The Czech Republic (or informally Czechia) is a small landlocked country in Central Europe, situated southeast of Germany and bordering Austria to the south, Poland to the north and Slovakia to the southeast.
The Czech Republic is not a geographically large country, but it has a rich and eventful history. From time immemorial, Czechs, Germans, Jews and Slovaks, as well as Italian stonemasons and stucco workers, French tradesmen and deserters from Napoleon’s army, have all lived and worked here, all influencing one another. For centuries they jointly cultivated their land, creating works that still command respect and admiration today. It is thanks to their inventiveness and skill that this small country is graced with hundreds of ancient castles, monasteries and stately mansions, and even entire towns that give the impression of being comprehensive artifacts. The Czech Republic contains a vast amount of architectural treasure, as well as beautiful forests and mountains to match.
The contemporary Czech lands were originally inhabited by the Boii, a Celtic tribe for the first four centuries of the common era. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Celts gave way to Germanic tribes. Another four centuries later, Slavs arrived from the east, and by the 9th century, had established the Great Moravian Empire, stretching from modern-day Germany to Ukraine. After the fall of Great Moravia, the Lands of the Bohemian Crown was formed, whose borders for most of its history remain nearly identical to contemporary Czech borders. From the 11th to the 14th century, massive German colonization, known in German as the Ostsiedlung, occurred in the then-underpopulated borders of the kingdom.
Under the reign of Emperor Charles IV in the second half of the 14th century, the Bohemian Kingdom became the center of the Holy Roman Empire, with Prague as its capital, ushering in the kingdom's golden era. Under his enlightened and largely peaceful reign, royal investment into Czech institutions, culture, education, and infrastructure received royal patronage. Among some of those gifted with Charles IV's personal and financial support were Prague's Charles Bridge, Charles University, its New Town, St. Vitus Cathedral, Karlštejn Castle, and the foundation of the city of Karlovy Vary. Bohemia's golden era came to an end with Charles' death in 1378.
Following Charles' death, the kingdom slowly slid into religious anarchy. The rise of Jan Hus and his Hussite followers in the 1410s violently rejected the supremacy of the Roman Catholic Church, sparking a series of Hussite Wars that lasted until the 1430s, placing Bohemian proto-Protestant peasants and lords against Catholic armies. The rise of the Habsburgs to the south led to the Bohemian Kingdom becoming absorbed into the Austrian Empire beginning in the 1520s. In 1618, the Bohemian Kingdom revolted against their Catholic Habsburg overlords, sparking the tumultuous Thirty Years' War. Defeated and humiliated at the Battle of White Mountain in 1620, the Czechs endured a strong Habsburg imperial occupation and forced catholicization for decades to come. Despite the occupation, the Czech lands prospered under Austria, with Baroque palaces and buildings spreading across the kingdom throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. The Czech lands became one of the first industrialize by the 19th century, rising to one of the most economically advanced parts of the empire. At the same time, the Czech National Revival spurred Czech nationalist and pan-Slavic feelings among the populace, which resulted in a backlash against Austrian germanization.Poland to the north, politically unstable Austria and Weimar Germany to the south and west, and an irredentist Hungary to the southeast. The First Republic culturally and economically flourished during this period, and is often considered as another golden era by many modern Czechs. However, the state's strong centralization resulted in a poor relationship with its Sudeten German population, who accounted for 20% of the overall population—more than the state's total amount of Slovaks—as well as with its smaller Hungarian and Polish minorities. Combined with the rise of fascism and ethnic nationalism, this situation was exploited by Hitler, Hungary's Horthy and Poland's Śmigły-Rydz as a pretext to annex large swaths of Czechoslovakia in 1938 during the Sudetenland Crisis, effectively ending the First Republic. A year later in March 1939, Nazi Germany occupied the entirety of the Czech lands and declared it a protectorate of the Third Reich, while Slovakia was forced to secede as a puppet state. This resulted in a brutal occupation that lasted until 1945, marked by mass arrests, torture, and the genocide of much of Czechoslovakia's Jewish and Romani population.
After World War II, the newly-reunited Czechoslovakia expelled nearly the entirety of its German population, as well as tens of thousands of Hungarians by force with the Beneš Decrees, an event that remains controversial to this day. The country emerged from the war more or less intact as it avoided the fate of the massive air bombardments and pitched battles that reduced its neighbouring states to ruins. However, the country fell within the Soviet sphere of influence, with the Czechoslovak Communist Party staging a coup in February 1948, toppling its democratic government.
At the beginning of the Stalinist 1950s, massive and numerous Soviet-inspired show trials, purging “subversive conspiratorial elements” took place; the most commonly known was the death sentence of anti-fascist social democrat Milada Horáková. Following Stalin's death and the subsequent de-Stalinization of the country, more moderate forces gradually took control of the Communist Party, which included party leader Alexander Dubček, who wished to liberalize Czechoslovakia and create “socialism with a human face.” In a brief period known as the Prague Spring (Pražské jaro), travel, media and speech restrictions were greatly loosened, and the country would be federalized. By August 1968, a Soviet-led Warsaw Pact invasion force militarily deposed Czechoslovakia's liberal leadership and ended its new freedoms. Mass anti-Soviet demonstrations in the following year ushered in the Normalization era (Normalizace), a period of harsh repression and conservatism. In November 1989, in the wake of elections in Poland and the collapse of the Berlin Wall nearby in Germany, the totalitarian lid could no longer be held. Growing popular discontent and the brutal actions of the state police spilled over into mass demonstrations that helped topple the communists peacefully, in an event known as the Velvet Revolution. A democratic federal government was quickly installed.
At the stroke of midnight on 1 January 1993, Czechoslovakia peacefully dissolved upon an agreement between Czech bureaucrats and Slovak nationalists in an event known as the Velvet Divorce, becoming the new states of the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Joining NATO in 1999 and the EU in 2004, the contemporary Czech Republic is a stable democratic parliamentary republic.
The Czech flag is the same one formerly used by Czechoslovakia, originally adopted in 1920.
Although the modern adjective bohemian refers to Bohemia, its usage was based on a broad stereotype and also a poor grasp of geography, so don't expect the Bohemians you meet to be nomadic or anti-conventional artistic/literary bohemians, or to see anything out of Puccini's "La Bohème". And no, Bohemian Rhapsody (its lyrics sprinkled with Italian and Arabic) is not a local anthem!
The words Bohemia and Bohemian originate from the Boii Celtic tribe. The term Bohemian had ended up meaning more or less Czech by the end of the 19th century with the awakening of pan-Slavic nationalism. However, it was also used to refer to any inhabitant of Bohemia, including the vast number of Sudeten Germans that used to inhabit the region until 1945. Bohemia (Čechy) today strictly refers to the larger western half of the country, and is its political, economic and population centre.
Moravia and Czech Silesia
Moravia, along with Bohemia, was among the first regions of continental Europe to undergo the Industrial Revolution; however it did not experience mass urbanisation as in Bohemia. The region is therefore still home to gorgeous vineyards, orchards, fields full of "organic" produce, and filled with scenic mountain vistas and little villages. The region's strategic location at the Moravian Gate (a pass through the imposing mountain ranges of Central Europe) has led to a confluence of a great amount of history. Even the regional capital, Brno, is renowned for its small town charm. There is an extremely extensive rail system, and the region contains historic factories such as Zbrojovka (weapons) in Brno and Baťa in Zlín (shoes). Culturally, Moravians prefer a slower pace of life than Bohemians, with some Moravians confessing to have stronger cultural affinities with Slovakia than with Bohemia.
The dialects of Czech spoken in Moravia are slightly different from those spoken in Bohemia, particularly in Prague. Moravians pride themselves on their dialect and learning a few stereotypical regionalisms will go down well with the locals (for example, for the word "tram," say šalina instead of the Bohemian tramvaj).
Czech Silesia to the very east is often regarded as the heavy industrial center of the republic, known extensively for its coal mines and steel mills, with Ostrava as its largest city and cultural center, and Opava as its historical capital. The region is known for its extensive cross-border cultural connections with Polish Silesia, whose industrial economy and historical experience is similar. There is also a fairly significant Polish minority near the border, although they are fully integrated into mainstream Czech society.
