The Czech Republic , is a small landlocked country in Central Europe, situated south-east of Germany and bordering Austria to the south, Poland to the north and Slovakia (with which it used to form one country of Czechoslovakia) to the south-east.
After the First World War, the closely related Czechs and Slovaks of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire merged together to form the new nation of Czechoslovakia. During the interwar years, the new country's leaders were frequently preoccupied with meeting the demands of other ethnic minorities within the republic, most notably the Sudeten Germans and the Hungarians. A poor relationship with the German minority (20% of the overall population) was a particular problem that was capitalized on by Hitler and used as "rationale" for the dismemberment of the nation before the outbreak of WWII. The country was annexed and occupied by Germany during the war. After World War II, Czechoslovakia expelled most of its Germans by force and many of the ethnic Hungarians under direction of the Potsdam Conference. However, the nation was very blessed in the fact that it emerged from the war more or less intact as it avoided the fate of the massive air bombardments that leveled most of the historic neighboring cities in Germany, Austria, Poland and Belarus. The country fell within the Soviet sphere of influence and remained so by force until 1989.
In 1968, an invasion by Warsaw Pact troops ended the efforts of the country's leaders to liberalize Communist party rule and create "socialism with a human face". Anti-Soviet demonstrations the following year ushered in a period of harsh repression and conservatism within the party ranks. In November 1989, the Communist government was deposed in a peaceful "Velvet Revolution".
On 1 January 1993, the country underwent a "velvet divorce" into its two national components, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Now a member of NATO (since 1999) and EU (since 2004), the Czech Republic has moved toward integration in world markets, a development that poses both opportunities and risks.
The Czech Republic is not a large country but has a rich and eventful history. From time immemorial Czechs, Germans, Jews and Slovaks, as well as Italian stonemasons and stucco workers, French tradesmen and deserters from Napoleon’s army have all lived and worked here, all influencing one another. For centuries they jointly cultivated their land, creating works, which still command our respect and admiration today. It is thanks to their inventiveness and skill that this small country is graced with hundreds of ancient castles, monasteries and stately mansions, and even entire towns that give the impression of being comprehensive artifacts. The Czech Republic contains a vast of amount of architectural treasure and has beautiful forests and mountains to match.
The Czech flag (see above) is the same one formerly used by Czechoslovakia, having been readopted in 1993.
Easter (Velikonoce): On Easter Monday it is customary for guys to (slightly) spank girls and women with a wicker stick with colorful ribbons at the end (pomlázka), in the hope that the girls and women will in turn give them colored eggs, candy or drinks. After noon, girls defend themselves by pouring water on the guys. Obvious tourists are often (but not always) exempt.
Witch Burning (Pálení čarodějnic) or Night of Witches (Čarodějnice): On the last April evening, bonfires are lit around the country. "Witch" figurines, as a symbol of evil, are made and burned in the fire. This is the reinterpretation of the old pagan festival (Beltane) influenced by Christian inquisition. Because probably most Czechs would prefer the witches over the inquisitors, in many fires no witches are burnt, and the feast is celebrated in a more original pagan way - witches are those who should celebrate the night, not be burnt. It doesn't stop jokes like "Honey, hide or you will be burnt tonight!".
Last Ringing (Poslední zvonění) is a traditional celebration of the end of the last year at a high school. It is celebrated usually in late April or early May, a week or more before the final exams (maturita in Czech) take place (the time may be different in different schools). Students get a free day and usually do silly things in silly costumes. They go to the streets and collect money from people passing by, sometimes threatening them with water, writing on their faces with a lipstick or spraying them with perfume. The collected money is used at a party after the exams.
Feast of St. Mikuláš (St. Nicolaus, Santa Claus), Dec. 5: On this day, St. Mikuláš roams about with his consorts, an angel and a devil. He gives small presents and candy to children to reward them for their good behaviour throughout the year, while the devil chastises children for their wrongdoings over the course of the year and gives them potatoes, coal (or sometimes spankings) as a punishment. Old Town Square in Prague is a great place to watch the festivities.
Christmas (Vánoce): Czechs begin celebrating this holiday on Christmas Eve and continue to celebrate until the 26th (the Feast of Stephen). Presents are placed under a Christmas tree (by Ježíšek (The Baby Jesus) as little children believe) and taken after dinner on Christmas Eve. Potato salad and carp is a traditional Christmas meal, and for this reason one can see live carp being sold out of huge tanks throughout the streets of Czech cities and towns just before Christmas.
The Czech Republic can be divided in 3 historical regions:
There are 14 political regions which are subdivided into districts.
These are just nine interesting cities selected to represent variety of Czech urban areas. For more exciting destinations, see the individual regions.
Prague (Praha): the capital and largest city of the Czech Republic. Its large and beautiful historic center is on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
Brno: Largest city in Moravia with several excellent museums. The Moto GP Grand Prix takes place here every year.
Ostrava: Third-largest city in the Czech Republic with a vibrant local subculture and long history of coal mining and heavy industry. The old steelworks and coal mines are not everybody’s idea of a tourist destination but it is a fascinating and unique landscape which is accessible on guided tours. Hard hats supplied.
Olomouc: A vibrant riverside university town with a 1000 year history and the 2nd largest historical centre in the Czech Republic. Olomouc’s rich collection of historical architecture includes the UNESCO-listed column of the Holy Trinity, six stone baroque fountains, several churches and the renaissance town hall with a 15metre high astronomical clock. Bouzov and Helfštýn castles are nearby.
Český Krumlov: Beautiful old town in South Bohemia with the country's second biggest chateau.
Kutná Hora: Historical town with famous St. Barbora cathedral, old silver mines and the Chapel of All Saints, which is decorated with thousands of human bones
Karlovy Vary aka "Carlsbad", historic (and biggest Czech) spa resort, especially popular with German and Russian tourist groups
Pilsen (Plzeň): Home of the original Pilsner Urquell beer, and the largest city in West Bohemia
Telč: A small South Moravian town with a perfectly preserved Renaissance town centre which is surrounded by shallow man made lakes. The town square is surrounded by an arched walkway and colourful two-storey renaissance houses. The chateau and Church of St James are open to the public and its possible to hire rowboats from the lakeside in the warmer months.
