The Guide Visiting Prague on a Budget
By Pearl Harris
|Musicians entertain on Charles Bridge. Photo by Pearl Harris.
Like every other cosmopolitan city in the world, Prague can be a budgetary disaster for the unsuspecting traveler. As an expat who has lived in the Czech Republic for the past seven years, I have compiled, through trial and error, some practical advice to help ensure a carefree, inexpensive stay in this historic capital with so much to offer.
Transportation from the Airport to the City Center
|Metro stop in Prague.
Travelers to the Czech Republic arriving at Ruzyne International Airport will discover that this ultra-modern airport—recently voted “the best airport in central and Eastern Europe”—is not directly connected to the city center by public transport. However, several alternate means of transport are available. Hailing any passing cab is not to be recommended, as Prague cab-drivers do not have a good reputation for fair play regarding foreigners! Rather choose one of the following recommended options:
- Public Transport: If you travel light, opt for the cheapest ride into the city by public transport. I stress “travel light”, for this involves a bus from the airport to Dejvická metro station and then subway to the city center. Many stations in Prague have no elevators, so negotiating the many steps can be a problem if heavily laden!
- The Airport Express bus is your second-cheapest option, running from the Airport to Dejvická metro station and also to Holešovice train station in the center.
- CEDAZ: Quickest and most convenient, this minibus transport operates at a fixed price.
- Airport Cars: Individual transport at fixed prices depending on the destination, for 1-4 persons.
- AAA Radiotaxi: Guaranteed prices according to mileage.
Inner City Transport
Prague has an extensive, cheap local transport network. The best bet is the 24-hour ticket. There are also 72-hour and 120-hour tickets. Tickets are valid for streetcar, bus, and metro.
Inside every bus and streetcar and at all metro station entrances, yellow validating machines are located, at which passengers must stamp their tickets upon commencing the first journey. When the period is up, a new ticket must be validated. Inspectors impose heavy fines on the spot to those without valid tickets — and being “foreign” is no excuse. Abusing the system of trust is widely despised and culprits are shown no mercy.
|Dancing house in Prague.
Finding reasonably priced, good accommodation near the center of Prague is like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack! For this reason, Hotel Extol Inn, in Pristavni Street in Prague 7, is a welcome surprise to the budget traveler. The hotel is a 5-minute walk from the Delnicka streetcar stop, from where there is a 24-hour service, taking a mere 10 minutes to the city center.
The hotel has 3 categories of accommodation:
1. Economy category provides accommodation with shared bathroom facilities between 2 or 3 rooms, all spotlessly clean, basic, but comfortable.
2. Standard category comprises singles, doubles or triples, also with shared bathroom facilities, but with TV and a few other extras.
3. Luxury category comprises singles, doubles or triples with en suite bathrooms.
The hotel has a pleasant bar-cum-restaurant, serving nourishing buffet breakfasts which are included in all the overnight rates. The á la carte restaurant offers traditional Czech and international fare and is open from 11:00 to 23:00.
There is a special discount rate for Hostelling International members in the Economy category and for large groups traveling together (prices upon request).
A Gym, Sauna, Jacuzzi and massages are available at a small extra cost. The hotel is fully accessible to wheelchairs, Internet access is provided at a modest fee and public transport tickets are on sale at the reception.
The 24-hour multilingual receptionists are friendly and helpful. Guests departing before breakfast may request a breakfast package.
For anyone seeking budget, clean and comfortable accommodation close to central Prague, with every travel need taken care of, I can personally vouch for the Hotel Extol Inn.
Sightseeing in Prague on a Budget
|Cathedral and architecture in Prague.
The best — and cheapest — way to see Prague is on foot.
Living in the Czech Republic, I have had many occasion to act as impromptu Tour Guide for first-time visitors to Prague.
The unfamiliar and strange-sounding Czech names can be daunting to the English-speaking traveler, so I have devised the following directions for an independent tour which will — with the minimum of effort, time, and expense — provide an introduction to Prague:
From the Extol Inn, take any streetcar in the direction of Nádraží Holešovice, the nearest metro station. There is only one line here, but do choose the right direction! Always check the end station on the platform signs. Take the metro in the direction of - Háje. (There is a small problem in Prague, in that the metro is constantly being extended, so the maps and signs can’t always keep up!)
A recorded voice on the train will announce: “Příštĕ zaztávka” (next stop) — Muzeum”— this is where you must alight to view the gargantuan National Museum, Wenceslas statue and Wenceslas Square (Václavské námĕstí).
Wenceslas Square is the modern heart of Prague, named after Saint Wenceslas (Václav), the Patron Saint of Bohemia. This is a tree-lined avenue, reminiscent of the Champs Elyseés, where most historic demonstrations and uprisings of the recent past have taken place. Formerly known as Koňský trh (Horse Market) as horse markets were held here in the Middle Ages, Wenceslas Square is a busy shopping boulevard, with amazing book stores such as the Palác Knih Luxo — the largest bookstore in the Czech Republic — as well as the largest photographic center in Europe — Centrum FotoŠkoda — in Vodičkova Street, just off Wenceslas Square.
