The Czech Republic is still all things to all people. From the pulsing capital Prague to the back-in-time villages of Moravia, from toiling up mountains to lounging in spas, from the world-famous Pilsner to the strains of Smetana and Dvořák, there's an experience to suit every taste. Read more...
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The Czech Republic is still all things to all people. From the pulsing capital Prague to the back-in-time villages of Moravia, from toiling up mountains to lounging in spas, from the world-famous Pilsner to the strains of Smetana and Dvořák, there's an experience to suit every taste.
The Czech Republic is divided into 3 historical regions:
Bohemia - the western part of the Czech Republic
Moravia - the eastern part of the country
Czech Silesia - the north eastern part of the Czech Republic. Most of the historic country of Silesia is today in Poland.
There are 14 political regions which are subdivided into districts.
The Czech Republic has joined the Schengen agreement, which means that you can enter on a European Union Schengen visa and there are no longer any ID/passport controls on the EU borders. Citizens of EU can stay in the Czech Republic without visa indefinitely. Citizens of the Canada, USA, Australia, and New Zealand do not need a visa for stays of up to 90 days. Be warned that while before joining the Schengen agreement the 90 day limit for citizens of these countries was not enforced, several long-staying American citizens were recently warned to get the visa or leave the Schengen area.
Specific details for all countries can be found at Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Check czechembassy.org for more current information.
Keep in mind that the ninety-day counter starts once you enter the Schengen Area, no matter where, and that normally you are not permitted a stay of more than 90 days in a 6-month period without a visa.
:Wikipedia:Ruzyně International Airport Ruzyně Airport – located about 10 km west of the centre of Prague , (Praha in Czech), is a hub of Czech national carrier – :Wikipedia:Czech Airlines Czech Airlines (ČSA), a :Wikipedia:SkyTeam SkyTeam member.
Other international airports are in Brno (with flights to London , Moscow , Barcelona and Prague), Ostrava (flights to Vienna and Prague), Pardubice , Karlovy Vary (flights to Moscow and Uherské Hradiště ).
There are dozens of low-cost airlines going to/from Prague. :Wikipedia:Ryanair Ryanair flies to Brno from London and Girona and to Prague from Dublin . Other nearby airports are Nuremberg (200 km) and Munich (320 km) in Germany , Vienna having a bus shuttle to Brno city (260 km to Prague, 110 km to Brno) in Austria , Wroclaw (200 km) in Poland (might be a good idea if you want to go to the :Wikipedia:Giant Mountains Giant Mountains ) and Bratislava – hub for :Wikipedia:Skyeurope SkyEurope Airlines but without shuttle (280 km to Prague, only 120 km to Brno) in Slovakia .
International train service runs from most points in Europe with direct connections from Slovakia , Poland , Germany , Denmark , Switzerland , Austria , Slovenia , Hungary and Romania .
If you are in Bavaria , Saxony or Thuringia, the cheapest way to get to the Czech Republic is to take a Bayernticket , Sachsen-Ticket or Thuringen-Ticket (up to 5 people per ticket, which costs 25 EUR; only regional trains) to the border and then buy a Czech group ticket there.
IDOS offers an exceptionally useful website with integrated timetables for all trains and buses in the Czech Republic, including all intra-city and inter-city transports. The German version is available.
There are domestic flights from Prague to Brno and Ostrava . They are operated by CSA Czech Airlines. There were also flights operated by Discovery Link, from Prague to Uherské Hradiště , but this airline stopped its flights in 2005.
A cheap and excellent means of travelling between Prague , Brno , Plzeň and Liberec are the buses from Student Agency. A line to Ostrava via Olomouc was introduced recently. Apart from this operator there are many other bus companies that link Prague and many other cities regularly. The buses leave Prague from Florenc Bus Station or Černý Most Bus Station (both are also Metro stations). Except for the Praha-Ostrava line, the buses are bit faster and cost less than the Czech trains (not considering discounts). Usually, you do not have to book a seat but if you travel on Fridays or before holidays from Prague, it is recommended. Timetables are available on the IDOS website.
Driving in the Czech Republic is not as expensive as it is in other countries, but there are specific things that must be kept in mind.
The first thing is that the Czech Republic is a zero tolerance country. It is illegal to operate a motor vehicle under the influence of any amount of alcohol, and violations are very heavily punished.
The people in the Czech Republic drive sometimes aggressively, but it is not same madness like in southern Europe countries for instance.
