Welcome to Prague, the City of Hundred Spires
What is Prague?
Praha is the capital and the largest city (1.2 million people) of the Czech Republic. It has been the political, cultural, and economic centre of the Czech state for more than 1100 years. English and French call it Prague, German Prag and you can find it written as Praga in Latin and most of Roman and Slavic languages. If you want to call it more poetic, use Praga Caput Rei publicae (Prague, Capital of the Republic; Latin), Praga mater urbium ("mother of cities"), "city of hundred spires" or "the golden city".
It is the city you might have seen in many Hollywood movies and you probably did not realize that it was Prague: Mission Impossible, Blade II, xXx, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Shanghai Knights. Sometimes it represented London, Paris, Venetia or some other not specified city. Also, the music video to "Diamonds from Sierra Leone" by Kanye West was filmed in Prague, and features pictures of Charles Bridge and the Astronomical Clock, among other famous landmarks.
Where is Prague?
Prague is situated on river Vltava in central Bohemia.
Why to visit Prague?
Prague is not the biggest, nor the oldest city in the world. However there is one thing, which makes it one of the most beautiful cities in the world: atmosphere. Since 1992, the extensive historic centre of Prague has been included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. You can walk through it for a week and not have enough. Every street is different, every house is unique. If you are lucky, you stop in the middle of one of those old narrow streets in Old Town and there is no one except you. You can feel the presence of history, have an idea how the city might look like hundreds years ago. You can come to Vltava riverside, walk through the Charles’ Bridge and have a picturesque view of Prague Castle, the largest medieval castle in the world still used today. Or climb up to the top of Petřín tower and look down on the old city centre with the red-roof houses and all the city spires gleaming in the sunlight. No way can you find the same view anywhere else in the world.
When to visit Prague?
The Czech Republic has a mild climate with warm summers and cold winters. The average temperature in summer is between 24-30 °C and about 15 °C at night. In winter, the daily temperature averages around the freezing point and decreases down to –4 °C at night. January and February are the coldest months when the daily temperatures stay around –5 °C. July and August tend to be the sunniest months, the period between May and June is the rainiest. Snow is rare in Prague during winter with February having the lowest precipitation.
It depends on what temperatures you prefer, but try to consider not only the weather, but other tourists as well. The main tourist season starts in April when the streets get very crowdy. This lasts till the end of September.
How to get to Prague?
Prague is served by Ruzyně International Airport, the biggest airport in the Czech Republic and one of the busiest in Central and Eastern Europe. It is located about 20 km on the north-west of the city, accessible by city public transport or taxis. The main airlines flying to Prague are native Czech Airlines, many foreign companies (Air France/KLM, British Airways, Lufthansa, Austrian Air, Korean Air) and also low-cost airlines SkyEurope, Smart Wings and Ryan Air operating throughout Europe.
The city forms a hub of the Czech railway system (operated by Czech Railways) with services to all parts of the Czech Republic and abroad. Prague has two international railway stations, Hlavní nádraží (The Main Station) and Praha-Holešovice. Intercity services stop also at the main stations Praha-Smíchov and Masarykovo nádraží. In addition to these, there are a number of smaller suburban stations. The prices of train tickets are much lower than of those in Western Europe. However, the quality of trains is often lower as well. To make sure you get a seat it is advisable to obtain a ticket in advance.
Most of the international bus lines are operated by Eurolines or Student Agency companies. Terminal station is usually Florenc in the middle of the Prague, easily accessible by public transport (subway, tram, bus). It is the biggest bus station in Prague and is also utilized by domestic bus lines. Generally, coach travel is cheaper but long distance traveling can be uncomfortable and slower than going by train or plane.
Prague is easily accessible by highways from the west, while the situation is getting worse as one travels further to the east. Highways are paid through a prepaid stamp (valid for 15 days, 2 months or 1 year) which can be bought at post offices and petrol stations.
Relaying on a car in Prague is not advisable. It is very difficult to find a suitable parking place (especially during week days) and break-ins are very common. Only residents having a parking card can park their cars in most places in the central area of the city. If you happen to visit Prague by car, the best places to leave your car are guarded parking lots, especially the underground ones. Attention should be paid not to leave anything valuable inside the car visible from outside, including car radios. They get stolen quite often.
Up to date information should be always checked prior to departure (Czech Embassy).
Since the Czech Republic is part of European Union, citizens of other EU states do not need any visa in order to enter the Czech Republic as tourists. The same goes for citizens of Island, Lichtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
If not staying longer than 90 days, visa is not required also for:
Andorra, Australia, Croatia, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, countries of North and South America.
How to get around?
The public transport infrastructure is very well organized and efficient. It consists of an integrated transport system of Prague Metro (57 stations in total), Prague Tram System (including the "nostalgic tram" no. 91), buses, the Petřín funicular to Petřín Hill and five ferries. All services have a common ticketing system and are provided by Prague Public Transit Co. (Dopravní podnik hl. m. Prahy)
There is also a commuter rail system known as S-Rail which serves the Prague metropolitan area, similar to other big cities in Western Europe.
Taxi services in Prague can be divided into two sectors. There are major taxicab companies, operating call-for-taxi services (radio-taxi) or from regulated taxi stands, and independent drivers, who make pickups on the street. The latter, targeted mainly at foreign tourists, are notorious for overcharging. City government is paying much attention to this problem and the situation has improved lately. You should always take taxi at so called “Fair Place” stand marked with a big orange hand with a thumb up.
