I was a bit apprehensive about going to Prague on my own – at least, more so than any other city I’ve ever been to solo thus far. (Well, other than New York, but that’s different because it was my first solo trip!) I think the reason was because I had heard some not-so-nice things about the behaviour and attitudes of some Czech people and I guess it made me worried. Alas – all was well and my worries were for naught! Though, of course, you still should be on your guard and aware of your surroundings – as you would in any city. Anyway, here are some things I think you should know before going to Prague:
It’s not as Scary as You May Believe, but Still be Careful
Like me, you may feel a little on edge about roaming through Prague, especially if you are on your own. I, however, was pleasantly surprised by the locals. They were kind, and helpful, and quite friendly – for the most part. There is a bit of an attitude difference between Prague and other cities, but it’s not something you should take personally. One time at night, I was a bit lost and needed to ask someone to point me in the right direction so I wandered into the nearest restaurant to ask the owner and he grumbled something about not being a tourist information centre (which I understand, but it was dark and late and you were the only place that looked open/trustworthy!) Still, though he was unwilling to help, a customer sitting at the bar was. (There are good Samaritans everywhere!) Other examples of Prague hospitality include a girl at the bus stop making sure I got on the correct one, a man helping me find the opera house, and a very friendly waitress. I would still be cautious of pick-pocketers and obviously try to avoid walking down dark alleys at night. Prague has a very active nightlife – and large groups of rowdy, drunk, people (mainly tourists, I suspect) can perhaps be a bit overwhelming/make you feel uncomfortable so just be alert.
The currency they use in Prague is called Koruna (crown). There are about 27 crowns in 1 Euro. I noticed that almost everything accepts Euros as a form of payment, so you will likely be able to get by with Euros and your credit card. If you plan on using the metro system or tram though, you will need to pay in Korunas. There are plenty of money exchange booths throughout the city as well as at the bus stop where you will get dropped off if you are arriving by bus. Most of them are advertised as “0% commission”. Whatever you do, DO NOT EXCHANGE MONEY WITH SELLERS ON THE STREET. This is a trap and they will take your money and run – as one of my poor friends learned the hard way!
I only needed to use one tram number and 2 metro lines while in Prague, but from my experience it was decently easy to navigate. When I first arrived, it was a bit overwhelming to find my correct line because all the signs looked like made-up words to my English brain, but if you stay calm and use logic, you’ll be able to figure it out. The tram stops are likewise rather foolproof as they clearly list all the numbers that pass through, what the upcoming and past stops are, and the arrival times. Be warned that you are unable to buy a ticket directly on the tram – you have to buy from a corner store, from a booth that is outside certain stops, news stands and tourist centres. And I would highly suggest you DO buy and validate your ticket because if you are caught without on, the police take you to the nearest atm so that you can pay on the spot. I found it really convenient that you can choose to buy either a 30 minute ticket (24 CZK) or a 90 minute ticket (32 CZK). If you buy from the yellow ticket machine at the metro stations, you will need CZK coins; if you buy from someone behind the counter, you can use either CZK coins or bills.
Navigating the City
Even if you have a map, it can be confusing because of the names. I would highly suggest you know the names of the tourist attractions in Czech and not just English! For example, Charles Bridge = Karlův most. The Prague castle = Pražský hrad. Confusing because they don’t look at all similar! Also, as with most (if not all?) European cities, the street names are on the side of buildings and not on poles by the side of the road. You might have to turn your neck a few different directions just to spot them!
Walking Through the City
If you plan on walking through the city instead of taking the tram (which I would highly recommend because it’s totally doable), just be prepared that your legs and feet might feel a bit sore. The cobble stones are lovely to look at – I personally LOVE them – but they aren’t the easiest roads to walk on all day. Comfy shoes are a must! (How do girls wear heels in Europe? I don’t know!)
When Dining Out
My experience dining out was very positive – the waitress was nice and welcoming. I’ve heard that sometimes the service isn’t up to the usual North American standard/expectation but that’s because you’re not in North America anymore. Be advised that your bill might be a lot higher than the price you saw on the menu when you ordered. To avoid this, ask if there is a cover charge for the restaurant when you arrive, and check to see if the bill already includes the tip in the total cost. If it doesn’t, tipping is usually between 10-15% and I’ve heard that if you really didn’t like the service, it is much better to simply give no tip at all than to give a small tip as an “insult.” Be aware that you might be charged for condiments that are on your table even if you don’t use them and that ketchup is not included with your fries! If you plan on buying street food, such as the pork, make sure they don’t cheat you! My guide on the free tour said that they sometimes charge tourists for a ridiculously large portion of pork that one person could not possibly eat claiming that they don’t serve smaller portions. This is a lie – they serve the locals smaller portions! If you are unable to argue with them and really want to eat it, buy the big portion and share it between your friends.
Taking the Taxi
If you plan on taking a taxi, don’t hail one from the street as you will probably get ripped off. Order one ahead of time as it is more trustworthy.