Prague is the capital and the largest city of the Czech Republic. It is situated in central Bohemia, by the Vltava River. Prague is also located in the center of Europe and has been both a geographically and cultural link between East and West.
It is widely appreciated as one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The historic center of Prague has been included in the UNESCO list of the World Heritage Sites in 1992.
The city has been developing into its present-day shape for eleven centuries and today it covers 496 square kilometers and has 1,215,000 inhabitants.
Every year it is visited by 3 million tourists who are drawn by its wealth of cultural and historic heritage. The city is a mosaic of peaceful green parks, architectural treasures and lively street life of the old town.
Various architectural styles have left their mark on this romantic and intimate city. You will find marvelous Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, and Classical buildings, along with newer styles like Art Nouveau.
It is a very green city, with many parks, beautiful palace gardens, and serene green isles in the river. Prague is also a city of bridges. Fourteen of them span the Vltava River. The biggest and most iconic is Charles Bridge. It connects the Old town with Prague’s castle. The city is also a cultural hub with many theatres, concerts, museums, and galleries.
Prague is located in the northern part of Central Europe. It is situated in a valley and has a mild continental climate. There are marked differences between the seasons. Winters are very cold with ice and snow, springs are warm and quite dry, summers are hot, sunny and wet, and autumns are quite cool and wet. During the winter it is usually very cold, with the lowest temperatures in January when it is frequently below zero. The hottest months are July and August. It can get as hot as 30 degree Celsius during the day. The most rainfall occurs in June, and the least in February. Because Prague is situated in a valley between hills, the air becomes trapped in the city and winter smog is not uncommon.
January average temperature -2 deg Celsius, 20.3 mm rainfall February average temperature -1 deg Celsius, 17.8 mm rainfall March average temperature 4 deg Celsius, 25.4 mm rainfall April average temperature 6 deg Celsius, 35.6 mm rainfall May average temperature 13 deg Celsius, 58.4 mm rainfall June average temperature 16 deg Celsius, 68.6 mm rainfall July average temperature 17 deg Celsius, 66.0 mm rainfall August average temperature 17 deg Celsius, 63.5 mm rainfall September average temperature 14 deg Celsius, 40.6 mm rainfall October average temperature 8 deg Celsius, 30.5 mm rainfall November average temperature 3 deg Celsius, 27.9 mm rainfall December average temperature 0 deg Celsius, 22.9 mm rainfall
Trains are cheap and regular, buses even cheaper and more frequent so flying is not the most important mode of travel.
Ruzyně airport, located 10km to the northwest of Prague is the country’s only international airport. It handles dozens of international carriers, including the national Česke aerolinije. Departure tax is included in the ticket price.
Karlovy Vary is a smaller airport handling mostly domestic flights. It has also regular flights to Moscow.
The Czech Railways (ČD) trains are cheap and efficient, offering daily connections to most major European cities, like Paris, Amsterdam, Vienna and Munich, as well as inside the country.
Bus travel is even faster, more frequent and cheaper than train. Most buses depart from Florenc station, although some regional buses depart from various other stations located throughout the city.
BUS AND TRAM
Prague has an extensive network of buses and trams which ensure a fast and efficient travel through the city. The same tickets are used also in the metro, just make sure that you validate yours inside the bus or tram. There are several passes available.
The metro is clean and efficient and runs daily from 5 am till midnight. Stations are easy to find – they are marked by the sign 'M'. Do not forget to validate your ticket because patrols control trains often and the fines are high. Watch out for pick- pockets operating in large groups on crowded trains.
The streets are narrow, and traffic is congested during the day. Watch out for the street trams. All in all, if you are planning to visit only Prague, you are better off using the public transport.
The car traffic is heavy and there are no bicycle lanes, so it can be problematic. Don’t forget to lock your bike.
Prague is plagued by dishonest taxi drivers, and the victims of overpricing are tourists. The most reliable service is provided by the radio taxi (call-for-taxi services) and some regulated taxi stands. Be careful with independent taxi-drivers who take pick-ups on the street. These are usually the ones to watch as they may meddle with it or may not even start it and end up demanding large sums of money. Avoid the taxis waiting at Wenceslas Square, Old Town Square, and other tourist areas. The best option is to call a radio taxi as many have English-speaking operators. If you are staying in the city center it is more convenient and easier to walk or use the subway.