In order to drive on the well-kept motorways, however, you need to purchase a toll sticker. These stickers cost about CZK 220 for seven days, but can be purchased for longer periods of time as needed. If you do not have a toll sticker on your car when you drive on the motorways, the fines can be very steep.
The condition of many roads is improving, but to be safe, drive on the motorways as much as possible, although if you want to get the remote parts of the country you will be forced to take bumpy side-roads sometimes.
Speed limits in the Czech Republic are usually 130 km/h on motorways, 90 km/h off of motorways, and 50 km/h in towns. Petrol is not so expensive (CZK 31 / 1,35€), but it is expensive compared to the United States.
Traffic fines are to be paid on the spot.
The trains go even to the most remote locations of the Czech Republic and unlike buses, they also operate regularly during off-peak hours. However, outside the modernized main corridors, the standard of travelling is often the same as it was in the 1970's, and therefore it is quite time consuming to get to the provincial towns or villages. The trains tend to meander around the countryside and while this may sound like a nice afternoon ride, it's usually more hassle than it's worth. However, things are changing constantly and we can expect some further modernization in the near future.
Due to the complicated discount policy of the Czech Railways (especially for foreign travellers), the standard one-way tickets are twice as expensive as the bus. However, you can get a discount for a return ticket, for group tickets (two travellers are considered as a group ) or with a special customer card. Especially the group discount is very useful, because you get the same fare as using the customer card (about 70% of normal ticket) even for two people and from the third traveller on you pay half of the customer card price.
The customer card (Karta Z) costs 600Kc and is valid for three years. This makes the trains much more useful, sometimes even cheaper than buses. Its price can be recovered quickly but it takes some time to issue the card and you need a photograph. For the complete list of discounts in English visit Czech Railways' website.
Categories of trains:
Osobní - slow local trains, stops everywhere (abbrev. Os)
Spěšný - faster than osobní , usually skips little villages (Sp)
Rychlík - fast trains, stops in major towns, relatively safe and commonly used trains for longer distances(R)
Expres - faster and usually a bit cleaner kind of Rychlík (Ex)
Intercity, Eurocity - pretty modern, clean and fast trains, stopping in major cities only (IC, EC)
Supercity (Pendolino) - fastest new trains bought recently by Czech Railways, operates just between biggest cities, have special ticket rates (SC) ( Time schedule)
If you take Supercity (SC) Pendolino, you have to tell at the counter when you buy tickets because they do not know what kind of train you will travel with. There are extra charges for these trains mentioned above. If you are not sure, try to ask for help some younger people waiting in the queue as they should speak some English.
Although many train stations were repaired and modernized, the rest is still like a trip back in time to the communist era including the main station in Prague (main station in Czech is abbreviated as hl.n.). There is no need to be afraid but try to avoid them in the late night hours.
Trains are generally safe (there are regular police guards assigned for fast trains) and very popular mean of transport and they are widely used both by students and commuters.
Especially Prague has pretty good network of local trains connecting it with suburbs and surrounding cities and the tickets bought for these trains are valid for municipal transport. Check Prague integrated transport (PID), in Czech only.
The Czech Republic is an excellent place for cycling. There are lots of pleasant country lanes, cycling marked paths and picturesque villages along these paths (always with a pub...), it's easy to find the way, and the trains have bicycle racks in the baggage section for when you get tired. Try cycling in South Moravia region (close to Austrian borders) where you can find dozens of well-marked paths that will lead you through beautiful countryside full of vineyards, vine cellars and colourful villages (do not drink and drive, remember zero tolerance to alcohol).
Also border mountains (Krkonoše, Šumava, Jeseníky etc.) are more and more popular among mountain-bikers. There are usually no fences along the trails but always keep to the marked paths here as these mountains are CHKO (i.e. protected as national natural heritage) and you can be fined if you cycle off the beaten track .
CzechCycling.info http://czechcycling.info/ is a non-profit website with cycling information for Prague and surrounding areas.
