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The Czech Republic is an historic gem at the heart of Europe. Though small, its inheritance of grand castles, medieval villages, elegant spa resorts and striking national parks makes it a bucket-list candidate.
The capital, , is a walkable destination, and a well-preserved record of more than 600 years of leading European architecture. Much of it is in the UNESCO-listed historic district. Other stand-out attractions include renowned architect, Frank Gehry's, and . They're linked by the , which is the most-photographed landmark in the city. Prague also has an unusually vibrant nightlife.
Spellbound visitors may not want to leave one of the most beautiful capitals in the world. That said, the country's allure extends beyond Prague to medieval towns that seem to have ignored the passing of time. These include the impossibly picturesque Holasovice and . Visitors may also want to experience each of the country's two regions. In the west, Bohemia is famous for its castles, rolling hills, forests and 19th-century spa towns. The eastern region of Moravia was once a popular destination for wealthy families of the Astro-Hungarian Empire. Unlike Bohemia, the region favours wine over the country's esteemed beer.
The Czech Republic is a thrilling place to visit for culture lovers and party animals alike. It is, without question, an unforgettable Central European holiday destination.
Sightseers in the Czech Republic will enjoy the very best of classical Europe, as well as a country bursting with charm. Most visitors spend their time almost exclusively in Prague, enjoying the beauty of the medieval buildings and evocative scenery of the river-front location, while sampling the cultural delights of the dynamic live music and theatre scene. Attractions in this beautiful city include Charles Bridge (the most photographed feature of the city), the Old Town Square, St Vitus Cathedral and numerous incredible buildings in the Castle District on the hill above Prague.
Visitors shouldn't neglect the host of delights outside of Prague, though. These include world-class attractions such as picturesque Cesky Krumlov, the fascinating Ossuary of Kutna Hora, and Karlsbad â€' the pride of the Czech Republic's many spa resort towns. The country also boasts some wonderful hiking trails and scenic areas, making it the ideal destination for adventurers. The countryside is dotted with numerous castles, keeps and medieval villages.
The most popular time to visit is over the peak summer months of July and August, although Prague in particular can get very crowded. Spring has mild weather and warm days and is an ideal time to visit.
The Castle District stretches across the top of the hill overlooking the city and incorporates the best churches and museums in Prague. It is set around immaculate gardens, fortifications, state apartments and three courtyards, with the dominant feature, St Vitus Cathedral, occupying most of the third courtyard. The Castle was founded in the 9th century and is still the official residence of the president.
Travellers can also visit the Old Royal Palace, home to the Kings of Bohemia from the 11th to the 17th centuries, as well as the Royal Apartments and Vladislav Hall, where kings were crowned and presidents are still sworn into office. Next to the red façade of the Romanesque Basilica of St George, lies the Benedictine Convent, housing the National Gallery's remarkable collection of old Bohemian art. Behind the gallery is the picturesque cobbled alley known as Golden Lane, a row of 16th-century tradesmen's cottages, brightly coloured and built into the fortifications. Visitors can watch the Changing of the Guard on the hour, with the fanfare and flag ceremony included at noon.
Situated within the Castle Complex, St Vitus Cathedral is an elegant but domineering French Gothic structure. With its spires that soar above the ramparts, it is the country's largest church and contains numerous side chapels, frescoes, tombstones and beautiful stained-glass windows. It literally sparkles with all the finery inside. The most ornate chapel contains the tomb of St Wenceslas, the 'Good King Wenceslas' of the Christmas carol, which has become something of a pilgrimage site. The Coronation Chamber houses the Bohemian Crown Jewels and the crypt is where most of the kings and queens of Bohemia have their final place of rest. The southern entrance to the cathedral, the Golden Gate, is decorated with a richly gilded coloured mosaic depicting the Last Judgement, which dates from 1370. The Last Judgement mosaic is one of the artistic treasures found in the Castle District. St Vitus Cathedral is a must-see attraction in Prague.
Visitors to Prague enjoy photographing The Charles Bridge more than any other feature in the city. Built to replace the Judith Bridge (which had been washed away by floods in 1342), its construction began in 1357 and concluded in the 15th Century. Up until 1841, it was the only bridge in Prague and the only means of crossing the Vltava River. The Charles was closed to traffic in 1978 and has been a pedestrian bridge ever since.
