Prague in Czech Republic
Matička Praha-'little mother Prague'-was largely undamaged by WWII, and the cityscape is stunning. Its compact medieval centre remains an evocative maze of cobbled lanes, ancient courtyards, dark passages and churches beyond number, all watched over by an 1100-year-old castle. Read more...
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Matička Praha-'little mother Prague'-was largely undamaged by WWII, and the cityscape is stunning. Its compact medieval centre remains an evocative maze of cobbled lanes, ancient courtyards, dark passages and churches beyond number, all watched over by an 1100-year-old castle.
Ruzyně International Airport, , +420 220111 111, +420 296 661 111, http://www.prg.aero/. Located 20km northwest of the city centre, it generally takes about 30 minutes to reach the city centre by car. ČSA (Czech Airlines) is the national carrier operating to many European and some international destinations, including New York and Toronto. There are also many cheap direct flights operated by easyJet, Ryanair and BMIbaby from UK, by SmartWings from Continental Europe & Turkey, Aer Lingus from the Irish cities of Dublin & Cork, by SkyEurope from assorted destinations and by Sterling from Scandinavia. Starting on May 2nd, 2007, Delta Air Lines will start flights to Prague from Atlanta in the United States. Further information on Ruzyně International Airport Multilanguage Airport Website
Getting into the city from the airport
By bus: The cheapest way to get to the city is by bus, but be sure to have some Czech Crowns ready. Buy a ticket from the kiosk in the arrivals hall or the vending machine, next to the bus stop, for 26 CZK (if you have a bigger luggage with you, you have to pay 13 CZK extra). You can also buy the ticket from the driver, but it is more expensive. No machines or drivers accept foreign currencies. Take bus 119 to its terminus (Dejvická) and go downstairs to the metro. Your ticket will continue to be valid in the metro. Alternately, Bus no. 100 brings you to subway station Zličín (metro B). Remember to validate your ticket as soon as you get on the bus. If you fail to do so and a revisor catches you, you'll be fined for 700 CZK. Tickets are also available from the DPP kiosk in the arrivals area of Terminal 1. Day, 3-day and 5-days tickets are also available here.
Airport Express (bus operated by Czech Railroads): These buses leave the airport every 30 minutes; the first one at 4:40 a.m. while the last one at 9:10 p.m. at a price of 45CZK per person. Tickets are available from the driver. They will take you to the railway and subway station Nádraží Holešovice (metro C), which is also the railway station to take a train to Berlin and Vienna.
Cedaz bus: http://www.cedaz.cz/ These buses operate from 5:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. every half hour. They will take you past the subway station Dejvická (metro A) and into the city centre to the Náměstí Republiky (metro B). Fares are about 90 CZK per person. The easiest way to get to your hotel, however, is to use the company's shared-ride transfer service. They will take you direct to the door of your hotel, delivering groups of 1-4 passengers for 480 CZK. The drivers can be clearly seen straight outside the doors of the terminal building, just be sure to check that they have the correct identification. Online booking now available.
By shuttle: Various companies run shuttle services to the hotel and back. These can be found at the airport arrival halls. One company is called Smart Shuttle, who run for Smart Wings airline, however some customers have found their services to be unsatisfactory. An option may be the 123-Prague.com shuttle operated by HFS s.r.o. Prague 123-Prague airport shuttle which charge 9 EUR per person. There are also private companies that provide transfers and will meet you in the arrivals hall, one of which is the American operated Prague Airport Shuttle and another Czech operated Prague Airport Transfers or Airport Transfers by Mary's or Prague Airport Transports. They usually charge around 600 CZK for trip and in general are a bit cheaper than the taxis.
By taxi: The most comfortable method to reach the city will cost 350-700 CZK with AAA. AAA http://www.aaa-taxi.cz has an exclusive contract with Prague airport to have a fleet of taxis waiting. For a bargain, call one of their competitors such as Profi Taxi http://www.profitaxi.cz/ or Halo Taxi http://www.halotaxi.cz/eng/index.php. Avoid cab drivers who solicit inside the terminal building-they will charge 50% to 100% more for the same journey.
