Practical Information for tourists
When is the best time of the year to visit the Czech Republic? In general, you can say that there are many places to see and events to attend in the Czech Republic at any time of the year. Therefore, there is no period that would really be unsuitable to visit the country, yet every season has its specific aspects that you should be aware of.
The Czech Republic lies in the same time zone as the rest of continental Central Europe; you will therefore be using Central European Time (GMT + 1 hour). The Czech Republic uses summer and winter time, and the time of the day and night is told using the 24-hour system. Therefore, when referring to time, the Czechs do not use the morning time (a.m.) and afternoon time (p.m.) but when they for example refer to 8:00, it means 8 a.m., while 20:00 means 8 p.m. In the spoken language you can also hear references to time such as 8 o'clock in the morning, 10 o'clock in the morning, 6 o'clock in the afternoon (18:00), or 8 o'clock in the evening (20:00).
When is the best time of the year to visit the Czech Republic? In general, you can say that there are many places to see and events to attend in the Czech Republic at any time of the year. Therefore, there is no period that would really be unsuitable to visit the country, yet every season has its specific aspects that you should be aware of. For instance, if you want to go sightseeing and visit castles and chateaux, you should come between early May and late September. Although some monuments and most museums and galleries are open all year round, during summer there are various accompanying events taking place at castles and chateaux that you should not miss. However, it is true that such popular events also attract a great number of tourists, and so you sometimes have to be prepared to encounter crowds of people. The months of April and October are interim periods for sightseeing, when you can enjoy a more peaceful atmosphere but you should also expect rather cool weather, often around 10°C. If you want to visit sights in winter, you have to expect that some of them will be closed (you should check the opening hours in advance); on the other hand, you will be able to contemplate in a quiet winter landscape, and if you are lucky enough to see the countryside clad with snow, sparkling in the sun, you will be charmed. July and August are months of school holidays and vacations, and sights tend to be occupied by children and their parents. The interiors of castles offer a pleasant respite from the hot summer sun, with temperatures often rising above 30°C.
If you want to engage in sports in a particular season, you should know which sports you would like to do. Clearly winter is the only season when you can ski and enjoy other winter sports. The Czech mountains are usually covered with snow from December to March. Temperatures in the mountains during that period are constantly under zero, sometimes dropping as low as -20 or -30°C. In major winter resorts, you can rely on good snow conditions even if there is not much snow elsewhere as they have snow guns on all important slopes, which cover those areas with snow when nature refuses to.
All other activities can pretty much be performed in any seasons, including walks in the countryside, rambling, biking, staying in spas or enjoying entertainment events and shopping. It is only up to you to choose from the warm and hot days of July and August, blooming spring in April through June, fragrant and colourful autumn (September and October), or the already-mentioned freezing winter (mid November to mid April).
There are days in the Czech Republic when most authorities, banks, and some shops are closed. These are always public holidays, and it is practical to inquire in advance as to whether a public holiday will be celebrated in the Czech Republic during your stay. On the other hand, most restaurants, bars, and tourist attractions usually stay open, and so a public holiday will not affect you that much. Nonetheless, you should remember one thing, namely that public transportation services are significantly limited on these days, and the intervals are much longer than on working days. There are not so many public holidays, and so we can list all of them below: New Year (1 January), Easter Monday (late March or early April), Labour Holiday (1 May), Liberation Day (8 May), Feast Day of St. Cyril and St. Methodius (5 July), Jan Hus Day (6 July), Czech State Day (28 September), Day of Foundation of Czechoslovakia (28 October), Day of Students' Fight for Freedom and Democracy (17 November), and Christmas (24-26 December).
A Few Useful Words and Idioms:
The official language spoken in the Czech Republic is Czech, which belongs to the group of western Slavic languages, all of them being Indo-European languages. Czech is very similar to Slovak, and if they make a bit of an effort Czechs can also understand Polish fairly well.