The bridge's 30 statues of saints were originally erected between 1683 and 1714, and create a unique combination of Baroque and Gothic styles. A festive crowd usually strolls across during the day, with throngs of people picking their way through the happy mix of buskers and artists. The bridge is far quieter at night, though, when the crowds have left and only the statues stand guard. Under moonlight, the setting presents some beautiful photo opportunities.
Prague's Old Town Square has been the heart of the old city since the 11th century and still hosts a variety of markets, such as the whimsical annual Christmas markets. An odd Art Nouveau monument to the religious reformer, Jan Hus, stands at its centre, while the Old Town Hall features Prague's ornate, Gothic Astronomical Clock. The clock shows three different times and draws throngs of people on the hour, who gather to watch the brief mechanical performance of apostles, Christ, a skeleton and a rooster. Tourists can climb the tower for a behind-the-scenes look at the mechanics of this beautiful clock, and to enjoy a great view of the city from the top.
There are two magnificent churches on opposite sides of the square: Prague's greatest Baroque building, St Nicholas, with its distinctly visible dome, and the even more striking Tyn Church. The latter is a fabulous Gothic structure, with its twin spires a noticeable feature on the Prague skyline. This square and its unparalleled Gothic architecture feature prominently on postcards of the lovely Prague and it's easy to see why. There are also a number of other attractions in the square or nearby, including the Kafka Museum.
Situated in the old Jewish Quarter, The Jewish Museum's exhibitions are spread over a variety of buildings and synagogues, including the Maisel, Spanish, Klausen and Pinkas Synagogues, the Ceremonial Hall, the Old Jewish Cemetery, the Robert Guttmann Gallery and the Education and Culture Centre. The origins of the collection are astonishingly atrocious: objects from 153 Jewish communities throughout Bohemia and Moravia were brought to Prague by the Nazis in 1942, to be used in a planned 'museum of an extinct people' after their extermination programme was complete.
The Pinkas Synagogue was turned into a Jewish memorial after World War II and its walls are covered with the names of the Czech victims, the communities they belonged to and the camps in which they perished. The Old Jewish Cemetery is one of the oldest surviving Jewish burial grounds in the world, while the Old-New Synagogue is the continent's oldest working synagogue.
Sitting on a hill above the Vltava River, The Vysehrad Citadel has played an important part in Czech history for over 1,000 years, serving as a royal residence, religious centre and military fortress. Today, many still view the citadel as Prague's spiritual home, the twin spires of its centrepiece, the Church of St Peter and St Paul, visible from as far away as Prague Castle. Behind the church is the Slavin Cemetery, where many distinguished Czech artists, scientists, doctors, poets and academics are buried. The hill also boasts one of Prague's original rotundas, the Rotunda of St Martin, which dates to the 11th century. From the battlements, the view of the Vltava Valley is superb, and many tourists in Prague come to Vysehrad simply to take pictures of the impressive vista.
The Museum of Communism covers the post-World War II communist regime in Czechoslovakia, offering an eye-opening look at life behind the Iron Curtain, and insight into the experiences of the Czech people during the Soviet era. With genuine artefacts on display, informative text, multimedia presentations and even a reconstructed classroom, interrogation room and Soviet-era factory, the museum presents what it brands 'Communism â€' the Dream, the Reality, and the Nightmare'. Its exhibitions show all aspects of the totalitarian regime, including daily life, the army, education, sport, politics, economics, propaganda, censorship and art. Visitors will leave with a very real sense of what the city has been through.
Prague's medieval astronomical clock, also known as the Prague Orloj, is mounted on the southern wall of the Old Town City Hall, and is popular with tourists eager to watch the clock's hourly show . The clock has three main components, namely the astronomical dial, which represents the position of the sun and the moon in the sky, 'The Walk of the Apostles' showing moving sculptures, and a calendar dial with medallions representing the 12 months. The show begins with Death, represented by a skeleton, pulling the bell cord with one hand while holding a Clessidra (hourglass) in the other. The Apostles then come out of the windows in a procession and return back inside. Once the windows close, a cockerel flaps and crows in an alcove followed by the chimes of the hour. The parody is accompanied by the Turk shaking his head, the Miser watching his bag and Vanity admiring himself in a mirror, and makes a wonderful spectacle for visitors to Prague.
