Czech Republic Tourist Information and Tips
On the street
- Lazenske oplatky - spa wafers from Marianske Lazne and Karlovy Vary (major spa towns in Western Bohemia better known by their German names of Marienbad and Karlsbad) are meant to be eaten while "taking the waters" at a spa, but they're good on their own, too. Other major spas are Karlova Studanka (favourite destination of Vaclav Havel - former Czechoslovakian president), Frantiskovy Lazne, Janske Lazne, Karvina, and Luhacovice. You will find most easily not only in spa resorts but also in Prague. Have them either out of the box on your own or heated and iced with sugar, cinnamon or so.
- Trdlo - is being offered in dedicated sell-points in the streets of Prague. It is a mediaeval style sweet roll from eggs and flour.
- Jablkovy zavin or strudl , apple strudel, often served warm with whipped cream.
- Medovnik - a newcomer having quickly spread in most restaurants. A brown high cake made of gingerbread, honey and walnuts.
- Ovocne knedliky - fruit stuffed dumplings served either as main course or a filling dessert. The smaller ones ('tvarohove') come with plum, apple or apricot filling, the bigger ones ('kynute') come with strawberries, blueberries, povidla (plum jam) or toher fruits. Knedliky are served with melted butter, iced with tvaroh (curd cheese) and sugar, and topped with whipped cream.
- Palacinka - not much in common with French crepes, these pancakes are usually thicker and served with a wide choice of fillings including chocolate, ice-cream, fruit and whipped cream.
The Czech Republic is the country where modern beer ( pivo in Czech) was invented (in Plzen). Czechs are the heaviest beer drinkers in the world, drinking about 160 litres of it per capita per year. Going to a cosy Czech pub for dinner and a few beers is a must!
The best-known export brands are Pilsner Urquell (Plzensky Prazdroj), Budweiser Budvar (Budejovicky Budvar) and Staropramen (freely translateable as "Oldspring"). Other major brands which are popular domestically include Gambrinus , Kozel (goat), Bernard (a small traditional brewery, with very high quality beer), Radegast , and Starobrno . Other fantastic beers worth tasting are Svijany and Dobranska Hvezda . Although many Czechs tend to be very selective about beer brands, tourists usually don't find a significant difference. And remember, real Czech beer is only served on tap – bottled beer is a completely different experience. High-quality beer can almost certainly be found in a hospoda or hostinec , very basic pubs which serve only beer and light snacks. Take a seat and order your drinks when the waiter comes to you - going to the bar to order your drinks is a British custom! But beware, the handling of the beer is even more important than its brand. A bad bartender can completely ruin even excellent beer. Best bet is to ask local beer connoiseurs about a good pub or just join them.
Wine ( vino in Czech) is another popular drink, particularly wine from Moravia in the south-eastern part of the country where the climate is more suited to vineyards. White wines tend to be the best as the growing conditions are more favourable for them. For white wines, try Veltlinske zelene (Green Veltliner), Muskat moravsky (Moravian Muscatel), Ryzlink rynsky (Rhine Riesling) or Tramin (Traminer), or red wines such as Frankovka (Blaufrankisch), Modry Portugal (Blue Portugal, named after the grape, not the country), or Svatovavrinecke (Saint Lawrence). Also try ice wine ( ledove vino ) made when the grapes are harvested after they have frozen on the vines, or straw wine ( slamove vino ) made by leaving the grapes to ripen on straw) – these wines are more expensive and are similar to dessert wines. Bohemian Sekt is also popular with Czechs, and is a sweet, fizzy wine, similar to Lambrusco, and drunk at celebrations. The best places for wine are either a wine bar ( vinarna ), or a wine shop ( vinoteka ) which sometimes has a small bar area too.
For spirits, try Becherovka (herb liqueur, similar to Jagermeister, tastes of a mixtures of cloves and cinnamon, and drunk as a digestive), slivovice (plum brandy, very popular as a pick-me-up), hruskovice (pear brandy, less fiery than Slivovice), and so on. Spirits are made out of almost every kind of fruit (Plums, Peaches, Cherries, Sloes, etc.). Czech unique tuzemsky rum (made from sugar beet, not from sugar cane as the Cuban rum, sold under brands like Tuzemak to conform with EU market rules). Be careful as all are about 40% alcohol.