Access: Metro to Staromestská / or tram 17, 18, 51 or 54
The pedestrian Charles Bridge, spanning 520 m, is Prague's number one attraction and most photographed feature of the city. Construction began in 1357, on 9th July at 5:31 am (the sequence of numbers 1357 9 7 531 was believed to ensure successful construction). It was built in place of the old Judith Bridge which was consumed by a flood. It was completed in 1402 and for the next 460-or-so years it was the only bridge over the river. Between 1683 an 1928 the bridge was lined with 31 statues of saints. Look for a plaque near statue 16, where you can put your hand and make a wish. From the bridge you can enjoy a wonderful view of the river and the Hradčany castle.
PRAGUE CASTLE / HRADČANY
Address: Hradčanské Náměstí Web: www.prague.cz/prague-castle.asp Email: frantisek.kadlec @ hrad.cz Phone: +420 2 2437 3368 Open: historic buildings: April - October 9:00 am - 5:00 pm, November - March 9:00 am - 4:00 pm; grounds: April - October 5:00 am - 12:00 am, November -March 6:00 am - 11:00 pm Access: Tram 22, 23 / or metro to Hradčany
Prague ’s castle is situated on top of a cliff, overlooking the city and has a 1000-year-old history. Originally a small fortification from the 9 th century, the castle is today 570 meters in length and about 130 meters in width and is known as the world’s largest ancient castle. The Castle has served as an official residence of the president since the time it was founded in the 9 th century. T he castle buildings themselves represent virtually every architectural style possible. The gothic St. Vitus Cathedral, Romanesque basilica of St George, a monastery and several palaces, gardens and defense towers. The Castle district includes several museums, including the National Gallery with a beautiful collection of old Bohemian art. Behind the galley is the famous and beautiful Golden Lane, an old cobbled alley with colorful 16 th century tradesmen cottages.
ST VITUS CATHEDRAL
Address: Prague Castle Phone: 224 373 368 Access: Malostranska (Line A) Trams 22, 23 Prazsky Hrad Open: daily April – October 9:00 am – 5:00 pm; November – March 9:00 am – 4:00 pm. Admission to the cathedral is free; other attractions within have an admission fee.
The cathedral is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture. The foundation stone was laid in 1344 and it was only completed in 1929. Located in the third courtyard of Hradcany castle district, it is the largest church in Prague. It dominates the skyline of the city and is one of its major attractions.
Inside there are many treasures- the royal crypt houses remains of the Czech royalty, St. Wenceslas Chapel and the Coronation Chamber contains the exhibition of the Crown Jewels.
MALA STRANA /THE SMALL QUARTER
This is one of the oldest historical parts of Prague, located on the slopes directly below the Prague Castle. Established in the 8 th or 9 th century as a market settlement, the area was the center of a German settlement at the time.
The famous poet Jan Neruda lived and worked here. His “ Tales of the Little Quarter ” are dedicated to the area.
The beautiful historic quarter offers narrow streets, picturesque buildings, and charming 17 th century churches and palaces. Do not miss the House of Two Suns where the poet Neruda lived and worked; and St Nicholas Church with its beautiful green cupola and famous fresco, the largest in Europe, Johann Kracker’s “Life of St Nicholas.”
OLD TOWN SQUARE
The square is among the most beautiful in Central Europe. It has been the heart of the city since the 11 th century. It features numerous historic buildings and has a cobbled surface. It is a lively place and during the day the square is full of artists and musicians. In the summer restaurants erect their tables on the south part of the square. During Easter and Christmas it becomes overflowing with wooden booths selling almost anything you can name.
In the middle of the square is the Art Noveau monument to Czech religious reformist, Jan Hus. A famous feature is the astronomic clock on the façade of the Old Town Hall. The clock shows three different times, each with a brief mechanical performance, with apostles, Christ, a skeleton and a rooster.