This unique building is so famous, the Czech National Bank issued a coin featuring its likeness in 2005, the final piece in the bank's '10 Centuries of Architecture' series. Designed by Croatian-born Czech architect Vlado Milunic together with renowned Canadian architect Frank Gehry, the building was originally named 'Fred and Ginger', as it looked like a man and a woman (Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers) dancing together. The building was designed in 1992 and completed in 1996, and was somewhat controversial, with some thinking it contrasted too starkly with the Art Nouveau style of buildings in its neighbourhood. However, over the years it has become a well-loved and supported landmark in the city, receiving worldwide praise for its innovative design and originality. Also, the Dancing House was built on a significant site, replacing a building that was destroyed by bombing during World War II. The design is meant to be symbolic of the changes undergone by the Czech Republic from communist regime to parliamentary democracy.
Petrin Hill is in the centre of Prague, perfectly located to offer stunning panoramic views of the picturesque city. Rising above the Vltava River, it is almost entirely covered by recreational areas and parks, and should definitely be on the list of families travelling to Prague, beginning with the funicular ride up the hill. It is a fun experience for kids, followed by an exciting climb up the miniature TV tower. The tower is a small version of Paris' Eiffel Tower. Called the Petrin Observation Tower, it may not sound tall at 197 feet (60 metres), but it is a vantage point from which to see the whole of Prague. With breathtaking views, it is well worth the climb of 299 steps, especially on a clear day, when it's possible to see Snezka, the highest peak in the Czech Republic. Kids love finding each other in the bludistì (mirror maze) hall, and pony rides on the hill are also a popular activity.
Housed in the Old Count's Chambers of Prague Castle, the Toy Museum is a wonderful attraction for kids and adults alike. The museum contains several exhibition rooms, takes up two floors, and is said to be the second biggest collection of its kind in the world. There are displays of playthings from across the globe and across the centuries, with some of the artefacts dating as far back as Ancient Greece. The museum's comprehensive Barbie collection is chronological and displays the changes in fashion that Barbie has undergone over the generations. Unsurprisingly, the Barbie collection is a favourite with little girls. Other highlights include the mechanical toy trains and the huge collection of teddy bears. There are also traditional Czech dolls and toys, which offer some fun insight into the culture.
Born in Prague in 1883, renowned author, Franz Kafka, would later refer to the city as his 'dear little mother with claws'. This museum delves into why, covering Prague's influence on the man and his most famous works, including The Metamorphosis and The Trial. Through facsimiles of manuscripts, photographs, newspaper obits, and audio-visual exhibitions, the museum looks to immerse visitors in the dark, magical and mysterious place that is the author's Prague. Booklovers may enjoy the extensive personal correspondence on display, which allows great insight into Kafka and his life. The museum is definitely worth a visit, though not for children.
Prague can feel much like a storybook setting, its castles, cathedrals and fortresses sparking fantasies about knights and princesses. Children are certain to enjoy exploring areas such as Castle District, or spending a few hours in the mirror maze and riding ponies at Petrin Hill.
The city's park areas are a delight for kids and their parents, while the local toy museum, the second largest of its kind in the world, will keep children entertained for quite some time. The Czech Republic also has a rich puppet tradition, with shows at the Black Light Theatre and the National Marionette Theatre usually charming the little ones. A visit to see the chiming of Prague's medieval Astronomical Clock, and a cruise to take in the attractions along the river are highly recommended.
Prague has a European continental climate, with cold, snowy winters and warm (sometimes wet) summers. January is the coldest month, when strong, cold winds and heavy snowfall hit, and daytime temperatures drop far below zero. Average temperatures range from 25°F (-4°C) during winter, to 73°F (23°C) during summer, and the best time to visit is from May to September, for warm days and cool nights. The European summer (June to September) is the tourist high season, but spring and autumn can also be rewarding times to visit, particularly if visitors prefer to avoid the tourist crowds.
The Czech Republic has a typically European continental climate with cold, snowy winters and warm (sometimes wet) summers. Winters (November to February) can get very chilly; January is the coldest month, with daytime temperatures far below zero and strong, cold winds. Snowfall can be heavy; in the low-lying areas the yearly average of snow days is less than 40; in the mountainous areas it reaches 120. Summer temperatures average between 68°F (20°C) and 77°F (25°C) but often reach as high as 86°F (30°C). There is plenty of sun in summer but there are also frequent thunderstorms. The capital, Prague, experiences average temperatures ranging from 25°F (-4°C) during winter, to 73°F (23°C) during summer.
