Once in Prague, forget your car. Auto travel is slow and frustrating. Trams are the best bet. Even in winter, long lines of cars and trucks snake along single lane boulevards and bridge crossings while trams zip past, their tracks magically clear. They are cheap and fast, with stops spaced at rather long intervals. Many have heated seats which are very welcome in winter. Three subway (Metro) lines each with 10 or more stations provide fast longer distance travel. Buses are also useful in reaching some destinations, although they are slowed down by other road traffic.
Single ride tickets for all public transportation - underground, trams and buses - are about $.20 per ride and can be purchased from tabak shops or from vending machines in the metro stations. One-day tickets, also valid throughout the system, are 50 Kcs. ($1.85), and five days are available for 170 Kcs. ($6.30).
To be avoided. Prague cab drivers are predatory overchargers. If you must use a cab, hire only the state-owned taxi service (tel. 02/20 29 51 or 02/20 39 41.) One day, tired of walking, we were thoroughly bilked by an aggressive driver who illegally drove on streetcar tracks to speed us back to our hotel and then demanded more than $30 for the 10 minute ride. We bargained him down to about $12, but realized later that a better course would have been to plead insufficient funds then go into the hotel for assistance. Our concierge told us afterwards that only two companies are reliable: City Cab and Fo. Look for one of these or do not ride a taxi in Prague.
Because good maps may not be readily available in Prague, we recommend obtaining the Prague city map published by the German Auto Club (ADAC) prior to your trip. Scaled at 1:20,000 it has a complete street index and displays subway and transit stops. ($6.95 plus $2.50 shipping, 800-521-6722.)
Though we recommend charging everything possible when traveling, credit cards are not widely accepted in Prague and one must carry at least some local currency.
The koruna is fairly stable these days, about 27 to the US dollar. In the U.S. it is possible to obtain korunas through the currency offices of Thomas Cook & Son (phone 1-800-CURRENCY). On a recent day, the financial pages of our local newspaper showed an exchange rate of about 27.7 Kcs. to the dollar. That same day Thomas Cook was selling korunas for slightly less than 23 to the dollar plus a commission of about 1% or $3.95, whichever was greater. At that rate, for $250, plus the $3.95 commission, one would receive 5725 Kcs. But be sure to spend all your Czech money before leaving the country. On the day in question, Thomas Cook would have bought back those same 5725 korunas for only about $186. Once in Prague, change money only with the state bank which charges a 1% commission. Some private services charge as much as 9%. Whenever changing money be sure always to shop the exchange rate.
Information Sources in Prague
There is no central tourist office in the Czech Republic. Various private travel agencies call themselves "information centers" and compete for tourist business. The largest of these is CEDOK, phone 242/13495 in Prague or 800-800-8891 in the U.S.. Though several agencies can find accommodations (examples: CEDOK; CDM, tel. 249/10251; and Ave Ltd, tel. 242/23226) one can book many Prague hotels through the toll-free numbers of international chains like Best Western (800-528-1234). However, don't go to Prague with a hotel reservation.
Perhaps the best resource for North American tourists is the American Hospitality Center (Male namesti 14, tel. 02/36 74 86). The English-speaking staff stands ready to help with maps and guidebooks, restaurant and concert reservations, sight-seeing tours and other services.
Train Information is available 24 hours by phoning 242/17654.
The Prague Concierge
Don't expect the concierge in your Prague hotel to be equal to his or her western counterpart. The special skills required of the knowledgeable concierge are, in our experience, sorely lacking in such Eastern Europe cities as Dresden, Prague and Budapest. Years of communist rule, which decreed Russian as the only alternate language, have created a shortage of English speakers. In addition to the language handicap, young hotel employees do not have the experience or the training to give visitors advice regarding such decadent Western pursuits as good restaurants and theater.
Population: 1.2 million
Altitude: 591 feet
Approximate distances from:
- Berlin 350 km 219 miles
- Munich 369 km 231 miles
- Budapest 533 km 333 miles
- Vienna 292 km 183 miles
- Zürich 675 km 422 miles