Prague, Czech Republic - Stein Travel
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Prague

The Czech Republic's capital and international showpiece, Prague is one of the most popular destinations in Eastern Europe. Its attraction lies in the physical beauty of the city with 600 years of architecture amazingly untouched by war. The centre has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it demands to be explored on foot, an entire outdoor museum of history and a haphazard mixture of splendid architecture.

In the 14th century Prague enjoyed a reputation of being one of the most important cities in Europe, but after the Second World War it disappeared completely behind the Iron Curtain. Since the 1989 Velvet Revolution and the end of Communism, Prague has thrown off the years of repression with alacrity and is returning to its earlier grandeur, enticing tourists with its fairytale quality and romantic atmosphere. In recent years Prague has also become a popular weekend destination for stag and hen party groups, attracted by the lively nightlife, world-famous beer and low prices.

The historical centre of the city is compact and its attractions are all within easy reach. The core comprises the Castle District (Hradèany) west of the River Vltava, and the Old and New town (Staré Mesto and Nové Mesto) to the east, joined by the famous Charles Bridge. The Castle District situated on the hill overlooking the city incorporates the main attractions, including the Castle itself and the Cathedral. The Old Town is a maze of alleyways, cobbled streets and passages winding their way towards the beautiful Old Town Square, Staromestské Namestí. Josefov Ghetto, the old Jewish Quarter, is enclosed within the old town. The New Town, in contrast, is modern and has been laid out in wide boulevards, most famously Wenceslas Square, the fashionable shopping boulevard leading up to the foot of the grand National Gallery.

The city's cultural scene also features high on the list of things to do in Prague, with classical music concerts, opera and ballet, as well as the many art galleries around the city. It is constantly adding small new museums to its summertime list, often strange but curiously interesting. This beautiful city, a 'symphony in stone', built along the river and on the surrounding hills, has never ceased to capture the hearts and imagination of visitors, painters, photographers and poets.

Information & Facts

Climate

Prague has a mild climate with warm, wet summers and cold winters. Average summer temperatures are 75-79° F (24-26°C), with chilly nights. In winter daytime temperatures hover around freezing, falling several degrees lower at night. Spring is generally sunny, the wettest months being in summer, May to August. Snow is rare in the city.

Eating Out

The city of Prague may be known for its beauty and cultural history, but visitors will be surprised by the diversity of eateries and cuisines on offer. Largely geared to intrepid tourists, Prague's dining scene has come into its own in recent years and will not disappoint.

Beer is a huge part of Czech culture and cuisine, and it is for this reason that many gastro-pubs exist with hearty roast meats, the most common being pork, and vegetables being the perfect accompaniment to an ice-cold Pilsner Urquell. Knedlíky (boiled sliced dumplings) are a common accompaniment to meals. Those with a sweet tooth will enjoy the many pastries in Prague, such as Kolache, a type of yeast pastry filled with anything from fruits to cheeses, or poppyseed doughnuts. There are many street vendors selling local Czech-style hot dogs and mulled wine.

Just about any kind of niche restaurant can be found in Prague, from Indonesian to Indian or American to Uruguayan. The most popular dining areas around the city are the Staré Mesto (Old Town), Nove Mesto (New Town) and Vinohrady. It is customary to tip waiters 10-15%, although some restaurants in heavily-touristed areas will add a gratuity.

Getting Around

Prague has a cheap and efficient public transport system consisting of an integrated network of buses, trams, metro and a funicular on Petrin Hill. The historic centre is compact and pedestrian-only, but trams offer an inexpensive way of seeing the rest of the city and there are plenty of metro stations in the centre. Tram lines criss-cross the centre and are the best way to get around, after the metro. Buses need rarely be used, as they tend to operate outside the centre and are more irregular. After midnight night trams and buses offer a limited service, usually every hour. Tickets are valid on all modes of public transport, but must be bought in advance and validated before each journey. A number of travel passes are also available; these are the best way to avoid the hassle of different single tickets and need only be stamped once at the start. Prague is inundated with dishonest, unregistered taxi drivers who attempt to rip off tourists. It's best to book taxis over the phone and demand a receipt for the fare before setting out. ProfiTaxi or AAA Taxi are the most reputable companies. A car is unnecessary since much of the city is pedestrianised, parking is a major problem and vehicle crime is rife. Car rental is also expensive.

Kids Attractions

Prague has many attractions to offer children on holiday in the city. For starters, there is an entire castle district to explore, a fairytale world for kids to enjoy. Petoín Hill is home to a fantastic mirror maze, and children can also go pony riding in the area. The local toy museum will keep children entertained for hours, and a visit to the Traffic Rules Playground could be a great learning experience.