Two other magnificent churches to see are Our Lady Before Týn and St. Nicholas – Prague’s greatest baroque building. Also, do not miss the house where Kafka lived - at number 3 Staromestské námestí.
OUR LADY BEFORE TYN
Address: Celetna 5 Phone: +420 602 306 186 Access: Staromestska (Line A), Namesti republiky (Line B)
The gothic church with its distinctive, 80 meter towers and gothic façade dominates the Old Town Square. It is a source of national pride to the Czechs and is especially beautiful at night, when it is flooded with lights. The construction of the church begun in 1380 but was only finished in 1835.
It was at first home to the Hussites- the church reform movement led by Jan Hus - in the 14 th century. Later Catholicism was accepted. The interior is decorated in lavish baroque style.
OBECNí DUM / MUNICIPAL HOUSE
Address: Republiky náměstí 5 Web: www.obecnidum.cz Phone: 222-002-100 Open: 7:30 am – 11:00 pm
The city's municipal house was built in 1911, in splendid Art Noveau style. It is a center for concerts, art exhibitions, and cafe society. It was decorated by top artists of the time, painters and sculptors like Alfons Mucha, Josef Myslbek and Bohumil Kafka. The facade is amazing; decorated by numerous sculptures of allegorical figures.
The interior is worth seeing as well. The astonishing Smetana Hall, the city's largest concert hall, which hosts concerts by the Prague Symphony Orchestra and international players, decorated with frescoes and sculptures.
Mayor Hall, where Mucha painted a glorious ceiling fresco called Slavic Concorde, depicting Czech history is also fabulous. He also designed the doorway curtains and windowpanes. The restaurant on the ground floor is marked by beautiful chandeliers and woodwork, and the beer hall offers good food and boasts superb ceramic murals on the walls.
Address: V Pevnosti 159/5b Web: www.praha-vysehrad.cz Email: info@ praha-vysehrad.cz Phone: 241 410 247 or 241 410 348 Open: April – October daily 9:30 am – 6:00 pm; November – March 9:30 am – 5:00 pm Access: Metro, line C to Vyšehrad
The hill fort was established in the 10 th century and was the first seat of the Czech nobility. You can enjoy excellent views of Vltava River from here. Visit the gothic church of St. Peter and Paul, and behind it, the Slavin Cemetery where many famous Czech are buried, including Smetana and Dvořak.
Traditional Czech cuisine is pretty heavy, with large portions of meat accompanied by dumplings or potatoes. Nowadays, however, many new restaurants have opened offering international cuisine and new approaches to the traditional food.
Address: Narodni, 10; Neighborhood: New Town Phone: +420 2495 1741 Access: Narodni Trida (Line B) Open: daily 11:30 am - midnight
Offering traditional Czech cuisine, this restaurant is accessible, offers excellent food and prices are not too high. The house meat specialties are highly recommended. They also offer a fine selection of Moravian and French wines.
Address: U Sovových mlýnů 1 Open: 11:00 am – 11:00 pm
A classy seafood restaurant with down-to earth atmosphere. Try some of their delicious carp, trout or, highly recommended pike-perch in basil. They also offer some excellent Czech and Moravian wines.
This smoky pub used to be attached to the Staropramen brewery. It has recently been renovated; it now offers 5 varieties of Prague’s famous Straopramen beer. The food served here is traditional Czech pub food, like Pivni utopenec (sausage), Pivni sir (beer cheese), goulash and grilled meat.
Date: December 2 – January 1 Location: Old Town Square, Wenceslas Square
Christmas markets sparkle up the city with lights and colorful decorations. Stalls offer mulled wine, sausages and gingerbread. Brightly decorated huts sell Czech handicrafts like puppets, candles, wooden toys and jewelry. Choirs sing Christmas songs in Old Town Square, the Bethlehem manger scene is recreated with live animals, and an open-air ice rink is set up.