Prague has two international train stations: Hlavní Nádraží (the central station, also known as Praha hl.n.) and Praha Holešovice. Both have connections with metro line C.
The park in front of the main train station is a haunt for some of the cities undesirable elements and should be avoided after dark. If you do have to come through on foot it's best to avoid coming through the park and approach from the Southeast along Washingtonova. As you get to the corner of the park there's a police station, so the likelihood of running into problems from this direction is minimalised. The station is currently undergoing a major refurbishment, alas the 70s style will be lost, but the toilets might be cleaned once in a while.
Eurocity trains connect Prague to Berlin, Vienna and Budapest. It is a very comfortable way of travel, but not as quick as in other countries-Eurocity has average speed about 120 km/h as the Czech railroad network is not suitable for higher speeds. From Berlin, a train reaches Prague in just under five hours, from Vienna in 4-4.5 hours and from Budapest in 6.5 hours. The train line from Berlin to Prague passes through the Erzgebirge mountains, and for a couple of hours the passengers are treated to a series of beautiful alpine river valleys, surrounded by rocky escarpments and mountains.
Since 2005, faster Super City Pendolino trains operate between Ostrava (3.5 hours), Olomouc (just over two hours) and Prague (station Praha-Holešovice). Reservation is necessary on these trains. If you come to Prague by SC Pendolino, you can use Airport Express to Prague Airport without any additional fee. These buses operate every 30 minutes (5:15 a.m. to 9:45 p.m.). Without a SC Pendolino ticket, you will have to pay 45 CZK to the driver.
Train connections from western countries such as France and the United Kingdom are complicated and slow because of the layout of Germany German railroads, which lead mainly from north to south, with no direct connections from east to west. The route with the fewest connections is Prague-Berlin-Paris, but you can shave a few hours off your route if you're willing to transfer several times; eg. Prague-Nurnberg-Stuttgart-Paris can be done in 12 hours.
It is important to note that travel within the Czech Republic is not included in the Eurail Eurailpass. A Prague Excursion Pass add-on is available for Eurailpass holders, providing inbound and outbound travel to Prague; these tickets need not be to the same Czech border stations. Train and bus timetables and a map of the Czech rail network are also available online.
Prague has highway connections from five major directions. Unfortunately, the highway network in the Czech Republic is quite incomplete and some highways are old and in poor condition. Thus, the highway connection from Prague to the border of the Czech Republic is available only in two directions-southeast and southwest. The south-western highway (D5; international E50) leads through Pilsen (Plzeň) to Germany. The D5 highway continues in Germany as A6, until the connection with A93 (the remaining of A6 through to Nurnberg is under construction). Riding from the state border to Prague takes about an hour and a half (160 km). The south-eastern highway (D1) is the Czech Republic's oldest and most used highway-as such it's in a rather poor condition. It leads through Brno to Bratislava in Slovakia. It offers a good connection to Vienna, Budapest and all traffic from the east. It runs for 250km, and usually takes over two hours. To the northwest you can take highway D8 (E55), but it is not complete to the German border. It ends now at Lovosice (about 60 km from Prague and starts again in Usti nad Labem and continues to the northern Germany via A17 ( Dresden, Berlin, Leipzig ). To the northeast you can take highway R10 (E65). It is strictly speaking a motorway, not a highway, but it has four lanes and differs little from a highway. It leads from Liberec through Turnov. It isn't regarded as an important access route, as there are no major cities in this direction (Zittau in Germany, some cities in Poland ), however it offers a good connection to the Czech mountains Jizerské hory and Krkonoše (Riesengebirge) with the best Czech skiing resorts. To the east you can take the newly completed D11 (E67), which goes to Hradec Kralove. It leads to Poland.
Czech highways are under development (D8 and D11 are being prolonged, D3 to Ceske Budejovice and Linz is supposed to be completed in 2020) so it's hoped that things will get better. Unless there are road works, there are only seldom traffic jams on Czech highways, with the exception of D1 near Prague (and near Mirosovice (direction to Ceske Budejovice and Linz, and Brno, too)).