The best time to visit the Czech Republic is from May to September when days are warm and nights cool. The European summer (June to September) is the tourist high season, but spring and autumn can also be rewarding times to visit, particularly if travellers prefer to avoid the tourist crowds. Although the winters are cold, the Czech landscapes do look strikingly beautiful when it is snowy, so every season has its advantages for tourists.
Though Prague is better known for its beauty and history than its restaurant scene, visitors will be surprised by the quality of cuisine on offer. Foodies should begin their trip at a gastro-pub, where hearty roast meat dishes complement the country's renowned beer. The most common meat is pork, as it pairs perfectly with an ice-cold Pilsner Urquell. Knedliky (boilee, sliced dumplings) are a common accompaniment to meals.
Travellers with a sweet tooth can sample the many pastries in Prague, such as Kolache, a type of yeast pastry filled with anything from fruits to cheeses, or poppy seed doughnuts, and many street vendors selling local Czech-style hot dogs and mulled wine.
International options range from Indian to Indonesian and Uruguayan cuisine. The most popular dining areas in the city are the Stare Mesto (Old Town), Nove Mesto (New Town) and Vinohrady, and it is customary to tip waiters 10 to 15 percent, though some restaurants in popular tourist areas will add a gratuity.
Visitors who enjoy the finer things in life will revel in Prague's premier restaurant, the Bellevue. Every dish on the menu is a masterpiece of modern Czech cuisine, which can be enjoyed together with a stunning view of Prague's castle, and a piano playing in the classically elegant surroundings. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Reservations are recommended.
U Fleku has been in the heart of Prague for 500 years, and offers the chance to soak up some history along with the tasty brew and hearty Czech meals on offer. Tours of the brewery are available, and there is often cabaret entertainment. Those wanting to dine should make a reservation. Recommended are the house goulash and beer-flavoured cheese on toast. Open daily from 10am to 11pm.
One of Prague's only truly Kosher restaurants, King Solomon offers authentic traditional Jewish cuisine from Eastern and Central Europe. Selections of Israeli, American, and Moravian kosher wines are on offer and the restaurant prides itself on a Frankovka red from the Aaron Günsberger Moravian cellars in Rakvice. Open Sunday to Thursday for lunch and dinner. Friday dinner and Saturday lunch by arrangement only. Bookings advisable.
This traditional beer hall is a great place for late pub eats and even later beers. With a restaurant downstairs and a pub on the second-floor balcony, the whole place hums well into the night. Traditional Czech food is available on an extensive menu, but most come for the renowned beer, which can be a meal in itself.
Visitors can enjoy fresh, light and delectable vegetarian dishes that draw inspiration from Greek, Thai, Italian, Indian and Mexican cuisine. The cocktails are excellent and the attractive space boasts an atmospheric gallery, a relaxation lounge and a stylish café.
Arguably one of the best eateries in Prague, La Degustation elevates traditional Czech cuisine to the level of art. Guests can look forward to an extensive tasting menu of food prepared with seasonal ingredients, and can purchase wines sourced from a worthy list of small European winemakers. Open Monday to Saturday for dinner only. Reservations essential.
The official currency is the Czech Crown, locally known as the Koruna (CZK), which is divided into 100 Haler. Credit cards and debit cards are accepted in most hotels and restaurants and ATMs are widely available. Foreign currency can be exchanged at banks, bureaux de change and some hotels; commission is highest in hotels. Banks are closed on weekends.
Czech is the official language but English and German are also widely spoken.
Electrical current is 230 volts, 50Hz. Round two-pin plugs with a hole for a grounding pin are standard. Most sockets also take the standard European two-pin plugs.
US nationals: US citizens must have a passport valid for three months beyond the period of intended stay in the Czech Republic. A visa is not required for stays of up to 90 days.
UK nationals: Passports endorsed 'British Citizen' must be valid on arrival; British passports with other endorsements must be valid at least three months beyond the period of intended stay. Passport exemptions apply to holders of identity cards issued by Gibraltar, and endorsed 'Validated for EU travel purposes under the authority of the United Kingdom', as well as to holders of emergency passports issued to nationals of the United Kingdom. A visa is not required for passports endorsed British Citizen. No visa is required for holders of passports endorsed British National (overseas), British Overseas Territories Citizen (containing a Certificate of Entitlement to the Right of Abode issued by the United Kingdom), and British Subject (containing a Certificate of Entitlement to the Right of Abode issued by the United Kingdom).
CA nationals: Canadians must have a passport valid for three months beyond the period of intended stay in the Czech Republic. No visa is required for a stay of up to 90 days.