Český Ráj: (Czech Paradise) A region of towering rock formations and isolated castles located north-east of Prague. The gateway city of Jičín is an interesting destination in its own right, but Turnov is closer to most of the castles and rock formations. The twin towers of the ruined castle Trosky are a symbol of the area and can be climbed for the views
Jaroměřice nad Rokytnou: A small town circa 50 km from Jihlava (towards Znojmo) with the Baroque Castle and Church of St. Margaret
Karlštejn Castle and the holy cave monastery: Hiking trip to the famous castle as well as an off the beaten track monastery
Krkonoše: (Giant Mountains) The highest mountains in the Czech Republic along the Polish border
Litomyšl: A beautiful small town in East Bohemia. The renaissance main square and chateau are among the Czech Republic’s prettiest and the town has been home to many important and influential artists, including composer Bedřich Smetana, sculptor Olbram Zoubek and painter Josef Váchal. There are two international opera festivals at the chateau each year.
Moravský Kras: Extensive karst area between Brno and Olomouc with the deepest abyss in the country and, in the Punkevní Caves, the opportunity to take a boat ride along an underground river.
Mutěnice Wine Region: Some of the best vineyards in the Czech Republic and totally off the well beaten tourist path
Nové Město na Moravě : Cross country skiing resort. The race of Tour de Ski takes place here.
Terezín: A red-brick baroque fortress 70km north of Prague beside the Ohře river. It was used during WWII as a Jewish ghetto and concentration camp.
Other international airports are in Brno (with flights to London, Moscow, Barcelona and Prague), Ostrava (flights to Vienna and Prague), Pardubice, Karlovy Vary (flights to Moscow and Uherské Hradiště).
There are dozens of low-cost airlines going to/from Prague. Ryanair flies to Brno from London and Girona and to Prague from Dublin. Other nearby airports are Nuremberg (200 km) and Munich (320 km) in Germany, Vienna having a bus shuttle to Brno city (260 km to Prague, 110 km to Brno) in Austria, Wroclaw (200 km) in Poland (might be a good idea if you want to go to the Giant Mountains) and Bratislava – hub for SkyEurope Airlines but without shuttle (280 km to Prague, only 120 km to Brno) in Slovakia.
The easiest way to get to your hotel from the airport is praguetransfer.net , a minibus company that provides a cheap door to door service. Book your shuttle in advance at their website. If you need to get to another city from the airport, you can book at the same company's website specialized in long distance transfers to all cities in the Czech Republic. It is easy and quick to book at airportshuttle.cz
International bus service runs from many cities in Europe with direct connections from Germany, Netherlands, Slovakia, Switzerland, Austria etc. Good service is offered by Eurolines and Student Agency .
International train service runs from most points in Europe with direct connections from Slovakia, Poland, Germany, Nederland, Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia, Hungary, Romania and Ukraine. If you are in Bavaria, Saxony or Thuringia, the cheapest way to get to the Czech Republic is to take a "Bayernticket", "Sachsen-Ticket" or "Thuringen-Ticket" (up to 5 people per ticket, which costs 25 EUR; only regional trains) to the border and then buy a Czech ticket on the board (with 30 Kč surcharge). The Bayernticket is valid in fast trains from Nuremberg and Munich to Prague.
IDOS offers an exceptionally useful website with integrated timetables for all trains and buses in the Czech Republic, including all intra-city and inter-city transports. The German and English version is also available here.
There are domestic flights from Prague to Brno and Ostrava, operated by CSA Czech Airlines . There were also flights operated by Discovery Link, from Prague to Uherské Hradiště, but this airline stopped its flights in 2005.
A cheap and excellent means of travelling between Prague, Brno, Plzeň and Liberec are the buses from Student Agency. A line to Ostrava via Olomouc was introduced recently. Apart from this operator there are many other bus companies that link Prague and many other cities regularly. The buses leave Prague from Florenc Bus Station or Černý Most Bus Station (both are also Metro stations). Except for the Praha-Ostrava line, the buses are bit faster and cost less than the Czech trains (not considering discounts). Usually, you do not have to book a seat but if you travel on Fridays or before holidays from Prague, it is recommended. Timetables are available on the IDOS website.
Driving in the Czech Republic is not as expensive as it is in other countries, but there are specific things that must be kept in mind.
The first thing is that the Czech Republic is a zero tolerance country. It is illegal to operate a motor vehicle under the influence of any amount of alcohol, and violations are very heavily punished.
The people in the Czech Republic drive sometimes aggressively, but it is not same "madness" like in southern Europe countries for instance.
In order to drive on the well-kept motorways, however, you need to purchase a toll sticker. These stickers cost about CZK 220 for seven days (for vehicles lighter than 3.5 tonnes), but can be purchased for longer periods of time (1 month or a year). If you do not have a toll sticker on your car when you drive on the motorways, the fines can be very steep (CZK 5000 minimum).
Make certain that you purchase the correct toll sticker: there are those for vehicles under 3.5 tonnes in weight and those for vehicles between 3.5 and 12 tonnes. Vehicles larger than 12 tonnes in weight must use an on-board unit ("premid" unit) to pay tolls based on distance.
The condition of many roads is improving, but to be safe, drive on the motorways as much as possible, although if you want to get the remote parts of the country you will be forced to take bumpy side-roads sometimes.
Speed limits in the Czech Republic are usually 130 km/h on motorways, 90 km/h off of motorways, and 50 km/h in towns. Petrol is inexpensive compared to the rest of Europe (CZK 31 / 1,35€), but it is expensive compared to the United States.
Traffic fines can usually be paid on the spot.
It is now possible to purchase Czech Rail tickets online. To do so, visit the Czech Rail EShop . Tickets purchased in advance online are often much cheaper (sometimes over 50% cheaper) than tickets purchased at a train station. For a ticket that travels internationally, you must purchase at least 3 days in advance. For domestic tickets, you should be able to purchase the same day if tickets are still available so long as its at least 30 minutes before departure.
The trains go even to the most remote locations of the Czech Republic and unlike buses, they also operate regularly during off-peak hours. However, outside the modernized main corridors, the standard of travelling is often the same as it was in the 1970's, and therefore it is quite time consuming to get to the provincial towns or villages. The trains tend to meander around the countryside and while this may sound like a nice afternoon ride, it's usually more hassle than it's worth. However, things are changing constantly and we can expect some further modernization in the near future.