Prague Easter Markets
Date: April 1 – 23 Open: daily 9:00 am – 7:00 pm Location: Old Town Square, Wenceslas Square
The easter markets offer hand-crafted goods, and food & drink – barbecued sausages and beer. Some stalls offer roasted pigs on spits. The markets include over 100 stalls, offering a wide selection of hand crafted goods, including wooden toys, crystal glasses, candles, jewelry, puppets, dolls, and regional costumes. The most important items are hand painted Easter eggs. Traditionally clad ladies make one just for you, painting your name or a special message on the egg.
Prague International Music Festival
Date: May 11 – June 3 Web: www.festival.cz Location: Rudolfinum, Obecní dum and St. Vitus's Cathedral
One of the most prestigious classical music festivals in Europe including internationally-acclaimed artists, orchestras, and ensembles. Traditionally the festival opens and closes with the performance by Prague Symphony Orchestra.
Fabio Fest is the largest international film festival in Central Europe.
Prague Autumn Festival
Date: September 12 – October 1 Web: www.pragueautumn.cz Location: Prague State Opera Municipal House Rudolfinum
An international festival of classical music that marks the end of the European summer music festival season. It has recently gained a lot of acclaim due to the wealth of celebrated musicians appearing on the bill.
Prague Writers Festival
Date: March Web: http://www.pwf.pragonet.cz
This meeting of writers has drawn some famous names in the past, including Nadine Gordimer, Salman Rushdie, and Gore Vidal.
Prague offers varied nightlife. It is still quite cheap, in comparison with the rest of Europe. A visitor can choose from discos, night clubs, rock concerts, classical concerts, dance halls, theatres, cinemas and more.
You can learn what is going on in several papers.
The Prague Post – the city's main English language newspaper has a section each week devoted to entertainment and there are also many weekly guides.
Tickets can be most easily bought at the reception desks of most 3+ star hotels. In addition, there are several specialized ticket agencies in town.
Prague is a city rich in cultural heritage. Opera and ballet are performed in the National theatre, Statini Opera Praha (State Opera Prague), and Stavovske Divaldo (Theatre of the Estates).
Classical concerts are held in National Museum , Municipal House – Smetana Hall , Rundolfinum – Smetana Hall and in Liechenstein Palace.
The Czechs are also famous for their theatre, particularly puppet art. You can catch a show at any of these venues: the Balck Theatre, the National Marionette Theatre, and the Image Theatre, as well as lantern shows at the Nova Scena.
Jazz is a great passion of the Czechs. There are several good jazz clubs, the most famous one is the Reduta on Narodni. Here, ex-presidents Havel and Clinton have performed. During summer months many jazz acts can be found playing on the streets around Charles Bridge and the Old Town Square.
Clubbing in Prague is very much alive. There are numerous discos and night clubs in the city center as well as in the suburbs. You will find most of the clubs around the Wenceslas Square area. This is also where you can find the popular Lucerna club, on Vodickova.
Prague is located in the middle of Europe and it has been at an intersection of merchant routes since ancient times. Legend has it that Prague was founded by princess Lybuše, who, standing on a rocky hill on the right bank of the river, had a vision of the beautiful city. On this site the Vyšehrad fortress was built in the 10 th century.
The oldest evidence of people living here is from around 6000 BC. Permanent settlements appeared in 4000 BC by Germanic and Celtic tribes. The Slavs conquered the site around the turn of the millennium, and successfully protected their land until the 9 th century when they were conquered by the Great Moravian Empire who introduced Christianity. The Catholic Duke Wenceslas made it a state religion in the 930s.
Prague became an important, prosperous city under Charles IV, who ruled from 1346 - 1378. He was the Holy Roman Emperor and made the city his capital. During this period many famous landmarks were built; the Charles Bridge, St. Vitus Cathedral and Charles University and the city acquired its Baroque face. After his death the Hussites wars introduced 15 years of religious conflict.
In 1526 the Habsburgs succeeded to the throne. The religious tension cooled briefly but flared again and eventually boiled into the famous Defenstration (literally, to throw someone out the window) of Prague, which led to the Thirty Years’ War (1618 - 1648). During this time one third of the country’s population was killed and the Czech culture and language were diminished.
In 1784 - 1848 there was a revival of the Czech nation. The language was standardized, and the industrial revolution came. By the end of the 19 th century Prague became the center of the Czech National Revival.