AU nationals: Australian citizens must have a passport valid for three months beyond the period of intended stay in the Czech Republic. A visa is not required for a stay of up to 90 days.
ZA nationals: South Africans require a passport valid for three months beyond the period of intended stay in the Czech Republic. A visa is required.
IR nationals: Irish nationals must have a passport, or emergency passport. Irish nationals are allowed to enter the Czech Republic with an expired passport. No visa is required.
NZ nationals: New Zealand citizens must have a passport valid for three months beyond the period of intended stay in the Czech Republic. A visa is not required for a maximum of 90 days stay.
The borderless region known as the Schengen area includes Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. Each of these countries issues a standard Schengen visa that has a multiple entry option, and allows the holder to travel freely within the borders of the other Schengen countries. All visitors must hold either an onward or return ticket, or proof of sufficient funds to buy a ticket, plus all documents required for onward travel. They must also fill in and sign a border-crossing card, and be able to show proof of the following at the request of the Authority of Aliens Police Service: (i) sufficient means of support for the duration of their stay; (ii) documents confirming financial security (credit cards, bank statements, etc.); (iii) documents confirming accommodation for their period of stay in the Czech Republic, or proof of another accommodation arrangement; (iv) valid health insurance, with complete coverage. It is highly recommended that visitors' passports remain valid for at least six months beyond their arrival dates. Visitors should also bear in mind that immigration officials often apply different rules to the ones travel agents and official sources state.
There are no major health risks associated with travel to the Czech Republic, and there are no vaccination requirements for international travellers. Vaccinations are recommended for hepatitis A and hepatitis B, and long-term visitors to forested areas may want to seek medical advice about immunisation against tick-borne encephalitis. Medical facilities are good in Prague, but may be more limited in rural areas. After Brexit, the Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) replaced the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) for UK citizens. The GHIC allows UK citizens access to state healthcare during visits to the EU. The GHIC is not valid in Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Switzerland, nor is it an alternative to travel insurance.
Though tipping in restaurants is optional and generally no service charge is added to bills, gratuities of about 10 percent are expected for good service. Taxi drivers are tipped by rounding up the fare at the end of the journey.
Most visits to the Czech Republic are trouble-free, though the risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks is a factor throughout Europe. Petty theft is a concern, especially on public transport and around the main tourist sites in Prague, so visitors should be mindful of their belongings. Violent crime is rare.
Drunken behaviour and drinking in public is punishable by law in the Czech Republic, and some bars and restaurants in Prague will not allow entry for stag parties. While same-sex relationships are legal, same-sex marriages aren't recognized; public displays of affection may be frowned on or draw unwanted attention.
Punctuality is expected in the Czech business world and dress should be smart and conservative. Initial greetings are usually formal to the point that titles and surnames are used unless otherwise indicated. Firm handshakes signal strength, and direct eye contact shows integrity.
German is the most common foreign language used in the Czech Republic but English is widely spoken by younger generations. Translators are available and any attempts at speaking Czech will be appreciated when doing business. There is generally some polite small talk to establish rapport at the beginning of meetings.
Deals can take a long time to complete due to significant bureaucratic red tape, so it's important to be patient. Business hours usually run from 8am to 4pm, Monday to Friday.
The international access code for the Czech Republic is +420. Purchasing a local prepaid SIM card is a good way to keep calling costs down, as international roaming can be expensive and international calls from hotels involve high surcharges. Many cafes, restaurants, hotels and shopping centres offer free wifi.
Visitors from the EU may bring in 800 cigarettes, 400 cigarillos, 200 cigars, or 1kg tobacco; 10 litres of spirits over 22-percent volume, 20 litres of spirits less than 22-percent volume, 90 litres of wine (though no more than 60 litres of sparkling wine), and 110 litres of beer. All goods must be for personal use.
Travellers from non-EU countries who are over the age of 17 don't have to pay duty on 200 cigarettes, 100 cigarillos, 50 cigars, or 250g tobacco. The same applies to one litre of spirits over 22-percent volume, two litres of spirits less than 22-percent volume, four litres of wine, and 16 litres of beer.
Czech Tourist Authority: www.visitczechrepublic.com/en-US
Embassy of the Czech Republic, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 274 9100.
Embassy of the Czech Republic, London, United Kingdom: +44 20 7243 7908.
Embassy of the Czech Republic, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 562 3875.
