Difference between revisions of "Prague"
Revision as of 11:34, 22 March 2008
Prague has fifteen numbered districts: Praha 1 through to Praha 15. Praha 1 is the oldest part of the city, original 'Town of Prague', and has by far the densest number of attractions. It can be further subdivided into these quarters:
The outer areas of Prague were originally villages and towns adjoining to Town of Praguena that were gradually connected to Prague over the course of the last five hundred years. They can be divided as follows:
It is regarded by many as one of Europe's most charming and beautiful cities, Prague has become the most popular travel destination in Central Europe along with Budapest and Krakow. Millions of tourists visit the city every year.
Prague was founded in the later 9th century, and soon became the seat of Bohemian kings, some of whom ruled as emperors of the Holy Roman Empire. The city thrived under the rule of Charles IV, who ordered the building of the New Town in the 14th century - many of the city's most important attractions date back to that age. The city also went under Habsburg rule and became the capital of a province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1918, after World War I, the city became the capital of Czechoslovakia. After 1989 many foreigners, especially young people, moved to Prague. In 1992, its historic centre was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. In 1993, Czechoslovakia split into two countries and Prague became capital city of the new Czech Republic.
The Vltava River runs through Prague, which is home to about 1.2 million people. The capital may be beautiful, but pollution often hovers over the city due to its location in the Vltava River basin.
Learning a little of the language may receive a smile or two (see the Czech Republic page for an introduction to basic Czech phrases).
Many Praguers have a small cottage (which can range from a shack barely large enough for garden utensils to an elaborate, multi-story dwelling) outside the city. There they can escape for some fresh air and country pursuits such as mushroom hunting and gardening. These cottages, called chatas, are treasured both as getaways and ongoing projects. Each reflects its owners' character, as most of them were built by unorthodox methods. There were no Home Depots under communism. Chata owners used the typically Czech "it's who you know" chain of supply to scrounge materials and services. This barter system worked extremely well, and still does today. Chaty (pl. of chata) are also sometimes used as primary residences by Czechs who rent out their city-centre apartments for enormous profit to foreigners who can afford to pay inflated rent.
Local foreign language newspapers
Getting into the city from the airport
Prague has two international train stations: Hlavní Nádraží (the central station, also known as Praha hl.n.) and Praha Holešovice. Both have connections with metro line C.
The park in front of the main train station is a haunt for some of the cities undesirable elements and should be avoided after dark. If you do have to come through on foot its best to avoid coming through the park and approach from the Southeast along Washingtonova. As you get to the corner of the park there's a police station, so the likelihood of running into problems from this direction is minimalised. The Station is currently undergoing a major refurbishment, alas the 70s style will be lost, but the toilets might be cleaned once in a while.
Eurocity trains connect Prague to Berlin, Vienna and Budapest. It is a very comfortable way of travel, but not as quick as in other countries - Eurocity has average speed about 120 kmph as the Czech railroad network is not suitable for higher speeds. From Berlin, a train reaches Prague in just under five hours, from Vienna in 4-4.5 hours and from Budapest in 6.5 hours. The train line from Berlin to Prague passes through the Erzgebirge mountains, and for a couple of hours the passengers are treated to a series of beautiful alpine river valleys, surrounded by rocky escarpments and mountains.
Since 2005, faster Super City Pendolino trains operate between Ostrava (3.5 hours), Olomouc (just over two hours) and Prague (station Praha - Holešovice). Reservation is necessary on these trains. If you come to Prague by SC Pendolino, you can use Airport Express to Prague Airport without any additional fee. These buses operate every 30 minutes (5:15 a.m. to 9:45 p.m.). Without a SC Pendolino ticket, you will have to pay 45 CZK to the driver.
Train connections from western countries such as France and England are complicated and slow because of the layout of German railroads, which lead mainly from north to south, with no direct connections from east to west. The route with the fewest connections is Prague-Berlin-Paris, but you can shave a few hours off your route if you're willing to transfer several times; eg. Prague-Nurnberg-Stuttgart-Paris can be done in 12 hours.