Silesian dialects in Czech are also different from those found elsewhere in country, often characterized as being short, gruff, and to the point.
The Czech Republic has 14 political regions (kraj) which can be grouped together into eight general regions:
Travel document requirements
For EU, EEA and Swiss nationals, passports and national identity cards only need to be valid for the period of their stay in the Czech Republic. For all other nationals, passports/travel documents must be valid for a period of at least 90 days beyond the expected length of stay in the Czech Republic or the Schengen Area.
EU nationals whose stay in the Czech Republic will exceed 30 days are required to register within 30 days of their arrival in the Czech Republic with the Foreign Police; other foreigners must register within 3 working days. In case you stay in a hotel or a similar institution, the accommodation provider should arrange this registration for you.
Children inscribed in their parents´ passports are allowed to travel with their parents up to the age of 15. Once the child has reached the age of 15, a separate passport is necessary.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs offers more information on what constitutes as a valid and acceptable travel document for the purpose of entering the Czech Republic.
All of Europe's major airlines fly to the Czech Republic. The country's flag carrier is ČSA Czech Airlines, a SkyTeam member. Many of Europe's low cost airlines also fly to the country, including EasyJet, WizzAir, Ryanair, Germanwings, Norwegian, Jet2.com, SprintAir, SmartWings, and Air Berlin.
Apart from direct air connections from many European cities, ČSA and Korean Air operate direct Asian flights to and from Seoul, while Emirates and Flydubai operate from Dubai, Delta with a New York route, Air Canada Rouge operates from Toronto, Aeroflot to Moscow, Hainan Airlines from Beijing, and China Eastern Airlines with Shanghai, just to name several major routes.
Prague’s Vaclav Havel Airport (PRG), located about 10km west of the city centre, is the largest and busiest airport in the republic, as well as its most common entrance by airplane. Havel Airport is also the hub of ČSA. Other commericial international airports in the Czech Republic include Brno (BRQ), Ostrava (OSR), Pardubice (PED), and Karlovy Vary (KLV). Many of the republic's smaller airports outside of Prague are served by discount or seasonal charter airlines to a variety of destinations around Europe.
International train service runs from most points in Europe to Prague, with some offering direct connections. In general, there are direct rail connections (without train changes) with Germany, Austria, Poland, Hungary, Belarus, and Russia.
Drivers can enter the Czech Republic through a multitude of roads from its neighbouring states. Since the Czech Republic entered into the Schengen Agreement, all checkpoints on its border crossings have been removed, although the border police does from time to time flag down cars or buses for random searches. Due to its Central European location, all of the Czech Republic's neighbors provide good road access to the country.
Being in the centre of Europe, the Czech Republic is often a destination for a variety of bus services. Among some of the best-known and reliable international bus companies providing service to the country include:
German rail carrier Deutsche Bahn operates EC trains every two hours from Berlin or Hamburg to Prague and Brno. Direct overnight sleeper car serves Cologne, Frankfurt and Karlsruhe. If bought in advance, tickets can begin at €19–€39 for seat and €60 for a couchette. Deutsche Bahn also operates express non-stop buses every two hours between Mannheim, Nuremberg and Prague, fully integrated with the German railway tariff. If you have an InterRail or Eurail pass, consider that these buses require a compulsory reservation.
There are four daily trains from Munich to Prague (with a followup from Nuremberg), but they are slower than the abovementioned bus, because of the slow and curvy (although picturesque) railway between the Bavarian-West Bohemian border. The cheapest way to use this line is with a Bayern-Böhmen-Ticket, valid up to Pilsen, combined with a Czech domestic online ticket.
Similarly, there is a cheap local train (not EC or EN) connection between Dresden and Prague with a possible change of trains at Bad Schandau and Děčín, by taking advantage of the Sachsen-Böhmen-Ticket or the Elbe-Labe-Ticket.
In the vicinity of the Czech-German-Polish three-way border, you may profit from the unified fare of the ZVON transport system.
Polish rail carrier PKP Intercity operates EIC and TLK trains from Warsaw to Prague, as well as to Ostrava, continuing to Vienna. There are also direct sleeper cars from Warsaw and Kraków. Promotion tickets for these trains costs €19–€29, if bought at least three day in advance, however PKP Intercity does not sell these tickets online, meaning travellers will need to visit the ticket counter to purchase. The regular one-way price from Warsaw to Prague is €70 (return €105), while from Kraków to Prague is normally around €43 (return €73). Both PKP Intercity and České dráhy accept Interrail tickets.
There are only direct night trains from Kraków to Prague; in all other journeys between the two cities, passengers must change trains in Katowice. For those looking for a more direct journey from Kraków, RegioJet, LEO Express and České dráhy all offer bus services that can connect to the Czech rail network.
Apart from these long-distance trains there are a few local trains offering cross border connections, including direct connections from Kłodzko to Ústí nad Orlicí, Międzylesie to Lichkov, and Szklarska Poręba to Liberec. For these local trains (not IC or EC), it is possible to buy a special cross-border ticket (Polish: bilet przechodowy) which is valid between Czech and Polish (or vice versa) border stations and costs only 15CZK or 2PLN. You can buy it from the conductor on the train (or completely ignore it if the conductor does not emerge before you reach the other border station, which does happen) and combine it with domestic tickets of the two countries. In the vicinity of the Czech-German-Polish three-way border, you may profit from the unified fare of the ZVON transport system.
Polish regional rail operator Przewozy Regionalne also offers Czechy + and Czechy + Max tickets from Polish border rail stations to the rest of the Czech rail nework. Travel must be completed within 24 hours of the ticket's validity, with prices ranging from 19 to 49PLN.
For many Polish and Czech towns sharing a common border, it is often possible to walk or take a bus between the two. Some notable examples include Cieszyn separated from its Czech counterpart Český Těšín by only a short bridge, Kudowa-Zdrój separated 7 km from its Czech sister city of Náchod, Mieroszów from Meziměstí (6 km), and the Polish and Czech winter resorts of Szklarska Poręba and Harrachov separated by 14 km of mountains and pristine forest. In each case, each border town has good transportation links with their respective nations.
As the former other half of Czechoslovakia, trains between the Czech Republic and Slovakia are frequent and reliable. EC trains operated by České dráhy and Slovak carrier ZSSK run every two hours from Bratislava to Prague and Brno, as well as from Žilina, Zvolen, and Košice to Prague, Olomouc, Pardubice, and Ostrava. All these cities also have a direct overnight sleeper car connection to Prague.
A regular one-way ticket to Prague can cost €27 from Bratislava and €42 from Košice. There is a return discount of (roughly) 30% called CityStar. ZSSK also offers discounted online tickets in advance, with the day train from Bratislava to Prague costing €15, Košice to Prague €18, and the night train including a couchette reservation from Košice to Prague €27.
České dráhy's Railjet trains from Vienna to Prague and Brno operate every two hours. Austrian rail carrier ÖBB also frequently operates trains from Linz to České Budějovice and Prague, with two direct connections and three more connections with a change of trains in České Budějovice. If booked well in advance, ÖBB offers prices beginning at €9 for Vienna to Brno, and €19 for Vienna to Prague, although when closer to the day of departure, tickets can become significantly expensive. Aside from rail connections, both countries are well-linked by roads, although there are presently no motorways between the two.
Cheap ticket combinations
The full-price of international tickets can be quite expensive, so if no commercial discount fits your needs, you can combine domestic tickets to save money.
The border point names are:
The Gr. means a border point to distinguish them from stations with the same name.
There are domestic flights between Prague and Ostrava, operated by ČSA Czech Airlines. However, these flights can be expensive considering the distance, and are seldom used by locals, although it is surely the fastest way to cross the country.
The Czech Republic has a highly dense railway network, most of it operated by national rail carrier České dráhy (ČD). České dráhy's services are widespread across the country, with major hubs in Prague, Brno, Pilsen, Pardubice, České Budějovice, and Ostrava. In both Prague and Ostrava, the company also operates a fleet of urban Esko (S-Bahn) trains, connecting these cities' various train stations with their outside suburbs.
