Prague is an exciting modern city, yet some things are still in a state of flux and might be different than what you know. So we at Think have put together this compendium of information that anyone should find useful… let us know if anything needs adding or updating and enjoy your trip through Praha, haha!
Discounts… Your International Student ID card can get you better rates at some museums and will certainly help with bus and plane prices booked here if you use a travel agent, but many Prague institutions honor only local student IDs, so don’t bank on this one.
Recommended private clinics with Western doctors (only the first is open 24 hours) are First Medical Clinic of Prague , open till 7pm Mon-Fri, (Vyšehradská 5, tel +420 224 918 201), Health Care Unlimited , open till 5pm Mon-Fri, (tel +420 22481 0744, ext. 286, 273, Revoluční 19, Prague 1), Meda Women’s Clinic (Prague 8, Budínova 2 (Bulovka Hospital), tel +420 283 842 222) and Canadian Medical Center (Canadian Medical Centre , Veleslavínská 30, Prague 6, tel +420 235 360 133).
Drug and liquor laws… There’s nothing preventing pubs and cafés from serving liquor all night except possibly sleep starvation and, interestingly enough, possession of drugs is legal if they are in quantities sufficient only for personal use. The last thing in the world you want, however, is to get into a debate with the often violent Prague drug enforcement police about what quantity fits the above definition. Remember, even with a new democracy, there’s no American-style due process protecting the accused here and they can hold you without charges for as long as they choose. So keep it under control and just say no to writing pleas for help from behind bars.
Emergencies… You will probably need to recruit an interpreter, but you can reach the police at 156, the fire department at 150, call an ambulance at 155 and get emergency road service at 154.
Events hotline… Ticketpro has the dope on most events and is reachable until 8pm daily (www.ticketpro.cz). During business hours, the Music Information Center can clue you in about anything tuneful in Prague (www.musica.cz).
Festivals and special events… Aside from Prague Spring (www.prague-spring.net), there are annual music and performance events of some kind almost every month. The best place to check is the Prague Information Service (www.praguewelcome.cz) office, open till 6pm weekdays Rytířská 31, Praha 1 – Staré Město, 110 00, and with the same hours plus weekends until 5pm at Staroměstské náměstí 1, Praha 1 – Staré Město 110 00. Pick up the annual Calendar of Tourist Events and the monthly Prague Cultural Events booklet, both in English:
Anniversary of Jan Palach’s Death: A memorial takes places in Wenceslas Square around the 19th of January which is dedicated to the student of Charles University who burned himself to death in protest against the Soviet takeover. (1969). Three Kings’ Day: Also known as the Twelfth Night, this represents the official ending of the Christmas season. People usually gather around a group of carol singers and gifts are given to those less fortunate. Prague Winter: This is an annual festival of opera, (classical music which has started since 1972). Generally these concerts take place in Prague’s National Theatre.
Sorry, it’s just too damn cold. But there’s always Masopust: This is the Czech Mardi Gras Festival, which is held in the district of Zizkov and usually ends with a parade through the streets of Prague. People enjoy dressing up in costumes which represent mythical characters. ‘Masopust’ means to give up meat, and this is the last chance to have a meat feast before the fasting begins. The celebrations go on for about three days leading up to Lent.
The annual Easter Holidays of Music festival (www.fok.cz) and the Easter Days of Chamber Music feature top performances at various locations, including the Convent of St. Agnes of Bohemia , one of the best venues for sacred music in Prague. The International Jazz Festival Prague (www.jazzfestivalpraha.cz), also in March, is a 12-year tradition that continues bringing in names so popular that even before 89, the authorities couldn’t say no to them. It’s now joined by the AghaRTA Prague Jazz Festival (.agharta.cz), with artists howling at great funky clubs around town like the Lucerna Music Bar (www.musicbar.cz) before adoring, packed houses, creating an energy so intense it hasn’t changed since the days when players were precious links to the cool world outside.