Due to the complicated discount policy of the Czech Railways (especially for foreign travellers), the standard one-way tickets are twice as expensive as the bus. However, you can get a discount for a return ticket, for group tickets (two travellers are considered as a "group") or with a special "customer" card. Especially the group discount is very useful, because you get the same fare as using the customer card (75% of standard ticket price) even for two people and from the third traveller on you pay half of the standard price.
The customer card (In-karta) costs 990 Kč and is valid for three years. This makes the trains much more useful, sometimes even cheaper than buses. Its price can be recovered quickly but it takes some time (about one month) to issue the card and you need a photograph. You have to fill in a form and add a passport photo. You will get a paper card. After one month you will get a chip card. With this card you can use the "electronic wallet". This "wallet" may be very useful. For the complete list of discounts in English visit Czech Railways' website . If you are under 26 years, you can have a "junior-card". The card costs 330 Kč for three years. With this card you will get a discount of 25%.
Categories of trains:
Osobní - slow "local" trains, stops everywhere (abbrev. Os)
Spěšný - faster than "osobní", usually skips little villages (Sp)
Rychlík - fast trains, stops in major towns, relatively safe and commonly used trains for longer distances(R)
Expres - faster and usually a bit cleaner kind of "Rychlík" (Ex)
Intercity, Eurocity - pretty modern, clean and fast trains, stopping in major cities only (IC, EC)
If you take Supercity (SC) Pendolino, you have to tell at the counter when you buy tickets because they do not know what kind of train you will travel with. There are extra charges for these trains mentioned above. If you are not sure, try to ask for help some younger people waiting in the queue as they should speak some English.
Between two regional capitals you can use your customer card even more efficiently. With a chip card you have the "electronic wallet". At several stations you can find a special blue dispenser. Unfortunately, it is in Czech only. Touch your card to the image of card. The dispenser will show you some options. One of them is "Tickets eLiška" (Jízdenky eLiška). Click and you will see the regional capitals. If you buy the ticket in advance, every relation costs 160 Kč. If you buy the ticket for the same day, the price goes down to 120 Kč or only 80 Kč for some relations. However, there is limited number of these tickets for every day and relation, so at frequent relations (Prague-Brno, Prague-Ostrava) they can be sold out.
In order to pay these tickets with your "electronic wallet", you have to deposit money on your card first, which you may do conveniently at any counter at the station. Another possibility is to buy the ticket and pay with a credit card, after which you can print the ticket from the PDF or possibly pick up your ticket at any station.
If you travel in a group to longer distance, the cheapest variant can be ČDNet - daily ticket for the whole Czech rail network. It is valid for groups to 5 members and costs 900 Kč. There is similar daily ticket SONE+ for travelling on Saturdays and Sundays. It is valid for groups to 2 members and costs 450 Kč. For travelling by Supercity trains you need to pay a surcharge.
Although many train stations were repaired and modernized, the rest is still like a trip back in time to the communist era. There is no need to be afraid but try to avoid them in the late night hours. Trains are generally safe (there are regular police guards assigned for fast trains) and very popular mean of transport and they are widely used both by students and commuters. Prague has a pretty good network of local trains connecting it with suburbs and surrounding cities and the tickets bought for these trains are valid for municipal transport. The new and developing Esko Prague system is efficient to use. Check Prague integrated transport (PID) (in Czech only).
Smaller pets in cages or bags may travel for free. Bigger dogs must have a muzzle and must be on a leash. Price is very low, only 15 Kč one way or 30 Kč for the whole day (until midnight).
The Czech Republic is an excellent place for cycling. There are lots of pleasant country lanes, cycling marked paths and picturesque villages along these paths (always with a pub...), it's easy to find the way, and the trains have bicycle racks in the baggage section for when you get tired. Try cycling in South Moravia region (close to Austrian borders) where you can find dozens of well-marked paths that will lead you through beautiful countryside full of vineyards, vine cellars and colourful villages.
Also border mountains (Krkonoše, Šumava, Jeseníky etc.) are more and more popular among mountain-bikers. There are usually no fences along the trails but always keep to the marked paths here as these mountains are "CHKO" (i.e. protected as national natural heritage) and you can be fined if you cycle "off the beaten track".
In addition to walking in the cities, there are a great number of hiking paths and scenery-rich trails going through the Czech Republic's forests and natural areas, and the Czech Tourist Club (Klub českých turistů) has mapped and marked these trails so that walkers can easily locate and navigate thousands of kilometres of scenic paths, in fact it is probably the best maintained system of marking in Europe. You can buy maps of their paths on their website , or in the Czech Republic in most bookstores, tobacco shops or museums (green maps, marked with the organization's symbol and the words EDICE TURISTICKÝCH MAP KČT 1:50000 at the top). These maps are based on military maps and very precise. It's also possible to go by train to a small village at the edge of a forest and find the on-site map of the surrounding area, and four possible paths will be visible, marked in red, yellow, green, and blue nice tourist maps . Nearby such a map will be a set of directing signs, usually posted to a tree, pointing the initial direction on any of the coloured paths. The path's colour will be marked on trees throughout the path: three short horizontal bars, the outer two white and the innermost the colour of the path you're on. This symbol at times will appear as an arrow, indicating a turn. Bus and train stops will also be indicated on signs. You can also register to become a member of the Czech Tourist Club, where you can camp for 30–50 Kč a night in cottages around the Czech Republic.
Hitchhiking is very common and some drivers stop even on places where they shouldn't.
Take care to use very a clear gesture with the thumb pointing upwards. A gesture looking like you are pointing to the ground may be mistaken for prostitution solicitation.
As a word of advice, if you are hitch-hiking through the Czech Republic from the south to the German town of Dresden, never go to or past Prague unless you are in a ride going all the way to Dresden. Prague itself has no major and continuous beltway, so residents of the area must maneuver a ring of major and local roads to get around the city from south to north. Therefore the great majority of traffic you will encounter is going into the city. Past Prague, the previously major highway turns into a two-lane mountain road through local villages, in which again, the great majority of traffic is local and international travelers are hesitant to stop.