Hello / Good Morning - Dobrý den (if greeting an unknown person or a person older than you; used at any time of the day). Hello / Hi - Ahoj (if greeting an acquaintance or a friend of yours, common among young people). Good Bye - Na shledanou (if saying good bye to an unknown person or a person older than you). Bye - Ahoj, čau. Good night - Dobrou noc. Yes - Ano, No - Ne. Thank you - Děkuji. You're welcome - Prosím / Není zač. Help me, please - Pomozte mi, prosím. Excuse me - Promiňte / S dovolením. I'm sorry - Promiňte / odpusťte. Do you speak English? - Mluvíte anglicky? I don't speak Czech - Nemluvím česky. I don't understand - Nerozumím. I see/understand - Chápu / Rozumím. I'm lost (man) - Ztratil jsem se. I'm lost (woman) - Ztratila jsem se. I need a doctor! - Potřebuji doktora! I need to make a phone call - Potřebuji si zavolat. I'm looking for a hospital - Hledám nemocnici. Call the police! - Zavolejte policii!. Where is …. - Kde je…. Is it far? - Je to daleko? Is it near? - Je to blízko? Entrance - Vchod. Exit - Východ. Information centre - Informační centrum. Toilets - Toalety. Men/Women - Muži/Ženy. What time is it? - Kolik je hodin? Shopping, Food - Nakupování, potraviny. Water - Voda. Milk - Mléko. Bread - Chléb. I like it (about food) - Chutná mi to. Bon appétit - Dobrou chuť. How much is it (price)? - Kolik to stojí? See you later - Uvidíme se později.
We have intentionally excluded the phrase "How are you?" (in Czech "Jak se máš?"). The Czechs do not perceive this question as a social, or rhetorical, but as a personal question.
The official currency in the Czech Republic is the Czech crown (Kč, CZK). One crown is divided into 100 hellers, but today only 50-heller coins are used, and retailers round the total sum of your purchase to the nearest 50 hellers. Other coins in circulation have the values of 1 CZK, 2 CZK, 5 CZK, 10 CZK, 20 CZK, and sometimes you can also receive a 50-CZK coin. Banknotes have the values of 50 CZK, 100 CZK, 200 CZK, 500 CZK, 1000 CZK, 2000 CZK, and 5000 CZK. Please check relevant websites to see what each of the coins and banknotes looks like, what the protection marks are, and what the current exchange rate is.
The Czech Republic has slowly been preparing itself for the transition to euro, which should happen around 2010. Nonetheless, it is already common today that many shops and restaurants will accept payments in euro (yet the exchange rate is less favourable for you than in exchange bureaus), or even in US dollars.
There are many exchange bureaus in the Czech Republic. Exchange services are of course provided by banks and at hotel receptions, but the exchange rates are not very good. The best exchange rates are offered by private exchange offices but you should always compare their current rates and fees applied.
You can of course withdraw your money using your international payment card. There are many banks in the Czech Republic that operate ATMs. ATMs commonly recognize most card types (Visa, MasterCard, Plus, Cirrus and other). However, you can get a better price if paying directly with your card. In particular in Prague nearly every shop, restaurant, and hotel accepts cards. However, in smaller towns you may find retailers who do not accept cards but will be glad to tell you where you can find the nearest ATM.
Traveller's checks are undoubtedly a safe way of transporting funds. If you are a customer of American Express, Thomas Cook or Visa, you will have no problems with cashing your checks in Czech banks. Eurocheque is also accepted. Before travelling to the Czech Republic, you should bear in mind that mains sockets may be different from those you are used to at home. This problem can easily be solved with a universal adapter. You can ask for it at your hotel or seek advice at the hotel reception or information centre.
Telephone services have significantly developed in the Czech Republic over the past few years. It is now very easy and convenient to make telephone calls, and mobile phones are commonplace. If you want to call a number in the Czech Republic, you first have to dial the country code (00420 or +420), followed by other codes and numbers (city, subscriber), but always without any additional zero. If you have a phone number written down that has the format 00420 0312 55328, such a number is no longer valid. All telephone numbers were changed a few years ago. The best way to find out the current telephone number is to call 1180 (004201180). Operators at this line will look up the telephone number you need in the relevant directory. If you want to make a call from the Czech Republic to another country, first dial 00, then the relevant country code, followed by the particular number (e.g. when calling the UK, you will dial 0044 7949 758866).
Public pay phones in the Czech Republic are mostly blue, or installed in blue-and-yellow telephone booths; they mostly require telephone cards. You can purchase such cards at post offices, newspaper stands, gas stations, and sometimes in supermarkets. These cards are sold at CZK 150, 200, and 300. "Trick Cards" are relatively new to the market, and they can only be used in special pay phones; you can use these to make calls as well as to send short messages, write e-mails, and connect to the Internet.
