12 things you should know before visiting Prague

If you ask us, vacations start once you book the flights, and the joys of research start right away. Problem: today, you can Google pretty much everything, and information seem to contradict each other. Case in point: have you tried to google child vaccination? Yeah, exactly. The link you click the first will set you on a path through a rabbit hole, and you’ll end up no smarter after two weeks of research. Solution: you’re joking, right? When it comes to Prague research, we’re the solution. The following should set you on your path through the right rabbit hole. Oh, we mean Prague trip research. 

Here’s the twelve things you should know before you travel to Prague. 

The weather is unpredictable

It happens every time. Guests book one of our Prague food tours. We send the confirmation, inviting the guests to ask anything. And then it comes: “What will the weather be like in [add month]?” Listen up. We. Don’t. Know. Sure, you don’t waste your precious cabin luggage space by packing shorts for your January trip to Prague. But the weather has become unpredictable in the past few years, with striking fluctuations. Our advice: pack layers. We’ve seen anything between 15C/60F and 40C/105F in August, so packing something that can layer up is a great idea. Bear in mind we get all the four seasons, and while your hotel will have air-conditioning for those hot July nights, your AirBnB probably won’t.

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Basic questions. Basic answers.

Okay, we’ve bundled a few into a single category, and we’ll go quick. Yes, you can drink the water. But with beer that cheap, why would you? No, we don’t use the Euro. The legal tender is the Czech crown. Some shops may take the Euro, but not at the best rate. Yes, you should tip in restaurants, about 10% or so, if you’re happy. Smoking is prohibited in restaurants. We don’t go to the opera as much as you’d think. Yes, some Czechs don’t like it when you use “Czechoslovakia”. That state ceased to exist in 1993. Yes, we have recently adopted an abbreviated version of Czech Republic, Czechia. And yes, we’re confused by it as much as you are. 

Netflix and chilled beer

Czechoslovakia was the “Hollywood of the East” and watching a few movies to get a feel for Prague makes sense to us. You know, something fact-filled, like Cool Runnings before you set off to Calgary. Here’s a few ideas: Amadeus, an Oscar winning movie, was shot in Prague by Milos Forman and you’ll definitely want to revisit a few of the sights or at least book opera tickets. Run, waiter, Run! is a fantastic 1981 comedy about the hustle of the Communist 70s and 80s, set partly in the picturesque district of Zizkov. You can find it in its entirety, with okay English subtitles, here. Kolya, an Oscar winner from the same creative team, is a tearjerker of a story about an old bachelor being stuck with a Russian kid towards the end of the Communist era. Finally, Cosy Dens, one of the local favorites, is a gentle story about two families in the 60s and the heartbreak of the Soviet occupation.

Three’s a crowd. How about three thousand?

“Is this the high season right now?” We get this questions all the time. Yes, most visitors are surprised by how much people visit Prague every single year. We’ve become the Venice of Central Europe, with crowds concentrated along the main routes. If you want solitude and tranquility while enjoying your sights, you might want to look elsewhere. That said, you can enjoy Prague’s undeniably beautiful sights the clever way, which means off the rush hours (think the Charles Bridge early in the morning, or the Prague Castle late in the evening). And for the rest of the day… well, that brings us to the next thing you should know about Prague.

 Prague tourist traps

Don’t get stuck in the historical centre

Sure, you’ve heard about the Charles Bridge, the Old Town Square and the Prague Castle, but do you really think you will see real life in the historical centre? Think again. While “Prague 1“, the wider city centre, is home to less than 30,000 people (many registered there just for the residential parking rights or to rent an AirBnB), the population of Prague’s remaining fourteen districts never drops below 50K, with four districts well beyond the 100K mark. Yes, most locals live outside of the historical centre, so for your stay to get real, you gotta leave. (To prove the point: many of our food tour guests ask us if Czechs don’t like dogs because they have never seen one. They actually do. But if you don’t leave the historical centre, you wouldn’t know.) Other parts of Prague will show you something more authentic, and districts like Karlin, Vinohrady, Letna or Zizkov are beautiful in their own right and bustle with local life. But how do you get there? Glad you asked.