Try a letter-sized (A4) piece of paper with the destination written on it so it is clearly visible where you would like to go. See some other Tips for hitchhiking.
It is possible to hitch-hike with smaller dog, although "waiting time" will be longer. Expect another dog in the car.
Prague, the capital with its incredible historic center (and famous monuments such as the Astronomical Clock, Charles Bridge, and Prague Castle). Member of the UNESCO World Heritage list.
Olomouc, a vibrant university town with the second largest historic center after Prague. Member of the UNESCO World Heritage list.
Český Krumlov - beautiful city with castle. Member of UNESCO.
CzechTek, the yearly freetekno party somewhere in Czech Republic.
Czech Republic has an excellent and sophisticated system of trail blazing, marked trails are about everywhere. Choose an area, buy a hiking map for the area (best brand is "Klub českých turistů", 1:50000 military based maps covering the whole country, available in most large bookstores) and go. See: Hiking_in_Czech_Republic.
Many places in the Czech Republic are great for swimming, and there are many designated public swimming areas (called koupaliště). A list of places suitable for swimming is available here: . However, be aware that in hot weather the quality of the water in some places can fall below EU standard regulations.
Although the Czech Republic is a land-locked country, it does have a lot of nudist/naturist beaches near lakes. A full list is available here: . Full nudity on other beaches is legal, but rare, and usually only happens in non-crowded places.
There is a Pub Crawl that meets every night under the astronomical clock in the Old Town Square of Prague at 9:15. Its cheap and they take you to some cool pubs, bars and you end up at a night club. Its a really good way to see what the Prague night life is really like. Even in the off season.
Geocaching is a popular sport in the Czech Republic, there are thousands of caches both in the cities and in the country. Czech caches are usually listed on geocaching.com and the descriptions are often bilingual (Czech and English).
Czech Republic is one of the very few (if not the only) country to have an official chimney climbing association - "Svaz českých komínářů" or the "Union of Czech Chimney Climbers" - a state-registered civic organization of people who climb factory chimneys and cooling towers as a leisure activity and also take part in industrial architecture history documentation as well as chimney maintenance and preservation. Post a message here to apply for membership: .
Tipping is a standard 10%, and is not normally added to the bill. Don't be confused by the percentage figures listed at the bottom of the bill - by Czech law, a receipt must show the VAT paid (19% in most cases) - the VAT is already included in the final amount, and you should add 10% to this. It is normal practice to give the waiter the tip before you leave the table. Tip is not obligatory - if you weren't satisfied with services offered, don't bother tipping.
In a vast majority of better restaurants located in major cities you can pay by credit card (EC/MC, VISA), but don't be surprised if a few will not accept them. Make sure to check the door for respective card logos when entering the restaurant or ask the waiter before ordering. Czechs sometimes use special meal tickets (stravenky) to pay in some restaurants - these are tax-preferred and subsidised by employers. You won't get these tickets unless you get a job in the Czech Republic, just don't be surprised when you see them.
Traditional Czech food is hearty and suitable after a hard day in the fields. It is heavy and quite fatty, and is excellent in the winter. In the recent time there was a tendency towards more light food with more vegetables, now the traditional heavy and fatty Czech food is usually not eaten everyday and some people avoid it entirely. However nothing goes as well with the excellent Czech beer as some of the best examples of the traditional Czech cuisine, like pork, duck, or goose with knedlíky (dumplings) and sauerkraut.
A traditional main meal of a day (usually lunch) consists of two or three dishes. The first dish is hot soup (polévka). The second dish is the most important part, very often based on some meat and side-dish (both served on the same plate). The third, optional part is either something sweet (and coffee) or small vegetable salad or something similar.
Czech cuisine knows many different kinds of soup (polévka). The most common are bramboračka - potato soup (sometimes with forest mushrooms), hovězí vývar - clear beef soup (sometimes s játrovými knedlíčky - with liver dumplings), gulášovka - thick goulash soup, zelňačka - thick and sour cabbage soup, česnečka (strong garlic soup, very healthy and tasty, but do not eat this before kissing), kulajda - thick soup with forest mushrooms and milk, hrášková polévka from young green peas, čočková polévka from lentils, fazolačka from beans, rajská polévka - tomato soup, and many others. A special case not to everyone's tastes is držková polévka made from cow stomach. Rybí polévka - thick fish soup made from carps (including its head, some innards, roe and sperm) is the traditional soup of the Christmas Dinner.
Some soups are eaten with bread, sometimes small croutons are put inside the soup just before eating. Soup can be also eaten as the only dish, especially for a smaller dinner.
The second dish (main course, hlavní jídlo) of a meal is (in the traditional cuisine) often the famous heavy and fatty part, very often based on pork, but also beef, chicken, duck, or other meat. Important part of most main courses is side-dish (the whole dish including the side-dish is served on one plate) - usually cooked or baked potatoes, fries, rice, pasta or the most typical side-dish of the Czech cuisine - knedlíky.
Knedlíky (usually translated as dumplings) come in many different kinds. Most kinds are used as side-dish, however some kinds with filling are used as dish by itself. The most common type, always used as side-dish, are houskové knedlíky (bread dumplings). These are cooked in a shape of a cylinder, which is then cut into round slices about 8 cm in diameter remotely resembling white bread. Houskové knedlíky are served with Czech classics such as guláš, similar to Hungarian goulash but with a thinner sauce and less spicy; Svíčková na smetaně, beef sirloin with a creamy root vegetable (carrot, celeriac, parsnip) sauce, served with a tablespoon of cranberry sauce, a slice of orange and whipped cream; Vepřová pečeně se zelím a knedlíkem locally named as Vepřo-knedlo-zelo, the combination of roast pork, knedlíky and sauerkraut. The latter combines very well with the world-famous Czech beer, the major brands being Pilsner Urquell, Gambrinus, Budvar, Staropramen, Velkopopovický Kozel and Krušovice.
Another common kind is bramborové knedlíky (potato dumplings), the slices are smaller, more yellow in color, and are also always served as a side-dish. A typical combination is roasted meet (pork or lamb for example) with spinach and bramborové knedlíky or duck with sauerkraut and bramborové knedlíky (or combination of bramborové and houskové knedlíky). Less common are chlupaté knedlíky (hairy dumplings, but there are no hairs, don't panic), which are not sliced but cooked in shape of balls. They are also usually served with roasted meat and either sauerkraut or spinach.
