Three days. That was all it took for me to fall in love with the Czech Republic. Three days of rows upon rows of charming old buildings; miles and miles of quaint cobbled stone streets; scene after scene of postcard perfect views; dish after dish of diverse and delicious food; and gallons upon gallons of therapeutic beer (yes, therapeutic beer). After all of that (and more) how could I resist the charisma of this darling, fairytale country? Of course, after just over 72 hours I’m hardly an expert but really that is all the time I needed to observe these key 10 charming, quirky, useful things you should know about the Czech Republic.
Let’s start with the Charming things to know about the Czech Republic, because…
1. There’s a real life Fairytale Town
Cesky Krumlov was on every things-to-do list I came across during my pre-trip research. For good reason! I still can’t believe we almost ditched our bus tickets because we were tired after several days of nonstop walking and marathon bus rides. Thankfully however we forced ourselves out of bed before sunrise and caught the 7 am bus that delivered us to this absolutely perfect little town. Truth be told, it probably looks nothing like the French town of Conques, that inspired the set of Beauty and the Beast but that didn’t stop us from singing about Belle’s “poor, provincial town” every time a new scene revealed itself to us. We’re talking massive castle (with clock tower), rippling river, cobble stone streets, narrow lanes and the most endearing facades on every single structure.
2. Beautiful Buildings are Everywhere!
A stroll down any street in Prague will leave you in awe. There is beautiful architecture everywhere you look. From gothic to baroque to renaissance, the city is a larger-than-life size museum of some of the most elegant and elaborate buildings I have ever seen! It’s no surprise then that Prague is the largest urban historical center on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It was impossible to walk even half a block without seeing a structure that didn’t compel me to snap at least half a dozen photographs.
3. Postcard Perfect Views Roll on Forever
Whether you’re looking down from the top of Petrin Tower; or staring out across the water on Charles Bridge, every view you encounter is perfect. A spread of red roof buildings interrupted intermittently by the spires of a towering cathedral. A rushing river flanked by banks carpet of rolling green hills there…each scene looks like it was carefully painted with the brush of an artist. It felt surreal staring out at these flawless vistas and I couldn’t get enough of it!
Then Onto the Quirky…
4. Beer Spas are an Actual Thing
And they’re AWESOME. Seriously. The beer spa was by far the most expensive thing I did in Prague and it cost $51 USD which, in the grand scheme of things isn’t bad at all. Soaking in a tub of bubbling beer is actually as incredible as it sounds and even more therapeutic than I anticipated. My skin felt as smooth as a baby’s bottom by end of the session. Add to the that the fact that you have unlimited dark and light beer on tap (self serve). And you get to relax on the softest bed made of hay – literally. Plus it’s all located in a room that looks like it was snatched straight out of a movie. The entire experience was absolute perfection.
5. There’s an Elevator that Never Stops
That’s right…there’s an elevator in a building off of Wenceslas Square that never actually stops. Doorless and on a constant loop, the paternoster elevator is as old-school as they come. One of approximately 250 left in the entire world, this elevator is a mini-amusement park all by itself. Funny enough though, its located in an office building with working professionals so it’s a bit odd being “that tourist” sneaking into their workplace simply to jump on and off their ancient elevator. Weird, but totally worth it. Rode it twice (once all the way around) and loved every minute of it!
And we’ll close with the useful things to know about the Czech Republic…
6. Moving Around is Super Easy
Full disclosure: I’m one of the laziest people in the world. Walking is not my cup of tea. At all. In any given scenario I’m the annoying person constantly asking “how much further?” every couple of steps. But Prague is one of those walkable cities with so many things to distract you that you don’t realize you’ve been walking non-stop for 5 hours. Even if you’re not in the mood to use your feet, public transportation is cheap and easy with trams, buses and trains all strategically located.
7. Avoid Using Exchange Outlets
You will need to acquire the Czech koruna once you arrive. Use an ATM to withdraw cash directly in CZK as opposed to going to an exchange outlet. It may appear convenient to change it at the airport, but as is the case with most airport cambios, the rates are astronomical. And while you can find exchange outlets on almost every block, their rates aren’t much better.
8. But if you do use an Exchange Outlet, NEGOTIATE
I walked with a fair amount of US so I wanted to change some and avoid credit card charges. To be safe, we asked the guy what the exchange rate was. Instead of using words (maybe because his English was bad, or maybe because he didn’t want to be clear) he pointed at a screen with rate figures. The figure we saw was only a few cents off from the actual exchange rate so my friend went ahead and handed over her cash. As she was about to sign the slip I noticed the figure listed was over $1,000 CZK less than our calculations indicated. She demanded her money back and after a few unnecessary minutes of back and forth, he magically raised the amount by over $900 CZK. In the end, we basically made off even because we still would have had to pay credit card withdrawal fees at a machine. So, while the experience left a bad taste in my mouth and I didn’t use exchange outlets after that, if you are going to use one, NEGOTIATE. When it’s all said and done, they prefer to do business than lose business completely.
9. Most People Speak English
Thank goodness. Because my understanding of Czech is limited to ‘Sem’ (Pull) and ‘Tlačit’ and that’s only because they were on every single door I encountered. Beyond that, I was truly grateful that everyone I encountered was able to communicate well enough in English. I wish things were different and I could be as fluent in their language as they are in mine but that wasn’t likely to happen within a span of 3 days.
10. It’s Wonderfully Inexpensive!
There are so many sites that you can visit for free. And those that aren’t free, aren’t expensive at all. Take a visit to Petrin Tower for instance…once you have a transportation pass, the tram ride to the top is free. You can also wander the rose garden free of charge. If however you feel inclined to take in the view from the top of the tower, you can do so for $150 CZK (via the stairs). Same goes for the amazing Prague castle. Walking around the sprawling grounds is absolutely free, you can even enter the cathedral and other buildings free of charge. If however, you wanted to venture further into the cathedral to take close up photos or take a stroll down the famous Golden Lane, there are tickets on sale for various “circuits” that grant you access to different spots. We opted for Circuit B at $250 CZK, which allowed us to venture inside St. Vitus Cathedral, Old Royal Palace, St. George’s Basilica and Golden Lane.
Every destination has its own unique traits that make them memorable and the Czech Republic is no different. While I didn’t have nearly enough time to see, do and experience it all, I was pleased that I was still able to cover quite a lot of ground. Lucky for me, I know I’ll be back again quite soon and I can’t wait! Until then, I hope these useful things you should know about the Czech Republic helps you prepare for your visit to this gorgeous, perfectly preserved country.
Have you ever been to the Czech Republic? Share the fun observations you made in the comments!