In addition to walking in the cities, there are a great number of hiking paths and scenery-rich trails going through the Czech Republic's forests and natural areas, and the Czech Tourist Club ( Klub českých turistů, a member of the European Ramblers Association) has mapped and marked these trails so that walkers can easily locate and navigate thousands of kilometres of scenic paths, in fact it is probably the best maintained system of marking in Europe. You can buy maps of their paths on their website, or in the Czech Republic in most bookstores, tobacco shops or museums (green maps, marked with the organization's symbol and the words [http://www.klubturistu.cz/index.php?oid#10976&PHPSESSID4fc32e5556b2c3037acbec31f5565ec9/ EDICE TURISTICKÝCH MAP KČT 1:50000] at the top). These maps are based on military maps and very precise. It's also possible to go by train to a small village at the edge of a forest and find the on-site map of the surrounding area, and four possible paths will be visible, marked in red, yellow, green, and blue ([http://www.mapy.cz/#x=131707392@y=135332352@z=11@mm=RTTtP nice tourist maps]). Nearby such a map will be a set of directing signs, usually posted to a tree, pointing the initial direction on any of the coloured paths. The path's colour will be marked on trees throughout the path: three short horizontal bars, the outer two white and the innermost the colour of the path you're on. This symbol at times will appear as an arrow, indicating a turn. Bus and train stops will also be indicated on signs. You can also register to become a member of the Czech Tourist Club, where you can camp for 30–50 Kč a night in cottages around the Czech Republic.
Travelling by boat is an interesting way to get between Budapest and Prague , but be prepared to take some time because you have go through a large part of Europe , via Slovakia . The Vltava (Elbe) mouth opens into the North Sea, whilst the Danube mouth is in the Black Sea.
Take care to use very a clear gesture with the thumb pointing upwards. A gesture looking like you are pointing to the ground may be mistaken for prostitution solicitation.
As a word of advice, if you are hitchhiking through the Czech Republic from the south to the German town of Dresden, never go to or past Prague unless you are in a ride going all the way to Dresden. Prague itself has no major and continuous beltway, so residents of the area must maneuver a ring of major and local roads to get around the city from south to north. Therefore the great majority of traffic you will encounter is going into the city. Past Prague, the previously major highway turns into a two-lane mountain road through local villages, in which again, the great majority of traffic is local and international travelers are hesitant to stop.
Try a letter-sized (A4) piece of paper with the destination written on it so it is clearly visible where you would like to go. See some other Tips for hitchhiking .
When to go
Taxi drivers: warning - negotiate the price before you use taxi or use a reputable company (e.g. in Prague AAA taxi, Profi Taxi, City Taxi). Prague taxi drivers are known for taking you the longest possible way to earn more money. Prague City Council has introduced new regulations which will see all legitimate taxis painted yellow. Public transportation is also very cheap, fast and reliable. In Prague, the metro runs up to midnight, and night trams run throughout the night, all of them converging at a central tram stop, Lazarská.
Pickpockets: Watch your pockets, especially if there is a crowd (sights, subway, trams, in particular numbers 9, 22, and 23) Watch out for large groups of people jostling you. Beware of a particular pickpocket gang who operate in Prague - they are mainly male, although sometimes there are women too, all are extremely overweight and rely on their sheer size and number to disorientate tourists. They tend to operate on the 9, 22, and 23 trams, as well as the central metro stations, usually just as people are getting on and off. Don't challenge them as they can become aggressive, but keep your eyes open. Prosecutions for pick pocketing are rare as legally the police have to catch the pickpocket in the middle of a crime.
Prostitution: Prostitution is not illegal in the Czech Republic. However, officially prostitution does not exist as a legal bussiness. Prostitutes do not pay taxes and prostitution is not regulated by the state. The health risk may be very high, especially in cheap brothels or on a street. There also have been cases of prostitutes offering a drink with sleeping pills to their customers and stealing everything from them. Pay attention to the age of the prostitute, paying a person under 18 years for sex is a criminal offense (otherwise the legal sex age is 15).
Marijuana: Marijuana is illegal in the Czech Republic, however it is quite popular especially among young people. In case the Police catch you smoking or possessing marijuana, you want to be very polite with them. The reason is that by the current law, possesing larger than small amount of marijuana is punishable. What larger than small actually means is left to interpretation by the Police (or judge, if things go that far). A new law with more exact numbers is in preparation.
Other than that the Czech Republic is a very safe country.
Grocery stores do not sell what Americans consider over-the-counter drugs, such as aspirin. You will need to go to a pharmacy (lékárna), which is usually open between 8am and 7pm, Mondays to Fridays. There are 24-hour pharmacies in the bigger cities, and you should find an address for the closest one to you listed in the window of the nearest pharmacy to you. If you are in Prague, the most central 24-hour one is in Prague 2 - on the corner of Belgická and Rumunská streets - they dispense both prescription and non-prescription drugs from a small window on Rumunská out of hours - ring the bell if there is no-one there.