Embassy of the Czech Republic, Canberra, Australia: +61 2 6290 1386.
Embassy of the Czech Republic, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 431 2380.
Embassy of the Czech Republic, Dublin, Ireland: +353 1 668 1135.
Honorary Consulate of the Czech Republic, Auckland, New Zealand: +64 9 306 5883.
United States Embassy, Prague: +420 257 022 000.
British Embassy, Prague: +420 257 402 111.
Canadian Embassy, Prague: +420 272 101 800.
Australian Consulate, Prague: +420 221 729 260.
South African Embassy, Prague: +420 267 311 114.
Irish Embassy, Prague: +420 257 011 280.
New Zealand Embassy, Berlin, Germany (also responsible for Czech Republic): +49 30 206 210.
Prague's nightlife offers something for everyone, from casual pubs and bars to sophisticated lounges, live music venues and famous dance clubs. The capital's most popular nightclubs are situated right in the heart of Old Town.
Visitors should note that the custom in Prague is to share tables with strangers if things get crowded. Tourists can also go on organised pub crawls that start each night around 9pm, with partygoers meeting at landmarks such as the clock tower, and other central venues around Prague. The city has also become a popular European stag- and hen-party destination, further fuelling the already lively club and bar scene. Generally speaking, dance clubs in Prague charge admission fees on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, but are usually free between Sunday and Wednesday.
For a more relaxed evening, the National Marionette Theatre is renowned for performances of Mozart operas, and classical music lovers will enjoy attending other top-class venues and experiencing wonderful performances. If their passion for classical runs especially deep, they should ensure that they visit Prague during the Prague Spring International Music Festival, or its counterpart in autumn, when the city comes alive with world-class classical-music performances.
While shopping in Prague isn't quite on a par with some other top cities in Europe, many hypermarkets and shopping malls have popped up in recent years, offering an ever-wider selection of products. The growing competition has led to better prices for customers, making shopping in Prague refreshingly budget friendly by European standards.
The main shopping area in Prague extends from Wenceslas Square, past Na Prikope and into Republic Square. The Parizska area has some international fashion brand 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, though the souvenir shopping along this stretch is fun.
There are several shopping malls in Prague, including the upscale Palladium in the centre of the city; Metropole Zlicin, which has cinemas and fast-food eateries near the bus station; and the huge OC Novy Smichov.
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, visitors will find many Prague souvenirs bearing the face of native son and renowned author, Franz Kafka. Locally mined Czech garnets are also popular, but shoppers should make sure they get a certificate of authenticity, as it can be hard to identify fakes.
Most shops are open from 9am to 7pm, with some large supermarkets staying open till 10pm or even 24 hours a day. Shops in the city centre and tourist destinations are generally open on weekends. Some sales tax refunds are available to non-EU citizens.
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, 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. It's best to book taxis over the phone and demand a receipt for the fare before setting out. A car is expensive and unnecessary since much of the city is pedestrianised. Also, parking is a major problem and vehicle crime is fairly common.
Steeped in history, Prague is rich with marvellous sightseeing opportunities that will appeal to just about any kind of visitor. From medieval castles to museums and dancing buildings, this dynamic city is a treasure trove of attractions. The city's famously fun nightlife is another drawcard and is sure to keep travellers busy until the early hours.
A trip to the extensive Castle District (Hradeany) or simply along the cobblestone streets around the Old Town Square will reveal why Prague is called the City of a Thousand Spires. The Czech Republic actually has one of the highest densities of castles and keeps in the world, and many of these gems are in the capital. Travellers can also shop at the local markets and visit the hill of Vysehrad, thought to have been the first inhabited area of Prague. Culture vultures and history buffs will love the Museum of Communism as well as the Jewish Museum, while the medieval Astronomical Clock will captivate anybody with an interest in the history of mechanical things.
Visitors who plan on doing a lot of sightseeing should consider purchasing the Prague Card. It allows free access to more than 50 of the city's top attractions, discounted entry to others, unlimited use of public transport, and discounts on a number of city tours. The cost of the card varies depending on how many days it's valid for. Travellers can buy the card online or at travel agencies and tourist offices in Prague.
Nestled on the winding River Vltava, Cesky Krumlov's appearance has remained almost unchanged since the 18th century. This small, medieval town in southern Bohemia is a bouquet of cobbled lanes, ramshackle red-tiled roofs and colourful houses, all of which provide picture-perfect photo opportunities. Only about two and a half hours outside of Prague, Cesky Krumlov makes for a wonderful weekend trip or overnight excursion.