Prague suffers from heavy traffic and on week days the main streets are one big traffic jam. Moreover, Prague still doesn't have a complete highway outer circuit. It is a really good idea to use the P+R (park and ride) parking places, where you can park your car for a very small fee and use public transport. The P+Rs are situated near all highways and are well marked. Note that traffic wardens are rife and parking in most residential streets in and around Prague city centre (even after dark) without a valid permit will result in a parking fine.
The main bus station for international buses in Prague is Florenc, Křižíkova (metro lines B and C). It is located east of the city centre.
Eurolines connects Prague to major European cities, some services depart from Nádraží Holešovice (metro C) but the majority leave from the main bus terminal at Florenc (metro B and C).
You can travel down the famous Vltava River (Moldau, in German), which inspired writers and composers such as Smetana and Dvorak.
Public transportation is very convenient in most of the areas visitors are likely to frequent.
Prague is renowned as a very walkable city. For those who enjoy seeing the old and new city by foot, one can easily walk from Wenceslas Square to the Old Town Square, or from the Old Town to Charles Bridge and the Palace (Hrad) District. And there is much to see and savor.
Try to avoid getting taxi on the street (public transportation is always the better option in Prague) and if you have to, try to negotiate the price in advance. It’s advisable to call one of the major Prague Taxi services:
Profi Taxi, +420 844 700 800, http://www.profitaxi.cz/. PAT Taxi, +420 800 870 888, http://www.prague-airport-transfers.co.uk/. City Taxi, +420 257 257 257, http://www.citytaxi.cz. Halo Taxi, +420 244 114 411, http://www.halotaxi.cz/. AAA Taxi, +420 222 333 222, http://www.aaa-taxi.cz.
Deceptive taxi drivers are another trap that can badly surprise a tourist. Mostly they charge more than they should. The municipal council has been trying to solve this problem since the Prague mayor dressed up as an Italian tourist and was repeatedly overcharged. The most frequent cases of cheating happen between the railway station or airport and hotel. If you must take a Taxi, and cannot call one directly or call your hotel for a referral, the best way to find a reputable one may be to look for a hotel and ask them to call a taxi.
Always insist on having the taxi-meter turned on and ask for a receipt once you leave the taxi. The receipt should have driver's name, address and tax identification number included. Even though you ask for receipt the taxi-meter could be tampered with so called turbo, which will cause the taxi-meter price go sky high.
It may be useful to have a previous idea of how much a taxi service is going to cost before getting into the taxi. You can use one of the online taxi price estimators that cover Prague, such as AAA price counting http://www.aaataxi.cz/Prices/ or World Taximeter fare calculator http://www.worldtaximeter.com/prague.
If you go for waving the taxi on the street make sure you stop car with logo of one of the major companies. It's not a bullet proof solution, but at least you have some chance to get some satisfaction from the taxi dispatching company.
About two years ago, an information desk was set up on most taxi stands in the city, with orientation prices to most popular destinations from that stand. But there is a mistake in the local law, which actually allows some of the taxi companies renting the taxi stands (specifically around Old Town square) to charge VERY high prices (about 99Kč/Km). There is an ongoing law suit regarding this, however the practice still hasn't stopped.
If you're not speaking Czech, then be prepared there is about 50% chance to get cheated by a taxi driver, when stopping taxi in the city center. So be always on watch as that is a standard warning in any guide book about Prague.
If you are convinced you got overcharged by the taxi driver, mark the car ID numbers (license plate, taxi license number on the car door, driver name etc.) and contact the company, which the driver is working for (if any) or police. The problem is that you have to testify against the driver, which is kind of hard when you're on the other side of the world. Try to avoid suspicious taxis and if you find even a grain of suspicion, then walk away catching another taxi.
