Prepare to do plenty of walking. Most of the center of the city is closed to vehicles, including taxis, meaning you'll have to walk pretty much everywhere. Distances are relatively close, but always wear comfortable shoes since many of the streets are paved (if that's the right word) with cobblestones.
Finding an Address -- Don't worry about getting lost -- everyone does temporarily, even lifelong Praguers. If you're pressed for time and can't enjoy an aimless wander, you'll find that street signs are emblazoned on red Art Nouveau frames, usually bolted to buildings. House numbers generally increase as you get farther from the Vltava or the square from which the street begins.
Note that Prague street names always precede the numbers, like Václavské nám. 25. Ulice (abbreviated ul. or often omitted) means "street," trída (abbreviated tr.) means "avenue," námestí (abbreviated nám.) is "square" or "plaza," most is "bridge," and nábrezí is "quay."
Prague is divided into 10 postal districts whose numbers are routinely included in addresses. The districts forming the main tourist areas are listed below with their corresponding neighborhoods.
Prague 1 -- Hradcany, Malá Strana, Staré Mesto, Josefov, northern Nové Mesto.
Prague 2 -- Southern Nové Mesto, Vysehrad, western Vinohrady.
Prague 3 -- Eastern Vinohrady, Zizkov.
Prague 6 -- Western Bubenec, Dejvice, Vokovice, Stresovice, Brevnov, Veleslavín, Liboc, Ruzyne, Repy, Nebusice, Lysolaje, Sedlec, Suchdol.
Prague 7 -- Holesovice, Letná
By Public Transportation
Prague's highly efficient public transportation network of metros (subways), trams, and buses (www.dpp.cz) is one of the few sound Communist-era legacies. In central Prague, metro stations abound. Trams and buses offer a cheap sightseeing experience but also require a strong stomach for jostling with fellow passengers in close quarters.
Tickets & Passes -- For single-use tickets, there are two choices. The first is a discount ticket, which costs 18Kc, or 9Kc for 6- to 15-year-olds (children 6 and under ride free), and this allows travel to up to five stations on the metro (not including the station of validation) or 20 minutes on a tram or bus. A full-price ticket costs 26Kc and allows for unlimited travel on metros, trams, and buses for up to 75 minutes (90 min. on Sat-Sun, public holidays, and after 8pm on workdays). The cheaper ticket is usually sufficient for short hops within the center, but note that you can't use it to transfer from metros to trams or between trams.
A 1-day pass good for unlimited travel is 100Kc, a 3-day pass 330Kc, and a 5-day pass is 500Kc. The 3- and 5-day passes include travel with one child from 6 to 15 years of age and only make sense if you are traveling with a child.
You can buy tickets from yellow coin-operated machines in metro stations or at most newsstands marked TAB&AACUTE;K or TRAFIKA. The machines have English instructions but are a little clunky to operate. First push the button for the ticket you want (either 18Kc or 26Kc) and then insert the money in the slot. Validate your ticket in little the stamping machine before you descend the escalator in the metro or as you enter the tram or bus. Hold on to your validated ticket throughout your ride -- you'll need to show it if a ticket collector (be sure to check for his or her badge) asks you. If you're caught without a valid ticket, you'll be asked, and not so kindly, to pay a fine on the spot while all the locals look on, shaking their heads in disgust. The fine is 700Kc if paid on the spot and 950Kc if paid later.
By Metro -- Metro trains operate daily from 5am to midnight and run every 2 to 10 minutes depending on the time of day. The three lines are identified by both letter and color: A (green), B (yellow), and C (red). The most convenient central stations are Muzeum, on both the A and C lines at the top of Václavské námestí (Wenceslas Square); Mustek, on both the A and B lines at the foot of Václavské námestí; Staromestská on the A line, for Old Town Square and the Charles Bridge; and Malostranská, on the A line, serving Malá Strana and the Castle District. Refer to the metro map on the inside back cover for details.
By Tram & Bus -- The city's 24 tram lines run practically everywhere, and there's always another tram with the same number traveling back. You never have to hail trams; they make every stop. The most popular tram, no. 22 (aka the "tourist tram" or the "pickpocket express"), runs past top sights like the National Theater and Prague Castle. Regular bus and tram service stops at midnight, after which selected routes run reduced night schedules, usually only once per hour. Schedules are posted at stops. If you miss a night connection, expect a long wait for the next.