 Riegrovy sady, Prague

Our public transport system is better than your public transport system

Consistently ranked as one of the best in the world, Prague’s public transport system is cheap, easily accessible, fairly reliable and very safe. Sure, there’s problems (no direct train from the airport, contant works on the ageing infrastructure, and the odd weirdo on the subway), butPrague’s system of subways, street cars, buses and commuter trains is really nice. If you stick to the historical centre, you may not even need it, but if you want to explore more, it may come in handy. And the fast and deep escalators on the A and B line are worth the price of admission alone. 

And if public transport isn’t your thing, there’s still Uber. Like most people, we love Uber’s service while absolutely hating the company, but your app will work here and it’s convenient and cheap. Don’t hail taxis on the street. They will try to rip you off. Sad but true. Want to support a local business? Download Liftago, the Czech alternative to Uber that uses licensed drivers only and actually pays them decent money. How refreshing. Just make sure that walking isn’t quicker than driving to your destination. May be easily the case, given the Medieval layout of the city centre full of narrow one-way streets.  

 streetcar in Prague, Czech Republic

Those boots were made for walkin’

One of the classic ice-breakers at the beginning of our tours? Our guests proudly sharing their FitBit results from their Prague stay so far. You’ll walk a lot, so pack accordingly. Leave those stillettos at home. You don’t want to look stupid trying to negotiate the cobbled streets. Wear something comfortable and prepare yourself mentally to walking the entire day: Prague is fairly compact and it just makes sense to walk. And walk. And rest. And walk some more. Hey, that’s what the locals do, anyway. 

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Our coffee is better than your coffee.

Just face it: the coffee in Prague is better than where you’re from. Unless where you’re from is Melbourne, Australia. And even then, it’s still pretty damn delicious. Skip the Belle Epoque cafes listed in your guide book. Sure, Kafka used to drink there and Einstein went there for sweets, but were these guys foodies? (Hint: they weren’t.) Instead, go to more modern venues run by a young generation of baristas who don’t see jobs as temporary stints but a viable carreer choice. And you’ll need a cup in the morning after all that beer you drank, and a cup in the afternoon after all the walking you did. Just ask for an extra shot in your cappuccino, because most baristas pull single shots by default here. Here’s our favorite coffee shops in Prague

 Kavarna Misto, Prague

…and the cocktails aren’t bad either

Sure, you’ve heard about the beer. (You HAVE heard about the beer, right? We drink a lot of it here in Prague, and it’s cheap and mostly delicious. Just ask any US study abroad student who spent a semester in Prague. You’ll find them in your nearest rehab centre.) And you may have heard about the wine. (We do make wine here, and it’s worth a try.) But have you heard about the cocktails? Prague’s cocktail bars have been retaining surprisingly high standards and don’t lag in creativity either. Ask your bartender to fix you a drink with local liquors, be it the classic Becherovka (which tastes like Christmas on fire) or anything from the rich portfolio of local favorite, the distillery of Mr Zufanek. (You’ll find his gins and absinthes in nearly every bar in Prague.) Here's our favorite cocktail bars in Prague.

 Hemingway Bar, Prague

The service is not the best in the world

Gone are the days when nearly every order would be met with the rolling of eyes and attitude. Today, this behavior is the domain of certified tourist traps only. (It’s not like you’ll be there ever again, right?) That said, the service does lag behind some other cultures where the income may be more based on tipping. While formally polite, many members of the service staff simply won’t do everything to keep the customer satisfied - and be ready not to have a problem resolved when you reach a customer centre. Yes, in many cases, the computer says no. Don’t feel bad. That’s simply the way it is. Have we mentioned the beer is cheap? There you go. 

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The rumors are true. Or are they?

Yes. Taxi drivers will try to rip you off. Don’t hail a taxi on the street - ask your hotel or restaurant to call you one, or use an app (see above). The exchange offices will try to rip you off, too. Use a bank’s ATM (not the Euronet ones) to withdraw cash instead. Don’t exchange money on the street, ever. The lovely person who will happily break the CZK 2000 note you’ve received from the ATM is giving you Belarussian rubles and they’re worth nothing. But can you be surprised? Where there’s tourists, there’s people who will try to scam them. Some rumors are not true though - the guidebooks tend to exaggerate the pickpocketing problem. Yes, that was the 90s. We’ve moved on since then. That said, act smart and use your common sense. That usually helps. In Prague and elsewhere.

You don’t have to see the Astronomical Clock’s show at the full hour

Honestly, trust us. You don’t.