Car Rental is possible, even though not very convenient and cheap (from 60 Euro a day) in Prague. Cars drive on the right in the Czech Republic, speed limits are 50/90/130 km/h in the urban area/outside urban area/on highway respectively.
What to see?
Prague is traditionally one of the cultural and historical centers of Europe. There are many historical places, museums, theatres, concert halls, galleries, cinemas and music clubs in the city. Prague suffered considerably less damage during World War II than other major cities in Europe, allowing most of its historic architecture to stay untouched. Built by Europe's finest architects and artists over the course of more than 600 years, its spired buildings, famed bridges, flowing river and cobbled streets are at once breathtaking and charming. It contains one of the world's most pristine and varied collections of architecture, from Art Nouveau to Baroque, Renaissance, Cubist, Gothic, Neo-Classical and ultra-modern.
Some popular sights include:
- Old Town (Staré Město) with its Old Town Square, Old Town Hall and the Astronomical Clock
- The picturesque Charles Bridge
- The vaulted gothic Old New Synagogue built in 1270.
- New Town (Nové město) with its busy and historic Wenceslav Square
- Malá Strana (Lesser Quarter)
- Prague Castle with its St. Vitus Cathedral
- Josefov (the old Jewish quarter) with Old Jewish Cemetery and Old-New Synagogue
- Jan Žižka equestrian statue in Vítkov park in Žižkov
- The Lennon Wall
- National Museum
- Vyšehrad Castle
- Petřínská rozhledna, an observation tower on Petřín hill resembling Eiffel Tower
- Žižkov Television Tower with observation deck
- The New Jewish Cemetery in Olšany, location of Franz Kafka's grave
- The Dancing House (Fred and Ginger Building)
- The Mucha Museum, showcasing the Art Nouveau works of Alfons Mucha
- The Franz Kafka Museum)
For people who will spend more days in Prague and want to see as much as possible, it is convenient to purchase Prague sightseeing card – Prague Card. It is all-inclusive entrance ticket which allows free entrance for listed 50 top attractions in the city. You will receive also a tourist guide book together with the ticket. (Open Card)
Where to sleep?
There are plenty of hotels, pensions, hostels, apartments, private accommodation or camping sites available in Prague. Number of stars listed may not correspond with international regulations because the owners class their businesses by themselves. The prices as well as their quality vary a lot so it is advisable to double check it. Accommodation in a four stars hotel can be cheaper than living in a three stars hotel.
Thanks to favorable value, it is sometimes better to find accommodation further away from the centre because in comparison to other European cities Prague is quite small and its public transport is very effective so you do not have to worry that you will spend most of your time on trams and buses.
It is also highly recommended to book an accommodation prior to arrival (preferably by at least a few weeks) since Prague is quite crowded especially in the high season (April to September), around Christmas and New Year as well as for a weekend or at the time of a public holiday.
What to eat?
Traditional Czech food is mainly meat, mostly pork or beef and generally considered not very healthy, very tasty though. You can try the traditional roast pork with dumplings and cabbage. However, nowadays, it is quite difficult to find traditional Czech restaurant in Prague. On the other hand, Asian restaurants (mostly Chinese, but also Japanese, Korean or Thai) are very popular and common as well as French, Italian or Mexican. Czech beer can be found in all of them.
How to speak?
Official language is Czech, however many people (especially young) are able to speak English or German. However, this is not always true at post offices, train stations or shops, so it is always good to find someone helpful around.
How to pay?
The official currency is Czech Crown marked as "Kc", international symbol "CZK". There are both coins with values 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 Kc and banknotes with values 50, 100, 200, 500, 1000, 2000 and 5000 Kc. Credit and debet cards are widely accepted and used. All major travel checks can be cashed at bank offices. Foreign currencies can be exchanged either in banks or in exchange offices. Current rates can be checked at the site of Czech National Bank.
How to call?
* International country code is +420. Mobile phones (GSM standard) with roaming can be used. Almost whole Czech Republic is covered by cellular network. Phone boots can be found on street, at post offices, subway and railway stations or in hotels.
* Important telephone numbers:
- Fire Department: 150
- Ambulance: 155
- Police: 158
- City Police: 156
- Road Assistance: 1230
- Gas emergency: 1239
- Universal Emergency Telephone Number: 112
What to bring to Prague?
- Passport with valid visa, if required.
- Driver's licence, international driver's licence
- Electrical device accessory (electric adapter plug kit), especially if you travel from outside of continental Europe. Voltage used is 230 V - 50/60 Hz, plugs are with or without earth connector.
- Travel insurance, daily used medicals. However, medical care is of high standard and no special vaccination is required.
What to take away from Prague?
The most favourite are glass and porcelain products. Be sure to take home a piece or two of famous Bohemian crystal or maybe some elaborate marionettes for kids.
What to be careful about?
- Pick-pocketing, especially at crowded places (shops, markets, public transportation). Always remember to keep your bag closed and avoid carrying your passport, wallet and valuables in your back pocket. Never leave valuables in your car.
- Always make sure that your hotel room is locked whenever you leave. Always keep your hotel address and important phone numbers with you.
- Taxi overpricing. Avoid taxi drivers waiting at ranks in obvious tourist locations.
- Do not park in the blue zone restricted for residents. You will be very likely towed by city police.
- Do not change any money with people in the street.
Whatever you do, enjoy your stay!