Buses tend to be used only outside the older districts of Prague and have three-digit numbers. Both the buses and tramlines begin their morning runs around 4:30am.
Getting the Most from Your Tram Fare -- If you're taking tram no. 22 to Prague Castle from Národní or anywhere farther from the castle, I recommend getting a 26Kc ticket. It is valid for 75 minutes of tram ride on weekdays (up to 90 min. after 8pm and on weekends). Use the 18Kc ticket only for a short travel distance (one or two tram stops) since it is only good for 20 minutes and you may get caught beyond this limit.
Riding the Rails in the Czech Capital -- While Prague has a fine metro and an extensive bus network, it's the tram -- tramvaj in Czech -- that sets the transportation tone for the city. Any visitor will be familiar with the sight of these (mostly) red and cream whales on rails, gliding smoothly over the cobblestones and pushing their girth through impossibly narrow streets that were originally built to accommodate horses but are now packed with cars, trucks, buses, and an endless stream of streetcars.
Tram no. 22 is a visitor's favorite. For the price of a 90-minute ticket -- 26Kc -- you can ride all the way from Prague Castle, down through the Lesser Quarter, across the Vltava (with stunning views of Charles Bridge to the left) and into the very center of town. Stay on the line and you're transported in minutes through the gentrifying suburb of Vinohrady, and out to the Communist-era, high-rise housing projects of Hostívar and beyond. You may even have some time left on your ticket to return to the center free of charge.
Prague's trams remain a repository of civility that long ago vanished from other aspects of city life. Visitors -- forced mostly to interact with waiters and shop clerks -- can sometimes get the impression that Czechs are gruff or rude. But step onto a tram and it's like going back 50 years in time. For example, it's still considered the height of ill manners on a crowded tram for a man to fail to offer his seat to women of a certain age. This societal nicety curiously doesn't apply as strictly to the city's newer and less-mannered metro.
The calculation of when and whether to offer a seat is not always easy in practice. It's clear if a woman is elderly, enfeebled, or with child in arms, but what if she's simply older and otherwise able-bodied? If you offer your seat too quickly, you risk reminding her of her age; too slowly and you might elicit the wrath of the rest of the car.
Younger women, too, are expected to yield their seats to older men, but an added dose of sensitivity is required. Male egos are notoriously fragile. A former work colleague of mine -- a man of about 60 and in pretty good shape -- once told me how depressed he became after an attractive young woman, on seeing him standing, immediately leapt out of her seat and offered it to him. He'd originally interpreted her smile and eye contact as flirtatious interest -- not unknown on Prague's trams.
Men are also expected to learn the delicate art of assisting young mothers with baby carriages. Though some of the newer trams stand fairly low to the ground, the older models are a good three steps up and in (or down and out). Once a woman has locked eyes on you as the carriage-holder, there's no polite way of refusing. To properly off-load a pram, wait for the tram to come to a complete stop, precede the carriage down the steps, take firm hold of the front axle, and deliver the baby gently to the ground.
Prague's trams are generally quiet and there's not much banter among the riders. This changes after 11pm, when the city's day fleet retires to the garages, and special night trams are brought into service to ferry revelers from pubs in the center to the housing projects on the outskirts. The mood at 3 or 4am can get raucous, and night trams are often little more than pubs on wheels. There are no laws against carrying open containers of alcohol (at least none rigorously enforced). Unlike in New York, for example, there's no need to swill from a paper bag.
Prague's extensive tram network sprang up in the early years of the 20th century, more or less concurrent with the country's independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The original electronic genius behind the system was a Czech, Frantisek Krízík, though it must be admitted the tram culture shares much in common with the empire's former capital, Vienna. Anyone who's spent much time there will feel easily at home here.