Other alternative is to use some of the chauffeured services companies like Prague Airport Transfers s.r.o. http://www.prague-airport-transfers.co.uk or FEBA Trade Limousine Car Service http://www.febatrade.cz/ or even cheaper but as reliable HFS s.r.o.-123-Prague-Airport-Transfer.com http://www.123-Prague-Airport-Transfer.com/.
Tram & Metro
There are three main subway lines (Czech: metro), and numerous bus and tram (streetcar) lines. The tram and bus schedules are posted on the stops, and the metro operates from very early in the morning (around 5:00am) until approximately midnight. The schedules and connections may also be checked online from the website of Prague Public Transit, http://www.dpp.cz/index.php?q=en. Purchase a 30-minutes metro (or 5 stops only) for 18 Kc, 75-minute transfer ticket for 26 Kc, or 180 minutes for 40Kc, at any dispenser using coins (they give change), or tobacco shop. Ensure you always have some coins, because the only way to buy ticket on some stations (or at night time) is to use a ticket machine. Reduced tickets for children up to 15 years are also available. You may purchase 24-hours, 3-days or 5-days tickets at ticket offices in some metro stations. Tickets for 3 or 5 days allow for free accompaniment of one child between the age of 6 and 14 (inclusive). The same ticket may be used on metro, tram or bus, including transfer from one to the other, during its time period. Time stamp your ticket by slipping it into one of several boxes in the tram or bus as soon as you board, stamp metro tickets before entering the stations (imitate the locals), and keep it handy until it expires. Tickets are not checked upon boarding, but uniformed ticket inspectors often make the rounds asking to see your ticket. An unstamped ticket is invalid, it will be confiscated, and you will incur a 700 Kc fine. Even though riding black seems easy in Prague, you should invest in the cheap ticket, for the simple reason that Prague's transportation works perfectly, and it functions on the honor system-help it stay that way.
Public transport continues at night: Night trams or night buses (00:00 to 5:00 AM) usually come every 30 minutes. Every 15 minutes some night trams leave the central exchange stop of Lazarská in the centre of Prague. All night trams go through this stop. You can easily change tram lines here if not anywhere else.
One valuable tourist purchase may be the PRAGUE CARD http://www.praguecitycard.com/ which for 790Kc (discount for children/students; as of March 2008) gives a four-day travel card, a guidebook, free entry to more than 50 attractions, and other discounts. The card can be bought from various locations in Prague. And with an extra 330Kc, you can get a 72 hour transport card for underground, bus and tram.
The public transportation in Prague uses the honor system: after buying a ticket, it must then be validated (stamped) using the machines at the entrance to the metro, or by using the small yellow machines inside trams and buses. If the ticket is not stamped, you will have to pay a fine if checked by ticket inspectors. These inspectors, now wearing uniforms, have mostly improved a great deal, and usually speak a fair amount of English and are fairly polite in their difficult jobs. One problem is false inspectors who most often ride the trams between Malostranske Namesti and Prague Castle-these deceivers can be detected by asking for the identity card which should be possessed by every inspector.
Do not underestimate how close to the footpath the trams will be when they reach the stop. It's safer to take a few steps back before the tram arrives as wing mirrors could cause injury for taller people. When you use public transport in Prague, keep in mind that it is a habit to let elderly people and mothers sit down.
When to go
Prague is a very safe city by European or American standards. The risk of assault, murder, and other crimes are extremely low. In fact, more than half of all fights reported to Prague police in 2005 involved people from the UK! The most common crime in Prague by far is car theft: the prevalence of car theft/vandalism pushes up the crime statistics of Prague. Statistics therefore paint Prague to be much more dangerous than it really is. If you observe basic travel safety rules (e.g. don't provoke drunken people; don't carry a wallet or purse in the back pocket of your pants; always keep an eye on your items; don't put all your money in one place; don't show your money or valuable things to anybody; don't walk alone into deserted areas if you are woman), you should be perfectly safe in Prague.
Use of hard drugs is a criminal offense while the use of softer drugs such as marijuana or magic mushrooms (if fresh) is not punishable, but in fact widely tolerated. You may have to smoke non-tobacco materials outdoors. But you can be prosecuted for possessing more than the usual amount of soft drugs (ie. more than one joint); definition of usual amount depends entirely on each particular policeman, which means you want to be polite to them.
