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Prague, with over 1.2 million inhabitants, is the largest city in the Czech Republic, and the biggest single political, economic, and cultural center in the country. Built over many centuries on a series of hills on both sides of the River Vltava, it enjoys spectacular views, a fascinating historical heritage, and a unique juxtaposition of architectural styles, ranging from the very earliest Romanesque to postmodern jeux d’esprit, like Frank Gehry’s “Fred and Ginger” dancing house. Prague also offers a range of cultural activities from museums and galleries to theater and music clubs.
Thanks to its unique location in the heart of Europe, Prague can also serve as an excellent base for exploring other destinations: Berlin, Vienna, Budapest and Krakow are all just a few hours away, while the numerous budget airlines serving Prague airport provide relatively easy weekend access to more distant destinations (Barcelona, Amsterdam, London, or even the Mediterranean beach resorts of Greece and Croatia).
For lovers of the great outdoors, the Czech countryside provides fine skiing in winter and exciting hill walking in the summer – not to mention the many picturesque regional centers and castles within easy distance of Prague, which make for perfect day trips out of town, like Karlštejn, Český Krumlov and Český ráj.
Prague is split into 22 districts, each with their own unique personality. Here’s a quick look at the best known:
Welcome to the center of the city. Both historically and commercially this is Prague’s heart, and is the place to go if you don’t know the city well. You’ll find the old town square, Wenceslas Square, the Charles’ Bridge, Prague Castle, and all the shops you could want. Of course, be prepared to spend more than in other districts as this is where the hive of tourists congregate.
Vinohrady is Prague’s high-end quarter, full of great restaurants and cafés, wine bars, organic food shops, American expats and beautiful parks. Rent-wise it can only to be outdone by the even pricier Bubeneč, near Letna. However, even though Vinohrady has many well-known residents, it’s not as expensive as we let on, and is a great place to spend a lazy Sunday.
Žižkov has a colourful and turbulent history. It is now considered Prague’s ‘hip’ quarter; Prague’s answer to Shoreditch in London, or Brooklyn in New York, although it’s really nothing like either. Here you can find the alternative Prague lifestyle; underground clubs and bars, art galleries, tea shops, vintage bike shops and a host of curious characters.
Vršovice is slowly coming of age offering more to Prague socialite. Its greatest claim to fame is Krymská street (on the border of Vinohrady), which was named in the New York Times article, “Favourite Streets in 12 European Cities”. Comparable to Bořivojova street in Žižkov, (or Brick Lane in Shoreditch), Krymská is dotted with hipster startups, cafés, bars, intellectual spaces and a few surprises. The Krymská street party in May is not to be missed.
Smichov is the commercial alternative to Prague 1. It's where Prague’s office-class hangs out, with trendy lounge bars, clubs and shopping malls. Despite its hustle and bustle, you won’t find many foreigners out here. If you like live music and art though, a trip out to the MeetFactory (owned by the Czech conceptual artist David Černý) just past Smíchovské nádraží, is a must see.
Dejvická has the largest concentration of students in Prague as many schools, including ČVUT (The Czech Technical University) are located there. It feels very different from the center with its wide streets and huge traffic circle. It’s close to Prague’s northern periphery so greenery and countryside are not far away. The rocky outcrop Divoká Šárka or the public lake Džbán are a great escape from the city during the summer months.
Holešovice is Prague’s answer to Prague 3, with many bars, tea shops, art galleries and the famous Bio Oko cinema. Although, its greatest asset are its parks, Letenské sady and Stromovka; the former with fantastic views of the city, and the latter probably considered the biggest and best park in Prague. If you like football, Sparta Prague's stadium is very close by as well.
Once upon a time, Karlín was Prague’s industrial dockland area. That was until 2002 when it was badly affected by a flood. Since then it has been pumped full of new investment becoming a booming business district (the main business districts being Chodov, Nové Butovice, Budějovická and Pankrác). Other than the business culture, Karlín also has excellent cafés, art studios, a small park and the Karlín Forum, perhaps the best new live music venue in Prague.
This should give you enough to get started with. There are of course many more things to be discovered in Prague’s outer districts but one step at a time!
Cost of Living
It is very difficult to give reliable advice on living costs, since so much depends on each student’s individual expectations. However, on average we recommend that you should aim to have at least Kc 12,000 (660 US Dollars, 480 Euro) per month to cover food, entertainment, basic transport and accommodation, though obviously the final figure also depends on your personal spending habits. Rental costs also vary widely and depend on which part of the city you live in, and how many flatmates you have.