The Mozart Open (www.mozart.cz) is a series of special and international stage events and programs that runs from April through October at theaters throughout Prague.
Two words: Prague Spring. Fifteen more: It all starts at the most thoroughly redone Art Nouveau palace in Europe, Obecní dům (www.obecnidum.cz).
Český Krumlov Chamber Music Festival: This is a festival of chamber music, which has taken place since 1987. Czech Folklore Festival: Folk music, Czech culture and heritage is observed in this festival. It takes place throughout the summer. Dance Prague Tanec Praha: This is a modern dance festival which takes place in theatres all over Prague city. The festival lasts for the whole month of June.
Don’t even bother: Difficult as it may be to imagine, the entire country’s on vacation, trimming rose bushes at the family chata or cottage. Really. Prague’s one hot ghost town. Okay, it’s good rave weather, but you won’t find any organizing office for that, so just keep an eye out for posters downtown or at Radost. There is one exception however, but sometimes it takes place in August and that the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival: This is one of the largest film festivals of the Czech Republic. It is also one of the oldest festivals in Europe. Various celebrities attend this festival each year (www.kviff.com).
Mystic Skate Cup: The International pro-skateboarding cup is held in the specially designed Mystic Skate Park on Štvanice Island. Trutnov Open Air Music Festival: This is one of the largest open air music festivals held in Trutnov. International Organ Festival: Concerts are organised with a variety of European organists in St. James’ Basilica, which takes place throughout August till September. Festival of Italian Opera: This takes place at the Prague State Opera house and features many quality Italian opera performances, including the famous work of Verdi.
Prague Autumn (www.pragueautumn.cz) has been for many years an international music festival based at the resplendent Rudolfinum concert hall, bringing in all the world-renowned classical groups who were already booked in spring. Wine Festivals: During wine harvesting, various wine festivals are held throughout the country. Burčák is the sweet tasting young wine which is only partially fermented. In late September, Vinohradské vinobraní, the largest wine harvesting celebration takes place in the Vinohrady district.
International Jazz Festival: This has been a popular event since 1964 and lasts for two weeks. Performances include Czech and international musicians and take place usually at the Reduta Jazz Club.
The International Advent and Christmas Music Festival pits choir against chorale in a gruesome, seven-year-old contest of holy one-upsmanship on Nov. 28-30 for the coveted Petr Eben Prize, all in the name of the messiah. The cream of Prague’s churches and even a snowy Old Town Square get into the act.
The Bohuslav Martinů Festival in Prague (www.martinu.cz/english) takes to the Rudolfinum, highlighting the works of this brooding modern Czech composer.
Gay and lesbian resources… For events and contacts listings, try http://prague.gayguide.net, which has an English section, or Flirt . Better still, at least when it’s open during summer, is the Gay Information Center (www.czechgayguide.org), a good resource for accommodations, entertainment, tours and legal services that’s up till 2am nightly. For an insightful look at Prague’s gay scene, check out this article.
Leaflets and flyers… The best events are often those too weird or spontaneous to make the newspaper deadlines or regular club calendars, but they tend to be plastered all over kiosks along Na Příkopě street between Václavské náměstí and Náměstí Republiky. The Prague Information Service office at Rytířská 31, Praha 1, open till 6pm weekdays, is also a good source for classical and mainstream rock events and pamphlets for all the museums, exhibitions and attractions are in most hotel lobbies but for more underground stuff, try the bulletin board at Radost, Velryba (in the hallway to the back room) or the Jazz Café č. 14 (Opatovická 14).
Magazines and books… One new blissfully anarchistic monthly is Think Magazine (you’re reading the online version), available free at Radost and other hip spots in the first week of the month, offering rants, silly fashion tips and the most up-to-the-second coverage of the hottest local deejays, parties, rave production groups, bizarro club nights, concerts and art attacks. Vice Czechslovakia , is an extremely handy guide to new shops and services that includes a card good for discounts at many of the places listed. Two excellent pulp events magazines in Czech are 14 (www.14.misto.cz) , with the most exhaustive two-week events listings going (the back page dates list are pretty easily decipherable), and UNI , (www.unijazz.cz/uni) a pocket-size review of the most edgy and inspired happenings in music and the arts. Both can usually be found at the Roxy, Velryba or Jazz Café č. 14.