Other Czech dishes include pečená kachna, roast duck again served with bread or potato dumplings, and red and white sauerkraut; moravský vrabec, known as 'Moravian Sparrow', but which is in fact pork cooked in garlic and onions; smažený kapr, fried carp breaded and served with a very rich potato salad and eaten on Christmas Eve; pečené vepřové koleno, roast pork knee, served with mustard and fresh horseradish; bramborák, garlicky potato pancakes; smažený sýr, breaded deep-fried edam (the most popular cheese in the Czech Republic) served with boiled potatoes or french fries and tartar sauce; párek v rohlíku, long, thin hot dogs with crusty rolls and mustard or ketchup. If you must, you can always get hranolky - french fries. And of course, the ubiquitous zelí (raw cabbage), which is served with absolutely everything. Game is also very good, and includes dishes such as kančí, wild boar, bažant, pheasant and jelení or daňčí, both types of venison. These are almost always served either with dumplings and red and white cabbage, or as guláš.
Don't expect a wide selection of zelenina, vegetables, unless in the countryside - peppers, tomatoes and cabbage are the most commonly-seen side dishes, often served as a small garnish.
Visitors may be surprised when they find "American potatoes" in the menu. These are actually potato wedges, usually spiced.
Generally, probably the best place to really try the Czech cuisine is to be invited for such a meal to somebody's home. However, it is not so easy, because people today tend to prepare simpler and more international foods. Traditional Czech cuisine is often reserved to Sundays or some holidays or prepared by old grandma when her children visit her. This is not a rule, but it is a common situation. In common restaurants, even the better ones, the traditional Czech food usually does not match what the old grandma serves. This does not mean that the food is bad or not tasty, but it is missing something that the home preparation can provide. In luxurious restaurants specialized in Czech cuisine, the food can be excellent, but the luxurious style and creative improvements by the chef often do not match the style of the traditional folk cuisine. Again, this is not a hard rule. Sometimes you can compliment the food in a restaurant "As if my grandma prepared it."
There are some dishes that are usually not served in any restaurants or pubs, are usually made at home and are worth trying if you have the opportunity. Brambory na loupačku ("potatoes to be peeled") is a cheap and simple meal usually made in the countryside. Whole unpeeled potatoes are cooked in a big pot and put in the pot itself or a bowl on the table. You just take a hot potato from the pot, peel it yourself, put some salt, butter, and/or curd (tvaroh) on it and eat it. Drink it down with lot of cold milk. For such a simply meal it can be incredibly tasty, especially when eaten in the countryside after a day spent outside and chatting over it.
Picking mushrooms in forests is a very popular activity in the Czech Republic. Probably not surprisingly, collected mushrooms are eaten then. In restaurants, usually only cultivated mushrooms are used. If forest mushrooms are served in a restaurant, then usually only as a minor addition to a meal. Homemade mushroom meals are a completely different story. A classic example is Smaženice (the name is based on the verb 'smažit' - to fry), also known as míchanice (to mix) - forest mushrooms, the more kinds the better, are sliced to small pieces, mixed and stewed (with some fat, onion, and caraway). Later, eggs are added to the mixture. Smaženice is served with bread. Smažené bedly are whole caps of parasol mushrooms coated in breadcrumbs and fried. Černý kuba (literally black jimmy) is a traditional Christmas fasting meal made from dried mushrooms and peeled barley. Houbová omáčka (mushroom sauce), served with meat and bread dumplings is also popular. Fresh or dried mushrooms make also a nice addition to bramboračka s houbami (potato soup with mushrooms). Kulajda is a soup from mushrooms and cream. Soups and sauces are the most likely forest mushroom meals to find in a restaurant, because they contain relatively small amount of mushrooms.
If you want to pick mushrooms by yourself, be careful. There are hundreds of species, some of them very tasty, some merely edible, but some poisonous or even deadly. There is also a species used as a hallucinogenic drug. A tasty and edible species may look very similar to a deadly species. If you do not know mushrooms very well, you should be accompanied by an experienced mushroom-picker.
Also try traditional beer snacks, often the only food served in some pubs (hospoda, pivnice), and designed to be washed down by a good beer:
Utopenec - (means 'drowned man' in Czech) a pickled sausage with onion, garlic and other vegetables and spices.
Zavináč - (rollmop) a slice of pickled fish, most often herring or mackerel, rolled-up and filled with various pickled vegetables (sauerkraut, onion, sometimes carrot or pepper).
Tlačenka s cibulí - (brawn with onion) a slice of haggis-like meat pudding, sprinkled with vinegar and garnished with fresh onion slices. Beware, can be rather acidic due to vinegar.
Nakládaný Hermelín - pickled Brie-like cheese, often marinated with garlic and chilli.
Pivní sýr - beer cheese - a soft cheese, with a strong, Cheddar-like flavour. You should add a splash of beer to the cheese, and then mash it all together, and serve it on traditional Czech bread - Šumava (the name of a region in South Bohemia) is the most common bread, a very tasty dense loaf made from rye and carroway seeds.
Tvarůžky or Syrečky - traditional cheese with a very strong aroma, and very much an aquired taste. Often served deep-fried, but can be eaten alone, just with some chopped onion, mustard and bread. Sometimes also marinated in beer ('syrečky v pivu'). This cheese naturaly contains almost no fat (less than 1%).
Romadur - traditional cheese with strong aroma. Aroma is similar to Tvarůžky, but Romadur is different type of cheese.
Matesy s cibulí - (soused herring) cold fish served with onions.
If you want a warm, bigger, and more complicated meal which goes excellently with beer, get some of the typical Czech meals based on fatty meat (pork, duck, or goose) with sauerkraut and knedlíky (dumplings). Another excellent option is a whole pork knee with horseradish and bread (ovarové koleno s křenem).
Czechs like sweets but consumer patterns are different compared to France, USA or the UK. As everywhere some traditional treats have become a mass-market production for tourists, others are pretty difficult to be found.