Since the 2000s, ČD has lost its exclusive monopoly on passenger rail travel, and is now open to competition. Private passenger company RegioJet operates distinctive yellow-coloured high-speed trains on the Prague-Ostrava line, with stops in Pardubice and Olomouc in between, with some rail services continuing onwards into Slovakia. Another private rail company, LEO Express, also operates on the same Prague-Ostrava line, with limited rail and bus services continuing into Slovakia and Poland.
České dráhy's trains tend to widely vary with age and quality. The carrier operates high-speed Pendolinos between Františkovy Lázně near the German border, Prague, and Ostrava, as well modern Railjets between Prague, Brno and Vienna. Other rolling stock, however, varies from the modern to the rusty 1970s. Trains going to remote locations, such as provincial towns or villages away from the main rail corridors, tend to be old and travel time can be time consuming. RegioJet and LEO Express, however, operate with modern trains and carriages, offering affordable food and drinks, and free wi-fi, yet their domestic routes are presently limited only between Prague and Ostrava.
When choosing which rail carrier to use, bear in mind that there is no universal train ticket, as České dráhy, RegioJet, and LEO Express are three entirely separate companies, with separate ticket offices and tickets to purchase, meaning you can only use a specific ticket with the company it was purchased from.
Compared to Western European standards, Czech rail travel is cheap, highly affordable, and largely reliable. Tickets from all three of the republic's rail companies can be purchased online, and can be printed either at home or shown on tablets and smartphones to the conductor once aboard. Tickets can also often be bought in person at the station from window agents. RegioJet and LEO Express ticket agents near universally speak English, while České dráhy's agents outside of the main cities often cannot. In order to avoid any potential language confusion, travellers can write the destination name and the desired time of their journey, which will be universally understood by the ČD agent. Smaller ČD stations or stops without an active agent window or office will usually have conductors on their passing trains to purchase tickets from once you board.
Frequent users of České dráhy can register online to join its Loyalty Programme, earning points for every trip taken under their name. With more points accumulated, users can receive significant discounts off of future rail travel, as well as discounts for attractions or for other activities listed online. Similarly, users of LEO Express can also join its Smile Club to collect kilometers as points for future travel discounts. RegioJet offers registration for discounted travel, although it does not have a rewards programme.
If you are buying in person, travellers on ČD going on a roundtrip journey can receive a 5% discount, and when travelling in a group (even two travellers are considered as a "group"), the first person pays full price, while the second gets a 25% discount, and others get a 50% discount. Therefore ask for group discount (skupinová sleva) and/or return discount (zpáteční sleva) to the agent.
For journeys between larger cities with ČD, you can buy a discounted First Minute Czech Republic ticket, which is generally at the same price or even cheaper than buses. The earlier you buy it, the cheaper it is. The ticket isn't bound to any particular train, only to a specific day and route, and is available to buy online (it is bound to your name and Passport/ID number) and print it yourself (or present it on your smartphone or tablet, or tell the conductor the 6-digit ticket number). You can buy these tickets also directly at station counters too, but at least one day in advance. A group discount does not apply with these tickets.
On weekends, instead of the standard Czech domestic ticket, ČD offers an online Group Weekend Ticket for 679CZK for a nationwide ticket, or between 229-279CZK depending on which specific region you are traveling in (valid up to 2 adults and 3 children for one weekend day).
Frequent ČD travellers can purchase an In-karta Card, offering 25%, 50%, or 100% discounts. For the IN 25, the most common card (with a 25% discount), prices start from 150-190CZK (3 months), 250-400CZK (1 year) or 490-990CZK (3 years). Its price [ays for itself quickly. Fill in an application form at the ticket counter and provide a photograph, and you will receive a temporary paper card immediately to start using the discount. After three weeks, a plastic chip card will arrive by post.
České dráhy also offers First Minute Europe tickets for international travel, which are often much cheaper than tickets purchased at a train station. However, there are limitations: only major destinations are subject to this discount, tickets cannot be used to travel to the Czech Republic, but only for one-way or return trips starting in the Czech Republic. They must be printed beforehand and stamped by a Czech conductor, purchased at least 3 days in advance, and bound to the specific train and passenger name.
Taking bikes or pets
Basic ČD tickets for a bike costs between 25 to 75CZK depending on the distance. You load and unload your bike by yourself onto the train. Trains with such possibilities are marked with a bike symbol in the timetable, as well as on carriages suitable for bike transport. Some trains with a square-framed bike/suitcase symbol in the timetable require compulsory reservation for bikes for 20CZK. Some long-distance trains (with a suitcase symbol in the timetable) have a luggage car, where the train staff will care for your bike for an extra charge of 10CZK, payable on the train. For more on bike transport, visit the company's bike policy page.
Unfortunately, bicycles are not permitted aboard RegioJet nor LEO Express trains.
Pets travelling with ČD are allowed in cages or hard bottom bags, and can travel for free. Bigger dogs must have a muzzle and be on a leash. The basic price ranges from 15 to 50CZK depending on the distance. For more information on dog transport, visit the company's dog and small animal policy page.
Dogs are allowed on LEO Express trains for free, and must be in cages or hard bottom bags (with the exception of guide or assistance dogs). Only small dogs in hard bottomed bags are allowed aboard RegioJet, with large dogs largely forbidden.
The Czech Republic is blessed with a highly complex and integrated bus network, providing service to all corners of the republic, from its largest cities to often tiny villages. Many locals prefer using buses over trains due to cost, comfort, and reliability. Perhaps the best-known bus carrier is RegioJet. Formerly known as Student Agency for many years, RegioJet's yellow buses are easy to spot on many roads and highways throughout the country, and are known for their comfort, entertainment options, wi-fi, and free coffee, water and tea for travellers.
A number of smaller bus companies also operate throughout the Czech Republic. Local travel between smaller towns or surrounding villages is usually operated by companies named ČSAD (district name), a remnant of the state-run Československá Autobusová Doprava from communist times. On local buses, simply tell the driver where you're going, or hold up a sign if you can't pronounce the location. Be aware that most bus drivers cannot speak English. Afterwards, you will receive a paper ticket from a small machine showing the price and destination, and will pay the driver the fare printed. An excellent database to search for all connections is through Idos, a highly comprehensive timetable for bus connections. Online bus tickets for these smaller companies can often be purchased via Idos.
There are nearly 1,200 km (745 mi) of motorways in the Czech Republic, with most of the major cities connected together through a spiderweb-like ring of roads originating from Prague. However, much is still missing from the map, blocked by government mismanagement and corruption, though there are plans to connect the entire country with high-speed motorways by 2030. Until then, drivers can sometimes expect detours on smaller roads with high vehicle capacity and many areas of construction.
Motorways are demarcated by red and white signs with only a number on it. Below motorways are first class roads, with blue and white signs and a one or two-digit number. Many first-class roads are two or sometimes four-laned, and are generally considered to connect medium-sized municipalities together. Next are second class roads, also blue and white, with a three-digit number. These roads are smaller and located in the countryside, though still provide a degree of traffic between locations. Finally are the third class roads, with four-digits, which are countryside roads and for strictly rural traffic. The condition of many smaller state and local roads is continually improving, yet to be economical and fast, use the motorways as much as possible, although if you want to get to more remote parts of the republic you cannot avoid second or third class roads whose conditionals could be subpar.
In order to drive on motorways, you will need to purchase a vignette. These cost 310CZK (12€) for ten days, 440CZK (16.50€) for a month, and 1500CZK (56.50€) for a year. Vignettes can be purchased at petrol stations or vignette offices close to the border, or in Česká pošta offices around the country. If you do not have a vignette on your car when driving on motorways, the fine can be very steep (5000CZK minimum). Vehicles over 3.5 tonnes in weight must use an on-board unit (premid) to pay tolls based on distance; this is required also on primary roads (marked with M in a circle). Drivers can also easily obtain pre-paid premids at most petrol stations.
The use of headlights or day-time lights is mandatory at all times (day-time lights are allowed between dawn and dusk and in good visibility only). Failure to comply with this may result in a fine of up to 2000CZK. If other cars are flashing their high beam at you, it might be a friendly warning that your headlights are off.