The Globe and U knihomola used to stock literary reviews like Optimism, The Prague Revue , Yazzyk and Trafika , and the former stocks, well, sort of, the free, low-production-values (unpronouncable symbol) – that is, if no one had walked off with the copy reserved for the bathroom. Together these mags and ‘zines comprised the best and worse in Prague poetry and prose and a healthy spread of international writing amd you can read all about it here.
U knihomola, Big Ben, Anagram and The Globe are also the source for all the books that are required reading on Prague, the latter with much more shelf space and a reliable in-flow of marked-down used copies. Recommended for cutting insights into the pre-89 days are I Served the King of England by the recently self-defenestrated master of pub fiction Bohumil Hrabal, Václav Havel’s Living in Truth , Ludvík Vaculík’s A Cup Of Coffee with My Interrogator and anything by Josef Škvorecký. For the best sense of the next generation’s dreams and fears, Jáchym Topol’s A Trip To The Train Station and the excellent collection Outside Reality are evidence of a whole new and welcome agenda. Check out our review of English language bookstores in Prague.
Metro… Just like the bus system only underground and way faster. Get your 18Kč ticket, good for a one-way ride anywhere, at the station entrance or tabák , then validate it in the yellow box at the top of the escalator or stairs. If buying yours from the Byzantine vending machines on the wall, punch the button with the ticket value you want first (the upper lefthand button, the one for 26Kč, will cover you for an hour) then hit Enter. That makes the coin slot open and you win. You even get change with your ticket and can buy as many as you like. Don’t get caught without one or it’s an on-the-spot fine and browbeating.
Newspapers… The Prague Post, the only surviving English-language paper, has most everything you need to know about events for the week, plus reviews and helpful blurbs on every genre of music and artist, no matter how obscure. The restaurant reviews are also the best-read in Prague, though some reviewers’ tastes are decidedly funky.
Online information… For yesterday’s news on the Czech Republic, literally, check in at the ČTK site for English-language news digests (www.ctk.eu). It’s the day-old local equivalent of the Associated Press. A Czech Radio site (www.radio.cz) features great background on the history of the Czech lands, the A-Z Culture Guide film, food, music and, best by far, a section responding to frequently asked beer questions. More general visitor information is onhand at the Czech Centres site (www.czech.cz). Another good spot for historical info on Bohemia and check out this article. For a trippy taste of the Czech fascination with the archaic and arcane, try Labarint (www.labyrint.cz), a virtual city-world based on the writings of that late, great persecuted Protestant Comenius. For the regional skinny, and links to any number of useful Czech pages, try the Central Europe Online Navigator (www.centraleurope.com).
For navigating the rails, a remarkably cheap and rich experience at the heart of Bohemia, get all your routes and schedules at the Czech Railways site (www.vlak.cz). As with many rich experiences, there’s usually a faster alternative and in this case it’s Student Agency Bus Lines (www.studentagencybus.com). Faster still is Czech Airlines, that is when they leave on time (www.csa.cz).
For advance notice on major concerts and more cultural background, the Prague Information Service has got it down (www.praguewelcome.cz). For more on concert and theater tickets, check Bohemia Ticket International (www.bohemiaticket.cz) or Ticketpro (www.ticketpro.cz). The Prague Post ‘s online address provides news, business and arts articles, travel tips and useful contacts (www.praguepost.com).
Phones… Telephones in Prague generally work fine, it must be said, but you may hear a whole symphony of wacked noises before your call goes through. Of the pay phones that still accept coins, many are perpetually jammed. If they are working, a 5Kč coin will get you a few minutes. A much better bet is to buy a phone card from the cigarette stand in or near a metro, which will get you 50 or 100 units of calling time, each good for six minutes. To call any Prague numbers from abroad, dial 42 for the Czech Republic, then 2 for Prague, then the local number.