Language

Czech is the official language but English and German are also widely spoken.

Money

The official currency is the Czech crown, locally known as the Koruna (CZK), which is divided into 100 haler. Most credit cards including American Express, Diners Club, Visa and MasterCard are accepted, but it is best to have cash handy when travelling away from Prague and the main tourist centres. Travellers cheques and foreign currency can be exchanged at banks, bureaux de change and some hotels; commission is highest in hotels. Banks are closed on weekends. ATMs (known as 'bankomats') are becoming more common in Prague and are probably the best way to obtain local currency at a good rate and without commission. The Czech Republic is still cheap compared to the rest of Europe, though the gap is closing.

Night Life

Prague's nightlife offers cafés, pubs and bars, live music venues and clubs - something for everyone. Be sure to have a few pints of Czech pilsner for those at home!

Prague's most popular nightclubs are situated right in the heart of Old Town, including Karlovy Lazne, which is the largest club in Central Europe. Vertigo, Roxy, N11 and Dublex are also well recommended. More upscale clubs include Bugsy's and Tretter's, and Cross Club in Holesovice is also entertaining. It is customary to share tables with strangers if things get crowded, so don't be shy!

For those bent on partying, Prague has several organised pubcrawls that start each night around 9pm, meeting at the clocktower, the Pub Crawl Bar, or Prague Underground Backpackers. M1 Secret Lounge, Think Pink, U Sudu, Atmosphere and Solid Uncertainty are some of the trendiest bars to visit, and Rocky O'Reilly's is the largest Irish pub in Prague. Alternatiff and Bordo are both laid-back places to have a drink and listen to some alternative music, while Club Nebe occasionally hosts live shows. Concerts by local and international artists can be enjoyed at Rock Café, Lucerna Music Bar and Palace Akropolis.

For a more relaxed evening, shows at the National Marionette Theatre are renowned for their performances of Mozart operas. Classical music lovers will enjoy hearing music from local icon Anton Dvorak at venues like Smetana Hall.

Shopping

While shopping in Prague isn't on a par with many top cities in Europe, many hypermarkets and shopping malls have started to develop, offering a wider selection of products since the fall of Communism. The growing competition has led to better prices for customers, making shopping in Prague a must!

The main shopping area in Prague extends from Wenceslas Square, past Na Prikope and into Republic Square; large stores such as Marks and Spencer and Debenhams are all located here. The Parizska vicinity has some international boutiques, while Mala Strana and the Old Town Square are home to small shops and art galleries. The Old Town Square also has a permanent market selling arts, crafts and souvenirs. Much of what you'll find on the thoroughfare between Charles Bridge and Old Town Square is mass-produced and overpriced.

There are several shopping malls in Prague, including the upscale Palladium in the centre of the city; Metropole Zlièín, which has cinemas and fast food eateries near the bus station; and the huge OC Nový Smíchov.

Local products include crystal ware and accessories, puppets, hand painted eggs, wooden toys, folk art and memorabilia from the Communist era (army surplus hats, knives and badges). Many artists sell pen-and-ink drawings on the street, and of course you'll find many Prague souvenirs bearing the face of native son Franz Kafka. Locally-mined Czech garnets are also popular, but make sure you get a certificate of authenticity.

Most shops are open from 9am to 7pm, with some large supermarkets staying open till 10pm or 24 hours a day. Most shops in the city centre and tourist destinations are open on weekends. Some sales tax refunds are available to non-EU citizens.

Sightseeing

Sightseeing in Prague is a fascinating experience, as it is a city steeped in an intriguing history and teeming with sightseeing opportunities that will appeal to just about any and every kind of visitor. From medieval castles to museums and dancing buildings, this dynamic city is a treasure trove of attractions.

Prague is known as the City of a Thousand Spires, and if you head to the Castle District, otherwise known as Hradèany, to view castles such as St Vitus Cathedral and wander round the cobblestone streets of Old Town Square, you'll see why. You can also shop at the local market and visit the hill for of Vyaehrad. Culture vultures will love the Museum of Communism as well as the Jewish Museum, and history buffs will be captivated by the medieval Astronomical Clock.

Visitors to Prague will do well to purchase the Prague Card which will allow them free access to over 50 of the city's top attractions, discounts on exclusive tours and comes with an exclusive 150-page guidebook. The cost of the card is EUR34 and is valid for four days.

Time

GMT +1 (GMT +2 from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October).

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