Speed limits in the Czech Republic are 130 km/h (81 mph) on motorways, 90 km/h (56 mph) on rural first class roads and 50 km/h (31 mph) through towns. Petrol is inexpensive compared to the rest of Europe), yet remains expensive compared to North America due to taxes. Speeding is common but so are speed traps and speeding cameras, especially if you do not know the area. Many drivers use the Waze mobile app to warn fellow motorists about speed traps, hazards on road etc., so if you purchased a local SIM card with aa good data plan (or if you have good roaming data plan on your own), try it out.
The Czech Republic is an excellent place for cycling. There are lots of pleasant country roads, cycling marked paths and picturesque villages along these paths (always with a pub). It's easy to find the way, with trains and some buses having bicycle racks in the baggage section for when you get tired. Try cycling in South Moravia (close to the Austrian border) where you can find dozens of well-marked paths that will lead you through beautiful countryside full of vineyards, wine cellars and colourful villages.
The border mountain ranges (Krkonoše, Šumava, Jeseníky etc.) are growing in popularity among mountain-bikers. There are usually no fences along the trails but always keep to the roads or marked cycling paths here as these mountains are national parks or reserves and you can be fined if you cycle "off the beaten track".
Beware that drunk cycling is illegal and, although quite common, the police do routine checks (especially on paved cycling paths). See By car for more information.
In addition to urban walking, 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 has mapped and marked these trails so walkers can easily locate and navigate thousands of kilometres of scenic paths, perhaps one of the best maintained system of marking in Europe. You can buy maps of their paths on their website, or in most bookstores, tobacco shops, or museums (green maps, marked with the organization's symbol and the words EDICE TURISTICKÝCH MAP KČT 1:50000 at the top. These maps are based on military maps and are very accurate. It's also possible to go by train to a small village at the edge of a forest and find the onsite map of the surrounding area, and four possible paths will be visible, marked in red, yellow, green, and blue on tourist maps. These coloured directing signs are posted on trees, displaying three short horizontal bars, the outer two are white and the innermost the colour of the path you're on, pointing the direction of any of the coloured paths. This symbol at times will appear as an arrow, indicating a turn. Bus and train stops will also be indicated on signs. Visitors can register as a member of the Czech Tourist Club, where you can camp for as low as 50 Kč a night in their cottages around the Czech Republic.
Hitchhiking is common among young people, and some drivers stop even in places where they shouldn't. Hitchhiking is strictly illegal on motorways, with the exception of service areas and at on ramps. Normally, first and second class roads are the best places to hitchhike.
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.
Try a letter-sized (A4) piece of paper with the destination (or one of former license plate codes) written on it so it is clearly visible where you would like to go. See some other Tips for hitchhiking.
By thumb with pet
It is possible to hitch-hike with smaller dog, although "waiting time" will be longer. Expect another dog in the car.
The main language spoken is Czech, a Slavic language spoken by over 10 million. The Slovak language can also frequently be heard, especially in large cities, as there is a sizable Slovak minority, and both languages are mostly mutually intelligible to each other. Czech people are very proud of their language, and thus, even in Prague, you will not find many signs written in English outside of the main tourist areas. Many older people, especially outside the large cities, are unable to converse in English, so it's good to learn some Czech words or phrases before your arrival. However, most young people speak at least some English, as it has been taught in most schools since 1990.
Many Czechs speak a second and often a third language. English is the most widely known, especially among younger people. German is probably the most widely spoken second language among older people. Russian was taught very extensively under communist rule, so most people born before 1975 speak or understand at least some Russian (and often pretty well). However, the connection with the communist era and the Soviet-led invasion of 1968 (as well as with contemporary Russian mafia gangs) has given the language some negative connotations. It is also not very useful with younger people, as it is not, despite the common misconception, mutually intelligible with Czech beyond some similar words and sentences. Other languages, like French or Spanish, are also taught in some schools, but you should not count on them being widely understood. People may also understand some basic words or simple sentences in other Slavic languages, including Polish, Ukrainian, Serbo-Croatian, or Slovenian.
Czech can be difficult for English-speakers to grasp, as it's not an easy language to learn and takes time and practice to master, especially if you're unfamiliar with other Slavic languages. However, if you can learn the alphabet and its corresponding letters with accents, then pronunciation is easy as Czech is a highly phonetic language, with the stress falling on the first syllable. The concentration of consonants in many words could seem mind-bogglingly hard to pronounce at first, but it is worth the effort! Czechs highly appreciate foreigners who try to learn their language, even if it is only a few phrases or simple words.
Czech has many local dialects, especially in Moravia. Some dialects are so different that they can be sometimes misunderstood even by a native Czech speaker from a different region. However, all Czech people understand standard Czech (as spoken in TV, heard on radio, written in newspapers, and taught in schools) and should be able to speak it (but some are too proud to stop using their local dialect). Some of them are even unable to speak standard Czech but can write it correctly.
Compared to Czech, Slovak has softer pronunciation and uses different accents and letters. While their grammar and vocabulary retain many similarities, there are occasional words and tenses that have different meanings. To the bemoaning of older generations, many young Czechs and Slovaks born after the 1993 dissolution of Czechoslovakia have difficulties understanding each other.
In cities like Prague and Karlovy Vary, Russian is also sometimes overheard, due to a fairly significant Russian diaspora living in the country. More recent arrivals by Ukrainian immigrants have also brought their language, and it can frequently be heard, also largely in the cities. Polish is sometimes heard in the Zaolzie border region in North Moravia, particularly around Karvina and Český Těšín, where bilingual street and road signs are common. One of the country's most prolific immigrant groups, the Vietnamese, own many small grocery stores and corner shops (potraviny) across the country, as well as many Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese restaurants. This group commonly speaks Vietnamese to each other in their stores or on the street, although many also speak heavily-accented Czech. Younger Vietnamese have completely integrated into Czech society, and are often bi or trilingual with Czech and English.
The currency of the Czech Republic is the koruna (crown), plural koruny or korun. The currency code CZK is often used internationally, but the local symbol is Kč (for koruna česká).
Coins are issued in 1 Kč, 2 Kč, 5 Kč (all stainless steel), 10 Kč (copper-colored), 20 Kč (brass-colored) and 50 Kč (copper-colored ring, brass-colored center). Notes are issued in 100 Kč (aqua), 200 Kč (orange), 500 Kč (red), 1000 Kč (purple), 2000 Kč (olive green) and 5000 Kč (green-purple). See some banknote samples . Be aware that all 50 Kč and 20 Kč banknotes, older haléř coins, and older-style 1000 Kč and 5000 Kč banknotes before 1993 are no longer legal tender.
Some major stores (mainly bigger chains) will accept euros, and it's also fairly common for accommodation providers to also quote in euros. In shopping areas along the Austrian border and petrol stations in the whole country, change can be given in euros, but supermarkets and similar stores in downtown Prague (and other cities) will return only koruna, even though they may accept euros.
Money exchange offices (směnárna) are commonly found across the country, mostly in larger towns and cities. However, never exchange money on the street, as it is illegal and usually a scam (and you may easily end up with counterfeit or foreign banknotes). It is possible to exchange money in banks, although commission charges are often attached. Be very careful when you are exchanging money at small exchange kiosks. Some of them try to use tricks in order to give you a bad exchange rate (eg. the displayed very good exchange rates are valid for transactions over 50,000CZK / 2000€ only). Ask for the total amount you will get and recompute it by yourself. Beware that once you hand over your money, it is legally a binding offer and it is very hard to cancel the transaction if you don't have strong arguments that they cheated. Do not trust "0% commission" in big letters signs either, as often there is an "only when selling CZK" amendment in small letters, and buying CZK still includes a commision. Exchange and XE.com offer up to date exchange rates for nearly all currencies.
Generally, exchange offices at the airport, rail stations and main tourist streets do not offer good rates. Local people exchange money in exchange offices in less frequented areas away from prominent tourist areas. In some cases, one can get a better rate by using ATMs (bankomat) instead of changing cash.