MODERN (20 TH CENTURY)
After WW I the Allies formed a new state of Czechoslovakia, which included Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia and Slovakia. Prague became its capital. However, the young country was occupied by Nazi Germany in 1939. The Prague’s Jewish community of some 120,000 people was wiped out.
On May 5, 1945 the people of Prague rebelled against the German occupation forces but were soon subdued by the Soviet army. The 1946 elections saw the victory of the communist party who, with the help of the Soviet Union seized control in 1948. Opposition was wiped out and all land and industry was nationalized. The plan was to make Czechoslovakia a supplier of arms and heavy industrial equipment to the Eastern Block.
Under Alexander Dubcek a new Communist party was formed in 1968, aiming for ‘socialism with a human face’. This is now known as the Prague Spring. In August, the same year, the Soviet Union invaded the country. 58 people died during the attacks, and 300,000 sympathizers were forced to leave their jobs. This regime lasted for 21 years, until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, when a peaceful student protest turned into a massacre. This ushered in the fall of Communism in Czechoslovakia. On December 28 Dubcek became Chairman of the Federal Assembly and Vaclav Havel, an eminent writer and playwright, became the President the next day.
In 1990 free elections were held. The Czech and Slovak separatist movements inspired a peaceful breakup into Czech and Slovak Republics in 1993.
In the 1990s Prague became one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Together with solid industrial base, the city got back on its feet, though the Czech countryside less so. The Czech Republic became a member of the European Union in 2004.
Initial meetings are usually reserved. The usual way of greeting is a handshake.
If invited to a dinner at home, bring good chocolates or flowers for the hostess and a bottle of wine for the host. Take off your shoes when entering the house. Don’t leave too late, around 10 pm is considered appropriate.
Tipping is not obligatory but leaving 10% is considered normal if you are pleased with the service.
Discuss sports, but don’t touch upon politics and the former communist regime. Note: Czechoslovakia was not a part of the Soviet Union.
Beware of pick-pockets wherever big crowds of tourists gather. Hotspots include the Old Town Square, Charles Bridge, the Prague Castle, Golden Lane, ; St. Vitus Cathedral, and Wenceslas Square. Large groups of pick-pockets also operate on trams and metros, especially during the busiest hours and on lines catering tourist routes, for example lines 9 and 22.
Another common thing is car theft and robbery from cars. You should park in secured and supervised car parks and do not leave anything valuable inside. It is wise to deposit your valuables in a hotel safe.
Fake Police Scams
Recently there have been many reports of foreigners being robbed by fake police. Tourists are approached by men claiming to be plain-clothes police, investigating fraud or illegal money exchange. They ask you to show them your wallet and money, but when these are returned many tourists find their money missing. If you are approached and are in doubt suggest going to the police station. Another scheme includes a man pretending to be a lost tourist, asking you for directions in broken English. Next, fake plain-clothes policemen approach and claim you are trying to change money illegally, and demand to see your passport and money. If you hand them over, they will run off with them.
Avoid drinking tap water or brushing your teeth with it. Buy bottled water instead. Avoid ice cubes except the bought ones. Don’t eat raw vegetables and fruit before they are washed.
Prague is infamous for dishonest taxi drivers who try to meddle with the taximeter, or, do not start it at all. The victims of overpricing are tourists. Be careful not to use the taxis you can hail in the street as these are usually associated with the overpricing scams. The areas most notorious for this activity are Wenceslas Square, Old Town Square, and other tourist hotspots. The best option is to call a radio taxi or simply walk or use the subway.
The tourist season begins in April or May and runs until October. The best time to visit Prague is spring and autumn when the weather is nicest and the city is not too crowded. Avoid visiting in the summer months of July through August and during the Easter, Christmas and New Year holidays, when the city is crowded with visitors.
In summer many residents go on holiday, however, affordable accomodation is easily available because in the summer, the student hostels are also open for the tourists.
Winter in Prague can be beautiful, as the lovely city is covered in snow. However, be prapared for the cold and occasional smog. Hotels are less crowded.
Note, that a number of tourist attractions are closed between November and March.