Live Music & Club Scene
Like everyone else in the 21st century, Czechs love their music. Despite its size, Prague has many big acts coming through, often in small and intimate venues for low low prices. There are many live music venues in Prague, but here is a small selection of some of the best:
- Lucerna Music bar, Prague 1
- Palác Akropolis, Žižkov
- MeetFactory, Smichov
- Karlín Forum, Karlín
- Divadlo Archa, Prague 1
If it’s a club scene you’re looking for, here are some of the most popular:
- Palác Akropolis (D&B, Hip Hop, Dub, Reggae, House, Techno, Latin)
- Cross Club (D&B, Dub Step, Reggae, House, Techno, Industrial)
- Chapeau Rouge (Pop, Hip Hop, R&B, Dub-step, Trap)
- Roxy (House, Techno, Minimal)
- Klub Altstadt, AAU Campus (Altstadt will be opening latespring 2016, bringing you BBQ, an eclectic mix of music and a vibe only found in the Mala Strana quarter.)
The festival scene in Europe is huge and provides for all musical persuasions. Here are some well-renowned festivals in and around the Czech Republic:
- Rock For People, Hradec Králové (Rock, Indie, Alternative and World Music)
- Colors of Ostrava, Ostrava (Pop, Indie, Rock, Hip Hop – Basically a great all-around music experience)
- Mighty Sounds, Tábor (Punk, Ska, Metal, Reggae, Rock)
- Pohoda Festival, Trenčín, Slovakia (Electronic, Alternative, World Music)
- Sziget Festival, Budapest, Hungary (A monster seven day festival in the heart of the capital, with every conceivable musical talent)
Also, if film is your thing, we recommend the International Karlovy Vary Film Festival, which is one of the Czech Republic’s biggest cultural events. Previous years have seen visits from such Hollywood stars as, Oliver Stone, John Travolta, John Malkovich and Judy Dench.
Bars, unlike Prague’s bounty of pubs or hospodas, are in short supply. Here is a list of the newest bars providing something a little different from your standard pivo a Becherovka:
- Malkovich Bar, Žižkov – Despite its sometimes pretentious reputation, Malkovich has become one of the most respected cocktail bars in Prague, offering a wide selection of drinks in a cosy and non-smoking environment. It was also mentioned highly by the Guardian newspaper in its article, “Prague City Guide: A Day in Žižkov”
- Bukowski’s, Žižkov – Probably the most popular bar in Prague 3 for both Czechs and expats. Great drinks, good music and a perfect place to meet new people. It’s always buzzing but it can sometimes be difficult to find a table.
- Vlkova 26, Žižkov – Once called Blind Eye, Vlkova 26 has somehow kept the feeling of its notorious predecessor while introducing a fresh energy to the place. It can become cramped but their electronic music is usually excellent.
- Zenit Bar, Vršovice – Bare brick and craft beer give a very Brooklyn-esque feel to this place. It often has good DJs and is in a neighborhood full of great alternatives.
- Café Sladkovský, Vršovice – In the same style of many Krymská establishments, Sladkovskýs perfectly blends Czech and Western bar culture into a welcoming and hip scene.
- Café V Lese, Vršovice – Once a popular bookshop called Shakespeare’s, Café V Lese has become an equally popular bar and club.
- Klubovna 2.patro, Prague 1 – Located on Dlouhá Street (Prague’s biggest bar and club street), Second Floor is a great place to talk rather than dance, with a large open New York studio feel.
- NoD, Prague 1 – Also located on Dlouhá street, NOD is the lounge bar of Roxy Club. It has standard drinks but interesting art,photo and video exhibitions.
Prague has a fantastic selection of cafés from the early 20th century or Golden Era, when Czechoslovakia was one of the world’s wealthiest countries; producing highly regarded writers, philosophers, painters and scientists. Most of the cafés have been kept in their original condition and boast excellent food, drinks and service. Some of the best cafés to visit include:
- Café Louvre, Prague 1
- Grand Café Orient, Prague 1
- Café Imperial, Prague 1
- Kavárna Slavia, Prague 1
- Kavárna Obecní dům, Prague 1
If you prefer your coffee made by knowledgeable hipster baristas, we recommend checking out some of these well-established locals:
- Mama Coffee, Vinohrady, Karlín, Prague 1
- Můj šálek kávy, Karlín
- Mlýnská, Kampa Park, Prague 1
- ŽIŽKAVÁRNA, Žižkov
- Paralelní Polis (Bitcoin only), Holešovice
- EMA Espresso Bar, Prague 1
Historic Sites & Museums
It’s no secret that Prague is an iconic world capital. Almost untouched by bombings in World War Two, its baroque and gothic architecture remains as some of the best preserved examples of its kind in Europe. To list all of Prague’s historic sites would take forever, but here is a small selection of some of its most famous places:
- Prague Castle (Pražský hrad) – The landmark that dominates Prague's ancient skyline. Numerous centuries of history have left their mark on this place and investigating it is always an education.
- Charles Bridge (Karlův most) – Built by Charles IV and completed in the 15th century, this is probably Prague's most famous landmark. To avoid the tourist crush, the bridge is best enjoyed early in the morning or late at night.
- Vyšehrad – The sight of the first Prague settlement over 1000 years ago, Vyšehrad sits at central Prague's southern tip. It boasts beautiful views of the river and is a great place to relax during the summer.
- Old Town Square (Staroměstské náměstí) – This is a favorite for tourists as there are so many beautiful buildings situated there. The astronomical clock everyday at 12 noon is always popular.