It is important to note that travel within the Czech Republic is not included in the Eurailpass. A "Prague Excursion Pass" addon is available for Eurailpass holders, providing inbound and outbound travel to Prague; these tickets need not be to the same Czech border stations. Train and bus timetables and a map of the Czech rail network are also available online.
Prague has highway connections from five major directions. Unfortunately, the highway network in the Czech Republic is quite incomplete and some highways are old and in poor condition. Thus, the highway connection from Prague to the border of the Czech Republic is available only in two directions - southeast and southwest. The south-western highway (D5; international E50) leads through Pilsen (Plzeň) to Germany. The D5 highway continues in Germany as A6, until the connection with A93 (the remaining of A6 through to Nurnberg is under construction). Riding from the state border to Prague takes about an hour and a half (160 km). The south-eastern highway (D1) is the Czech Republic's oldest and most used highway - as such it's in a rather poor condition. It leads through Brno to Bratislava in Slovakia. It offers a good connection to Vienna, Budapest and all traffic from the east. It runs for 250km, and usually takes over two hours. To the northwest you can take highway D8 (E55), but it is not complete to the German border. It ends now at Lovosice (about 60 km from Prague and starts again in Usti nad Labem and continues to the northern Germany via A17 (Dresden, Berlin, Leipzig). To the northeast you can take highway R10 (E65). It is strictly speaking a motorway, not a highway, but it has four lanes and differs little from a highway. It leads from Liberec through Turnov. It isn't regarded as an important access route, as there are no major cities in this direction (Zittau in Germany, some cities in Poland), however it offers a good connection to the Czech mountains Jizerské hory and Krkonoše (Riesengebirge) with the best Czech skiing resorts. To the east you can take the newly completed D11 (E67), which goes to Hradec Kralove. It leads to Poland.
Czech highways are under development (D8 and D11 are being prolonged, D3 to Ceske Budejovice and Linz is supposed to be completed in 2020) so it's hoped that things will get better. Unless there are road works, there are only seldom traffic jams on Czech highways, with the exception of D1 near Prague (and near Mirosovice (direction to Ceske Budejovice and Linz, and Brno, too)).
Prague suffers from heavy traffic and on week days the main streets are one big traffic jam. Moreover, Prague still doesn't have a complete highway outer circuit. It is a really good idea to use the P+R (park and ride) parking places, where you can park your car for a very small fee and use public transport. The P+Rs are situated near all highways and are well marked. Note that traffic wardens are rife and parking in most residential streets in and around Prague city centre (even after dark) without a valid permit will result in a parking fine.
The main bus station for international buses in Prague is Florenc, Křižíkova (metro lines B and C). It is located east of the city centre.
Eurolines connects Prague to major European cities, some of them depart from Nádraží Holešovice (metro C) but the majority leave from the main bus terminal at Florence (also metro C).
You can travel down the famous Vltava River (Moldau, in German), which inspired writers and composers such as Smetana and Dvorak.
Public transportation is very convenient in most of the areas visitors are likely to frequent.
Prague is renowned as a very "walkable" city. For those who enjoy seeing the old and new city by foot, one can easily walk from Wenceslas Square to the Old Town Square, or from the Old Town to Charles Bridge and the Palace (Hrad) District. And there is much to see and savor.
Try to avoid getting taxi on the street (public transportation is always the better option in Prague) and if you have to, try to negotiate the price in advance. It’s advisable to call one of the major Prague Taxi services:
Deceptive taxi drivers are another trap that can badly surprise a tourist. Mostly they charge more than they should. The municipal council has been trying to solve this problem since the Prague mayor dressed up as an Italian tourist and was repeatedly overcharged. The most frequent cases of cheating happen between the railway station or airport and hotel. If you must take a Taxi, and cannot call one directly or call your hotel for a referral, the best way to find a reputable one may be to look for a hotel and ask them to call a taxi.
Always insist on having the taxi-meter turned on and ask for a receipt once you leave the taxi. The receipt should have driver's name, address and tax identification number included. Even though you ask for receipt the taxi-meter could be tampered with so called "turbo", which will cause the taxi-meter price go sky high.
If you go for waving the taxi on the street make sure you stop car with logo of one of the major companies. It's not a bullet proof solution, but at least you have some chance to get some satisfaction from the taxi dispatching company.