Lázeňské oplatky - spa wafers from Mariánské Lázně and Karlovy Vary (major spa towns in Western Bohemia better known by their German names of Marienbad and Karlsbad) are meant to be eaten while "taking the waters" at a spa, but they're good on their own, too. Other major spas are Karlova Studánka (favourite destination of Václav Havel - former Czechoslovakian president), Františkovy Lázně, Jánské Lázně, Karviná, and Luhačovice. You will find most easily not only in spa resorts but also in Prague. Have them either out of the box on your own or heated and iced with sugar, cinnamon or so.
Trdlo - is being offered in dedicated sell-points in the streets of Prague. It is a mediaeval style sweet roll from eggs and flour.
Jablkový závin or štrůdl, apple strudel, often served warm with whipped cream.
Medovník - a newcomer having quickly spread in most restaurants. A brown high cake made of gingerbread, honey and walnuts.
Ovocné knedlíky - fruit stuffed dumplings served either as main course or a filling dessert. The smaller ones ('tvarohové') come with plum, apple or apricot filling, the bigger ones ('kynuté') come with strawberries, blueberries, povidla (plum jam) or toher fruits. Knedlíky are served with melted butter, iced with tvaroh (curd cheese) and sugar, and topped with whipped cream.
Palačinka - not much in common with French crepes, these pancakes are usually thicker and served with a wide choice of fillings including chocolate, ice-cream, fruit and whipped cream.
Try also the wide variety of rich cream cakes usually found in a Kavárna (a cafe), or a Cukrárna (a shop which sells all things sweet together with ice cream and drinks, found throughout the Czech Republic and often the only place open in small towns and villages on Sundays). Czech cakes are similar to their Viennese cousins due to the shared history of both countries under the Austro-Hungarian empire. Sample also Vídeňská káva (Viennese coffee), coffee served with a mountain of whipped cream.
Rakvička is a light crispy biscuit with cream,
Větrník is a round French éclair style cream cake,
Punčák is a rum soaked yellow/pink biscuit sugar-glazed cake,
Laskonka is a coconut and cream based sandwich cake, and many more!
Bábovka - a traditional cake, similar to marble cake, fairly dry, and usually served dusted with icing sugar.
Buchty - traditional buns filled with tvaroh (curd cheese), mák (poppy seeds), or povidla (plum jam)
Koláče - rather popular flat tarts topped with various sweet fillings like tvaroh, povidla, mák, fruit jams, chopped apples and nuts. Their size ranges from bite-sized ('svatební koláčky') to pizza-sized, which often contain several fillings combined into an elaborate pattern ('Chodský koláč' or 'frgál').
The Czech Republic is the country where modern beer (pivo in Czech) was invented (in Plzeň). Czechs are the heaviest beer drinkers in the world, drinking about 160 litres of it per capita per year. Going to a cosy Czech pub for dinner and a few beers is a must!
The best-known export brands are Pilsner Urquell (Plzeňský Prazdroj), Budweiser Budvar (Budějovický Budvar) and Staropramen. Other major brands which are popular domestically include Gambrinus, Kozel, Bernard (a small traditional brewery, with very high quality beer), Radegast, and Starobrno (made in Brno, the capital of Moravia). Other fantastic beers worth tasting are Svijany and Dobřanská Hvězda. Although many Czechs tend to be very selective about beer brands, tourists usually don't find a significant difference. And remember, real Czech beer is only served on tap – bottled beer is a completely different experience. High-quality beer can almost certainly be found in a hospoda or hostinec, very basic pubs which serve only beer and light snacks. Take a seat and order your drinks when the waiter comes to you - going to the bar to order your drinks is a British custom! But beware, the handling of the beer is even more important than its brand. A bad bartender can completely ruin even excellent beer. Best bet is to ask local beer connoiseurs about a good pub or just join them.
Beers are sometimes listed by their original sugar content, which is measured in degrees Plato (P/°). The difference is generally apparent in the final alcohol content. Normal beer is about 10° (such as Gambrinus and Staropramen, which results in 4% ABV), lager 12° (such as Pilsner Urquell, which results in about 4.75% ABV). The latter is stronger and more expensive, so you should specify which one you want when you order.
Czech lager is nothing like the fizzy lagers found in many other countries. Instead, it has a very strong, hoppy, almost bitter flavour, and goes very well with heavy dishes like duck or pork and dumplings or strong cheeses. It always has a thick skim on the top when it is served, but do not be afraid to drink "through" it, it is fun and it slowly disappears anyway, nevertheless do not drink the beer too slowly as the fresh cold taste (especially in hot summers) quickly fades – the "true" Czech connoisseurs do not even finish this "tepid goat," as they call it.
Wine (víno in Czech) is another popular drink, particularly wine from Moravia in the south-eastern part of the country where the climate is more suited to vineyards. White wines tend to be the best as the growing conditions are more favourable for them. For white wines, try Veltlínské zelené (Green Veltliner), Muškát moravský (Moravian Muscatel), Ryzlink rýnský (Rhine Riesling) or Tramín (Traminer), or red wines such as Frankovka (Blaufrankisch), Modrý Portugal (Blue Portugal, named after the grape, not the country), or Svatovavřinecké (Saint Lawrence). Also try ice wine (ledové víno) made when the grapes are harvested after they have frozen on the vines, or straw wine (slámové víno) made by leaving the grapes to ripen on straw) – these wines are more expensive and are similar to dessert wines. Bohemian Sekt is also popular with Czechs, and is a sweet, fizzy wine, similar to Lambrusco, and drunk at celebrations. The best places for wine are either a wine bar (vinárna), or a wine shop (vinotéka) which sometimes has a small bar area too.
For spirits, try Becherovka (herb liqueur, similar to Jagermeister, tastes of a mixtures of cloves and cinnamon, and drunk as a digestive), slivovice (plum brandy, very popular as a pick-me-up), hruškovice (pear brandy, less fiery than Slivovice), and so on. Spirits are made out of almost every kind of fruit (Plums, Peaches, Cherries, Sloes, etc.). Czech unique tuzemský rum (made from sugar beet, not from sugar cane as the Cuban rum, sold under brands like Tuzemák to conform with EU market rules). Be careful as all are about 40% alcohol.