Major stores and petrol stations throughout the country accept chip+PIN or contactless Visa and EC/MC, as well as most shops and restaurants throughout the country. Stripe cards are usually fine to use but their acceptance is declining.
Compared with other Western European countries, the Czech Republic is often considered as an affordable location that does not destroy your account balance.
Thanks to its prime location in the center of Europe, the end of communism, and its entrance into the European Union, the Czech Republic has rapidly grown in popularity with international tourists, especially the capital Prague, which has become one of Europe's most visited cities. Many tourists tend to be Prague-centric and stay only in or around the capital, leaving many other sites across the country undiscovered. By all means, discover the rest of the republic, which has a variety of other picturesque cities and towns to discover, as well as rich breathtaking landscapes of villages, forests, mountains, and rivers that are waiting to be explored.
As the country's primate city, Prague naturally dominates most visitors' itineraries, and for good reason. A mix of the Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Brutalist, and Socialist, the capital is arguably one of Europe's most photogenic cities. Visitors should enjoy the Old Town and gawk at its medieval buildings, stroll across the Charles Bridge, and make their way through the Malá Strana up to the dominating Prague Castle for fantastic views of the city. Outside of the capital, visitors can easily explore Kutná Hora, home to impressive churches like St. Barbara's, and the morbidly fascinating Sedlec Ossuary. In the northwest of the country is Karlovy Vary, a stately and imperial spa town on the banks of the Ohře and Teplá rivers, which conjures feelings of a narrow Paris or Vienna in miniature. The city's annual film festival, held normally at the beginning of July, draws in actors, directors, papparazzi, fans and film enthusiasts alike.
The city of Pilsen, home to its famous style of beer, is a blue-collar city, although its city centre is a mix of old and new, pleasant and unpretentious. Pilsen's Gothic St. Bartholomew Cathedral presents fantastic views of the entire city and surrounding countryside. Following the Vltava south is the beautiful town of Český Krumlov, whose impressive Castle dominates the Gothic and Renaissance river valley town below. Largely overlooked by tourists, nearby České Budějovice presents an enjoyable old town with its Ottokar II Square a centrepoint, surrounded by buildings from the last 600 years. Fiercely proud Brno, the country's second largest city, often culturally and economically competes with Prague in a rivalry spanning centuries. Home to many students and with an active nightlife, Brno presents a compact and explorable old city centre, overlooked by both its impressive Špilberk Castle and the Gothic St. Peter and Paul Cathedral. Despite being metropolitan, Brno possesses a more relaxed atmosphere than Prague does, and is known throughout the republic for its high quality of life.
Olomouc, the historical capital of Moravia, remains as one of the Czech Republic's best kept secrets, site of one of the largest old towns outside of Prague and the Holy Trinity Column, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in its own right. The city's medieval astronomical clock, destroyed by the Germans in World War II, was remade as a Socialist Realist clock during communism; instead of parading saints and religious allegories are peasants, scientists and workers. Olomouc's impressive medieval walls mixed with parkland are also highly pleasant. The city of Ostrava in Czech Silesia, often characterized as working-class, to the point, and industrial, is home to Lower Vítkovice, a massive former steel mill that now functions as a popular museum. The city also hosts the Colours Festival, one of the country's largest music festivals.
The Czech Republic is ringed by a series of mountain ranges, creating the country's distinctive borders that haven't changed much in nearly a thousand years. Mountainous ranges include the Bohemian Forest to the west, and the Sudetes to the north and east, which the Krkonoše, Jeseníky, and Soví mountain ranges are a part of. Within the country are 4 national parks, each containing rich natural beauty. Krkonoše National Park is one of the most famous and popular. Within Krkonoše close to the state border is Sněžka, the republic's highest peak at 1,602 m (5,255 ft), where Czech and Polish hikers ascend from opposite ends of the mountain to meet at its summit. To the west near the German border is Šumava National Park, encompassing a large area of the Bohemian Forest. Often calculated as one of the coldest areas of the country, Šumava is home to gentle mountains, raised peat bogs, glacial lakes, and the remnants of primeval forests. With the area's German inhabitants expelled in 1945, as well as being part of the Czechoslovak-West German border exclusion zone during the Cold War, Šumava has had little human interference. The park shares a common border with the German Bavarian Forest National Park, and forms together a UNESCO-protected biosphere. In the republic's south, nestled against the Austrian border is Podyjí National Park, a forested land running along the deep Dyje River valley.
Near Brno is the Macocha Abyss, a massive sinkhole in the Moravian Karst, home to a narrow river gorge, an underground river and a large cave system. Unusual rock formations are also a major attraction in different parts of the country. The impressive Rock Theatre near Broumov is one such place to see these formations. Another is České Švýcarsko National Park, home to the Pravčická brána, the largest natural arch in Europe.
Castles & other rural monuments
The Czech Republic is simply a treasure trove of castles, palaces, monasteries, and other places of historical significance. A complete listing of castles and palaces in this section is simply impossible. Karlštejn Castle, just outside of Prague, is a huge pull for curious tourists, attracted by its Gothic architecture perched above the banks of the Vltava River. The Lednice-Valtice palaces and gardens near the Slovak and Austrian borders are the massive former residences of the princes of Liechtenstein, and is today a combined UNESCO World Heritage Site. Lednice is known for its especially massive English gardens, while Valtice, for its fanciful faux-Roman architecture. Not far from these palaces in the town of Slavkov u Brna is the Austerlitz Battlefield, where Napoleon decidedly crushed the Austrian and Russian armies in 1805. To the west in South Bohemia near the town of Jindřichův Hradec is the Červená Lhota château, an iconic Renaissance palace starkly painted red, standing in the middle of a pond and linked only by a stone bridge. Hluboká Castle, not far from České Budějovice, is another massive palace, dating from the Middle Ages but heavily redesigned in the 19th century. To the very north of the country are the impressive ruins of Trosky Castle, whose Gothic ruins give dramatic vistas to the Bohemian Paradise. Kašperk Castle, located near the Bohemian Forest, is another Gothic legacy of Emperor Charles IV's reign.
The Czech Republic has an excellent and sophisticated system of trail blazing, with marked trails located just about everywhere in the countryside. Choose an area, buy a hiking map for the area (the best brand is by the Czech Tourist Club's (Klub českých turistů) 1:50000 military-based maps, covering the whole country, available in most large bookstores.
Many places in the Czech Republic are great for swimming, and there are many designated public swimming areas (koupaliště). A list of places suitable for swimming is available here: Plavcik.cz. However, be aware that in hot weather, the quality of the water in some places can fall below EU standard regulations.
Czech culture is rather impartial to topless sunbathing and nudism in general. Although the country is landlocked, there are many nudist and naturist beaches near lakes. A full list is available at at Naturista.cz. Full nudity on other beaches is legal, but rare, and usually only happens in non-crowded places.
The Czech Republic has a strong history of higher learning, and remains relatively inexpensive to learn in compared to other nations. The nation's most prestigious centre for public education, Charles University in Prague, is a member of the Coimbra Group and the Europaeum. Founded in 1348, it is among one of the world's oldest universities. Other well-regarded universities in the country include Masaryk University in Brno, Palacký University in Olomouc, and the Czech Technical University in Prague.
There are a number of private universities in operation around the country, although their numbers are small and have still yet to reach universal acceptance.
EU citizens can work in the Czech Republic without a work permit. Citizens from non-EU states will need a work visa or a business license. The easiest way to live and work in the Czech Republic as an English speaking person is to teach English. Various institutions offer English teaching certificates across the country. The TEFL Course Review displays a good list of where you can obtain a TEFL certificate around the country.
Finding a job at a school should not be difficult as knowledge of English is in high demand. Depending on the school and the amount of work they offer you, people can earn between 35,000 to 20,000CZK, with work and salaries usually highest in Prague, Brno, and Pilsen, and decreasing once you go into smaller cities and towns. This is more than enough to live comfortably with, depending on your living situation or lifestyle.
