On the whole, Prague is a very safe and civilised city. As long as you are taking sensible precautions, you’ll have a wonderful time here. But here are a few things that might make your visit a little easier and prepare you for your Prague visit. And to be clear, I’m not saying you should not do them if you really want to, but hopefully, this little guide of things not to do in Prague gives you ideas of what you can easily miss when you visit the city without feeling guilty.
1. Don’t take a taxi from the airport
Unlike other major city’s airports, which are a fair distance from the centre, in Prague, you are literally 20-30 minutes from the centre by public transport. You first take a bus and then ‘metro’ (underground) to get to the centre. The ticket is 32 crowns (about £1.20), and it’s valid for up to 90 minutes. You can change your public transport (bus, tram, underground, train) as many times as you like within the valid period. You need to validate your ticket in a machine as you board the bus and then keep the ticket in your pocket until the end of your journey (you don’t need to validate it every time you change a bus, tram or underground).
If you have a lot of luggage, the whole family is travelling with you; you are not quite sure where your hotel is and have at least 700 crowns spare, by all means, use the taxi. It might be still a comfortable way to arrive and start your holiday hustle free. I usually choose to keep my ‘taxi’ money and spend it on dinner for two!
2. Don’t visit Charles Bridge in the middle of the day
I love Prague, and I love that so many other people love it too, but it means that the main attractions, like Charles Bridge, get very busy. So busy sometimes, that you can hardly see where you are going and need to shuffle along in a big sausage of people going the same way.
So, if you want to experience Charles Bridge for yourself go very early in the morning (I mean like 6 am) or very late at night (a midnight walk across Charles Bridge is magical!).
3. Don’t visit Prague Castle if you have just one day in Prague
If you love history, Prague Castle will be definitely on your list. The problem is that if you have only one or two days in Prague, you can easily spend it just at Prague Castle and not see the rest of the city!
Since 2016, everyone entering the Prague Castle area is subject to a bag search, which is an understandable precaution since this is where the President lives. But, there are often huge queues, which can add considerable time to your castle visit. If you want to see the whole castle, you will need the entire day. There are many different buildings, exhibitions, cathedral, church and the Golden Lane to see. It’s a lot to take in!
What should you do instead?
Go very early in the morning (or late in the evening) – the grounds are open every day 6 am to 10 pm. You can walk through the Prague Castle grounds and see all the buildings without paying for a ticket. The only place you can’t go without the castle ticket is Golden Lane.
Take a good guide book with you and read everything you want to know about Prague Castle as you walk around. This way you’ll see everything you want to and enjoy Prague Castle without the crowds.
4. Don’t exchange your money on the streets
These days I don’t see the point of exchanging money anyway, as in most places you can pay by card. Exchange some of your currency into Czech crowns before you leave your country and keep the change for public transport tickets and small purchases. Larger purchases can be made with card. Before you travel, check with your bank charges for ATM withdrawals. In most cases, you will find that your bank will give you a good deal on the currency exchange and won’t even charge you for withdrawing money abroad. There are plenty of ATM machines available on the streets, but I would advise to walk into any large bank and use their indoors machines, where you will feel more secure.
5. Don’t eat in the restaurants in the Prague centre
First of all, I should say, that I don’t mind spending a bit of money on good food. Saying that I always find Czech restaurants hit and miss when it comes to food quality. What seems to work as guidance in many European Cities – i.e. the higher cost, the higher the quality of food or nicer the interior/ setting/customer service is. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to apply to many Prague restaurants. Step into one side street directly off the Old Town Square and the main course will set you back 590 crowns. It might be perfectly good quality, and yes, you’ll be directly in the centre, but you can easily find same quality restaurants a little further away from the centre where the main course could start from 95 crowns. And you can buy two tickets to see the whole of Prague Castel for 500 crowns!
Another side note on Prague restaurants and their prices. The price for the main course is usually just for the ‘meat’ element of the dish. You need to order the ‘side’ dish, like potatoes, rice, chips, vegetables or salad separately at extra cost. Also, water or soft drinks are not always cheaper than alcoholic drinks. When deciding what drink you would like to have, check the volume, you will be getting first. Prices are often quoted for 100ml to appear cheaper and then you either need to tell your waiter that you want 250ml glass or they will select whatever glass they have and then charge you accordingly. If you get any extra side dishes, that you didn’t ask for (like for example basket with bread, rolls or bowl of olives), please understand that these are not complimentary. If you start eating them, you will be charged for them.
