- Area: 191 sq miles (496 sq km)
- Population: 1.4 million
- Official language: Czech
- Currency: Czech crown (“Kč” or “CZK”)
- Time Zone: Central European time zone (GMT +1)
- Drive on the: Right
- Name in Czech: “Praha”
WHERE IN THE WORLD
Located in northwest Czech Republic in central Europe, Prague is the country’s capital and largest city. The metropolis is largely flat with cobbled streets, but features steep inclines, such as Petrin Hill and the swell by the Žižkov Television Tower. Prague’s star river is the Vltava, over which passes the famous Charles Bridge. The left bank of the city is set on a hill, fortified by walls, and features Hradčany, Prague’s only castle.
Enveloped by surrounding hills, Prague is only a short distance from natural landscapes like mountains, forests, caves, and fields. The city’s climate is fairly temperate — the winters are chilly and summers warm.
A BIT OF HISTORY
Prague’s history is truly ancient — Celts moved into the area in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C., establishing zones that are now suburbs outside of modern-day Prague. The region was known as Bohemia, but the Celts eventually ceded the land to Germanic tribes. Then, in the fifth century A.D., those Germanic tribes moved on and Slavic tribes became the primary settlers of Prague. In the ninth century, Czech and Slavic tribes built up fortifications which became the beginnings of Prague Castle. Legend has it that eighth century duchess Libuše viewed the Vltava from a rocky outcropping and prophesied that she saw a great city, one full of glory that would touch the stars.
Prague became an important site for trading merchants, many of whom settled in the area. By the 14th century, King Charles IV of Bohemia had transformed Prague into the third-largest city in Europe and a place of imperial magnitude. During his reign, he commissioned the building of the New Town area, erected the Charles Bridge, founded Charles University, and started construction of Saint Vitus Cathedral.
While much of Prague’s buildings were devastated in the Great Fire of 1689, the city was rebuilt and now reflects a mix of architectural styles, though the majority of the city is Baroque. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, an influx of Czech populations from surrounding Bohemia and Moravia restored the dominance of Czech language and culture.
At the end of the first World War, Prague was the capital of Czechoslovakia. In the 40s, the region was occupied by Nazi Germany, and the city was even bombed by U.S. Army Air Forces, though the city’s ancient architecture was mostly spared (supposedly Hitler himself ironically saved the historic Jewish Quarter). Prague was again caught in the cross-hairs of political upheaval as the Soviet Union took control in the 50s and 60s. Students, writers, and concerned citizens rallied against the regime, and the resulting “Prague Spring” represented an attempt to bring democracy to the city’s institutions. Since then, the city has seen economic growth and globalization, making it a medieval metropolis with a modern twist.
Fly into Prague via its international airport, Vaclav Havel Airport (PRG) located in the northwest corner of the city. If you’re already exploring Europe, you can easily access the Czech capital by train (Czech Railways) — you’ll disembark at Hlavni Nadrazi, Nadrazi Holesovice, Masarykovo nadrazi, Vysocanske nadrazi, or Smichov nadrazi, which are connected via metro to the rest of the city. It’s also possible to travel to Prague via bus — the Florenc international bus terminal will be your best bet.
Getting around Prague is quite simple. While the city is quite walkable, there’s also a developed metro system, in addition to tram and bus routes that can take you wherever you’d like to go within city limits. You can plan your trip on the city’s official metro website and you can purchase your tickets at any station — you can buy passes for specific amounts of time (e.g. 20 minutes, 75 minutes) or for entire days. Be aware that you need to hold onto your ticket, even after you disembark from the metro — ticket collectors are infamous for chasing down passengers who refuse to show proof of purchase.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Though there are plenty of transportation options, Prague is best experienced on foot, so be prepared. Bring comfortable shoes, and don’t be afraid to take a break between sightseeing jaunts to relax over a pint in a local bar.
Unlike many other European countries, the Czech Republic does not use the Euro. Instead, you’ll need to go to an exchange counter and stock up on Czech crowns. Some newer establishments accept debit or credit cards, but be sure to always have enough cash on hand.
While Prague is an extremely safe city, be aware that pickpocketing may be an issue, especially on public transport and at crowded train, bus, and metro stations. Always put any valuables in secure pockets and bags.
Prague’s climate is temperate, but be warned — summer rains can strike the city, so a jacket and an umbrella are always good to bring along if you’re visiting during warmer months.
While some sources consider Prague a city in eastern Europe, many Czechs reject this placement, preferring to be categorized as central Europeans instead. While traversing the city, it’s easier to classify Prague and the Czech Republic as central European to avoid disagreements with those who live there.