For non-alcoholic drinks, mineral waters are popular, but tend to have a strong mineral taste. Try Mattoni, or Magnesia, both of which taste like normal water and still claim to be good for your health. If you want bubbles, ask for perlivá. If you want it non-carbonated, ask for neperlivá. Sometimes you can see jemně perlivá – it is "lightly bubbled" water. Kofola, a coke-like drink is also very popular, and some Czechs say it is the best thing the communists gave them. Many restaurants don't make any difference between "sparkling water" and "sparkling mineral water".
Restaurants and pubs do not offer water for free. Not surprisingly, as beer is the national drink, it is usually the cheapest drink you can buy, with prices ranging from 15–60 Kč (0,50–2 EUR) per half litre, depending on the attractiveness of the pub to tourists. Drinks are brought to your table, and often each drink is marked on a small slip of paper which is kept on the table in front of you, so you can keep count of what you have had. When you are ready to leave, ask the waiter for the bill – he or she will calculate the bill according to the number of marks on the paper. It is common to share tables in busy pubs and Czech people will ask Je tu volno? (Is this seat free?), before they sit down.
Try also svařák, hot mulled wine served in all pubs, and outdoors at Christmas markets, grog, hot rum and water served with a slice of lemon - add sugar to taste, and medovina, mead, again usually served hot, and particularly good for warming up at a cold winter market. Finally, if you are heading into Moravia, try burčák, a speciality found only around the end of the summer, or early autumn. It is extremely young wine, usually white, and is the cloudy, still fermenting stage in wine production when the wine is very sweet, and very smooth to drink. It continues to ferment in the stomach, so the alcohol content at the time of drinking it is unknown, but it is usually high, creeps up on you, and it is very moreish. Czechs say that it should only be drunk fresh from the vineyard, and many small private wine makers are passionate about it, waiting up into the night for the moment when the wine reaches the "burčák" stage. You can see it at wine festivals around the country, and sometimes in markets or wine bars too.
The currency of the Czech republic is the koruna (crown), plural koruny or korun. The currency code CZK is often used internationally, but the local symbol is Kč (for Koruna česká). 1 koruna is made up of 100 haléř (haléřů), abbreviated to hal., but coins are only issued in whole koruna values as of October 2008.
The exchange rate is approximately 25Kč = €1, 30Kč = £1 GBP, 20Kč = $1 (US), or 16Kč = $1 (Canadian). As of 23 Jul 2009, €1 = 25.56Kč (Google)
Coins are issued in 1Kč, 2Kč, 5Kč (all stainless steel), 10Kč (copper-colored), 20Kč (brass-colored) and 50 Kč (copper-colored ring, brass-colored center). Notes are issued in 50Kč (pink), 100Kč (aqua), 200Kč (orange), 500Kč (red), 1000Kč (purple), 2000Kč (olive green) and 5000Kč (green-purple). See some banknote samples . Be aware that all 20Kč banknotes, haléř coins, and older-style 1000Kč and 5000Kč banknotes from 1993 are NOT legal tender.
Some major stores (mainly bigger chains) will accept Euros, and it's also fairly common for accommodation providers to quote the price in Euros.
Never exchange money on the street. Also, if you're in Prague, don't exchange it in the banks. The "real" exchange rate you should be looking for can be found here. There is no "black market" with better rates, but there is a good chance you'll end up with a roll of worthless paper. Be very careful when you are exchanging money at a small exchange kiosk. They try to use tricks in order to give you a bad exchange rate. Ask for the total amount you will get and recompute it by yourself. Do not trust "0% commission" in big letters signs (usually there is "only on CZK buy" amendment in small letters). On this website you can get good overview of reliable exchange places and rates. In any case, ones gets the best rates by using ATMs instead of changing cash.
Major stores throughout the country accept Visa and EC/MC, as do all the tourist stores in Prague.
The main language spoken is, not surprisingly, Czech. The Slovak language can also be often heard, as there is a sizable Slovak minority and both languages are mutually intelligible (at first, you might think they are dialects of each other). Czech people are very proud of their language, and thus, even in Prague you will not find many signs written in English (outside of the main tourist areas). Many older people, especially outside the large cities, are also unable to converse in English, so it's good to learn some Czech or Slovak before your arrival. However, most young people speak at least some English, as it has been taught in most schools since 1990.
Most Czechs speak a second and often a third language. English is the most widely known, especially among younger people. German is probably the most widely spoken second language among older people. Russian was taught very extensively under communist rule, so most people born before c. 1975 speak at least some Russian (and often pretty well). However the connection with the communist era and the Soviet led invasion in 1968 (as well as today's Russian-speaking criminal gangs) has given this language some negative connotations. It is also not very useful with younger people, as it is not, despite the common misconception, mutually intelligible with Czech (beyond some similar words and simple sentences). Other languages, like French or Spanish, are also taught in some schools, but you should not count on it. People may also understand some basic words or simple sentences in other Slavic languages (Polish, Serbo-Croatian, etc).
The Czech and Slovak languages are very difficult for English-speakers to grasp, as they, like their sisters, can be tongue-twisting languages to learn (especially Czech) and take time and practice to master, especially if you're not really familiar with the other Slavic languages, including Russian. However, if you can learn the alphabet (and the corresponding letters with accents), then pronunciation is easy as it is always the same - Czechs and Slovaks pronounce every letter of a word, with the stress falling on the first syllable. The combination of consonants in some words may seem mind-bogglingly hard, but it is worth the effort!
The Czech language has many local dialects, especially in Moravia. Some dialects are so different that they can be sometimes misunderstood even by a native Czech speaker from a different region. However all Czech people understand the standard Czech (as spoken in TV, written in newspapers and taught in schools) and should be able to speak it (but some are too proud to stop using their local dialect).
See also: Czech phrasebook, Slovak phrasebook
Czechs don't appreciate when foreigners incorrectly assume that their country was part of the Soviet Union or the Russian Empire -- both definitely false -- although it was part of the Soviet Bloc and, until 1918, an Austro-Hungarian territory. Commenting about how "everything is quite cheap here" comes across as condescending about the country's economic status, and in any case is no longer true (other than beer).
If you are knowledgable about the Czechoslovakian communist regime following the second world war, bear in mind that this is still a sensitive issue for many and that it is easy to upset people in discussions on the subject.
Czechs are one of the most atheist people in the world, and are very proud of it. This is true especially in large Bohemian cities. Don't assume that anyone you do not know believes in God or has a passion for Christianity. Respect that and your religion will also be respected.