In a city that's now in the throes of remarkable change, the trams add a welcome sense of permanence. Looking at old tram maps from the 1920s and '30s, it's reassuring to see how little the basic layout has changed. The no. 12 tram still wends its way northward from the suburb of Smichov in the southwest across town to the neighborhood of Holesovice and beyond -- just as it did 70 years ago. The no. 17 tram still hugs the eastern bank of the Vltava for much of its run, as it always has. It's no stretch to say that a Czech Rip Van Winkle returning to the city from the 1930s would, in turns, be horrified and amazed to hear about the Nazi occupation, the Communist period, the Velvet Revolution, and now the European Union, but would have no trouble at all making his way home that night on the tram.
The future for Prague's trams looks secure. After a long period of neglect, the city appears committed to improving the tram infrastructure, including adding a new generation of super-sleek cars designed by none other than the Porsche group. These oversized, red and gray cars recall a kind of comic-book bullet train (even though trams top out at just 30 mph).
By Funicular -- The funicular (cog railway) makes the scenic run up and down Petrin Hill every 10 minutes (15 min. in winter season) daily from 9am to 11:30pm with an intermediate stop at the Nebozízek restaurant halfway up the hill, which overlooks the city. It requires the 26Kc ticket or any of the same transport passes as other modes of public transport and departs from a small house in the park near the Újezd tram stop (trams no. 12, 20, 22) in Malá Strana.
While the situation has gotten marginally better in recent years, you still run the risk of getting ripped off by a taxi driver if you hail a taxi off the street in a heavily touristy area like Václavské námestí or take one of the cabs parked at the main train station or at major hotels. A better idea is to call a taxi by phone or have your hotel or restaurant call one for you. Reputable companies with English-speaking dispatchers include: AAA Radiotaxi (tel. 14014 or 222-333-222; www.aaa-taxi.cz); ProfiTaxi (tel. 844-700-800; www.profitaxi.cz); or SEDOP (tel. 841-666-333; www.sedop.cz). AAA operates a few dedicated taxi stands around town, including ones conveniently located on Václavské námestí and Malostranské námestí, where you will find honest drivers.
The meter in an honest cab starts at 40Kc, 30Kc if you've ordered by phone, and it increases by 28Kc per kilometer. Fares around the center typically run from 100Kc to 200Kc, depending on the journey. A taxi from the center to the airport will cost around 600Kc.
Some tips for avoiding being ripped off: never get into an unmarked cab; ask the driver on entering what the approximate fare will be to your destination (he may not know exactly, but should be able to give some idea); make sure the driver has switched on the meter; and tell the driver you will need a receipt at the end of the ride. If you do get ripped off, it's better to pay the fare and learn a lesson than argue and end up with a bloody nose.
Driving in Prague isn't worth the money or effort. The roads are crowded and the high number of one-way streets can be incredibly frustrating. What's more, parking in the center is often restricted and available only to residents with pre-paid parking stickers. The only time you might want a car is if you only have a few days and plan to explore other parts of the Czech Republic.
Rental Companies -- Try Europcar, Elisky Krásnohorské 9, Prague 1 (tel. 224-811-290; www.europcar.cz). There's also Hertz, Karlovo nám. 15, Prague 2 (tel. 225-345-031; www.hertz.cz). Budget is at Prague Airport (tel. 220-560-443; www.budget.cz) and in the Hotel InterContinental, námestí Curieových 5, Prague 1 (tel. 222-319-595).
Local car-rental companies sometimes offer lower rates than the big international firms. Compare CS Czechocar, Kongresové centrum (Congress Center at Vysehrad metro stop on the C line), Prague 4 (tel. 261-222-079 or 261-222-143; www.czechocar.cz), or at Prague Airport, Prague 6 (tel. 220-113-454); or try SeccoCar, Prístavní 39, Prague 7 (tel. 220-800-647; www.seccocar.cz).
Car rates can be negotiable. Try to obtain the best possible deal with the rental company by asking about discounts. Special deals are often offered for keeping the car for an extended period, for unlimited mileage (or at least getting some miles thrown in free), or for a bigger car at a lower price. You can usually get some sort of discount for a company or an association affiliation. Check before you leave home and take a member ID card with you.
