The Government of the Czech Republic has declared a State of Emergency. It will last (at least) till April 12th. The reason is the current health situation worldwide and hopefully this strict safety measure will limit the spread of the Covid-19. Therefore all cultural institutions and public services are closed indefinitely. Restaurants and cafés are now closed too. Only groceries, drugstores, pharmacies and gas stations remain open. There's also a ban to travel to / from abroad. As new restrictions are still being implemented, the situation is still changing. Please, follow the official authorities for detailed and up-to-date information.
The entire planet is so well connected that it's much easier for diseases to spread around the world. And every couple of years, a virus finds its way to different continents, countries and cities. Travelling in these times depends on the possible health risks (vaccinations, immune system, possible local quarantines and restrictions...) and hygiene precautions. Please, always consult your travel plans with a physician and check with the national authorities in the country of origin and also in the region where you're going to.
The meteorological spring officialy begins on March 1st. That's three weeks prior the spring as season. But the first signs of spring are definitely in the air. The nature in Prague is waking up. And you can see and hear it. First little flowers like snowdrops and crocuses, almond blossoms, tiny green leaves and all the birds chirping. And if you like good ice-creams, then yeay, all the gelaterias are again open. The weather is not perfect (it's still cold with possible wind and rain showers), but that's typical for March and April... It's time to book your trip and come to Prague.
Please, be kind and read at least a basic article about the Czech republic and look it up on the map... No, we are no longer Czechoslovakia - 1993 was quite a long time ago. No, we are not Eastern Europe nor the Third World. No, the Danube river does not flow through the country either. No, the Czech language sounds nothing like Russian (even though they are both Slavic languages)... Be polite. Come on time. Respect the academic titles. Appreciate all the different types of Christmas cookies. Take off your shoes when entering someone's home. Say toilet instead of restroom. Don't cut in line. Don't ask strangers personal questions. And never dare to say that a beer from where-so-ever tastes better than a Czech beer.
Jewish Museum of Prague is the institution that takes care of the Jewish sites in the city centre (the Synagogues, the Old Jewish cemetery and the Ceremonial hall). It is definitely worth the visit as its judaica collection is huge and very well preserved. Only licenced tour guides are allowed to provide guided services there - that means having the licence of the Jewish museum of Prague or at least the licence of the City of Prague. The tour guide licence must be clearly displayed the entire time. A guide with no licence may not provide any guided services at any of the Museum sites - that applies to a few Czech guides (cca 10%) and a majority of foreigners who offer tours (approximately 90-95%). So if anyone without a valid licence is offering tours of the Jewish Prague then they're wittingly breaking the regulations of the Jewish Museum of Prague! And such a person will be removed from the Museum's premises.
What are the typical Czech souvenirs? Well, first of all it's the Czech glass and crystal glass - whether it's beads, glasses or even oversized chandeliers. There are several very good companies that even have their factory shops in the city of Prague, so then it's no commision. Then it's the Czech garnets and moldavites (Vltavín) - these precious gemstones are a unique and local jewelry. It's also possible to buy some Czech sweets as the spa wafers (Lázeňské oplatky) or gingerbread (Perníčky). For the little ones, the Little Mole (Krteček) is the right choice. Wooden toys are also great. And music lovers can enjoy a CD with the classical music by the Czech composers like Antonín Dvořák and Bedřich Smetana... Don't hesitate to ask me, so I can point out the good local shops.
How many days to plan for your Prague stay? Well, that depends on your interests and the way you like to do the sightseeing. There are few people who would get bored after just a day and then there are others who would say that a week would not be enough. I'd say, at least two full days in the city of Prague are necessary to be able to see and visit the main highlights. If you'd like to visit some galleries and museums or enjoy off-the-beaten-path locations it's recommended to add at least two extra days. As mentioned in a previous post, it's better to be in Prague during workdays as it's less crowded than during weekends.
I'm sure you've noticed that I added several new tours. It's because I believe the city of Prague has much more to offer than just the basic tours in the historical centre. As I concentrate a lot on the Jewish heritage, I offer a very unique tour about the Prague Jewish community after WWII (till the present days). Also it's possible to explore the city from the movies perspective - many famous movies were filmed all across Prague and with this tour, you'll remember much more of the landmarks due to these connections. Last but not least it's interesting to discover several city quarters outside of the city centre.
When to come to Prague? That is a big question. And the answer is not as easy as it might seem. Of course, your trip depends on your time possibilities and weather preferences. In general, the main tourist season begins in April and lasts till September and every year it's more and more travellers. During this period it's good to avoid any religious holidays (Easter, Pentecost) or big sport events (marathon, half marathon). Another very busy time is the entire December with the Christmas markets and NYE celebrations... If you prefere less crowds and you're OK with colder weather, then autumn and winter are your seasons. Though, the whole year long I recommend to plan the Prague trip for the workdays and not the weekends - the difference is significant.
Even thought Prague is a capital with quite low crime, there are plenty of scammers in the city centre. Mainly they are foreigners and they concentrate on the tourists. It's a big business, so be aware of them. Unlicenced guides offer free tours or so called charity tours, they live of tips and pay no taxes. Other guys lend you snakes and colorful doves for paid photos - that's actually considered as animal abuse. Some taxi drivers have fixed prices that are often 3-5 time higher. The vintage cars are not vintage at all and they produce tons of pollution. Beggers are professionals that often kneel or have little puppies with them. Physically handicapped people beg or try to collect money for charities but they are suddenly healthy once they leave the tourist spots and act agressive when confronted. Middel aged men helpfully exchange money on the streets for East-European currencies that are worth nothing. Pickpockets accidently bump into you or use small children for the dirty job. And some salesmen in the little grocery shops have double prices... The city of Prague and the Police are doing their best to get rid of these people but often the law isn't strong enough or they find new ways, so it's a long shot. But this is happening all over the world. So, better safe than sorry.
Direct booking is the best way to book a good licenced guide. Especially nowadays with websites like TripAdvisor or Yelp. It might take a few minutes extra to do the research and contact the person, but you'll be in much better hands. Why? Because this way, the service is personal and direct, you can point out any difficulties (diets, health issues etc.). Nothing gets lost or unnoticed. And of course you pay less and the tour guide makes more. It's a win-win. Because there is no commission for the middelmen (travel agencies) who otherwise take 30-70% of the total price (most often 65-70%)...
Only a certified tour guide has shown to the authorities that they learned the Czech history, Prague sites and history of art. So such a person is a professional and has the guide licence to prove it... No, the Free tours and foreigners are not professionals, 99% of them has no certification. A licenced tour guide is a professional that you pay for their knowledge and expertise - like when you need an electrician or even a surgeon. You want a professional with all the certification and diplomas, not a random stranger who works for tips only.
Why a private tour? Because with a private tour you'll experience the city of Prague in a completely different way and you won't get lost. The certified tour guide points the interesting sites, lets you know when to go to some very busy locations, what to avoid etc. Of course the tour will be taylor made, so any specific places or questions in mind will be covered. And if you'll get tired/cold/hungry there's always the possibility to sit down and rest (in comparison with the big group tours).
In the blog section, you'll find a lot of practical information about the city of Prague and travelling from a guide's perspective. When to come, where to go, what to avoid and why, what weather to expect and much more. The Czech capital has changed significantly in the last decade whether it's the cultural scene, life style or city tourism in general. I hope my tours and these handy tips will make your Prague trip an unforgettable experience.