Be aware of teams of pickpockets that lurk outside metro stations, overcrowded tram wagons, Charles Bridge, Wenceslas Square and the Old Town Square. They usually work in teams of 3-5 and are looking for lost or distracted tourists. Backpacks are especially interesting to them. Many of those groups use underage children as pickpockets, because they can't be prosecuted by Czech laws.
Due to the low incidence of violent crime, the threat of pickpockets has been played up as a great problem. However, common sense and basic precautions can keep most people safe from pickpockets. If you have a camera, try not to wear it openly. Always close and secure your backpack and try to keep an eye on it. Be especially careful not to fall asleep in tram or metro. Wear your wallet in a safe place (e.g. inner pocket of your coat), never put it into your rear pocket or any other place where it can be easily stolen.
If you enter the metro (usually at night), you may find a team of con artists at the stations, saying they are metro clerks and after examining your ticket for some time that it's invalid so you'll have to pay a fine of 500 CZK (1000 CZK if you argue with them). So if you happen to see them, and you're sure that your ticket is valid, tell them to call the police, or call them yourself.
Be careful with taxi drivers, particularly from the train station. Taxis that are legally registered may still be mafia-run affairs that do their best to overcharge. It is illegal for a taxi driver to refuse you a receipt in Prague, so agree a price before putting yourself, or your luggage, in the taxi. The risk of over-charging is greatly overplayed, just take the usual sensible precautions of only using taxi firms affiliated with the station or your hotel, or call a reputable company and wait. Finally, if presented with a wrong bill from a taxi driver, call the police on your mobile phone. Your driver will quickly change his tune!
If you can't afford to haggle with cab drivers, you can always use public mass transit. The network is extensive and can take you almost anywhere in Prague.
Be careful with money exchanges. Exchange your money in banks and rather avoid exchange offices. Never deal with a street money-dealer: they offer better rates but may try to confuse you and give you money from another country, such as Russian roubles. Most of the exchange offices are fair, but some, especially at the busiest tourist sites, may try to cheat customers with various tricks. One of the them is offering favourable exchange rates, but with fine print below, e.g. if you exchange more than 1000 EUR. Another trick is putting a huge board with we sell exchange rates to the shop window, which makes an impression of good rates, whereas the actual rate for buying CZK is much more unfavourable. When the customer finds this out at the counter and wants to cancel the transaction, the money-dealer refuses with an excuse I have already printed the bill, implying it is too late. The police won't help you, typically referring you to the Czech National Bank, which supervises exchange offices, to file a complaint (which does not help you either). Czech law is weak and only orders exchange offices to display the actual rates, which you might find somewhere in the office in small print. Therefore if you decide to use an exchange office always ask for the actual rate you will pay before making the transaction and before releasing any money out of your hand.
The oldest evidence of human habitation in the Prague valley dates from around 6000 BC. Permanent farming communities were established in the area by Germanic and Celtic tribes around 4000 BC. Slavs came into the picture around the turn of the millennium, and by the 600 AD had settled opposite sides of a particularly appealing stretch of the Vltava River. They successfully defended the land now known as Bohemia for generations, but by the 9th century it had been conquered by the Great Moravian Empire.
The short-lived empire introduced the locals to Christianity, but it was 'Good King Wenceslas' of Christmas-carol fame (he was actually a duke) who made it the state religion of Bohemia in the 930s. He remains the patron saint of the Czech Republic. It was under the rule of Charles IV (ruled 1346-78) that Prague truly came into its own, becoming one of the continent's largest and most prosperous cities, acquiring its fine Gothic face and landmark buildings like Charles University, Charles Bridge and St Vitus Cathedral.