For non-alcoholic drinks, mineral waters are popular, but tend to have a strong mineral taste. Try Mattoni , or Magnesia , both of which taste like normal water and still claim to be good for your health. If you want bubbles, ask for perliva . If you want it non-carbonated, ask for neperliva . Sometimes you can see jemne perliva – it is "lightly bubbled" water. Kofola , a coke-like drink is also very popular, and some Czechs say it is the best thing the communists gave them. Many restaurants don't make any difference between "sparkling water" and "sparkling mineral water".
Restaurants and pubs do not offer water for free. Not surprisingly, as beer is the national drink, it is usually the cheapest drink you can buy, with prices ranging from 15–60 Kc (0,50–2 EUR) per half litre, depending on the attractiveness of the pub to tourists. Drinks are brought to your table, and often each drink is marked on a small slip of paper which is kept on the table in front of you, so you can keep count of what you have had. When you are ready to leave, ask the waiter for the bill – he or she will calculate the bill according to the number of marks on the paper. It is common to share tables in busy pubs and Czech people will ask Je tu volno? (Is this seat free?), before they sit down.
- Taxi drivers : warning - negotiate the price before you use taxi or use a reputable company (e.g. in Prague AAA taxi, Profi Taxi, City Taxi). Prague taxi drivers are known for taking you the longest possible way to earn more money. Prague City Council has introduced new regulations which will see all legitimate taxis painted yellow. Public transportation is also very cheap, fast and reliable. In Prague, the metro runs up to midnight, and night trams run throughout the night, all of them converging at a central tram stop, Lazarska.
- Pickpockets : Watch your pockets, especially if there is a crowd (sights, subway, trams, in particular numbers 9, 22, and 23) Watch out for large groups of people jostling you. Beware of a particular pickpocket gang who operate in Prague - they are mainly male, although sometimes there are women too, all are extremely overweight and rely on their sheer size and number to disorientate tourists. They tend to operate on the 9, 22, and 23 trams, as well as the central metro stations, usually just as people are getting on and off. Don't challenge them as they can become aggressive, but keep your eyes open. Prosecutions for pick pocketing are rare as legally the police have to catch the pickpocket in the middle of a crime.
- Prostitution : Prostitution is not illegal in the Czech Republic. However, officially prostitution does not exist as a legal bussiness. Prostitutes do not pay taxes and prostitution is not regulated by the state. The health risk may be very high, especially in cheap brothels or on a street. There also have been cases of prostitutes offering a drink with sleeping pills to their customers and stealing everything from them. Pay attention to the age of the prostitute, paying a person under 18 years for sex is a criminal offense (otherwise the age of consent is 15).
- Marijuana : Marijuana is basically illegal in the Czech Republic, however it is quite popular especially among young people. In case the Police catch you smoking or possessing marijuana, you want to be very polite with them. The reason is that by the current law, possessing only a "larger than small" amount of marijuana is punishable. As of 1.1.2010 a "larger than small" amount of marijuana is defined as more than 15 grams.
- Other than that the Czech Republic is a very safe country.
Grocery stores do not sell what Americans consider over-the-counter drugs , such as aspirin. You will need to go to a pharmacy ( lekarna ), which is usually open between 8AM and 7PM, Mondays to Fridays. There are 24-hour pharmacies in the bigger cities, and you should find an address for the closest one to you listed in the window of the nearest pharmacy to you. If you are in Prague, the most central 24-hour one is in Prague 2 - on the corner of Belgicka and Rumunska streets - they dispense both prescription and non-prescription drugs from a small window on Rumunska out of hours - ring the bell if there is no-one there.
Czechs don't appreciate when foreigners incorrectly assume that their country was part of the Soviet Union or the Russian Empire -- both definitely false -- although it was part of the Soviet Bloc and, until 1918, an Austro-Hungarian territory. Commenting about how "everything is quite cheap here" comes across as condescending about the country's economic status.
If you are knowledgable about the Czechoslovakian communist regime following the second world war, bear in mind that this is still a sensitive issue for many and that it is easy to upset people in discussions on the subject.
Czechs are one of the most atheist people in the world. This is true especially in large Bohemian cities. Don't assume that anyone you do not know believes in God or has a passion for Christianity. Respect that and your religion will also be respected.