About two years ago, an information desk was set up on most taxi stands in the city, with orientation prices to most popular destinations from that stand. But there is a mistake in the local law, which actually allows some of the taxi companies renting the taxi stands (specifically around Old Town square) to charge VERY high prices (about 99Kč/Km). There is an ongoing law suit regarding this, however the practice still hasn't stopped.
If you're not speaking Czech, then be prepared there is about 50% chance to get cheated by a taxi driver, when stopping taxi in the city center. So be always on watch as that is a standard warning in any guide book about Prague.
If you are convinced you got overcharged by the taxi driver, mark the car ID numbers (license plate, taxi license number on the car door, driver name etc.) and contact the company, which the driver is working for (if any) or police. The problem is that you have to testify against the driver, which is kind of hard when you're on the other side of the world. Try to avoid suspicious taxis and if you find even a grain of suspicion, then walk away catching another taxi.
Other alternative is to use some of the chauffeured services companies like Prague Airport Transfers s.r.o.  or FEBA Trade Limousine Car Service  or even cheaper but as reliable HFS s.r.o. - 123-Prague-Airport-Transfer.com .
Tram & Metro
There are three main subway lines (Czech: metro), and numerous bus and tram (streetcar) lines. The tram and bus schedules are posted on the stops, and the metro operates from very early in the morning (around 5:00am) until later midnight. The schedules and connections may also be checked online from the website of Prague Public Transit , . Purchase 75 minutes transfer for 26 Kc ($1) ticket, or 180 minutes for 40Kc, at any dispenser using coins (they make change), or tobacco shop. Reduced tickets for children up to 15 years are also available. You may purchase 24-hours, 3-days or 7-days tickets at ticket offices in some metro stations. The same ticket may be used on metro, tram or bus, including transfer from one to the other, during its time period. Time stamp your ticket by slipping it into one of several boxes in the tram or bus as soon as you board, stamp metro tickets before entering the stations (imitate the locals), and keep it handy until it expires. Tickets are not checked upon boarding, but uniformed ticket inspectors often make the rounds asking to see your ticket. An unstamped ticket is invalid, it will be confiscated, and you will incur a 500 Kc ($25) fine. Even though "riding black" seems easy in Prague, you should invest in the cheap ticket, for the simple reason that Prague's transportation works perfectly, and it functions on the honor system - help it stay that way.
Public transport continues at night: Night trams or night buses (00:00 to 5:00 AM) usually come every 30 minutes. Every 15 minutes some night trams leave the central exchange stop of Lazarská in the centre of Prague. All night trams go through this stop. You can easily change tram lines here if not anywhere else.
One valuable tourist purchase may be the PRAGUE CARD  which for 790Kc (less for children/students; as of March 2008) gives a four day travel card, a guidebook, free entry to more than 50 attractions, and other discounts. The card can be bought from various locations in Prague. And with an extra 330Kc, you can get a 72 hour transport card for underground, bus and tram.
The public transportation in Prague uses the honor system: after buying a ticket, it must then be validated (stamped) using the machines at the entrance to the metro, or by using the small yellow machines inside trams and buses. If the ticket is not stamped, you will have to pay a fine if checked by ticket inspectors. These inspectors, now wearing uniforms, have mostly improved a great deal, and usually speak a fair amount of English and are fairly polite in their difficult jobs. One problem is false inspectors who most often ride the trams between "Malostranske Namesti" and Prague Castle - these deceivers can be detected by asking for the identity card which should be possessed by every inspector.
Do not underestimate how close to the footpath the trams will be when they reach the stop. It's safer to take a few steps back before the tram arrives as wing mirrors could cause injury for taller people. When you use public transport in Prague, keep in mind that it is a habit to let elderly people and mothers sit down.
A collection of Asian art is exhibited at the Zbraslav Castle.