6. Don’t eat Trdelnik
By all means, have this deliciously smelling sweet dough snack that has taken over the streets of Prague. But do this on the understanding that it’s not a traditional Czech sweet (it comes originally from Romania) and no Czech person would have ever made it at home to eat nor it would buy it on streets. The stalls with Trdelnik have started to appear in the centre of Prague about seven to nine years ago, so that’s as traditional as it gets. If you want to try real traditional pastry, go to any supermarket or a bakery and get ‘kolace’ – round sweet pastry cakes filled with poppy seeds, apples or sweet curd cheese. They are absolutely delicious and for a cost of one Trdelnik, you can have about 3-4 pastries (depending on size). Then walk around munching on these, feeling happy and slightly smug!
7. Don’t worry about missing the Old Town Square clock chiming
To visit the Old Town Square to see the historic clock chiming is listed as one of the ‘things you have to do’ when you are in Prague. To be honest, you’ll live even if you don’t see it. Here is what actually happens: When the clock chimes at the whole hour, the two small doors above the astronomical clock open and you’ll see twelve apostles going around and turning as they pass the little doors. The skeleton statue will also move and at the end, you’ll hear the golden rooster crowing.
What is probably more fascinating is to watch hundreds of tourist standing still with their heads up staring at the clock for anything up to 15 minutes before the clock starts to chime! Seriously, the clock won’t chime any sooner than at the whole hour!
Joking aside, the Astronomical clock is very impressive installation as it not only tracks the time but also the moon and the clock also tells you what date it is. It was originally built in 1410 and it’s one of the oldest astronomical clocks in working order in the world.
8. Don’t visit the major attractions at the weekend
The main attractions, like Prague Castle, the Jewish Quarter or Charles Bridge can be very congested, especially at weekends. If you can, visit either early in the morning or at weekdays. You might be lucky enough to beat the crowd if you turn up just before 9 am, as most tourists would, wrongly, assume that castles, museums or other attractions open at 10 am (as it’s in many other European cities) and nobody wants to get up too early when they are on holiday.
Don’t wear high heels, flip flops or flat shoes
The centre of Prague is best covered on foot, which can mean a lot of walking. Unlike other towns, Prague has pavements made out of stone cubes, oldfashioned cobbled stones and tiles. It’s best to wear comfortable, padded shoes, like trainers or other comfy shoes; otherwise, you might end up with blisters and very tired feet!
9. Don’t get too excited about marihuana & absinth sweets and drinks
As you browse through various souvenir shops, you might come across marihuana or absinth flavoured sweets and drinks. Marihuana is illegal in the Czech Republic, so the chances of any sweet actually having any happy times substances are pretty non-existent. Producers seem to use the picture of the hemp plant to advertise their products and they use hemp seed to flavour the sweets or chocolates. Not that I understand it much, but you apparently need the hemp plant leaves to make marihuana and extract oil from the plant to get cannabis. You can buy hemp seeds in any health shops and they are perfectly safe to use and healthy too!
While we are talking about interesting substances, I should also mention the extensive use of poppy seeds in Czech cooking – mainly in baking. Again, don’t get too excited; the seeds are harvested when the plant is completely dry and matured. To make the traditional Czech filling, which is usually used as a filling for cakes, you first need to grind the poppy seeds and then boil them with milk, sugar and vanilla until they thicken a little. To make traditional opium, you’d need to harvest the poppy seeds, when the plant is green and the seeds are soft, white or green. The poppy seeds do however come from the same plant.
10. Don’t buy traditional souvenirs, that are not traditional, like around the King’s Route
The King’s Route it’s not actually a street called ‘the King’s Route’ but the main route, which the kings took from the main square towards the castle (and over the Charles Bridge). Pretty much every other shop is a souvenir shop, but not all souvenirs are traditional Czech ones or very original ones, come to that.
11. Don’t drive in Prague
Driving in Prague is not necessary as public transport is relatively efficient and great value. Prague roads can get fairly congested, which means that your car might not be even quicker than a tram. If you do decide to drive in Prague, remember to drive on the right and keep your full lights on at all times (it’s a law).