Life in Prague
Welcome to Prague
Often called ‘the mother of all cities’ Prague lies in the heart of the Czech Republic. This small capital, home to around 1.2 million residents, last year welcomed a staggering 27.8 million tourists, which just goes to show how far it’s reputation as one of the most beautiful cities in the world has spread.
To help you get the most out of your stay here, we’ve put together a few handy hints and a list of resources.
Prague is famous for it’s rich cultural history in music, art, literature and theater. This magnificent city gave us, amongst others, Dvorak, Kafka, Capek and Mucha. It continues to live up to it’s reputation, and at any point you’ll find ballet, opera, jazz clubs as well as well known international bands and DJ’s who frequently perform in the city’s venues. In fact Czechs are so keen on music they even have the phrase: ‘Co Čech, to muzikant’ or ‘every Czech is a musician’.
Twelve centuries of architecture provide stunning examples from the Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Art Nouveau, Cubist and Functionalist periods as well as the contemporary. Whether you’re looking up at an amazing ornate facade, or down at the patterned cobblestone sidewalks and streets, or out over the many hills in Prague, there is no shortage of picture-perfect scenery.
Despite drinking more beer per head of capita than any other country in the world, the Czechs are very active. You’ll usually find whole families cycling or rollerblading along the river in Summer, and in Winter nearly all Czechs like to ski or snowboard. One of their favourite things to do at the weekend is go to a cottage in the countryside with their family where they can hike, grill, and go mushroom or berry picking. The family unit is at the centre of Czech society and is the average Czech’s top priority. It is quite unusual, for example, for colleagues to socialize after work. A Czech would much prefer to go home.
The Czechs themselves are usually quite reserved and formal, especially until they get to know you. The social distance is reinforced by their tendency to use titles rather than first name terms, and the ‘polite’ and ‘familiar’ forms of their language.
Czech food is heavy and homey, most typically consisting of meat, sauce and dumplings or potatoes. It also contains a lot of butter, fat and cream. That said, as well as the more traditional Czech establishments, you’ll have no trouble finding gourmet burger joints, fine dining and vegetarian restaurants. Czech dishes you must try include Goulash (beef stew), Svíčková (beef with dumplings and a cream sauce) or pečená kachna (roast duck).
It is expected to tip and to be polite to your server, even if they seem a little gruff with you. Although things are changing rapidly you’ll find that, compared to the US, this is not a service orientated culture.
What do I need to bring?
The best advice we can give you is to pack lightly. You will be responsible for carrying everything yourself when you arrive and during field trips/excursions. If there is something you need but don’t have, there are plenty of opportunities to buy things.
Prague is very much a walking city. No matter what the time of year, bring some comfortable walking shoes. Prague has very distinct seasons so pack lots of layers. In the Czech Republic people tend to dress for the occasion, and as there will be some trips to the opera or theater, be sure to bring something smart and formal.
In the winter, a warm jacket and shoes with good grips are a must, the cobblestones get really slippery. Many students find it is easier to buy winter gear when they are here. But make sure you have a jacket to wear on arrival.
Although most major brands are available here, you may want to ensure that you have enough of your favorite brands of toiletries or over the counter medicines.
A selection of American goods is available at The Candy Store, if you get a craving for your favourite chocolate.
If you’re bringing a laptop or electronic goods, you should bear in mind that Europe runs on a different voltage system and you may need bring an adapter or converter or buy one when you get here.
Almost everything else you need is available here.
What is there to do?
No matter where you come from, you won’t be short of things to do in Prague. In fact, the issue is trying to fit it all in!
One of the city’s great advantages is that it is easy to navigate, with an accessible, reliable and affordable public transport system made up of trams, a metro, and buses. In just a few metro stops you can find yourself in a trendy residential area, down by the river, at a grand church or even in the middle of a forest. You’ll be given a transport pass as part of your introductory package so be sure to enjoy it!
You’ll find a ‘What’s On’ section on the website Expats.cz including cinema listings, exhibitions and workshops. Check out their Facebook page where you’ll find a group willing to answer questions about life in Prague.
Another great resource for concerts and events is: GoOut.cz
Or you can buy tickets for almost anything online or via a mobile app from Ticketpro.
For those of you that like to work out, the centrally located gym World Class is well equipped and offers a number of short term packages. There is also a wide variety of sports which have English language instruction or are run by expat groups, from baseball right through to yoga and martial arts. Just ask on the Expats Facebook group for advice on your nearest one.
Internet and mobile
The Czech Republic generally has very high speed internet. Most cafes and restaurants offer WIFI connection for free. WIFI is available throughout the Prague Institute and in your dorm.
There are three mobile providers in the Czech republic, Vodafone, T-Mobile and O2. Generally speaking their offers are similar, with prepaid cards and data bundles for visitors. However many US phones are ‘electronically locked’ and prevent you from using another SIM card so check with your carrier before you leave. You could always consider buying a cheap phone over here.
You’ll be given a brief introduction to Czech on your arrival. Many people (especially around the tourist center) speak English, so you will get by. However there are a number of tools that may help you:
Google Translate, although not 100% accurate, has a great mobile app that allows you to translate written documents, voice and text.
YouTube has a number of free online lessons, so you can practice before you arrive
Is Prague safe?
Prague is considered to be a very safe city and the crime rate is relatively low. There are, however, a few things to watch out for. Pickpockets are notorious in Prague, particularly on public transport. Be wary of random strangers trying to entice you into bars (you may find the bill a little more than you’d bargained for).
Don’t exchange money with people on the street, and if you need a cab, we recommend pre ordering through Tick Tak, AAA or CityTaxi.
Health insurance is included in your package. This gives you access to English speaking doctors at a nearby clinic. Our staff are also happy to help and accompany you if you need further treatment of extra assistance.
The standard of medical care in the Czech Republic is generally very good (although some of the hospitals look a little worn), for example the Charles University faculty of medicine is world renowned and attracts students from around the globe.
We hope you never need it, but just in case the European international emergency number (in English) is: 112