And, finally, it’s my duty to heavily recommend Náplavka when looking for a place for a romantic walk. If it rains, even better – it means nobody will be there to disturb you when you snuggle up to your significant other while standing underneath the monumental Palackého or Jiráskův bridge. Heavenly!