Jan Hus, who attended Charles University in the late 1380s, rallied popular support for the Church-reform movement; when he was burned at the stake in 1415, the rabble was roused enough to hurl various Catholic officials from the upper stories of Prague's New Town Hall, introducing the word 'defenestration' (literally, to toss someone out a window) into the popular political lexicon. While the 1526 ascent of the Catholic Hapsburg family to power in the region cooled things off briefly, a second round of defenestrations in 1618 made it clear that the matter was not quite settled.
In fact, the insurrection catalyzed the Thirty Years War, which devastated much of Europe; a quarter of Bohemia perished. Their defeat slammed the door on Czech independence for almost three centuries. The Czech national spirit was not so easily crushed, however, and by the 19th century, Prague-which had been unified in 1784 by imperial decree-had become the centre of the so-called Czech National Revival. Czech literature, architecture and journalism were celebrated, even as Czechs were denied participation in the political process.
Nationalist sentiment was growing as waves of pro-democracy protests swept the continent. An 1848 uprising was summarily squelched, but in 1861 the Czech majority defeated German candidates in the Prague council elections. It was a watershed event for Czech independence.
The 20th century solidified the Czech nationalist movement. Czechs had no interest in fighting for their Austrian masters in WWI, and neighbouring Slovakia was equally reluctant to take up arms for their German occupiers. Leaders from both independence movements approached US President Wilson, who was actively trying to build the League of Nations, asking for his help in achieving their dream. With Allied support, Czechoslovakia became an independent nation in 1918; Prague became its first capital.
The young country weathered the Great Depression only to be occupied by Nazi Germany in 1939-Bohemia and Moravia were labelled a 'protectorate' and Slovakia an 'independent' (puppet) state. Prague's community of some 120, 000 Jews was all but wiped out; almost three-quarters of them either starved or were murdered in concentration camps.
On May 5, 1945, the population of Prague rose up against German occupation forces as the Red Army approached from the east. Most of Prague was liberated before the Soviets arrived. Liberation Day is now celebrated on May 8; under communism it was May 9. In the 1946 elections, the communists became the young republic's dominant party, and in 1948 did away with the inefficiencies of a multi-party system with a Soviet-backed coup d'état.
In 1968, after years of gradual liberalisation under General Secretary Dubcek, the 'Prague Spring' came into full bloom. Full democracy, an end to censorship, and 'socialism with a human face' were the goals of this popular movement. Moscow was miffed and sent tanks into Prague. Fifty-eight people died, almost 300, 000 sympathisers lost their jobs and, in something of a step down, Dubcek was forced to find employment with the Slovak Forestry Department.
The newly stringent communist leadership maintained control until the breaching of the Berlin Wall in 1989. A series of peaceful demonstrations beginning on November 17 became confrontational, though the essentially nonviolent character of the uprising earned it the name 'Velvet Revolution'. Free elections were held in 1990, and the Czech and Slovakian separatist movements subsequently inspired the smooth 1993 split into the Czech and Slovak Republics, remembered as the 'Velvet Divorce'. Prague quickly became one of the top tourist destinations in the world during the 1990s, and the ringing of cash registers combined with a solid industrial base has left its citizens in better economic shape than those in the rest of the country. Much of this spare change has been reinvested in the city itself, making for an even more pleasant visit.
The Czech Republic has become a member state of the EU, and Prague will preside gracefully as the country finds a new place in the world.
In August 2002 Prague experienced the worst floods in almost two centuries, with the river Vltava sweeping the city. Sixteen people died, hundreds of thousands of people were forced to evacuate their homes and businesses, the historic city centre was closed off and there were fears-not realised-that the 14th-century Charles Bridge would be washed away. The final damage was calculated in the billions of US dollars, with the city's low-lying Jewish Quarter suffering considerable damage, as well as the Karlin and Troja districts, the metro system and numerous cultural and tourist attractions. Despite the disastrous damage, Prague and its citizens managed to bounce back, demonstrating once again that the spirit of the city really is indomitable.
Quick Facts about Prague
Country Dialing Code
If you find yourself in emergency, dial 158 for police, 155 for ambulance or 150 for firefighters. You can also dial 112 for a general emergency call.