This one is really hard to write… I’m originally Czech, so how could I possibly write about Prague tourist traps and warn you off from visiting certain places or buying certain things in my favourite town. But as much as I feel protective of my home country, even I have to admit that not everything is as it seems.
After the borders opened in 1989 and people had the chance to start running their own businesses, certain people thought it would be O.K to charge western prices, but provide substandard services or products.
Or, that it would be perfectly fine to use double prices in restaurants or tourist attractions, one written out in numbers (e.g. 150 KC) and one written out in words (e.g. padesat korun). I bet you have no idea what the second one is! Well it says 50 KC and it’s obvious which one is aimed at tourists, isn’t it?
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Then there were people who thought that they could come up with anything that is vaguely ‘eastern European’ and they could sell it as a ‘traditional’. ‘Trdelnik’ anyone? Or ‘Honey Cake?
I know I shouldn’t use this as an excuse, but most of the tourist souvenir shops lined up around the King’s Charles Route from the main Old Town Square to Charles Bridge are owned by rich foreign (mainly Russian) business owners, not by Czech people.
That is why you see a lot of Matroska’s Dolls, very colourful bright pictures or photos there (Czech photographer would never overexpose their photos like that).
But now, let me share with you my top tips on how to avoid falling into tourist traps in Prague.
Take Prague public transport instead of a taxi if you are not in a hurry or want to save a considerable amount of money. If you want to use a taxi, check out Uber which operates in Prague and unlike a normal street taxi will tell you exactly how much your journey is going to be before you get into the car.
If you are taxi sharing with other people, then it will be probably a good value, otherwise, get the 40 Kc public transport ticket which is valid for any means of transport in Prague for up to 90 minutes (you’ll get everywhere for that!).
I always take a bus from the airport and it takes no longer than 40-50 minutes to get to my part of the town (which is not in the centre).
Day tickets are 130 Kc and there are even 3-day tickets are available, so you have no excuse for paying too much for your transport cost.
Exchanging Foreign Currency
Make sure that you exchange your money in a reputable exchange place or a bank and definitely not on a street with somebody who is offering you a far too good a deal!
The best thing to do is actually not to exchange any money, but to withdraw some cash via bank cash point (check with your own bank before you travel what cost (if any) you’d incur) and pay for a large purchases by card where possible.
This way, you don’t need to worry about carrying too much money with you and your bank rates are probably going to far better than the exchange money office in your hotel or in the street.
Buying souvenirs on King’s Route from Old Town Square to Prague Charles Bridge
Although the route is surrounded by shops, you’ll be surprised at how little choice there is. Most of the shops look the same and have the same souvenirs. Not all of them are traditional or even Czech or made in the Czech Republic by Czech people.
One of the shops that’s very different is called ‘Manufaktura’, and unlike others, this one is owned by Czech people and sells true traditional products, fabrics, soaps and gifts.
They are all tastefully made, sourced locally in the Czech Republic and Moravia and their prices are reasonable. You’ll find their shops in the centre of Prague, in Prague Castle – Golden Lane and one shop is even at the airport.
Eating at restaurants in the centre of Prague
O.K here is the thing… If you want to have dinner at the Old Town Square, by all means, do it! But be prepared you’ll pay through the nose for it. And it might not even be the best meal you’ll ever eat in Prague. Walk away few streets towards Namesti Republiky and pick any restaurant there and you’ll probably half your bill!
It’s also customary to tip your waiter at the end of your meal, but sometimes it’s expected even when the service or meal wasn’t up to scratch.
No matter where you choose to eat, you still need to have your wits about you. Czech restaurant menus have weird quirks which are very different from the ones in London or other western countries.
Here is what to look for:
The lunch menu is usually set menu (less choice), but it’s cheaper and worth going for if you are on the budget.
The menu is usually very long, but most foods are versions of themselves (Gordon Ramsey would have a field day!), so read the menu carefully.
Ask for an English menu (which quite often is separate book and not included in the menu on the table)
The main dish will be elaborately described, but won’t probably tell you much about what it is (e.g. Delicious Treat of Madam Podolska), but there is usually a description of what the food actually is (chicken with a creamy sauce).
The main dish price doesn’t include a side dish (e.g. potatoes, fries, rice etc.). This is good because you can choose whatever side dish you want with your main meal, but it also means that the prices are quoted separately. All the side dishes are usually towards the end of the menu.
Drinks menu prices are per volume. Each drink price usually tells you what volume you are getting, e.g. 0.5lt Beer is 55Kc (which means you are getting a pint of beer for 55Kc). Some drinks like wine might be listed per 100ml, so when you order a large glass of 250ml you’ll need to multiply the original price by 2.5 to get to the final price. Confusing, right?
There is no such thing a free ‘tap water’. When you ask for a ‘water’, thinking to yourself that you are going to save a bit of money on drinks, you’ll be given spring water in a bottle and charged for it. The cost of water is nearly as much or more than a beer or soft drink, so you might as well have something tastier than plain water.
Pretzels, rolls, olives or nuts on the table. While you wait for your order to appear, you might be given a basket of rolls or other treats.
These are not free and you will be charged for them at the end of your meal. If you don’t want them, push them aside and make it obvious to the waiter that you didn’t order them. Check your bill at the end of the meal to make sure the restaurant didn’t add them to your bill automatically.
Stay clear of anything that claims to be typically Czech
Whether this is a restaurant, event, pastry or souvenir I find that most of the time the label ‘Traditionally or Typically Czech’ is nothing but!
This includes the ‘traditional trdelnik’ which you see everywhere in the Prague. Trdelnik is originally from Romania and was brought to Prague about 15-20 years ago.
Organised Day Tours in Prague & Day trips from Prague
One of my ‘favourite’ thing is to check how much I’m saving by working out my own train or bus timetables travelling on my own to Karlstejn, Kutna Hora, Terezin or Cesky Krumlov.
Some of these trips are easily 1000-1500 KCZ and whilst it might be nice to have a day arranged for you and not having to worry about the public transport connections, I do worry about the value of these trips.
Czech public transport is on the whole very easy to navigate, buy ticket and get around the main towns of Czech Republic with ease.
As an example, the famous Karlstejn Castle is only 45 minutes by train from the Main Train Station and about 45 minutes walk up the hill surrounded by seasonal gift stalls, cafes and restaurants. The main tour castle ticket is 250 KCZ and the train ticket about 120 KCZ (return ticket). It’s a fair bit of difference from 1000 KCZ isn’t it?
What other tourist traps should you look for in Prague?
Probably the biggest tourist trap (for me anyway) are tourists thinking that they have to visit all the main attractions otherwise they will miss the real Prague. Well, guess what, you’ll probably enjoy your Prague visit even more if you don’t follow the crowd!
STAY IN TOUCH
Hope this blog post inspires you and as ever I’d love to what you think! Let me know in the comments below or catch up with me over on Instagram.