One of Cesky Krumlov's most famous attractions is the Renaissance-style castle on the hill, a trove of covered walkways, courtyards and terraced gardens that goes back to the 13th century. Castle visitors can expect marvellous views of the town setting. Other famous attractions include the Egon Schiele Art Centrum, the Church of St Vitus and the Czech Marionettes Museum.
Elegant boulevards, elaborate colonnades and brightly coloured buildings line Karlovy Vary's picturesque river valley, testifying to the town's history as a getaway for the aristocracy. It is, indeed, the crown jewel of the Czech Republic's many spa resort towns. Tourists typically visit for health purposes, with the town's 12 hot springs garnering most of the attention. Their mineral content is famously rich in restorative properties, drawing guests as blue-blooded as Tsar Peter the Great over the course of their history. Today, locals gather to fill their quaint little drinking cups, sipping as they stroll to help the water work its magic on their digestive tracts and metabolic disorders.
As an alternative, many people appreciate the locally made Becherovka liqueur, which is often hailed as the 13th spring. Although most of the spa pools and sanatoriums are reserved for people undergoing treatment, visitors can still swim in the heated pool above the Thermal Sanatorium.
This small, interesting town is only about an hour away from Prague. In the 14th century, Kutna Hora became the second biggest town in Bohemia after the discovery of silver ore in the surrounding hills. Today, visitors come to this UNESCO World Heritage Site to appreciate the history of a once booming place and to marvel at its splendid architecture.
Kutna Hora's greatest monument is the exquisite church of Santa Barbara, which miners financed and dedicated to their patron saint, Barbara, and commissioned to rival Prague's St Vitus Cathedral. The Hradek Mining Museum is popular for its medieval mineshaft tours, while the bizarre but fascinating Gothic Ossuary is decorated with the bones of about 40,000 people.
The Kostnice Ossuary, also known as the Sedlec Ossuary or the Church of Bones, is a unique experience for intrepid travellers. The medieval Gothic chapel is decorated with the remains of about 40,000 human skeletons, including an immense chandelier. While it is considered macabre by some, the skeletons belonged to people who wished to be buried in the Ossuary, which they considered a holy place. According to the display, they were all victims of the plague.
The famous chandelier contains at least one example of every bone in the human body, and there are other sculptures and decorations also pieced together intricately with bones. Though the effect is remarkably artistic, the Ossuary is a sacred place and the atmosphere is one of worship and peace. It's worth reading up on the history of the Ossuary and the area before visiting the chapel, as the experience is greatly enriched by some background knowledge.
Sumava National Park is one of the Czech Republic's dearest treasures. Located in two southern regions, the area has nurtured Europe's wildlife since the earliest days. The striking landscape features low mountains, rushing streams, peat bogs and crystal-clear glacial lakes. Hikers and bikers can expect a wonderful selection of trails, which may well have served ancient Celts in past centuries.
The park's resorts are a must for skiers during winter, while Lake Lipno is a summer haven for water sports. Spring is popular with nature lovers, as it is the best time to see the park's array of flowers and birds; autumn, on the other hand, is a riot of colours and equally spectacular. Visitors can choose a hotel or cottage in the park itself, or stay in one of the historic towns on its edge. These include Prachatice, Cesky Krumlov and Kasperske Hory.
This small town in Bohemia has a brewing tradition that goes back centuries. King Wenceslaus II of Bohemia founded the City of Pilsen in 1295 and gave its 260 citizens the lucrative right to brew the beer, spawning more than 200 microbreweries. In turn, they developed the famous Pilsner brewing methods that still produce some of the best beer in the world. The Pilsner Urquell Brewery opened in 1842 and continues to be Pilsen's main attraction, its two separate breweries making Pilsner Urquell and Gambrinus respectively. Visitors can tour both breweries and can learn about the history of beer at the museum.
Pilsen also has a variety of museums dedicated to everything from ethnography and history to puppets. The town itself is pleasant to walk through and has some beautiful buildings to see, including the 15th-century Town Hall, the Cathedral of St Bartholomew and the Great Synagogue. As might be expected in a town famous for its beer, Pilsen has a lot to offer regarding restaurants and pubs. There are many places to try local Czech cuisine, and bars serve coveted unfiltered beers, which are considered far superior to the filtered exports.
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