The Czech Republic, as many other countries, has been overwhelmed by mobile-phone mania. Today (data from 2004), there are 3 mobile operators offering their services in the Czech Republic. Their services are provided using the GSM 900 and 1800 system, which is compatible with the rest of Europe, Asia, and Australia, but generally not with the systems used in Japan and Northern America. Before you start to use your mobile phone in the Czech Republic, consider buying a local SIM card as it can considerably reduce your telephone bills. However, your mobile phone needs to be unblocked in that case. A SIM card together with a starting prepaid credit costs between CZK 300 - 2000. Czech mobile operators - Eurotel, T-Mobile, and Oskar - all offer mobile phone rental services. For specific terms and conditions of such services, please visit their respective websites.
Postal services in the Czech Republic are provided by Czech Post. In comparison with other countries in the world, their services are very reliable and at a good quality level, provided at exceptionally low prices. Sending a regular postcard or a light letter (up to 20 grams) to Europe will cost you CZK 9 (data from 2004) and CZK 14 to the rest of the world. You can either send your postcards or letters from a post office, or buy a stamp at a newspaper stand and put your mail in an orange post box. Czech Post also provides express post services, which is particularly suitable for larger parcels that you want to have delivered quickly. A parcel of up to 500 grams will cost you about CZK 600. You can of course have your parcel insured, and when sending valuable items, you should also fill out a customs declaration form.
As in most other European countries, Internet connections are commonplace in the Czech Republic. You can either connect to the web at your hotel or visit an Internet café. The link speed is usually fast but you should check with the staff first. Information centres have recently also in many cases installed PCs connected to the Internet.
The opening hours of most shops from Monday to Friday are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Major retail stores (e.g. Tesco Hypermarket) and shopping centres are open 24 hours a day (data from 2004), or from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day. Some smaller shops may close for a lunch break, which is usually between noon and 1 p.m. Banks and authorities are mostly open on working days (Monday to Friday) between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Post offices are also open on Saturday morning.
Most restaurants and cafés are open daily from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Some of them close for the whole day on Mondays. In smaller towns, restaurants and cafés often only open for lunch time, i.e. from 11 a.m. Most pubs and beer halls also observe similar opening hours. Bars and clubs usually only open after noon. They are then open until 1 a.m., in some cases until 3 or 5 a.m., often depending on the number of guests wishing to stay. On Fridays and Saturdays the opening hours are the longest, often closing the next day at 8 a.m.
Souvenirs you can buy
When shopping for souvenirs, probably the best place to go is Prague as there is the widest range to choose from. Every region of the Czech Republic offers its own original souvenirs, which are often related to the particular area. And which souvenirs do we recommend that you buy?
The Czech Republic is particularly famous for its sights and historical and cultural heritage. To remind you of the beautiful buildings and romantic places, you can purchase various pictures, calendars as well as small ceramic models of houses in Prague. Bookshops sell beautiful books about the Czech Republic, with photographs of the most significant points. The books can be obtained in various languages.
Another treasure of the Czech nation is the skill of Czech craftsmen. This in particular applies to makers of glass, porcelain, and ceramics. You can for example buy beautiful Czech glass products at the Moser store (located at Na příkopě 12, Prague 1). The store bears the name of a prestigious Bohemian glass factory that was founded in 1857. At Náprstkova Street No. 4 in Prague 1, they sell modern glass products, which often include semi-precious stones artfully set inside. Nonetheless, all over Prague will you see nicely decorated and illuminated shops with Bohemian glass and porcelain. There are also many shops with hand-made ceramics in Prague, where you can also buy hand-made clothes and fashion accessories.
To see examples of skilfully crafted Czech products, this time mainly from wood and other natural materials, go to the small shop called Tupesy lidová keramika at Havelská Street 21 in Prague 1.
Another major treasure of the Czech Republic is the semi-precious Czech garnet (also known as Bohemian ruby). You can buy jewellery made from these beautiful stones at the store called Granát Turnov at Dlouhá Street 28-30 in Prague 1, for example.
The Czech Republic is also renowned for delicious food. It is usually not as durable as jewellery with Czech garnets or pictures with a still-life scene from the Lesser Town in Prague, but it will definitely please many of your relatives. You should definitely take at least one bottle of beer or wine with you. The Becherovka liqueur from Karlovy Vary is also unique, while you can remember Southern Moravia over a glass of Jelínek's slivovitz. If you like sweet things, you should buy wafers from Karlovy Vary, made according to a unique recipe that has been passed from generation to generation, and also the Czech Orion chocolate.