Prague: Planning Your Trip

Colorful buildings in the main square in Prague

 TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre 

Prague, or Praha as it's known locally, is the capital city of the Czech Republic and one of Europe's most popular cities to visit. Known as the "City of a Hundred Spires," travelers are drawn to Prague for its quirky art scene, wild nightlife, and affordable price tag, among many other reasons. Visually, Prague is a smorgasbord of architectural styles and artistic details, and the local cuisine is even richer than the buildings.

Prague is the most accessible destination in Eastern Europe and travelers who visit discover that this gateway city offers something unique from Western European capitals like London, Paris, or Rome. To fully understand it, you'll just have to visit Prague yourself.

Planning Your Trip

  • Best Time to Visit: The mild summer temperatures would make it the best season of the year to visit, if it weren't for the huge summer crowds and high-season prices. Winter is very cold, but the holiday markets in November and December help to offset the freezing temperatures with some extra charm. You'll likely still need a jacket if you visit in spring or fall, but between the comfortable temperatures, minimal crowds, and colorful foliage, either one makes for an excellent time to visit the Czech capital.
  • Language: The official language is Czech, but most locals around Prague—especially those who work in tourism—can speak and understand English.
  • Currency: The official currency is the Czech koruna (CZK). The Czech Republic is one of the EU countries that has not adopted the euro, at least yet. Some hotels may accept euros at an increased rate, but you shouldn't count on that. Credit cards are also widely accepted across Prague.
  • Getting Around: Prague's public transportation system includes three metro lines, buses, trams, a funicular, and even riverboats. They're all considered public transportation and you can use the same pass for all of the options. Taxis are also available in the city, although they have a reputation for ripping off tourists; try ride-sharing apps like Uber, Bolt, and Liftago for better rates.
  • Travel Tip: The medieval architecture and rolling green hills easily make Prague one of Europe's most scenic capital cities, and the best places to take in the view is atop Petřín Hill. Hiking to the top is a picturesque yet strenuous way to get there, but you can also take the city-operated funicular for an easy ride with the same views (you can always hike down). What's more, the price of riding the funicular is included in your transit pass if you have one.

Things to Do

If you're into art museums and historical buildings, then Prague is for you. On the other hand, if you're into craft beer and multistory nightclubs, then Prague is also for you. The city's diverse attractions are just one of the many reasons that travelers keep coming back, as there's always something new to discover. Many of the most cherished and oldest places to visit are in the Old Town of Prague, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site for how well-preserved it's stayed since medieval times.

  • One of Prague's most iconic landmarks seems like something from a "Harry Potter" novel. The Prague Astronomical Clock was constructed in 1410 and is the oldest still-functioning clock of its kind in the world, but the bright purple face, golden zodiac symbols, and dizzying display give it a mystical feel. Every hour from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. you can see a show as the clock comes alive with saintly figures and a skeletal statue representing Death that strikes the clock.
  • To learn more about the country's tumultuous history, take a tour of the Prague Castle just across the river from the Old Town. It's free to walk around the grounds, but paying to enter and learn about the bygone Holy Roman Empire, the formation and dissolution of Czechoslovakia, and the fall of communism is well worth the entrance fee. Entering the castle also lets visitors enter Gothic-style St. Vitus Cathedral right next door, the final resting place for several saints, Bohemian kings, and Holy Roman Emperors.
  • Prague isn't just known for its architecture and history. The city is also a nightlife destination for students and backpackers across all of Europe. The largest and most famous nightclub is Karlovy Lazne, a five-story disco that's one of Central Europe's biggest parties. But even if you want something a bit more low-key, you can find pubs serving local beer, cocktail bars, and live music at venues all across the city.

What to Eat and Drink

Czech restaurants advertising Czech cuisine focus heavily on meat-and-dumpling dishes, so vegetarian dishes aren't easy to come by in traditional cooking. Typical dishes you'll find are sirloin steak cooked with root vegetables (svíčková na smetaně), pork stew with dumplings (guláš), and a Czech version of schnitzel (řízek). For more casual eating while you're exploring the city, you'll see and smell street food around the city like grilled sausages, fried cheese sandwiches (smažený sýr), and rolled sweet pastries.

If you're looking for something refreshing to enjoy, the obvious choice is Czech beer. The Břevnov Monastery Brewery in Prague allegedly where Czech beer was first brewed over 1,000 years ago by monks, and there's still a brewery there today you can visit, albeit a modernized version. Pilsners are the standard beer around the country, although you can find others nowadays.

Where to Stay

Accommodations around Prague are in general much cheaper than other major European cities, and travelers can often get a lot more for a lot less. Within the city, the Old Town is where most visitors choose to stay, although you can get even better deals by venturing just slightly out of the tourist center. Cross the river toward the Prague Castle and you'll be in the hip Mala Strana neighborhood, which is within easy walking distance to all the main sites without the rowdy street noise that comes with sleeping in the Old Town.

It's easier to splurge on a nice hotel with Prague prices, but if you really want to live extravagantly then consider spending the night in a castle. One option in the heart of Prague is the Baroque Smetana Hotel, but the Štirin Hotel is a chateau outside of the city with acres of gardens where you'll truly feel like Bohemian royalty.

Getting There

Most visitors arrive in Prague by air to Václav Havel Airport, an international airport with connections all over Europe and further abroad as well. The metro doesn't reach the airport, but there's an Airport Express bus that brings passengers to the city's central train station in 25 minutes for about $6. Otherwise, you can use a taxi which should cost about $25 from the airport to the city center.

Backpackers traveling by train around Europe can also arrive at Praha hlavní nádraží station, the biggest train station in the country. Trains arrive daily from neighboring countries and Prague is especially well-connected to German cities like Berlin, Munich, and Dresden, from where the journey takes roughly four and a half hours.

Taking the bus is the last resort budget option for many travelers, but if you're coming from Germany then it takes about the same amount of time as the train. Especially if you're making last-minute travel plans, the bus can be a lifesaving option that's both cheap and relatively quick. You can also find inexpensive buses to not-so-far cities like Vienna, Austria, or Warsaw, Poland.

Money Saving Tips

  • If you're planning on taking the train from Germany, you can purchase your tickets via the German train website or the Czech website. The German page tends to be more user-friendly, but if you can navigate the Czech website then you can often find cheaper tickets for the exact same train.
  • Eating out in Prague is relatively cheap, but as with any touristy city, you'll pay at least double the price for choosing a restaurant in the Old Town or near Charles Bridge. Head slightly out of the center or, better yet, ask a local where they recommend eating.
  • Room rates skyrocket—at least by Prague standards—during the busy travel months of summer and the winter holidays. If you want to save money on accommodations, travel in the shoulder season of fall or spring. If you really want to save money and don't mind the cold, prices are at their lowest in January and February.
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