Tap water is good, although the chlorine can be quite strong.
A reputable hospital in Prague is Nemocnice na Homolce, Address: Roentgenova 37/2, Prague 5 (tel 257 272 350). There is a foreigners' clinic (Cizinecké oddělení) there with English-speaking receptionists who can make appointments for you. Most doctors speak some English, and the level of care is of a very high standard.
Central Europe and parts of the Czech Republic have ticks (Ixodes ricinus) which can carry Encephalitis or Lyme Borreliosis. Ticks hide in grass and bushes, so try to stay on trails and inspect exposed areas of skin after a hike. Vaccination against Encephalitis is available and recommended. If you want to bushwhack, make sure you have the vaccination and wear long trousers. A good insect repellent (which contains DEET), might be helpful, too.
Ticks like to cling to any soft, warm, well-perfused areas of your body (undersides of knees and elbows, skin around ankles, groins, neck area, behind your ears etc.) and if not removed, they'll suck your blood until they grow about 1 cm big. Never try to scratch a tick off or pull it out, because damaging it can cause you a serious infection. The sooner the tick is removed, the smaller the chance of infection. Either ask a physician to remove a tick for you, or try to remove it by yourself: lubricate your finger with any greasy lotion and gently wag a tick from side to side until it wobbles free. Then burn it - never crush it to avoid infection. Watch the affected spot: if you see a growing red spot developing there anytime during next several months, immediately visit your physician and tell him about that - you might have contracted Borreliosis. It is dangerous, but it can be easily treated with antibiotics during early stage. Be wary that American vaccination against Borreliosis most probably won't work against European strains (B. afzelii and B. garini). Note that ticks are sometimes present even in city parks, including Prague.
The arrival of the Slavs in the 5th and 6th centuries saw the beginning of the Czechs' chequered history. Its tribes adopted Christianity and united in the short-lived Great Moravian Empire (830-906), which came to include western Slovakia, Bohemia, Silesia, and parts of eastern Germany, southeastern Poland and northern Hungary. Towards the end of the 9th century, the Czechs seceded to form the independent state of Bohemia.
Prague Castle was founded in the 870s by Prince Borivoj as the main seat of the Premysl dynasty, though the Premysls failed to unite the squabbling Czech tribes until 993. In 950, the German King Otto I conquered Bohemia and incorporated it into his Holy Roman Empire. In 1212, the pope granted the Premsyl prince Otakar I the right to rule as king. His son and successor Otakar II tried to claim the title of Holy Roman Emperor as well as king of the Czechs, but the imperial crown went to Rudolph Habsburg. Strong rule under the Habsburgs brought with it Bohemia's Golden Age. Prague grew into one of Europe's largest and most important cities, and was ornamented with fine Gothic landmarks.
The late 14th and early 15th centuries witnessed an influential Church-reform movement, the Hussite Revolution, led by the Czech Jan Zizka, who was inspired by the teachings of Jan Hus. The spread of Hussitism had threatened the Catholic status quo all over Europe. In 1420 combined Hussite forces successfully defended Prague against the first of a series of anti-Hussite crusades, which had been launched with the authority of the pope. Though they were up against larger and better equipped forces, the Hussites repeatedly went on the offensive and raided deep into Germany, Poland and Austria.
In 1526 the Czech kingdom again came under control of the Catholic Habsburgs. On 23 May 1618, the Bohemian Estates, protesting against both the Habsburgs' failure to deliver on promises of religious tolerance and the loss of their own privileges, ejected two Habsburg councillors from an upper window of Prague Castle (they survived with minor injuries). This famous 'defenestration' sparked off the Thirty Years' War. The Czechs lost their rights and property and almost their national identity through forced Catholicisation and Germanisation, and their fate was sealed for the next three centuries.
In the 19th century, Bohemia and Moravia were swept by nationalistic sentiments. The Czech lands joined in the 1848 revolutions sweeping Europe, and Prague was the first city in the Austrian Empire to rise in favour of reform.
The dream of an independent state took shape during the 20th century, gaining momentum through the events of WWI. Eventually Czechs and Slovaks agreed to form a single federal state of two equal republics. The First Republic initially experienced an industrial boom; however, slow development, the Great Depression, an influx of Czech bureaucrats and the breaking of a promise of a Slovak federal state generated calls for Slovak autonomy.
Czechoslovakia was not left to solve its problems in peace. Most of Bohemia's three million German speakers fell for the dream of a greater Germany. Hitler demanded (and got) the Sudetenland in the infamous Munich agreement of 1938 and the Czechs prepared for war. Although Bohemia and Moravia suffered little material damage in the war, many of the Czech intelligentsia were killed and the Germans managed to wipe out most of the Czech underground. Tens of thousands of Czech and Slovak Jews perished in concentration camps. On 5 May 1945, the population of Prague rose against the German forces as the Red Army approached from the east. The Germans, granted free passage out of the city by the victorious Czech resistance, began pulling out on 8 May. Most of Prague was thus liberated before Soviet forces arrived the following day.
Czechoslovakia was re-established as an independent state. Attempts to consolidate its cultural identity - and punish its oppressors - included large scale deportations of German and Hungarian inhabitants. In the 1946 elections, the Communists became the largest party, with 36% of the popular vote. The 1950s was an era of harsh repression and decline as the Communist economic policies nearly bankrupted the country. Many people were imprisoned, and hundreds were executed or died in labour camps, often for little more than a belief in democracy. In the 1960s, Czechoslovakia enjoyed a gradual liberalisation. A new president, the former Slovak party leader Alexander Dubcek, represented a popular desire for full democracy and an end to censorship - 'socialism with a human face'. Soviet leaders, unable to face the thought of a democratic society within the Soviet bloc, crushed the short-lived 'Prague Spring' of 1968 with an invasion of Warsaw Pact troops on the night of 20-21 August. By the end of the next day, 58 people had died. In 1969, Dubcek was replaced and exiled to the Slovak forestry department. Around 14,000 party functionaries and 500,000 members refused to renounce their belief in 'socialism with a human face', were expelled from the Party and lost their jobs. Totalitarian rule was re-established and dissidents were routinely imprisoned.
The Communist regime remained in control after the fall of the Berlin Wall in late 1989. But on 17 November things changed. Prague's Communist youth movement organised a demonstration in memory of nine students executed by Nazis in 1939. A peaceful crowd of 50,000 were cornered, some 500 were beaten by the police and about 100 arrested. The following days saw constant demonstrations, and leading dissidents, with Vaclav Havel at the forefront, formed an anti-Communist coalition which negotiated the government's resignation on 3 December. A 'Government of National Understanding' was formed, with the Communists as minority members. Havel was elected president of the republic on 29 December and Dubcek was elected speaker of the national assembly. The days after the 17 November demonstration have become known as the 'Velvet Revolution' because there were no casualties. (In September 1992 Dubcek was seriously injured in a car accident near Prague, dying of injuries on 7 November. Conspiracy theorists have been busy ever since.)
In the late 20th century, voices for autonomy in Slovakia were getting stronger, and a vocal minority was demanding independence. Finally, it was decided by prime ministers of both republics and other leading politicians that splitting the country was the best solution. Many people, including President Havel, called for a referendum, but even a petition signed by a million Czechoslovaks was not enough for the federal parliament to agree on how to arrange it. In the end Havel resigned from his post, as after repeated attempts by the new parliament he was not re-elected as president. Thus, on 1 January 1993, Czechoslovakia ceased to exist for the second time this century. Prague became the capital of the new Czech Republic, and Havel was promptly elected its first president.
Thanks to stringent economic policies, booming tourism and a solid industrial base, the Czech Republic saw a strong recovery in the initial years following the dissolution of Czechoslovakia. Many cities have received facelifts and the benefits of tourism are now spreading in areas outside of Prague. On May 1, 2004, the country celebrated the traditional day for workers with entry into the European Union. Improved access to European markets, foreign investment, and a solid programme of privatisation of rationalisation of previously state owned businesses has produced robust increases in GDP of around 6% per annum and limited inflation to around 2%. However, the national unemployment rate has risen to almost 10%, and is significantly higher in areas that were previously heavily industrialised. Also with EU membership has come greater numbers of younger, educated Czechs leaving to work and study in other parts of the European Union, creating a shortage of skills in their home country. However despite relatively high unemployment, and a lack of affordable housing, and moderate political instability, the Czech Republic's economy continues to strengthen more rapidly than other more established members of the European Union.