As with many major European cities, you can get a good deal by buying a tourist card. Be discerning when choosing based on your needs (for example, cards may list free entry to locations that are normally free anyway - this concerns Prague Pass). Here are your options:
Free Attractions Of note is that the card will grant free admission to all the Prague Castle short tour, which normally costs 250 Kč. Many of the town's museums and galleries--including all branches of the National Gallery and the National Museum--are also included, and over four days you can easily see 3 times the card's value. As such, this is an excellent choice if you're planning on visiting a lot of museums. The only major attraction that is not included is the Old New Synagogue and Jewish Museum.
With the Prague Card you can visit Prague Castle, Old Town, Malá Strana and Charles Bridge historical towers and other attractions, Observatory, small copy of Eiffel Tour and Mirror Maze at Petrin Hill, Vysehrad all castle including his casemates and gallery, many New Town Museums and Galleries and several castles outside centre of Prague.
Free Attractions There is something for everyone with Vysehrad and its casemate (catacombs) and basilica, take a boat trip through Prague on the river Vltava (Moldau), effortless up in the TV tower with the best panorama of Prague or enjoy a ride on the Petrin hill cable railway. The whole city in one hall (perfect model in 1:480 scale) - a time travel to the past in Prague’s historical most significant museum. Don't fear the sharks and marvel at the blaze of colors in the Sea World Aquarium, a magical ride at a performance of a Black-Light-Theater or let your soul swing at a concert in a church. River Navigation Museum, Army museum, Aviation museum and the UNESCO certified auto museum "PRAGA".... all for free! (Some of them however have a free entry anyway !)
Also in your pack is a free map of Prague and a program guide booklet as well as a free welcome present. You will also receive discount coupons for several discounts of up to 50% for guided sightseeing- and city-walking tours, Mozart museum, galleries, concerts, internet use, computer games, real laser game or for Rent a Car (25%).
There are many Opera and Black Light Theatre companies in Prague. There are several performance groups that cater to tourists. They aren't strictly to be avoided, but common sense should tell you that the opera advertised by costumed pamphleteers is not going to be up to truly professional standards.
River cruises are both popular and varied, from one hour cruises to long evening cruises with dinner or music.
There are many tour companies in Prague, offering a variety of tours including short walking tours, all day tours of the city, tours for large tourist groups, and private tours. Most tours start from the Old Town Square. Leaflets can be found in the airport, and the various tourist information centres in Prague.
For an alternatively authentic night out, try the Zizkov district's Pub Crawl. Zizkov is where locals go out. Its cheaper, and almost devoid of tourism. It meets in front of the Church at "Jiriho Z Podebrad" metro stop at 8:30pm every night, and goes to "Blind Eye" bar from 9-10pm.
The streets around Old Town are full of gift shops geared towards tourists, selling Bohemian crystal, soccer shirts and other mass produced memorabilia. The throughway between Charles Bridge and the Old Town Square is particularly bad, turning off into one of the laneways you can find the exact same merchandise for half the price. If you are looking for some decent souvenirs, try to get off the beaten path. Street vendors can have some unexpected treasures and there are plenty in the Charles Bridge area. Prints of paintings and good quality photos are very popular, and a really good way to remember Prague. Don't bother buying overpriced furry hats and Matryoshka dolls, though, because they have nothing to do with Prague - they are Russian in origin, and their sellers are just trying to capitalize on unknowing tourists.
In December the squares host Christmas Markets selling a mix of arts, craft, food, drink and Prague memorabilia. The markets are an attraction in their own right and a great place to pick up a more unique memento of the city.
There are several large shopping malls in Prague, you should take the "Na Prikope" street - the 18th most expensive street in the world (measured by the price of property), with famous shopping arcades "Cerna ruze" (Black rose) and "Palac Myslbek" and many shops. If you are looking for souvenir shops, you will find them in the city's historical centre - mostly around the Old Town Square, Wenceslas Square and the Castle. There are many other shops offering Bohemian crystal - especially in the centre near the lower end of Wenceslas square. The other typical (if rather expensive) Czech goods is the garnet jewellery - typical Czech garnet stones (gathered near the town of Turnov) are dark red and nowadays are produced by a single company - Granat Turnov - and if you buy genuine traditional Czech garnet, you should get a certificate of authenticity. The "Parizska" street goes from Old Town square towards the river - and there are some of the most luxurious (and expensive) boutiques in Prague.
