Difference between revisions of "Prague"
Revision as of 05:17, 21 July 2006
Prague has fifteen numbered districts: Praha 1 through to Praha 15. Praha 1 is the oldest part of the city, and has by far the densest number of attractions. It can be further subdivided into these quarters:
The outer areas of Prague can be divided as follows:
Regarded by many as one of the world's most beautiful cities, Prague has arguably become the most popular travel destination in Central Europe. 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 included in UNESCO's 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 thanks to its location in the Vltava River basin. Prague customer service is great, with sensitive treatment towards the tourists. Learning a little of the language may receive a smile or two.
Many Praguers have a small cottage (which can range from a shack barely large enough for garden utensils to an elaborate, multi-storey 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-center apartments for enormous profit to foreigners who can afford to pay inflated rent.
Local foreign language newspapers:
Tourist Information Office
The international airport Ruzyně (IATA: PRG phone +420 220 111 111, +420 296 661 111) is in the west of Prague. In the last years the traffic grew enormously and the airport was significantly expanded. Today there is a brand new Schengen terminal but contruction is still not completed. There are many cheap direct flights operated by easyJet, Ryanair and BMIbaby from UK, by SmartWings from Continental Europe, Turkey and Dublin, by SkyEurope from assorted destinations and by Sterling from Scandinavia.
Getting into the city from the airport
The airport is located about 20 kilometers outside the city center. It generally takes 30 to 50 minutes to get there.
Prague has two international train stations: Hlavní nádraží (central station, abbreviated Praha hl.n., subway connection by metro C); and Praha Holešovice (Holešovice station, subway connection by metro C).
Eurocity trains connect Prague to Berlin, Vienna and Budapest. It is a very comfortable way of travel, but not as quick as used in other countries - Eurocity has average speed about 120kmph only, because Czech railroad network is not suitable for higher speeds. From Berlin, a train reaches Prague in 5 1/2 hours, from Wien (Vienna) in 4 1/2 hours and from Budapest in 6 1/2 hours. The trainline 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 11 December 2005 fast trains Super City Pendolino operate between Ostrava (3 1/2 hours) , Olomouc (2 1/4 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 additonal fee. These buses operate every 30 minutes (5:15 a.m. to 9:45 p.m.). Without SC Pendolino ticket you shall pay 45 CZK to the driver.
Train connection from western countries (France, England) is complicated because of an inconvenient layout of German railroads (they lead mainly from north to south, with no direct connections from east to west) - you have to change frequently, for example to Paris you have to change at least two or three times and it takes more than 13 hours.
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. Southwestern highway (number D5, international E50) leads through Pilsen (Plzeň) to Germany. There is still a small incomplete part on the German side of the border, but it is only about 20 km. Not counting this small part, the D5 highway is connected to the German highway network. Riding from the state border to Prague takes about an hour and a half (only 160 km). Southeastern highway (number D1) is the Czech Republic's oldest and most used highway yet it is in good condition. It leads through Brno to Bratislava in Slovakia. It offers a good connection to Vienna, Budapest and all traffic from the east. You have to count on more than two hours as it is more than 250 km. 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). From northern Germany (Dresden, Berlin, Leipzig), you have to take state road E55, which is sometimes quite overcrowded. 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. I don't think it is an important access direction because there are no major cities in this direction (Zittau in Germany, some cities in Poland), but 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 D11 (E67), which is only 40 km long and is in poor condition. It leads to Poland.
Czech highways are under development (D8 and D11 are being prolonged, the city by-pass of Pilsen is nearly finished on D5) so things may get better. There are only seldom traffic jams on Czech highways, with the exception of D1 near Prague (and near Brno, too) - not counting road construction work.
When you get to Prague, things get worse. Prague suffers from heavy traffic and on working 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.
The main bus station for international busses in Prague is Florenc, Křižíkova (metro lines B and C). It is located east of the city center.
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).
Public transportation is very convenient in most of the areas visitors are likely to frequent. There are three main subway lines (Czech: metro), and numerous bus and tram (streetcar) lines. Purchase 75 minutes transfer for 20 CZK ticket at any tobacco shop or 24-hours, 3-days or 7-days tickets at ticket offices in some metro stations; date stamp this the first time you ride. Tickets are not checked upon boarding, but undercover inspectors frequently make the rounds asking to see your ticket. Even though freeriding seems easy in Prague, you should invest in the cheap ticket; staying more than two days in Prague will guarantee that you will be checked.
Public transport continues at night in a convenient way. 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 station in the centre of Prague called Lazarská. You can also easily change tram lines here.
One valuable tourist purchase may be the Prague Card (http://www.praguecard.biz/) which for 740Kc (less for children/students; correct July 2006) 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. For more information see http://www.praguecard.biz/
Try to avoid getting taxi on the street and if you have to, try to negotiate price in advance. Its advisable to call one of the major Prague Taxi services:
Currently being cleaned and repaired until early 2006.
Charles Bridge (Czech: Karlův most) stretches across the Vltava River between the Lesser Town and the edge of Old Town's central shopping district. The current incarnation of the bridge was built by Charles IV's imperial architect Petr Parler, who is also known for his work on St Vitus Cathedral. It replaced previous Judith Bridge, destroyed by a flood.
Charles Bridge has outlived floods, disasters and heavy traffic for 600 years. It even allowed car traffic earlier in the 20th century! It's a mystery how the bridge has survived so long - one ongoing myth says eggs were mixed into the mortar when it was built. If you believe in supernatural protection, maybe the sword of Bruncvik explains the bridge's miraculous strength. Like the English Arthurian legends, it is said Bruncvik's sword (supposedly hidden inside the bridge) will make itself available in the country's darkest hour, rising to its defense.
From an artistic perspective, the most notable feature of the bridge is the groups of statuary lining either side. Scenes from Bible and popular saints are included, such as St Jan Nepomuk and St Luitgard. Nepomuk has two legends associated with him: first, if you place five fingers in the gilded stars at the Charles Bridge statue's base and make a wish, not only will your wish come true, but you are guaranteed to return to Prague. Second, you may wonder why you see a small picture of a tongue in association with Nepomuk. Supposedly, acting as the queen's religious confessor, Nepomuk refused to repeat something she had told him in confidence to King Wenceslas IV, her husband. The unfortunate prelate was tortured, beaten and thrown from the bridge with hands tied. Some time later, during a severe drought, the river level went down enough to find Nepomuk's body. It was decomposed, as one would expect, but with one exception: his tongue was perfectly preserved, symbolizing his refusal to break the seal of the confessional.
Warning: This is a pick-pocket zone due to the high-foot traffic on the bridge from tourists and Prague natives using the bridge. They are especially active when the bridge is most crowded. Take standard precautions to protect your wallet.
Museums and Galleries
There are many tour companies in Prague. Leaflets for these and their tours can be found in the airport, and the various tourist information centres in Prague. Tours vary from short walking tours, to allday tours of the city. Tours can also be in large tourist groups, or booked for private tours. Most tours tend to start from the Old Town Square.
Ice hockey is hugely popular in Prague, thanks to the amazing Czech national team. During communism, hockey was closely related to politics. When the Czechs beat the Russians in the 1971 for the world title, it was national fest. Many Czech hockey and tennis players have gone on to international fame.
Drinking beer is practically a sport among men. Mushroom hunting is very common during the fall, and some great dishes show up on menus across the country as a result. Renovating the family chata (see Did You Know? below) and growing vegetables on its surrounding land is a popular summer pastime.
Sports tours can also be organised in Prague; "Fun in Prague" (http://www.funinprague.com/) can organise water rafting, paintballing and go-karting amongst other activities, as well as other tours.
River Cruises are on the list of popluar activities of visitors in Prague. They vary from one hour cruises to long evening cruises with dinner or music.
Prague has a lot of theatres and jazz clubs:
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.
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 beerhalls also serve light snacks or meals.
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.
'U Jednoho Pokoje' is Czech for 'At the one room' which is a summary of what this restaurant is. The restaurant was started by a French chef in a semi-abandoned apartment in the vicinity of I.P. Pavlova. With a little painting, scrubbing and mopping the room was fixed up. All of the furnishing for the restaurant (tables, chairs, etc.) are items that have been salvaged and restored and friends and supporters of U Jednoho Pokoje lent their art for the walls. Dinner is a set menu by appointment only and everything is done by the owner himself from greeting guests to cooking, pouring wine and serving the meal. No beer is available. The food is superb, and at 250kc for a three course meal it's not cheap by Prague standards but still very reasonable.
The streets around Old Town are full of gift shops geared towards tourists, selling Bohemian crystal, soccer shirts and other mass produced memorabilia. 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.
In December the sqaures 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.
Pubs 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.
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.
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. Check the district pages linked above for individual listings.
Even during peak season, dorm rooms in hostels close to the city centre can be had for around 350Kč per person per night. Prague has its share of rough and ready youth hostels with a party vibe, but there are many with a more relaxed atmosphere and some housed in beaufully restored buildings as fancy as any hotel. Many hostels also offer private rooms, with or without shared bathrooms, for much cheaper than a pension or hotel room. Around Hlavni Nadrazi, the main train station, there are many touts offering cheap accomodation. Many are Czech residents renting part of their apartment for extra cash. Prices don't vary much between them, but some may not be trustworthy so be cautious.
Pensions and cheap hotels are easy to find throughout Praha 1, particularly in Old Town, New Town and the Jewish Quarter. For those looking for something a little different, a 'botel' (boat hotel) may be an appealing option. Most are moored on the south of the river in Praha 4 and 5.
Another great solution is to rent an apartment. Many companies, including Old Town Apartments  and Mary's Agency , offer high quality apartments in various locations around Prague. These are great for families, as a four person apartment will run you 1700Kč - 2800Kč and while it may not be cheaper than a hostel, it's a lot cosier. Be sure to check the map before making a reservation, as some apartments are not in the city center.
Prague is the business hub of the Czech Republic and hosts the Central European headquarters of many international companies, so there are many luxury hotels catering to business travellers.
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.
Be careful with taxi drivers, particularly from the train station. Insist on the use of the meter and make sure it doesn't stop it on the way. Some of them tend to overcharge tourists, so insist on a receipt. Otherwise you have the right to refuse payment. On the receipt the name and number of the driver is written. Usually it's better to call a radio-cab.
Be also aware of your belongings when using crowded street-cars in the centre because of the pickpocket gangs. Especially dangerous in this aspect are lines 22 and 23.
Prague is a very safe town, just be sensible and alert!
Many people who come to Prague and the Czech Republic never take advantage of the country's excellent inter-city bus and train network. Buses and trains are frequent and quite inexpensive and can get you to even the smallest village.
How to get out
All information for buses and trains is available on the web (in English and German) at www.vlak-bus.cz. Don't be initimdated about buying tickets even if you don't know the language, most bus and train terminal employees can speak a few phrases in English. Be sure and there is a wealth of things to see.
Buses Almost all buses leave from either the city's main bus terminal at the Florenc metro stop (red and yellow metro lines C and B) or from Anděl metro stop (yellow metro line B), the station is 200 meters south of the metro stop.
Trains Almost all trains leave from either Nádraží Holešovice, Hlavní nádraží (both red metro line C stops). If you are going to Karlstejn you will have to take a train
Practically every major European city on the continent can be reached by bus or train from Prague.
Where to go
For just a small selection of places off the beaten path: