It's hard to escape the fact that you are entering a town deeply rooted in culture when you notice New Prague's distinctive "Brahna" welcoming visitors to town along Hwy. 19. Built to commemorate the town's rich heritage, the design of the "Brahna," which means "gate" in Czech, is a nod to the spires and arches that dot the old-world landscapes of Germany and Czechoslovakia. Settled in 1856 by immigrants primarily from southern Bohemia, New Prague is steeped in Old World tradition and small-town charm. It makes for a quick day trip from the Twin Cities for visitors interested in sampling ethnic foods, hitting the shops and exploring the culture of this town of 7,000.

A look into the past

You can get an in-depth look at the town's history, buildings and landmarks by taking the New Prague Walking Tour. One landmark is the historic flour mill, the early success of which set New Prague apart from other agricultural communities. Also on the tour are several murals known collectively as the "wallseum." A mural of Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic) is a standout. Also distinctly Old World in architecture is St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church (215 E. Main St.; 952-758-3225; www.saintwenceslaus.org), on the edge of downtown. The church, built in 1907, is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Boutiques and more

The walkable Main Street is home to boutiques and specialty shops and family businesses. Most shops offer something New Prague-specific, such as "New Prague A to Z," by two local historians, which you can find at Mosaic Alley (123 E. Main St.; 952-758-8030; www.mosaicalley.com), along with gifts for babies and children, kitchen wares, women's clothing and home decor. Across the street is Cranky Alice (108 E. Main St. Suite No. 2; 952-758-4933; www.crankyalice.com), which carries vintage and repurposed items, home decor and Czech greeting cards. Claiming to be "the cutest, most delicious shop on Main Street" is Humble Pie (215 1/2 W. Main St.; 952-758-7880; www.humblepiegifts.com), which sells fun accessories, restored and re-created furniture, cookbooks and other items.

Taste the history

Czech foods are easy to find and Lau's Czech Bakery and Coffee Shop (121 W. Main St.; 952-758-3220) is a popular place to get kolacky, a jam-filled sweet bread that was originally made for farmers to take to the fields. With red-topped swivel stools and a chalkboard menu, Lau's is a favorite gathering spot. If you show up early you may overhear some of the regulars speaking in Czech.

For another Czech food favorite try jitrnice, a traditional pork and barley sausage, available at Skluzacek's Quality Meats (400 W. Main St.; 952-758-6328). Owner Eric Skluzacek uses his grandmother's jitrnice recipe.

You can find vomacka, a cream-based soup, at several places in town but only one also boasts a concertina collection and strolling musician. New Prague is home to the world's largest Czech Concertina Club (www.concertinaclub.com), founded in 1997. One of the club's founders, Jerry Minar, and his wife, Bev, hand-craft concertinas, ornate, accordion-like instruments, through JBM Sound. Jerry houses his collection of 60 instruments at the Concertina History Exhibit, in the Minars' Landmark Cafe (208 4th Av. SW.; 952-758-6772).

If you want to take home some polka music, stop at Downtown Sound (104 E. Main St.; 952-758-5166), which carries one of the largest selections of Czech music in the state.

Myrna CG Mibus is a freelance writer based in Webster, Minn.