Lunch is traditionally the main meal. Czech cuisine is typically based around pork or beef with starchy side dishes such as dumplings or fries. Fish is not so popular, though these days it is widely available. Popular Czech desserts include fruit dumplings, crêpes or ice cream. Most restaurants become very crowded during lunch and dinner, so consider making a reservation or eating earlier than the locals.
The tip should be about 10 to 15% - in cheaper restaurants or pubs you can get away with rounding up the bill or leaving a few extra coins. Otherwise it's customary to leave at least 20Kč-40Kč or 1-2 Euros. Taxes are always included in the price by law. Many restaurants in heavily-touristed areas (along the river, or with views near the castle) will charge a cover or "kovert" in addition to your meal charge. If this is printed in the menu, you have no recourse. But a restaurant will often add this charge to your bill in a less up-front manner, sometimes after printing in the menu that there is no cover. Anything brought to your table will have a charge associated with it (bread, ketchup, etc.) If you are presented with a hand-scrawled bill at the end of the meal, it is suggested that you take a moment to clarify the charges with your server. This sort of questioning will usually shame the server into removing anything that was incorrectly added. It should be noted that some waiters are impolite especially to people from the eastern part of Europe. Pay no attention to this, and simply find another restaurant.
If you're on the look out for fast food, you won't be able to move without tripping over street vendors serving Czech style hot dogs and mulled wine in the Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square in New Town. If you're after western-style fast food, the major chains also have a large presence in Wenceslas Square and the area immediately around it. Most beer halls also serve light snacks or meals. Definitely try the hot dogs - they're far superior to the greasy, messy version you get in the West. Small, hollowed-out French baguettes are used for the bread, filled with mustard and ketchup, and then the frankfurter is inserted afterwards. This turns the bread into a convenient carry-case and means you don't get ketchup all over your hands. Make sure you get mustard, even if you don't normally like it - unfortunately the hot dogs are somewhat flavorless and need that extra bit of kick. Prices range from around 15 crowns for a small one to 45 crowns for the terrifying-looking 'gigant'. Note that size of hot dog relates to girth rather than length.
If you're looking for somewhere more formal, Old Town Square has several places with outside seating on the square. It's an excellent place to people watch.
Pubs (in Czech "hospoda") abound throughout Prague, and indeed are an important part of local culture. A green sign hanging outside an establishment indicates one of the country's excellent local beers is to be had inside. Most pubs serve only a small selection of beers. Locals seldom pay more than 25Kč for a half liter glass, while tourist traps often charge 50Kč or more. Both famous Czech beer brands, Pilsner Urquell and Budweiser Budvar, can be found in Prague pubs. However, if you want to drink beer made in Prague, look for Staropramen.
In Prague it is customary, especially at beer halls, to sit with a group of people if there are no free tables, so go ahead and ask if you can join.
See the disctricts of Prague to find out more about specific bars.
Prague is favorite city for pubs, clubbing, organizing stag, hen parties so why not enjoy a drink or two or get loose and party?
Prague has a wide choice of pubs, clubs with different music style ranging clasic pop, regge, hip hop for you certainly satisfy what you fancy.
Prague is also great concerts place for world famous artists. Celebrated musicians and music groups as Pearl Jam, U2, Metallica, Rolling Stones, Depeche Mode and Madonna enjoyed their performances either at concerts halls or open air.
For a real taste of the local pub/club scene, try a pub crawl. "The Crawl" meets every night in front of the Old Town Square clock tower at 9:15pm. After an hour of free beer, wine, and absinthe, you visit some off-the-beaten-path pubs and clubs, with local flavor and cheap prices (1 euro beers).
Prague has also many excellent tearooms (in Czech čajovna) which serve different kinds of teas from around the world.
Prague has a wealth of accommodation options, many of them within walking distance of the town centre. Peak season generally runs from April to October and a major influx of visitors can be expected during New Year as well. Prices for accommodation can be up to twice as high in the peak season and reservations are advised. Otherwise, the main train station, Hlavní nádraží, has a accommodation booking service for hotels and hostels upstairs. Normally, tax and breakfast are included in the room rate.