In order to work in the Czech Republic, you must either obtain a work visa or a trade certificate (živnostenský list). A work visa, usually sponsored by your company, allows you to work for one business and normally requires a university degree. A trade certificate, however, does not require a degree, but does requires an initial bank account balance in excess of 110,000CZK ($5,100 roughly), a valid ID or passport, a recent criminal record from your home country, and a small fee to purchase. After obtaining it, a živnostenský list allows you to work as a freelancer, doing whatever you wish. In order to apply for a trade license, you must go to a city office (městský úřad), where there will typically be a trade license office (živnostenský odbor). In order to research where the closest one will be to you, Statnisprava.cz has a list of all locations of where to obtain a trade certficate.
Other work in the tourism industry is possible. Hostels, hotels, restaurants, city tours, and others are always looking for English-speaking staff.
Prague is probably the best place to foreigners to look for a job because of the number of multinational and English-speaking companies located there. Brno is also a good location to research.
There are many flexible office solutions in Prague and other large cities that enable you to rent short term office space, with Regus.cz a good place to research. There are also coworking spaces in every large city, with Navolnenoze.cz providing a database for coworking spaces.
Tipping is a standard 10%, and is not normally added to the bill. Don't be confused by the percentage figures listed at the bottom of the bill, by Czech law, a receipt must show the VAT paid (21% in most cases) and the VAT is already included in the final amount, and you should add about 10% to this (or more if you were really satisfied). It is normal practice to give the waiter the tip before you leave the table. Tip is not obligatory so if you weren't satisfied with services offered, don't bother tipping.
In a vast majority of better restaurants located in major cities, you can pay by credit card (EC/MC, VISA) but don't be surprised if a few will not accept them. Make sure to check the door for respective card logos when entering the restaurant or ask the waiter before ordering. Beware that as in the rest of Europe, displaying the card logo means the restaurant accepts chip+PIN cards but still may refuse stripe-only cards.
Czechs sometimes use special meal tickets (stravenky) to pay in some restaurants, these are subsided by and tax-deductible for employers. You won't get these tickets unless you get a job in the Czech Republic, just don't be surprised when you see them.
Traditional local food
Traditional Czech food is hearty and suitable after a hard day in the fields. It is heavy and quite fatty, and is excellent in the winter. In the recent time there was a tendency towards more light food with more vegetables, now the traditional heavy and fatty Czech food is usually not eaten everyday and some locals avoid it entirely. However nothing goes as well with an excellent Czech beer as some of the best examples of traditional Czech cuisine, like pork, duck, or goose with dumplings and sauerkraut.
A traditional main meal of a day (usually lunch) consists of two or three dishes. The first dish is hot soup. The second dish is the most important part, very often based on some meat and side-dish (both served on the same plate). The third, optional part is either something sweet (and coffee) or small vegetable salad or something similar.
Czech cuisine knows many different kinds of soup (polévka). The most common are bramboračka (potato soup, sometimes with forest mushrooms), hovězí vývar (a clear beef soup, sometimes with liver dumplings—játrovými knedlíčky), gulášovka (thick goulash soup), zelňačka (thick and sour cabbage soup), česnečka (strong garlic soup, very healthy and tasty, but do not eat this before kissing), kulajda (thick soup with forest mushrooms and milk), hrášková polévka (made of young green peas), čočková polévka (made of lentils), fazolačka (made of beans), rajská polévka (tomato soup), and many others. A special case not to everyone's tastes is dršťková polévka (tripe soup). Rybí polévka - thick fish soup made of carps (including its head, some innards, roe and sperm) is the traditional soup of Christmas.
Some soups are eaten with bread, sometimes small croutons are put inside the soup just before eating. Soup can be also eaten as the only dish, especially for a smaller dinner.
The second dish (main course, hlavní jídlo) of a meal is (in the traditional cuisine) often the famous heavy and fatty part, very often based on pork but also beef, chicken, duck, or other meat. The important part of most main courses is the side-dish (the whole dish including the side-dish is served on one plate) which are usually boiled or baked potatoes, fries, rice, pasta or the most typical side-dish of the Czech cuisine—knedlíky.
Knedlíky (usually translated as dumplings) come in many different kinds. Most kinds are used as a side-dish, however some kinds with filling are used as a dish in itself. The most common type, always used as side-dish, is houskové knedlíky (bread dumplings). These are boiled in a shape of a cylinder which is then cut into round slices about 8 cm in diameter remotely resembling white bread. Houskové knedlíky are served with Czech classics such as guláš, similar to Hungarian goulash but with a thinner sauce and less spicy; Svíčková na smetaně, beef sirloin with a creamy root vegetable (carrot, celeriac, parsnip) sauce, served with a tablespoon of cranberry sauce, a slice of orange and whipped cream; Vepřová pečeně se zelím a knedlíkem (colloquially Vepřo-knedlo-zelo), the combination of roast pork, dumplings and sauerkraut. The latter combines very well with the world-famous Czech beer, the major brands being Pilsner Urquell, Gambrinus, Budvar (known as Czechvar in the US), Staropramen, Velkopopovický Kozel and Krušovice. If you are lucky enough to enter a pub serving Svijany, you should definitely order it as it is believed to be one of the most delicious brands worldwide.
Other common dumplings are bramborové knedlíky (potato dumplings). The slices are smaller, more yellow in color, and are also always served as a side-dish. Typical combinations with potato dumplings are roasted meat (pork or lamb for example) with spinach, or duck with sauerkraut (with a combination of bramborové and houskové knedlíky). Less common are chlupaté knedlíky (literally hairy dumplings but there is no hair on it, don't panic) which are not sliced but boiled in the shape of balls. They are also usually served with roasted meat and either sauerkraut or spinach.
Other Czech dishes include pečená kachna, roast duck again served with bread or potato dumplings, and red and white sauerkraut; moravský vrabec (lit. Moravian sparrow) which is in fact pork cooked in garlic and onions; smažený kapr, fried carp breaded and served with a very rich potato salad and eaten on Christmas Eve; pečené vepřové koleno, roast pork knee, served with mustard and fresh horseradish; bramborák, garlicky potato pancakes; smažený sýr, breaded deep-fried Eidam (Edammer; the most popular cheese in the Czech Republic) served with boiled potatoes or french fries and tartar sauce; párek v rohlíku, long, thin hot dogs with crusty rolls and mustard or ketchup. If you must, you can always get hranolky - french fries. And of course, the ubiquitous zelí (raw cabbage or sauerkraut) which is served with absolutely everything. Game is also very good, and includes dishes such as kančí, wild boar, bažant, pheasant, and srnčí, jelení or daňčí, all species of deer. These are almost always served either with dumplings and red and white cabbage, or as guláš.
Don't expect a wide selection of zelenina, vegetables, unless in the countryside - peppers, tomatoes and cabbage are the most commonly-seen side dishes, often served as a small garnish.
Visitors may be surprised when they find American potatoes on the menu. These are actually potato wedges, usually spiced.
Meals atypical for restaurants
Generally, the best place try Czech cuisine is to be invited for such a meal at someone's house. However, it is not so easy because contemporary Czechs tend to prepare simpler and more international foods. Traditional Czech cuisine is often reserved for Sundays, holidays, or prepared by grandma (babička) when her children visit. This isn't a rule but a common situation. In normal restaurants—even the better ones—traditional Czech staples can't match what grandma serves. This doesn't mean that the food is bad or not tasty, but it is missing something that home preparation can provide. In luxurious restaurants specialized with Czech cuisine, food can be excellent, but the luxurious style and creative improvements by the chef often only mimics traditional folk cuisine. Again, this is not a hard rule. Sometimes you can compliment the food in a restaurant that is "like what my grandma makes."
There are some dishes that are usually not served in any restaurants or pubs, but are made at home and worth trying if you have the opportunity. Brambory na loupačku (potatoes to be peeled) is a cheap and simple meal usually made in the countryside. Whole unpeeled potatoes are boiled in a big pot and put in the pot itself or a bowl on the table. You just take a hot potato from the pot, peel it yourself, put some salt, butter, and/or curd (tvaroh) on it and eat it. Drink it down with lots of cold milk. For such a simple meal, it can be incredibly tasty, especially when eaten in the countryside after a day spent outside.