Having browsed or shopped, take the metro from Muzeum to Námĕstí Miru (one stop away). In front of the lovely church on Miru Square are numerous streetcar stops. Catch Tram 22 for an inexpensive scenic trip across central Prague, over the Vltava River and all the way up to Prague Castle. Alight at the streetcar stop Pražký hrad (Prague Castle). Cross the street and you are within the castle precincts.
Follow the stream of tourists here to view the magnificent St Vitus Cathedral and see the Golden Lane, where Franz Kafka did some of his best writing at number 22. Watch the Changing of the Guard, before strolling downhill to Charles Bridge — “Karlovy Most”— which is what you will see on the brown tourist signboards.
Charles Bridge is the most visited place in Prague. Here, amidst the throng of tourists, you may buy original paintings and other Czech handcrafts, listen to street musicians — the jazz is amazing — and watch entertainment by street performers.
From Charles Bridge follow the signs to Staromĕstské námĕstí (Old Town Square) making your way along narrow cobble-stoned pedestrian alleys, lined with tempting souvenir stores.
The awe-inspiring fairytale spires of the Týn Church and the Astronomical Clock on the Old Town Square are Prague’s most famous landmarks. Here you may take a horse-drawn carriage ride through the old streets or while away some time at a pavement café, sipping the famous Czech pívo (beer).
Other Recommended Excursions
River Canal Boat
Highly recommend is the cruise by “Prague Venice” (River Canal Boat Trips). At the Old Town side of Charles Bridge, you will see the distinctive white sailor uniforms of the University students who will direct you to the boarding point for these special trips.
The 45-minute excursion, in an original 19th-century canal boat, gently cruises between the Charles and Manes bridges, providing a different perspective on the city’s landmarks and unique architecture. The small boat also navigates the canals of “Prague Venice” around Kampa, the artificial island in the Vltava, a trip not undertaken by larger vessels.
Included in the fare are free refreshments on board. The narration is provided in six languages by students who are extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the history of Prague. The ticket includes discount coupons for various theaters and museums.
The Municipal House (Obecní dům)
This national cultural landmark and striking Art Nouveau building is situated next to the 15th-century Powder Tower (Prašná brána) at Námĕstí Republiky. Take the metro to Námĕstí Republiky – this is also where many local and national tours depart from.
For an appreciation of the modern capital and to see just how far the Czech Republic has advanced since the Communist era, visit Palác Flora with its exclusive brand-name stores and 8 movie theaters including Imax. Flora metro station leads directly into the shopping mall.
Eating well in Prague without breaking the bank
Places to avoid: All restaurants near tourist attractions are to be avoided. Rather wander off down a side street and find a place popular with the locals where you will find lower prices, good service and tasty food.
An American-style Food Court is located on the upper level of Palác Floro — this will not give you an insight into local fare, but is where many city employees lunch. So to eat like an American in Prague, or a modern young Czech, this is the place to go!
Most shopping malls include a supermarket where you may buy reasonably priced foodstuffs. Tesco, the large supermarket chain, is located at the metro stop, Národni třida.
My favorite restaurant in Prague — and in the whole Czech Republic:
Grosseto’s — at Francouzska 2, in Prague 2.
At metro station Námĕstí Miru, exit via the “Francouzska” steps and you will come face to face with this popular pizzeria. Enormous oven-baked pizze, home-made Italian pasta, and exceptional vino are the order of the day. Here you will dine mostly among Czechs (although English is spoken), very few tourists venturing so far off the beaten track. A gigantic pizza and carafe of wine will cost you no more than $15, inclusive of tip.
Learning Basic Czech
As with all foreign destinations, learning some of the local language is always much appreciated as a sign of respect to the host country. Here are some useful sample words and phrases.
Dobrý den — “good day” - used at all hours of the day as a greeting.
Prosím — “please”
Kde je…..….. metro, etc. — “Where is the…… metro?”
Kolik to stojí? — “How much is it?”
Dĕkuji — “Thank you”
Na shledanou – “Goodbye”
VÝSTUP / VÝCHOD — EXIT
VCHOD — ENTRANCE
PŘESTUP — TRANSFER (you will see this on metro platforms, where you need to change from one line to another.)
If you want to find a bathroom, say: “Kde je WC.?” This is “vee tse”— not as we pronounce “WC”
“MUŽI” (men )
Voltage is 220V.
Harris was born in South Africa where she spent
most of her life before emigrating to the Czech Republic
with her husband, Ian, in 2002. Besides travel, her
passions are writing, photography, reading, and animals.
She has a B.A. in English & Linguistics, post-graduate
Diploma in Translation and TEFL qualification. Formerly
an EFL teacher, Pearl now freelances and you can find more information on her website about her work proofreading, editing, and writing.
Pearl has been widely published in magazines
and on the web. Her travel memoirs, From
Africa to Buková, and the sequel Where
is my Home? are available on Amazon.com.