Many hostels and hotels offer free internet on shared computers or over a wireless network, so ask before you shell out extra at one of Prague's many internet cafes.
Prague is a very safe city by European or American standards. The risk of assault, murder, and other crimes are extremely low (in fact, more than half of all fights reported to Prague police in 2005 were involving people from the UK!); the most common crime in Prague by far is car theft: the outrageous prevalence of car theft / vandalism pushes up the crime statistics of Prague; crime statistics therefore show Prague to be much more dangerous than it really is. If you observe basic rules of sanity and safety (ie. don't provoke drunken people; don't wear your purse in back pocket of your pants; always keep an eye on your items; don't put all your money in one place; don't show your money or valuable things to anybody; don't walk alone into deserted areas if you are woman), you should be perfectly safe in Prague.
Use of hard drugs is a criminal offense while the use of softer drugs such as marijuana or "magic" mushrooms (if fresh) are not punishable - and are in fact tolerated in all walks of life (however you may have to smoke your non-tobacco materials outside). However, you can be prosecuted for owning more than usual amount of soft drugs (ie. more than one joint); definition of "usual amount" depends entirely on each particular policeman, which means you want to be polite to them.
Be aware of teams of pickpockets that lurk outside metro stations, overcrowded tram wagons, Charles Bridge, Wenceslas Square and the Old Town Square. They usually work in teams of 3-5 and are looking for lost or distracted tourists; the carrying of a backpack is especially interesting to them. Many of those groups use underage children as pickpockets, because they can't be prosecuted by Czech laws. Due to the low incidence of violent crime, the threat of pickpockets has been played up as a great problem; however, common sense and basic precautions can assure anyone of being safe from pickpockets. If you have a camera, try not to wear it openly; always close and secure your backpack and try to keep an eye on it. Be especially careful not to fall asleep in tram or metro. Wear your wallet in a safe place (e.g. inner pocket of your coat), never put it into your rear pocket or any other place where it can be easily stolen.
If you enter the metro(usually at night), you may find a team of con artists, at the stations, saying they are metro clerks and after examining your ticket for some time that it's invalid so you'll have to pay a fine of 500 CZK (1000 CZK if you argue with them). So if you happen to see them, and you're sure that your ticket is valid, tell them to call the police, or call them yourself.
Be careful with taxi drivers, particularly from the train station. Taxis that are legally registered may still be mafia-run affairs that do their best to overcharge. It is illegal for a taxi driver to refuse you a receipt in Prague, so agree a price before putting yourself, or your luggage, in the taxi. The risk of over-charging is greatly overplayed, just take the usual sensible precautions of only using taxi firms affiliated with the station or your hotel, or call a reputable company and wait. Finally, if presented with a wrong bill from a taxi driver, call the police on your mobile phone. Your driver will quickly change his tune! If you can't afford to haggle with cab drivers, you can always use public mass transit system, which is very complex and can take you almost anywhere in Prague.
Be careful with money exchanges. Exchange your money in banks and rather avoid exchange offices. Never buy money from a street money-dealer. Most of the exchange offices are fair, but certain, especially those at the most busy places, are trying to cheat customers with various tricks. One of the them is offering favourable exchange rates, but with fine print below, e.g. "if you exchange more than 1000 EUR". Another trick is putting a huge board with "we sell" exchange rates to the shop window, which makes an impression of good rates, whereas the actual rate for buying CZK is much more unfavourable. When the customer finds this out at the counter and wants to cancel the transaction, the money-dealer refuses with an excuse "I have already printed the bill", which is too late. Police does not help you, it typically sends you to the Czech National Bank, the supervisory authority of exchange offices, to file a complaint (which does not help you either). The czech law is weak and does only order exchange offices to display the actual rates, which you usually find somewhere in the office (typically not in very large printing). Therefore if you decide for an exchange office always ask for the actual rate you will pay before making the transaction and before giving money out of your hand.
If you find yourself in emergency, dial 158 for police, 155 for ambulance or 150 for firefighters. You can also dial 112 for general emergency call.
Buses and trains are frequent and quite inexpensive and can get you to even the smallest village.
Practically every major European city on the continent can be reached by bus or train from Prague.
For just a small selection of places off the beaten path: