Prague Guide for First-Timers: Everything You Need to Know
Are you traveling to Prague for the first time? We've put together this guide aiming to cover everything you need to know before visiting the capital city of the Czech Republic. Here you will find all information and tips to help your trip to Prague, Czechia go smoothly.
The medieval city of Prague is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe, and we are quite proud that we can call this city home.
The City of Hundred Spires has so much to offer to all visitors in terms of architecture and culture, that travelers from all around the world often plan their Europe itineraries around the visit to Prague.
When traveling abroad, we often heard a question of what is our country of origin. When we replied that we are from the Czech Republic or Czechia, we could usually see confused expressions (sad but true), so later we decided to reply simply that we are from Prague, and the reactions were completely different.
The word about Prague's beauty resonates even in the parts of the world where we would not have expected it.
Although the Czech Republic is the first-world country in the Central! Europe (or at least we like to think it), many people still do not know what to expect when traveling here for the very first time, especially when they've never been to Europe before.
That's why we've decided to create this ultimate guide on things every traveler should know before visiting Prague in Czechia so nothing will take you by surprise.
This guide might be a little bit different from what have you read so far about Prague, even from articles created by travel bloggers who live here as expats, as we will try our best to give you a different perspective on how we see some of our Prague’s top attractions and hopefully you will learn something about us, Czechs, more.
Name of the Country
The official name of the country where you can find Prague is the Czech Republic, lately you can more often hear the shorter version Czechia.
This name can be used officially as well and is more common in the English speaking world. Honestly, we, people from the Czech Republic don't use the short version that much (or at least we've never heard anyone using it), probably only because we are not used to it, and still prefer the longer name of our country. No matter if you decide to call the country the Czech Republic or Czechia, make sure you won't call it Chechnya - it is a completely different country, and we certainly don't want to be confused with this one.
Also, we must add a note for older generations: Czechoslovakia doesn't exist anymore.
It’s been almost 30 years, guys!
Prague has many nicknames, but the most common nickname is the Heart of Europe because of its location in the center of the continent or The City of Hundred Spires (although the most recent count says Prague has over thousands of spires).
Sometimes, you can even read about The Golden City, although it is not clear where the nickname originated.
We speak Czech in the Czech Republic, and chances are you won't understand a word.
Some people compare our language to Russian and Polish, and although the accent and pronunciation of some words might seem similar, we don't like to hear that. The Czech language is quite difficult to learn for foreigners because we use diacritic and that's why our alphabet has more letters than the English one. Most people, especially the younger generation, speak and understand English followed by the German language.
Generally, every person working in the tourism industry in Prague (it is not a rule outside the capital) speaks English, so you don't need to worry about the language barrier.
We always appreciate when tourists learn at least basic words such as:
Please - prosím
Thank you - děkuji
Hello - ahoj
Goodbye - nashledanou
Beer - pivo
Cheers - na zdraví
Fun Fact: Unlike English, the Czech language uses T-V distinction. When you try to be super-friendly and learn a sentence, use the T form (ty) only when talking to someone you know otherwise, some people could find it offensive and brash. If you are not sure, always use V-form (vy).
Despite the fact, the Czech Republic is a member of the European Union we still have our original currency, Czech Koruna (Crown).
In most tourist places you can pay with dollars or euros, but the rate is often disadvantageous, and it is much better to withdraw cash, exchange money or pay with a credit card. Nowadays, you can pay with a credit card almost everywhere, although some small businesses might still prefer cash payments.
When in Prague, we recommend you to withdraw money in the ATM machine or exchange it in a bank. More about it later.
The Czech currency consists of coins (1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50) and notes (100, 200, 500, 1000, 2000, 5000). We don't use cents anymore, so all prices are rounded up or down. Prague is quite advanced when it comes to electronic payments, so you can use the NFC or wireless payments.
As every European city, Prague has some issues bound up with tourism.
If you need to exchange money, we recommend you to go to a bank, because exchange offices in Prague (especially in the center), are notoriously known for their unfair commercial practices, and we often feel ashamed when we see what rate they offer to unsuspecting travelers.
We are not saying every exchange office is fraud, but make sure you will avoid those on Wenceslas Square and the Old Town Square. Always check the current rate in advance - when you feel something is not correct, you can always withdraw money from the ATM instead.
Note, that we have a new law in the Czech Republic, and in case you find out that a clerk in the exchange office cheated on you, or you discover a better rate elsewhere, you can resign from the contact (you have three hours to return and don't forget to bring the receipt with you).
What to Eat
If you've never tried Czech cuisine, you have a great chance to put it right here in Prague. Our traditional cuisine is quite similar to Austrian, Slovakian, German, and Hungarian. You can expect heavy meals usually consisting of meat, dumplings, sauce or cabbage. Although it might sound unappealing, the Czech cuisine is tasty, but it is not possible to eat it every day unless you're trying to gain weight.
If we should recommend the most traditional meals, it would be goulash, roast pork with dumplings and cabbage and marinated sirloin in cream with dumplings or a dill creamy sauce - on the photo below is a dill soup me and Martin cooked not that long time ago.
Extra Tip: One of the most hardcore meals in Czechia loved by ones and hated by others is fried cheese with fries and mayonnaise. Try it and let us know what do you think.
When going to a restaurant or pub, you cannot smoke inside the property. You always must go outside, that’s the law now. This regulation is not that old, but we think it should have been in order a long time ago.
What to Drink
The Czech Republic is a beer country, and in Prague, there is a large number of beer pubs you can choose from.
It is not that long time ago when beer was cheaper than water, but it is not possible anymore according to the law - but still, beer is much cheaper in the Czech Republic than abroad. Prague is a popular destination for young guys from Great Britain or Germany who arrive in Prague to drink because it is so cheap for them.
If you are looking for a unique beer experience, we recommend you to visit the pub Zlý Časy or BeerGeek where they have a large selection of beers. If your passion for beer goes even further, you can visit the beer museum or take a beer tasting tour.
If you want to get free water in a restaurant, you need to ask for tap water which is drinkable in the Czechia.
It is customary to tip in restaurants, usually 10%, but we think you should tip according to the quality of service.
When the service did not meet your expectations, don't feel obliged to tip, in the end, it is your money and your decision. When you pay for something small such as coffee we usually round the amount and don't count the ten percent surcharge exactly, for example when the coffee costs 35 CZK, we say 40 CZK.
We don't want to spoil your day, but trdelnik, a sweet pastry you can see everywhere around Prague, is not originally Czech food.
Honestly, we find it pretty funny how tourists take pictures in Prague while eating trdelnik, but what we find even more hilarious is what prices they are able to pay for a simple dough topped with sugar and sometimes with nuts (the new hit is trdelnik filled with cream or ice cream). We are not telling you not to buy it you'll find a large number of vendors in the streets in the center, we only think it is good to know what you are buying.
For the same amount of money, you can often buy delicious deserts (yes, plural) in one of many sweetshops around. If you want to try a traditional Czech dessert, taste kolache (koláč).
When it comes to souvenirs, it is always hard to find something original yet something which is significant for the city or the country you are visiting.
We don't know how it happened, but you can find everywhere in Prague's souvenir shops selling Matryoshka dolls (it is a wooden doll and inside it is another smaller one and so on) which is weird as this souvenir has nothing to do with our culture.
Matryoshkas come from Russia: that's is what my brother brought me from Russia, it is for sure not something you should bring anyone from Prague.
While strolling around the city center, you might notice many stores selling a mysterious alcoholic beverage with a toxic green color called Absint, Absinth, or Absinthe.
This herbal liqueur is famous for having alleged hallucinogenic effects, and it was around 1910s completely banned in the USA and Europe. There were a few exceptions, for example, the Austria-Hungary empire, and our land was part of it. Fast forward to today, and there are dozens of shops where you can buy it in Prague.
The problem is, that the Absinthe you can buy in these tourist shops around the central part of the city is not Absinthe at all! It's just a really bad and overpriced imitation (for example a good Absinthe is not green at all) of a famous drink exploiting marketing power of the name.
You can still buy traditional Absinth in Czechia, only not here.
If you ever get tired after a long day walking around the city center, you can take a rest in one of many parks we have in the city center or in lively districts attached to the center. Parks are places where you can relax, have a picnic, read a book, or only connect with locals.
Our favorite parks are Stromovka, Grebovka, Petrin, Ladronka, Hvezda, Letna, Vysehrad Gardens, just to name few.
Old Town's Square
No first-time visitor to Prague can miss the Old Town Square.
Prague has an uncountable number of architectural gems and cobblestone streets, but the oldest Prague's square and one of the world's most beautiful squares is the place you should firmly put on your itinerary. The Old Town Square is home to the Astronomical Clock Orloj, but that's not everything. We've written a full post dedicated to things to see and do on the Old Town Square, where you can appreciate how outstanding the plaza is.
If you want to know how local people live, you won't figure it out on the Old Town Square.
Head to lively districts such as Letna, Karlin, Smichov, Zizkov or Vinohrady.
During the winter, Prague's center is occupied with Christmas Markets, and although the atmosphere before Christmas should be peaceful, we think the markets create exactly the opposite.
Squares are full of people, vendors sell overpriced hot wine, and for locals, it is almost impossible to walk freely in the city. If you are Christmas Market lover, you should travel to Prague in winter, because of markets in the capital of the Czech Republic were often voted among the best in the world, but if you prefer empty streets and authentic feel, travel to Prague outside this time.
Prague's center is compact, and you can cover almost everything on foot, but in case you need to get from one place to another quickly, or if your hotel is a bit further, you can use public transport.
Prague's transport system is one of the best in the world (we are quite proud about it, especially when we know how terrible even in developed countries public transport can be), and it is the best way how to get around. You can decide if you want to travel by bus, tram or metro, you only need to buy a ticket: 30 minutes ticket without transfers costs 24 CZK and 90 minutes ticket with transfers costs 32 CZK.
You can also purchase one or three days ticket in case you know you'll be using public transport more often.
To get around Prague like a local, download an app 'Jizdni Rady', where you can find all stations, schedules altogether with places where to transfer.
The John Lennon Wall
If there is one absolutely overhyped attraction in Prague, it would be John Lennon Wall, according to our opinion.
The wall lies close to the Charles Bridge, and it seems that it is a must-visit place on every single Prague itinerary. If you don't have enough time, don't worry and skip this site, as it is only a wall with some graffiti and Beatles texts on it, and if it had an anti-regime meaning before 1989, it does not have now.
Day Trips from Prague
Even though we utterly love Prague and know it is an exceptional place in our country, we always feel sorry for the other regions in the Czech Republic who are often overlooked.
Luckily, the country is small, and if you have enough time, try to include one or two one-day trips from Prague to other cities such as Cesky Krumlov, Telc, Ostrava, Brno, Pzen, Kutna Hora, Terezin, Karlstejn, Karlovy Vary or you can venture to the mountains and explore hills in Sumava or Krkonose.
Prague is a safe city, and the chance you would be a victim of a serious crime is low, almost non-existent.
Like anywhere in the world, use your common sense when walking around the city, and when returning from a bar late at night, take a taxi in case you do not feel comfortable in a place you do not know. Crowded areas near the main tourist attractions are a haven for pickpockets, so keep an eye on your valuables.
If you want to know more about safety in Prague, read our guide.
When to Visit
Prague is an all year round destination but of course, some seasons are better money-wise, some are better weather-wise.
The Czech Republic has four seasons, and the least visited (and the cheapest) time of the year is winter (except for top dates in December) when it is cold, it can rain or snow more often. In the past few years, Prague has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe, and we think that especially in summer when the chances of having sunny warm weather are high, the capacity of Prague is almost full.
You will find more information in our detailed guide Best Time to Visit Prague.
What to Pack
What to pack for Prague depends on the time of the year when you plan your visit. Pack comfortable things you usually wear when wandering in the city, but we would keep high heels at home because of cobblestone streets.
Here are five essential things you should bring along when traveling to Prague.
- Luggage | If you are not backpacking Europe, but only plan to get from the airport to your hotel, it is a good idea to invest in a good luggage.
- Sneakers for Him & for Her | If you want to see as much as possible what Prague has to offer, we recommend you to wear comfortable shoes.
- Jeans for Him & for Her | Wearing comfortable jeans or any other comfortable pants is a great option if you want to look casual.
- Umbrella | It can rain anytime of the year in Prague, pack a foldable but windproof umbrella.
- Camera | To capture all the beauty, pack a quality camera of your preference.
How many days you need
It is always hard to say how many days you need to see most of Prague's highlights.
Some people prefer to travel slowly, indulge in the atmosphere while some people are able to walk non-stop from the morning to the evening and be done in a day when we exaggerate a bit.
Ideally, three days should be enough to see the best of Prague without feeling rushed.
In the worst case scenario, you can walk around the historical center in only a day because Prague's heart is compact, on the other hand, any extra day will give you a chance to enjoy a one-day trip outside Prague.
We are ashamed to say that Prague taxi drivers have a horrible reputation.
We are not saying that you won't find an honest taxi driver in Prague, but the chance you will meet one is low. If you want to travel by taxi, we recommend you to ask front desk in your hotel to call you one, and when you flag down a cab on the street, always negotiate the price in advance otherwise, you'll be overcharged.
When you forget to ask for the price before the ride, check on your phone if the driver follows the shortest route possible.
If you want to hail a cab on the street, use Uber or other taxi app.
This topic brings us to Uber.
The service is still legal in Prague, and we think it is the best way how to get around in case you don't want to travel by public transport. We like the way how to call a driver via the app, the fact we don't have to take care of payment as the amount is automatically charged from credit card, and the biggest plus is that Uber is usually cheaper than a taxi.
Typical Travel Cost
Prague is not a typical budget-friendly destination, but we believe that many travelers still find services such as accommodation and restaurants reasonably priced in comparison with other European or overseas destinations.
If traveling on a mid-range budget when you do not want to sleep in the cheapest room but do not look for luxury, you will spend around 150 EUR a day.
How to get from the airport
For us, getting from the airport is usually the least exciting thing from the whole trip.
Fortunately, the connection between the airport to Prague's center is efficient and quick, and you have several options on how to get from Vaclav Havel Airport Prague.
When looking for flight tickets you can search Skyscanner to find the best price.
Mobile Data & Wifi
The Czech Republic has one of the most expensive data and calling in Europe. We enjoy telling that we get worse services at higher prices but don't know why.
We've heard that our phone operators say our market is specific we only think that this won't be the real reason. But anyway. If you need to be in touch with someone abroad and the wifi is not enough for you, purchase for example data from Vodafone - the price is 10 GB for 800 CZK. This company has a store at the airport or in the center.
If you need to find wifi outside your hotel, your best bet is to go to a shopping mall or go for a coffee. In smaller shops, you will need to ask for the wifi code.
We've already mentioned two scams you can commonly encounter in Prague.
The first scam is fraudulent taxi drivers, the other is getting a terrible rate, when you want to exchange money. But there are unfortunately more scams you should be aware of. Prague is like any other tourist city, where weird people who cannot make money or who only want more try to rip off tourists.
We said do not change money in exchange offices in the center, but not all of them want to cheat on you. But when a man approaches you on the street and wants to help you to change money, you can be sure he will cheat on you. Usually, these people are not Czechs, and instead of Czech Korunas, they will give you some useless currency like Bulgarian lev.
Do you want to eat traditional Czech ham? You can taste it in almost every restaurant, but please don't buy it in any stall at the Old Town Square. At first, the price looks quite ok, but it is only for 100 grams, and the vendor will load your plate so much that you will get an insane amount of ham you will never be able to eat, plus you will pay much more than you intended. You might think that 35 Euros for a ham is great deal, but consider this, you will get two delicious meals in one of the Prague’s fancy restaurants for that price.
Another practice we consider scammy is when you want to pay your bill in a restaurant, you want to give a tip, but a waiter forgets to tell you, that he already included 10% service fee to your bill, so you will end up paying the tip twice without knowing it.
Also, when traveling in the metro at night, you can be stopped by a fake clerk who will examine your ticket for a long time and later will tell you there is some problem, so you need to pay fine. Do not pay anything - even when you are fined by the real clerk, you do not need to pay it on the spot. Additionally, controllers working at night are usually accompanied by police.
As you probably already know, we love Prague. We think it’s the best city in the world, and we hope you will have a great time visiting here, if you have any qestions regarding your visit to Prague, let us know in the comment section below!
WHERE TO STAY IN PRAGUE
Because of reliable public transport, you can stay almost anywhere in Prague as it is easy to get to the historical part, but we presume when this is your first visit to Prague, you would like to stay in the center where everything is nearby, and you don't need to worry about commuting.
We've handpicked three best hotels in Prague for every budget within walking distance from the center.
Budget | Hostel Boudnik - This hostel offers both dormitories and private rooms, and features free wifi- clean common areas and great location close to the city center.
Mid-range | Nyx Hotel Prague - It is quite hard to pick only one hotel in the mid-range category as there is simply too many of them, but this hotel lies in the center and beats the others with the unique design.
Luxury | Augustine Prague - A luxury hotel located close to Prague Castle set in an old monastery offers beautifully appointed rooms and apartments with stunning views over Prague.
Alternatively, search for your accommodation via Hostelworld.
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