Steeped in history, the Czech Republic (Czechia) has become a popular spot for exploration in recent years. As a Soviet republic until 1989, the central European nation was closed to Westerners for most of the 20th century. Since then, the country has become a hot spot for tourists. They come for the architecture, history and beer.
Indeed Czechia has a wealth of experiences for travelers seeking immersion into Bohemian culture, and the scenery make it one of the most memorable destinations in Europe. Metropolitan cities are set against a backdrop of medieval architecture. Quaint farming villages offer a glimpse into the past. Mountains provide ample opportunities for hiking and skiing. Fortunately, the Czech Republic’s small size and modern public transportation system make for easy exploration. Our insider guide to the Czechia will provide the insights you need to travel with ease.
South of Poland and east of Germany, the Czech Republic is a landlocked country of nearly 11 million residents. The country was once the heart of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and has a somewhat turbulent past, having been ruled by various dynasties and governments. Today, the nation is a modern, forward-thinking nation with close ties to allies in Western Europe.
Money and tipping
The official currency of the Czech Republic is the Czech crown, denoted in English as CZK. Many shops in tourist areas will accept Euros, but you’ll probably receive change in crowns. Most accept credit cards, and you can exchange currency at exchange centers, banks and hotels, but the fees can often be quite high.
The Czech Republic is not a traditional tipping culture, but service workers expect it of foreigners. Tip what you think the service was worth, but generally about 10% in restaurants or 40 CZK per large bag to a porter.
Language and Etiquette
Czech is the official language, and it’s similar to Russian, Polish or Slovak. It’s also known as one of the most complicated languages in the world. Fortunately, English, German and Russian are also widely spoken, so visitors should be able to communicate on a basic level.
Say “dobrý den” (good day) when entering an establishment and “na shledanou” (goodbye) when leaving. Use a firm handshake to greet men and women. If visiting someone’s home, bring a small gift and remove your shoes before entering. And don’t ever pour the dregs of your beer into a fresh one. You’ll be considered a barbarian.
Czechia (Czech Republic) offers a variety of cuisines and we’re sure you can find something for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Here are a few traditional dishes to try: beef steak tartare, Kulajda (soup), sausages, fruit dumplings, kremrole and trdelnik (pictured above). Most Czech meals will come with their national drink, beer. However, if you aren’t a beer drinker don’t worry. They also offer soda, juice, tea and coffee with most meals.
The Czech Republic enjoys four distinct seasons similar to those in the United States. Spring is the most popular time to visit Prague. Summer is the warmest time of year with temperatures averaging 65° F in Prague. It may be cooler in the higher elevations. Winter temperatures are generally around 30° F, but the weather is generally mild. Believe it or not December is a very a popular month to visit the Czech Republic, thanks to its many Christmas markets in town squares.
Adventure and Exploration
For purposes of this insider’s guide to the Czech Republic, we’ve divided the country into six geographic regions.
Prague is the capital and metropolitan hub of the Czech Republic and draws massive numbers of visitors each year. Indeed, you won’t have much elbow room on the 14th-century Charles Bridge that spans the Vltava River. On the river’s left bank, the Prague Castle looms on a hilltop, with its spires, towers and palaces beckoning visitors for further exploration. Inside, the castle walls, you’ll find museums and historic buildings filled with artistic and cultural treasures. Plan for a full day of exploration as the castle is massive. The grounds are larger than seven football fields!
Prague is the perfect city to become aimlessly lost. Walk the cobblestone streets and stumble upon hidden courtyards, centuries-old chapels, unexpected gardens, old-fashioned bars and delightful cafes. It’s perfect for architecture aficionados! Meander through the city, and see everything from Gothic to baroque to art nouveau and cubist facades. But don’t wander too much and fail to see some of Prague’s other popular spots. St. Vitus Cathedral, the Prague Jewish Museum, Strahov Library and the red-roofed Old Town are worthy of any itinerary. And if you like nightlife, Prague is filled with budget-friendly night spots that attract party goers from all over Europe.
An easy hour’s drive from Prague, central Bohemia is a stunning area filled with deep, green valleys bordered by seemingly enchanted forests. Among the most popular destinations are Emperor Charles IV Karlštejn, a palace built in 1365 to hold royal treasures and holy relics, and the town of Kutná Hora that is listed as a UNESCO site. See the home of Franz Ferdinand at KonopištÄ› Chateau, where one of the world’s first elevators in the world was installed. Don’t miss the chance to wander the labyrinths that surround LouÄeÅˆ Chateau, an enchanting baroque chateau.
Rock cities and table mountains dominate the landscape in East Bohemia. Check out the strange beauty of Adršpach-Teplice Rocks. Or see the beautiful Baroque spa complex of Kuk that boasts the world’s only Nativity scene hewn right from the rock formation. East Bohemia also has a long tradition in steeplechase, with the most famous being the Velká pardubická held annually in October.
Love beer? What about natural spas? Then West Bohemia is for you. In PlzeÅˆ (Pilsen), you’ll discover the birthplace of ubiquitous Pilsner lager. Recharge at one of the facilities in the West Bohemian Spa Triangle. Centuries-old spa houses allow you to bathe in healing thermal waters and enjoy the cultural treasures of the region.
North Bohemia provides visitors both natural delights at the Bohemian Switzerland National Park. Deep pine forests, unique rock formations and rare plant and animal life make for a storybook landscape. See the pravÄ ická brána, the world’s largest natural sandstone arch. Hike the Czech Republic’s highest peak. Take a cable car trip up JeštÄ›d Mountain where an unusual structure called a hyperboloid houses a hotel and television transmitter. Or opt for a boat trip through the gorges of the Kamenice River.
Beautiful countryside, fairytale chateaux, emerald green forests and rural villages make up South Bohemia. You’ll find plenty of spots for cycling and hiking, or let one of the charming villages enchant you. ÄŒeský Krumlov features Renaissance architecture, medieval pubs, glorious flower gardens and maze-like, cobbled streets. Holašovice is perhaps the most charming Baroque village in the Czech Republic. Hluboká Castle is arguably the most beautiful in the country. If you’re looking for recreational activities, go swimming, biking or sailing at Lipno.
Moravia and Silesia
Brno is a perennial underdog to Prague in terms of number of visitors, but don’t discount this city. The nation’s second largest city, Brno is home to tens of thousands of college students so the cafe and club scene here is lively. See the Gothic town hall and visit the morbidly fascinating crypt at the Capuchin Monastery. Be sure to check out the Labyrinth under the Cabbage Market where you can see the city’s medieval roots. While in the region, go spelunking in the Moravian Karst with more than 1,000 caves and caverns, or check out Ostrava, which looks like a scene straight out of a Jules Verne novel.
It’s easy to see why Czechia is on so many “must visit” lists. The fairytale land is packed with cultural experiences and natural wonders, all within a few hours drive. Start planning your trip today with our insider’s guide to Czechia.