Always say hello (Dobrý den) and goodbye (Na shledanou) when you enter and leave a small shop as it is polite.
While dining at a restaurant with a host's family it is customary for THEM to pick up the bill, the opposite of most Western standards. However don't assume they will - but also don't be surprised if they do.
Grocery stores do not sell what Americans consider over-the-counter drugs, such as aspirin. You will need to go to a pharmacy (lékárna), which is usually open between 8AM and 7PM, Mondays to Fridays. There are 24-hour pharmacies in the bigger cities, and you should find an address for the closest one to you listed in the window of the nearest pharmacy to you. If you are in Prague, the most central 24-hour one is in Prague 2 - on the corner of Belgická and Rumunská streets - they dispense both prescription and non-prescription drugs from a small window on Rumunská out of hours - ring the bell if there is no-one there.
Tap water is good, although the chlorine can be quite strong.
A reputable hospital in Prague is Nemocnice na Homolce, Address: Roentgenova 37/2, Prague 5 (tel 257 272 350). There is a foreigners' clinic (Cizinecké oddělení) there with English-speaking receptionists who can make appointments for you. Most doctors speak some English, and the level of care is of a very high standard.
Central Europe and parts of the Czech Republic have ticks (Ixodes ricinus) which can carry Encephalitis or Lyme Borreliosis. Ticks hide in grass and bushes, so try to stay on trails and inspect exposed areas of skin after a hike. Vaccination against Encephalitis is available and recommended. If you want to bushwhack, make sure you have the vaccination and wear long trousers. A good insect repellent (which contains DEET), might be helpful, too. Ticks like to cling to any soft, warm, well-perfused areas of your body (undersides of knees and elbows, skin around ankles, groins, neck area, behind your ears etc.) and if not removed, they'll suck your blood until they grow about 1 cm big. Never try to scratch a tick off or pull it out, because damaging it can cause you a serious infection. The sooner the tick is removed, the smaller the chance of infection. Either ask a physician to remove a tick for you, or try to remove it by yourself: lubricate your finger with any greasy lotion and gently wag a tick from side to side until it wobbles free. Then flush it down the drain - never crush or burn it to avoid infection. Watch the affected spot: if you see a growing red spot developing there anytime during next several months, immediately visit your physician and tell him about that - you might have contracted Borreliosis. It is dangerous, but it can be easily treated with antibiotics during early stage. Be wary that American vaccination against Borreliosis most probably won't work against European strains (B. afzelii and B. garini). Note that ticks are sometimes present even in city parks, including Prague.
Taxi drivers: warning - negotiate the price before you use taxi or use a reputable company (e.g. in Prague AAA taxi, Profi Taxi, City Taxi). Prague taxi drivers are known for taking you the longest possible way to earn more money. Prague City Council has introduced new regulations which will see all legitimate taxis painted yellow. Public transportation is also very cheap, fast and reliable. In Prague, the metro runs up to midnight, and night trams run throughout the night, all of them converging at a central tram stop, Lazarská.
Pickpockets: Watch your pockets, especially if there is a crowd (sights, subway, trams, in particular numbers 9, 22, and 23) Watch out for large groups of people jostling you. Beware of a particular pickpocket gang who operate in Prague - they are mainly male, although sometimes there are women too, all are extremely overweight and rely on their sheer size and number to disorientate tourists. They tend to operate on the 9, 22, and 23 trams, as well as the central metro stations, usually just as people are getting on and off. Don't challenge them as they can become aggressive, but keep your eyes open. Prosecutions for pick pocketing are rare as legally the police have to catch the pickpocket in the middle of a crime.
Prostitution: Prostitution is not illegal in the Czech Republic. However, officially prostitution does not exist as a legal bussiness. Prostitutes do not pay taxes and prostitution is not regulated by the state. The health risk may be very high, especially in cheap brothels or on a street. There also have been cases of prostitutes offering a drink with sleeping pills to their customers and stealing everything from them. Pay attention to the age of the prostitute, paying a person under 18 years for sex is a criminal offense (otherwise the age of consent is 15).
Marijuana: Marijuana is illegal in the Czech Republic, however it is quite popular especially among young people. In case the Police catch you smoking or possessing marijuana, you want to be very polite with them. The reason is that by the current law, possesing "larger than small" amount of marijuana is punishable. What "larger than small" actually means is left to interpretation by the Police (or judge, if things go that far). A new law with more exact numbers is in preparation.
Other than that the Czech Republic is a very safe country.
There are three main mobile phone operators using the GSM standard, their coverage is very good (except in some remote, mostly uninhabited areas). If you find using roaming with your own operator too expensive or you want to have a Czech phone number, you can buy an anonymous prepaid card from any of the three main operators. However, the pricing schemes are usually quite complicated and some investigation may be necessary to find the ideal solution (even with the prepaid cards, operators offer various schemes including various additional 'packages'). GPRS and EDGE is widely supported, however 3G networks are almost nonexistent. The fourth operator (U:fon) uses some custom standards and you have to buy special hardware from them.
There are still some telephone boxes available, but they are gradually vanishing since the advent of mobile phones. Some still accept coins, but most of them require special prepaid telephone card.
You can call emergency numbers from any phone for free (even without any card). The universal emergency number 112 is functional and you can use it, however you will reach only a telephone operator who will need to contact the real emergency service for you. To save precious time, it is best to call directly the service you need: 150 for firefighters, 155 for medical emergency, and 158 for state police.
Wifi is available in many restaurants, especially in larger cities. You may need to ask a waiter for the passphrase. There are also some hotspots available on the streets and some city quarters (for example in Prague) offer free wifi coverage for everyone. However such coverage is usually very slow and unreliable and you may need to create an account (using a web browser and the page it is automatically redirected to) to be able to use it. In most larger cities, there are also several internet cafés available.
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|Area||total: 78,866 sq km|
|Electricity||230V/50Hz (European plug)|
|Population||10,235,455 (July 2006 est.)|
|Religion||agnostic and atheist 59%, Roman Catholic 26.8%, Protestant 2.1%, other 3.3%, unspecified 8.8%|
|Timezone||UTC + 1 (winter time) UTC+2 (summer time)|