Mushroom-picking in forests is a very popular activity among Czechs. Unsurprisingly, collected mushrooms are eaten afterwards. In restaurants, usually only cultivated mushrooms are used. If forest mushrooms are served in a restaurant, it is usually only as a minor addition to a meal. Homemade mushroom meals are a completely different story. A classic example is smaženice (fried dish), also known as míchanice (mixed dish)—forest mushrooms, the more kinds the better, are sliced into small pieces, mixed and stewed with some fat, onion, and caraway. Later, eggs are added to the mixture. Smaženice is served with bread. Smažené bedly are whole caps of parasol mushrooms coated in breadcrumbs and cumin and fried. Černý kuba (black Jimmy) is a traditional Christmas fasting meal made from dried mushrooms and peeled barley. Houbová omáčka (mushroom sauce), served with meat and bread dumplings is also popular. Fresh or dried mushrooms make also a nice addition to bramboračka s houbami (potato soup with mushrooms). Kulajda is a soup from mushrooms and cream. Soups and sauces are the most likely forest mushroom meals to find in a restaurant, because they contain a relatively small amount of mushrooms.
If you want to pick mushrooms by yourself, be careful. There are hundreds of species, some of them tasty, some merely edible, but some poisonous or even deadly. You can also find psilocybin, which are hallucinogenic (although it is very hard to guess a safe dosage and therefore dangerous). A tasty and edible species may look very similar to bitter or deadly species. If you do not know mushrooms very well, you should be accompanied by an experienced mushroom-picker.
Also try a traditional snack, often the only food served in some pubs (hospoda, pivnice), or can be found in bread shops (pekárna). Many can be washed down with a good beer:
If you want a warm, bigger, and more complicated meal which goes excellently with beer, get some of the typical Czech meals based on fatty meat (pork, duck, or goose) with sauerkraut and knedlíky (dumplings). Another excellent option is a whole pork knee with horseradish and bread (ovarové koleno s křenem or simply ovar).
Czechs make no secret that they have a serious sweet tooth, yet pastry patterns are different compared to France, the US or the UK. As everywhere, some traditional treats have become a mass-market production for tourists, while others are difficult to find.
On the street
Try also the wide variety of rich cream cakes usually found in a Kavárna (cafe) or a Cukrárna (sweet shop). Czech cakes are similar to their Viennese cousins due to the shared history of both countries under the Austro-Hungarian empire. Sample also Vídeňská káva (Viennese coffee), coffee served with a mountain of whipped cream.
Finding a vegetarian meal in the Czech Republic is not as difficult now as it once was, especially in the larger cities. In tourist areas at least, such as Prague, Brno, or any city with a major university, most restaurant menus contain a vegetarian section (bezmasá jídla or vegetariánská jídla) with two or three options. People may have their own interpretation of what constitutes as vegetarian, and it is not uncommon to find dishes such as broccoli bacon or prawns listed under vegetarian meals.
In traditional restaurants, the choice in vegetarian food is usually limited to fried cheese (smažený sýr), although sometimes containing ham or salami, dumplings (knedlíky), omelette, potatoes (boiled, baked, fried or as 'potato pancakes') and sometimes a Greek salad or cooked vegetables. Be advised that vegetables practically always have to be ordered separately, even if they appear to be part of the dish: e.g. the vegetables listed in a menu option called "potato pancakes with vegetables" are most likely a garniture consisting of a few leaves of lettuce and a slice of tomato.
Bigger towns have foreign cuisine restaurants, mostly Italian, Vietnamese, and Chinese, which can serve you meat-free dishes such as vegetarian pasta.
When Germans or Belgians will boast their beers as being the best, Czechs often roll their eyes and will proudly respond that it was in their country where modern beer (pivo) was invented. Czechs are the heaviest beer drinkers on Earth, consuming about 160 litres per capita a year. Going to a cosy Czech pub for dinner and a few beers is a must! Some well-known brands include:
Although many Czechs tend to be very selective about their beer brands, tourists usually don't find a significant difference. Remember, real Czech beer is only served on tap; bottled beer is a completely different experience. High-quality beer can almost certainly be found in a hospoda or hostinec, very basic pubs which serve only beer and light snacks. Take a seat and order your drinks when the waiter comes to you. But beware, the handling of the beer is even more important than its brand. A bad bartender can completely ruin even excellent beer. The best bet is to ask local beer connoisseurs about a good pub or just join them.
Beers are sometimes listed by their original sugar content, which is measured in degrees Plato (P/°). The difference is generally apparent in the final alcohol content. Normal beer is about 10° (such as Gambrinus and Staropramen, which results in 4% ABV), lager 12° (such as Pilsner Urquell, results in about 4.75% ABV). The latter is stronger and more expensive, so you should specify which one you want when you order.
Czech lager is nothing like the fizzy lagers found in many other countries. Instead, it has a very strong, hoppy, almost bitter flavour, and goes very well with heavy dishes like duck or pork and dumplings or strong cheeses. It always has a thick head on the top when it is served, but do not be afraid to drink "through" it, it is fun and it slowly disappears anyway, nevertheless do not drink the beer too slowly as the fresh cold taste (especially in hot summers) quickly fades – the "true" Czech connoisseurs do not even finish this "tepid goat," as they call it.
Don't be surprised if the waiter, especially in typical pub, puts the next beer before you, but you have not ordered it and also you have not finished your previous beer. It is purely and simply because you shouldn't sit in a pub with empty glass. If you don't want another beer, say ne, děkuji to the waiter, or zaplatim prosím if you want to pay and leave.
What might come as a surprise to beer-loving outsiders, wine (víno) is also highly popular in the Czech Republic, particularly in South Moravia, where the climate is suited for vineyards. White wines tend to be the best, as the growing conditions are more favourable for them. For white wines, try Veltlínské zelené (Green Veltliner), Muškát moravský (Moravian Muscatel), Ryzlink rýnský (Rhine Riesling) or Tramín (Traminer), or red wines such as Frankovka (Blaufrankisch), Modrý Portugal (Blue Portugal, named after the grape, not the country), or Svatovavřinecké (Saint Lawrence). Also try ice wine (ledové víno) made when the grapes are harvested after they have frozen on the vines, or straw wine (slámové víno) made by leaving the grapes to ripen on straw) – these wines are more expensive and are similar to dessert wines. Bohemia Sekt is also popular with Czechs, and is an inexpensive sweet, fizzy wine, similar to Lambrusco, and drunk at celebrations. The best places for wine are either a wine bar (vinárna), or a wine shop (vinotéka) which sometimes has a small bar area too.
For spirits, try Becherovka (herb liqueur, similar to Jagermeister, tastes of a mixtures of cloves and cinnamon, and drunk as a digestive), slivovice (plum brandy, very popular in Moravia and can be used as a pick-me-up), hruškovice (pear brandy, less fiery than slivovice), and so on. Many of these brandies are made out of almost every kind of fruit (plums, peaches, cherries, etc.), and are often made at home in the countryside. The unique tuzemský rum (made from sugar beet, not from sugar cane as Cuban rum is, sold under brands like Tuzemák to conform with EU market rules). Be careful as all are about 40% alcohol.
For non-alcoholic drinks, mineral waters are popular, but tend to have a strong mineral taste. Try Mattoni, or Magnesia, both of which taste like normal water and still claim to be good for your health. If you want sparkling water, ask for perlivá. If you want it non-carbonated, ask for neperlivá. Light sparkling water (but not overwhelming is called jemně perlivá. Kofola, a coke-like drink, is also very popular, with many Czechs agreeing it is the best thing to originate from the communist era. Many restaurants don't make any difference between "sparkling water" and "sparkling mineral water".
Restaurants and pubs do not offer water for free. Unsurprisingly, as beer is the national drink, it is usually the cheapest thing on the menu, with prices ranging from 15 to 60CZK (0.50–2€) per half litre, depending on the attractiveness or location the pub. Pubs closer to well-known tourist centre often have more expensive beer. Drinks are brought to your table, and often each drink is marked on a small slip of paper which is kept on the table in front of you, so you can keep count of what you have had. When you are ready to leave, ask the waiter for the bill – he or she will calculate the bill according to the number of marks on the paper. It is common to share tables in busy pubs, with most Czechs asking Je tu volno? ("Is this seat free?") before sitting down.