- Wenceslas Square (Václavské náměstí) – Prague's answer to Times Square, New York or Piccadilly Circus, London, although it really isn't like either. Hotels, restaurants, strip clubs, kebab stands…busy busy busy.
- National Theatre (Národní Divadlo) – Situated at the end of Národní street by the river and opposite the popular cafe, Kavárna Slavia, the National Theater is well worth an evening or two – just make sure you dress well.
- New Town Hall (Novoměstská radnice) – The sight of Prague's first three defenestrations in 1419, this tower has a grim but vitally important history to the development of Europe and its relationship with the Catholic church.
Prague is not famous for its museums but there are still some worth seeing. Here's a small selection:
- Military History Institute of Prague
- Museum of Communism
- National Technical Museum
- Prague City Museum
- National Museum (new building)
- Gastronomy Museum
- National Gallery (Národní galerie v Praze)
- DOX: Center for Contemporary Art
- Karlín Studios
- Leica Gallery Prague
- Prague House of Photography
- MeetFactory Gallery
- Moucha Gallery
Summer in Prague is, as you might expect, a perfect time to enjoy the city. Park life, street parties and the river bank are the main hotspots. There are also countless rivers and lakes outside of Prague with their own “sandy” beaches and music festivals:
- Naplavka, The Prague Waterfront – Only five years ago this area was a sketchy rundown industrial dockland. Five years later it has become arguably the most popular hangout during Prague’s summer months. Lined with bars and live music, hundreds of locals (and inquisitive tourists) enjoy the calming effects of the Vltava River into the wee hours.
- Parks – Prague is a hilly green town and its parks come alive when the sun comes out. Here are the most popular:
- Riegrovy sady, Vinohrady – Probably the most popular park, due to its beer garden, fantastic views over the old town, Mala Strana and Petrin Hill, and its proximity to Žižkov and Vinohrady.
- Parukářka, Žižkov – The scruffiest of Prague’s parks but also with amazing views and lots of space for Frisbee, picnics and regular music festivals.
- Letenské sady, Letna – This park is great for skating and also has a beer garden with, once again, amazing views over the whole town. This is an excellent place to play sports, including; ultimate Frisbee, football, nohejbal, tennis and basketball.
- Stromovka, Bubeneč – This is Prague’s biggest park and hosts many events throughout the year. It is common to see inline skaters, family and friends BBQ-ing and young couples enjoying the permanent fairground at Výstavište with its rusty rides and all.
- Kampa Park, Mala Strana – Despite being the smallest of the aforementioned, Kampa has a lot of character. Located on the river in the Mala Strana it hosts the United Islands free summer music festival as well as having the Museum Kampa an excellent modern art museum.
- Out of Towners – It can sometimes seem like Prague is the only attraction in the Czech Republic, but that couldn't be further from the truth.Take a weekend away and explore some of Bohemia and Moravia’s best kept secrets:
- Karlštejn - Only a short train ride from Prague, Karlštejn is a dramatic 14th century gothic castle built high on a hill overlook a forested valley. The castle's highest tower holds the remnants of the Czech royal jewels.
- Český ráj - Situated in northern Bohemia, Český ráj, or Bohemian Paradise, is a huge outcrop of sandstone towers, with stunning views over the Czech valley. It's perfect for a day of hiking or cycling and offers challenging boulder and climbing routes for the more adventurous.
- České Švýcarsko – Literally meaning “Czech Switzerland,” this is a beautiful national park also in northern Bohemia. It is famous for its sandstone bridge and hotel built into the soft rock.
- Šumava - The largest national park in the Czech Republic , located in the south-west of Bohemia, overlapping the border with Germany and Austria. If you spend long enough there you may even see a lynx or wolf roaming the forests.
- Český Krumlov – One of the jewels of the Czech Republic and a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site, Krumlov is a small medieval town in southern Bohemia that is an absolute for anyone who enjoys taking a step back in time.
- Kutná Hora – This town was made famous by the Sedlec Ossuary or Bone Church, which is the most macabre example of interior decorating you will have ever seen (Also a UNESCO World Heritage Site) . As well as this, the town has a stunning cathedral and yearly fairs and markets.
- Plzeň (Pilsen) – Made famous for its beer brewing methods and Škoda cars, Pilsen is Czechia's fourth largest city and was voted European Capital of Culture in 2015. We recommend taking a tour around the Pilsner brewery where a free pint is included.
- Máchovo jezero – Originally made as a large trout pond for Charles IV, Máchovo jezero is one of the largest lakes in Bohemia and a great place to spend a weekend (either in small log cabins or camping), with sandy beaches, beautiful forests and live music performances in the summer months.
- Expats.cz – This website is an essential tool for anyone who has recently arrived in Prague, and even for those who have been here a while. It contains pretty much everything you could need to know about life in Prague for a foreigner.
- Mapy.cz – The Czech equivalent of Google maps.
- Dpp.cz – For all your transportation troubles; trams, buses and trains.