Roadways & Emergencies -- Major roadways radiate from Prague like spokes on a wheel, so touring the country is easy if you make the capital your base. The Prague-Brno (D1) motorway (dálnice) is the most traveled, but the new Prague-Nürnberg (D5) motorway has opened a 2-hour express route into western Germany. In addition, the D-8 motorway is now complete all the way to Dresden to the north. You are advised to check the most recent map before you travel. Alternatively, see www.ceskedalnice.cz, where you will find updates on the newly built motorways. If you are going to use any of these, you have to purchase a special stamp-sticker (dálnicní známky), which goes on your windshield. Most filling stations and post offices sell them. The sticker costs 220Kc for 1 week, 330Kc for 1 month, or 1,000Kc for the calendar year. Rental cars should come with a valid stamp already.
Czech roads are often narrow and in need of repair. Add to this drivers who live out their Formula One race fantasies on these potholed beauties, and taking the train sounds a lot more appealing. The few superhighways that do exist are in good shape, so whenever possible, stick to them, especially at night. If you have car trouble, major highways have SOS emergency phones to call for assistance, located about every 1km (half mile). There's also the ÚAMK, a 24-hour auto club like AAA that can provide service for a fee. You can summon its bright yellow pickup trucks on the main highways by using the emergency phones. If you're not near an SOS phone or are on a road without them, you can contact ÚAMK at tel. 1230 (www.uamk.cz), or ABA, another emergency assistance company, at tel. 1240 (www.aba.cz).
In theory, foreign drivers are required to have an international driver's license, though this is often overlooked in practice and short-term visitors are fine with a valid national driver's licenses. Cars must also carry proof of insurance (a green card issued with rental cars), registration (in Czech technický prukaz), as well as a first aid kit in the trunk. Czech police are infamous for stopping cars with foreign plates, and the "fines" they exact are often negotiable. If you're stopped, expect to pay at least 1,000Kc for speeding or other common infractions like not having your headlights on during the day. Those caught by the police should ask for some type of receipt (úcet in Czech, pronounced oo-chet); this can help cut down on overpayment.
Gasoline -- Not only are car rentals expensive, gasoline (benzín) in the Czech Republic costs much more than you're accustomed to paying -- around 30Kc per liter, or 120Kc per gallon. Filling stations can be found on all major highways. Most are open 24 hours, and many have minimarkets with food and drink as well. If you're leaving the country, fill up near the border, as the price of gas in Austria and Germany can be higher still.
Parking -- Finding a parking spot in Prague can be more challenging than driving in this maze of a city. Fines for illegal parking can be stiff, but worse are "Denver Boots," which immobilize cars until a fine is paid. If you find your car booted, call the number on the ticket, tell them where you are, wait for the clamp removers, and pay them 1,500Kc or more depending on the violation. Much of the center of Prague has restricted parking available only to residents (these are marked out by blue lines painted on the curb and street). Here and there you'll find a few zones where paid street parking is permitted. In these areas, you will have to feed coins into a central parking meter, which will then issue a slip that you place on the dashboard so that it is visible through the windshield.
Special Driving Rules -- Drivers are required to use headlights night and day year-round. Seat belts are required, and you cannot legally make a right turn when a traffic light is red. Automobiles must stop when a pedestrian steps into a crosswalk (however, they often don't, as you'll find when you're walking around). Children under 1.5m (about 5 ft.) tall are not permitted to ride in the front seat. On major highways, the speed limit is 130kmph (81 mph). The yellow diamond road sign denotes the right of way at an unregulated intersection. When approaching an intersection, always check to see who has the right of way, since the "main" road can change several times within blocks on the same street. Drinking and driving is strictly prohibited and the allowable blood-alcohol content is zero. You'll get a very steep fine if you're caught.
Prague has a growing number of specially marked bike lanes, including a long and popular run that follows the Vltava River south of the center from the National Theater and another that starts around the Prague Zoo and follows the Vltava northward toward Germany. The city's ubiquitous cobblestones make mountain bikes (with fat tires) the natural choice. Two companies in central Prague specialize in rentals (and also give organized bike tours): Praha Bike, Dlouhá 24, Prague 1 (tel. 732-388-880; www.prahabike.cz) and City Bike, Králodvorská 5, Prague 1 (tel. 776-180-284; www.citybike-prague.com).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.