Try also svařák, a hot mulled wine served in all pubs and outdoors at Christmas markets, and is the Slavic cousin to the German glühwein. Grog, hot rum and water served with a slice of lemon (add sugar to taste), and medovina (mead) are both usually served hot and are particularly good for warming up at a cold winter market. Finally, if you are heading into Moravia, try burčák, a speciality found only around the end of the summer or early autumn. It is extremely young wine, usually white, and is in a cloudy, still fermenting stage of production when the wine is very sweet and smooth to drink. It continues to ferment in the stomach, so the alcoholic content at the time of serving is unknown, but it's usually high and can creep up on its drinkers due to its sweetness hiding its potency. Czechs say that it should only be drunk fresh from the vineyard, and many small private wine makers are passionate about it, waiting up into the night for the moment when the wine reaches the "burčák" stage. Visitors will often spot it being sold at wine festivals (vinobrani) around the country, as well as sometimes in markets or wine bars (vinoteka).
Law enforcement is carried out by the Policie České republiky. Many of the larger cities and towns have city or municipal police, although their powers are strictly restricted to mainly misdemeanors and traffic violations. Police officers are largely respected, and will be mainly helpful to tourists in need.
The European unified emergency number 112 functions in the Czech Republic and will work for all land or mobile lines. The "old" emergency numbers are still in use, which include:
Violent crime and assaults in the Czech Republic are highly rare, and visitors will likely encounter no issues on their journey. The country is remarkably safe and free of personal crime. However, there are several nuisances that travellers should be aware of:
Grocery stores do not sell what many 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. These pharmacies dispense both prescription and non-prescription drugs from a small window on Rumunská out of hour. Ring the bell if there is no-one there.
Tap water is good and perfectly safe across the country, although in some small towns, the chlorine can be quite strong.
A reputable hospital in Prague is Nemocnice na Homolce'. There is a foreigner's clinic (cizinecké oddělení) 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 flush it down the drain - never crush or burn 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 Czech Republic, along with its neighbours Slovakia, Austria, Poland and Germany, is part of Central Europe. Throughout Western Europe and in North America, the country is often incorrectly referred to as an Eastern European state, and many Czechs are sensitive about this; many will even pre-empt the ignorance of some foreigners by asking, "what part of Europe would you say the Czech Republic is in?" Get on their good side by answering "Central Europe," not Eastern!
English-speaking Czechs remain divided with shortening the name of their country as Czechia, with some not bothered with it, while others feel the name is intensely ugly and unnatural. The name still has yet to universally be accepted or agreed upon.
Czechs don't appreciate foreigners who incorrectly assume their country was historically part of the Soviet Union or the Russian Empire—both entirely false—although it was part of the Soviet-led Eastern Bloc, and was until 1918 a part of Austro-Hungarian Empire. Commenting about how "everything is quite cheap here" could sound condescending about the country's economic status.
If you are knowledgeable about the Czechoslovak communist regime following World War II, bear in mind that this is still a sensitive issue for many. A majority of Czechs born after 1960 and 1970 have few romantic views of communism due to the experience of Normalization, and although many complain about the state of the Czech Republic's affairs today, there is little nostalgia with younger generations to return to the old times. However, unlike neighboring former Eastern Bloc states like Poland, Hungary, or the Baltics, where communism is near universally reviled, a relatively strong number of elderly Czechs still retain fond memories of the socialist order, partially explaining the continual popularity of the KSČM, the country's successor communist party, which has continually maintained 10 to 15% of parliament throughout various elections since 1990. Dogmatically Marxist yet fiercely conservative and viewed as a protest party, the KSČM and its members hold largely anti-democratic and anti-Western views, although few of its members speak English, and it is doubtful you will have any contact with them.
Centuries of religious skepticism, forced catholicization, and the most recent experience of communism have made Czechs some the most atheistic people in the world, and will often not hesitate to say that they don't believe in any God. This is true especially in large Bohemian cities. Don't assume that anyone you do not know believes in God or has a passion for Christianity. Many Czechs find Mormon missionaries, Jehovah's Witnesses, and street preaching in general as a disrespectful and foreign presence in the country. Respect people's disbelief in religion and your religion will also be respected. Despite the country's largely atheist views, nearly 10% of the Czech Republic remains Catholic (although their numbers are falling), with another 1% Protestant. There are also small Jewish, Buddhist and Islamic minorities, mostly located in Prague. Despite religious disbelief being a majority, holidays such as Easter, Jan Hus Day, St. Cyril and Methodius Day, and Christmas are still widely celebrated, although most Czechs confess they do so for strictly cultural reasons and not for religious ones.
Always say hello (dobrý den) and goodbye (na shledanou, half-formally nashle) when you enter and leave a small shop, restaurant or pub as it is polite.
While dining at a restaurant with a host family, it is customary for THEM to pick up the bill, the opposite of most Western standards. However don't assume they will, but also don't be surprised if they do.
When entering a Czech household, always remove your shoes unless said otherwise. Czechs usually wear slippers or sandals when inside a house and never their outdoor shoes. Depending on how traditional the host family are, they may insist you change immediately into house shoes as a hygiene precaution, though this is rare. At the very least they will offer you some to keep your feet warm.
It is advised not to mention Czech towns and places with their former German names, when asking for directions (e.g. referring to Karlsbad instead of Karlovy Vary etc.) or while chatting with the locals. Czechs will be offended and they will regard it as ignorance and a lack of respect towards themselves. Many older Czechs are particularly sensitive about the latter while the younger usually won't know the name. As a rule of thumb, try preferring the Czech names. You should avoid using the word "Sudeten" or "Sudetenland," especially when visiting that region, unless a Czech person will say it first.
The vast majority of Moravians will take no offence to being called Czechs, and consider themselves to be both. If you are attempting to speak Czech, beware of the complexities and slight differences between the terms Čechy (Bohemia) and Česko (Czechia). Much like a Welshman would raise an eyebrow over his country being called England, using the term Čechy to refer to the entire Czech Republic may not be appreciated by a Moravian (or Silesians). Since there are no mainstream separatist movements in Moravia, and there is definitely no ethnic conflict, it is infinitely more likely you'll be showered with kisses and plied with alcohol for simply making an attempt to speak Czech.
There are three main mobile phone operators using the GSM standard; their coverage is very good (except in some remote, mostly uninhabited areas). If you find using roaming with your own operator too expensive or you want to have a Czech phone number, you can buy an anonymous prepaid card from any of the three main operators. However, the pricing schemes are usually quite complicated and some investigation may be necessary to find the ideal solution (even with the prepaid cards, operators offer various schemes including various additional 'packages'). GPRS and EDGE is widely supported, 3G networks support is in every bigger city (provided by O2, Vodafone and T-mobile). The fourth operator (U:fon) uses some custom standards and you have to buy special hardware from them. Also there are lots of virtual providers (Mobil.cz, Blesk Mobile, Kaktus, Tesco supermarket)
There are still some telephone boxes available, but they are gradually vanishing since the advent of mobile phones. Some still accept coins, but most of them require a special prepaid telephone card.
Wi-Fi (often pronounced as wee-fee) is widely available in many restaurants and most cafés, especially in larger cities. In particular, all branches of Starbucks, McDonald's, KFC, Costa Coffee offer free access. For other restaurants and cafes, you may need to ask your waiter for the password. There are also some hotspots available on the streets, and some city quarters and trams (for example in Prague) offer free Wi-Fi coverage for everyone. However such coverage is usually very slow and unreliable and you may need to create an account (using a web browser and the page it is automatically redirected to) to be able to use it. In most larger cities, there are some internet cafés available, although their numbers are dwindling with the advent of public wi-fi, tablets, and the smartphone.
The Czech Republic has a strong and highly-independent media scene, with a number of television channels, newspapers, and magazines catering to the masses. Unfortunately it is nearly entirely inaccessible for non-Czech speakers. However, visitors who wish to know what's happening in the country with current events and cultural happenings can stay abreast with a few useful sources.