Radio stations… Rádio 1 (FM 91.9) is not only the proper frequency for getting on a cosmic wavelength, it’s also got the best events calendar broadcast going. Though usually in Czech, sometimes you’ll hear some English, plus jungle-chemical spinning and dependable dose of prankish Brit irony. (As the first pirate station to broadcast after ’89 – from the foundations of the former Stalin monument in Letná Park – Radio 1 been the coolest from the get-go and continues to set the pace for trance-techno, alterna weirdness and underground.) Rádio ERKL is out there without a roadmap doing an occasionally great mix of everything from showtunes to acid jazz (FM 87.8). Rádio Limonádový Joe (www.limonadovyjoe.cz), the station named for a mythic Czech singing teetotaler cowboy, is awfully amusing and surprisingly fresh (FM90.3). An intelligent classical program goes out on the wavelength of the former salon and villa and current gallery of Porges on Classic FM (FM 98.7). Pick up cunning grammar tips, cricket match scores and the ever-vigilant World Service on the BBC (FM 101.1). For a Eurotrashy pop mix with the occasional African or Latino music from former French colonies try the all-Gallic, all the time, station (FM 99.3).
Safety… Prague is far safer than it looks. With an abundance of dimly lit, run-down streets and strange, intoxicated characters after dark, there is a remarkably mild vibe to it all. True the stormtrooper club doormen have reputations for sometimes going ape when dissed, there are some truly ankle-twisting potholes, and Prague is a big city more and more like others every day, so the usual precautions are always wise. But the only really persistent threat is the crooked cab driver: Anyone hopping into a taxi waiting in a touristed area can absolutely expect to be ripped off. When passengers protest, it’s not unusual for cabbies to get nasty. Customers have been punched, had guns waved at them and been driven miles out of their way and ordered out of the car, though these are obviously extreme cases and most passengers get away with a mere surcharge of five or ten times the legal fare. Despite this long-standing and well-known reputation, the City of Prague has recently taken the unique approach of de-regulating cabbies. If you can, just take public transit. If not, see below.
Taxis… Three cab companies in Prague stand out for their records of honesty and reliable service, the first one with English-speaking dispatchers: AAA (www.aaa-radiotaxi.cz), and Profi (www.profi-taxi.cz). All of them dispatch cabs to telephone callers, a much better bet than flagging down a cab on the street. If you’re not near a phone, and have to stop a cab yourself, always agree on a price before getting in if you can. If not, the check to see that the meter is turned on and that it’s set on 1 (the legal rate of 28 Kč per kilometer), not 2, 3 or 4. It’s normal to ride in the front, next to the driver, if you’re traveling alone – just ignore the colorful promotional flyers for bordellos unless you’re cruising for some other reason that to get from Point A to Point B.
Tickets from home… Ticketpro (www.ticktpro.cz) is the only agency to take plastic over the phone, but they do book for all but the most indie events.
Ticket scalpers… The only way to beat these guys to a seat at a popular opera performance like The Magic Flute at the Stavovské divadlo is to buy your ticket a month in advance. Short of that, the best strategy is to just wait till the overture begins and the scalper’s offerings are at the point of becoming worthless. If you can then get a reasonable price and the tickets look all right, you may as well take a chance.
Time… There’s no English-language phone number for the exact time, but there are handy LED clocks on the inside of every tram and many downtown street corners have lighted clocks.
Trams… For tickets, see Buses above. Normal trams stop running at midnight, but night trams, those with numbers in the 50s, run all night. The best spot to catch one in the center is at Lazarská and Spálená streets, the main transfer point where they all stop for several minutes before continuing on.
Visitor information… Prague Information Service has the most complete concert and cultural information, most of it free, Čedok can help with excursions and travel booking.
Weather… Weekly weather forecasts appear on the front page of The Prague Post and are available online at Czech Radio (www.radio.cz).