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Few visitors to the Czech Republic ever venture far beyond Prague - hardly surprising considering the city's remarkable attraction. At the city centre, architectural styles of the last 900 years stand side-by-side, paying tribute to the city's immense cultural and historical heritage. Prague lends itself to romance, with its rich past and thriving music scene, boasting everything from classical to jazz.
But while Prague's lure is great, those few visitors who check out some of the Czech Republic's other highlights will find themselves amply rewarded. At Karlovy Vary, Bohemia's oldest spa, visitors can enjoy any of the 12 hot springs, or simply relax away from the hustle and bustle of Prague. For stunning scenery, the Moravian Karst area boasts some of the republic's most breathtaking scenery, as well as some 400 caves which can be explored in a guided tour. Cesky Krumlov, 160 kilometres south of Prague is a fascinating medieval town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an ideal centre for visiting the many castles that are scattered across southern Bohemia. Worth a mention is the relatively unknown and therefore unspoilt Znojmo region, which boasts rich jewels of history and nature. The Czech Republic is a small country with excellent public transport, and many interesting places can be visited from Prague. Karlštejn (another wonderful castle), Mělník, Kutná Hora and Pardubice all make for interesting day trips. As a complete contrast, a visit to the former ghetto and prison camp at Terezín will give you a sobering reminder of the darkest days of World War II.
The Bohemian or Czech state emerged in the late 9th century. The kingdom of Bohemia was a significant regional power during the Middle Ages. It was part of the Holy Roman Empire. After the fall of the Holy Roman Empire, Bohemia became part of the Austrian Empire and later of Austria–Hungary. Serfdom was not completely abolished until 1848. After the Revolutions of 1848, Emperor Franz Josef I of Austria attempted to rule as an absolute monarch, keeping all the nationalities in check.
An estimated 150,000 Czech soldiers died in World War I. Following the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after World War I, the independent republic of Czechoslovakia was created in 1918. This new country incorporated regions of Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia, Slovakia and the Carpathian Ruthenia.
Czechoslovakia uneasily tried to play the role of a "bridge" between the West and East. However, the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia rapidly increased in popularity, with a general disillusionment with the West, due to the pre-war Munich Agreement, and a favourable popular attitude towards the Soviet Union, due to the Soviets' role in liberating Czechoslovakia from German rule. In the 1946 elections, the Communists gained 38% of the votes and became the largest party in the Czechoslovak parliament. The decisive step took place in February 1948 when a new, all-Communist government was formed. For the next 41 years, Czechoslovakia was a Communist state within the Eastern Bloc.
In November 1989, Czechoslovakia returned to a liberal democracy through the peaceful "Velvet Revolution". However, Slovak national aspirations strengthened and on January 1, 1993, the country peacefully split into the independent Czech Republic and Slovakia. Both countries went through economic reforms and privatizations, with the intention of creating a capitalist economy.
From 1991, the Czech Republic, originally as part of Czechoslovakia and now in its own right, has been a member of the Visegrád Group and from 1995, the OECD. The Czech Republic joined NATO on 12 March 1999 and the European Union on 1 May 2004.
The Czech Republic lies mostly between latitudes 48° and 51° N (a small area lies north of 51°), and longitudes 12° and 19° E. The Czech Republic shares international borders with Germany, Poland, Slovakia and Austria. The Czech Republic's landscape is, although not very spectacular, quite diverse. Bohemia, to the west, consists of a basin drained by the Elbe and Moldau rivers. It is surrounded by relatively low mountains, such as the Krkonoše range of the Sudetes. The highest point in the country is Sněžka at 1,602 metres above sea level and is located here. Moravia is the eastern part of the country and also quite hilly. It is drained mainly by the Morava River, but it also contains the source of the Oder River.
Since 2000, the Czech Republic has been divided into thirteen regions.
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Prague Castle is the castle that has been the home to Czech Kings, Holy Roman Emperors, presidents of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic. To this day the crown jewels of the Bohemian Kingdom are kept within its walls. It is also one of the largest castles in the world at 570 metres in length and an average of 130 metres wide. The castle was originally built in the 9th century but has seen major changes over the last thousand years. Today it is the current seat of government and very impressive building. Remember to visit Saint Vitus's Cathedral, which is an excellent example of gothic architecture, has great tombs and is in center of the castle.
Karlštejn is a very large gothic castle that was founded in 1348 by the Holy Roman Emperor of Charles the IV. It was originally built to house the Empire coronation jewels, holy relics and many other royal treasures. The castle went under a number of remoldings with the last in the in the late 19th century giving the building its current look. Today Karlštejn is one of the Czech Republics most popular castles and is a good day trip from Prague.
Mount Sněžka is the highest mountain in the Czech Republic at 1,603 metres (5,260 feet). Bordering Poland this mountain is stunning and beautiful. On the Czech side there is a small lodge and a run down chair lift. There is talk of updating the facilities, including a new observation tower. The mountain is a nice hike and offers great views from the top.
The Beltine Festival of Celtic Culture takes place in Bohemia every year from April 30 at 8:00 p.m. until May 1 at 12:00 p.m., running for 16 straight hours without interruption. It’s a fun, action-packed festival with everything from Celtic music and craft workshops to dance shows, kids play areas and activities, and lots of food and drink. The events are spread around a number of castles and historic buildings in Cheb, West Bohemia.
The Burning of the Witches is a nation-wide Czech festival which predates Christian times when locals would light large bonfires to ward off evil spirits. During the evening of April 30, witch effigies are burnt around the country to a backdrop of fireworks, food and drink, not unlike the Guy Fawkes celebrations in the UK.
Vlikkanoc is a Czech celebration which is part of the Easter Monday events and an age-old pagan ritual. As part of the national festival, adult males walk around their towns and villages carrying large, decorated willow leaves, which they use to playfully smack the legs of the women they love or have a secret crush on.
The Prague Spring International Festival is all about music and performing arts, with a number of shows taking place around the city from mid-May until early June. The first event took place in 1946 and continues to grow in popularity every year.
For literary lovers, this is often the highlight of the Czech events calendar, a two-month long celebration of arguably the finest playwright who ever lived. From June until September, Prague Castle is home to a series of performances which take place in the stunning Burgrave Palace courtyard.
Held around various venues in Prague, including some of the large river islands, the United Islands Festival takes place from June 16 to 25. A celebration of the people and the quirks of Prague’s most interesting and mysterious cultures, the event is primarily a music festival, but is also an opportunity to explore the Czech Republic’s outlying islands. Things are cranked up a notch during the evening when events move to nightclubs and music venues, with partying, singing and dancing well into the night.
Based on the traditional Scottish Highland Games, Sychrov hosts its own version of this Celtic event, which is the largest of its kind in continental Europe in late August. The festival has grown in popularity over the years, now one of the most well attended single-day events in the Czech Republic, as people from far and wide flock to Castle Sychrov to watch performers and trained athletes toss giant cabers and show off their strength and skills in a number of entertaining events with food, drink, dance, and music to enjoy.
The Harvest Festival is actually two events, one called Posviceni, a very spiritual celebration where praise is given to God for bringing a successful harvest. The second is Obzinky, which takes place directly after the harvest has ended. Farm-workers and land-owners are joined by Czech locals and travelers to drink, dance, sing, and enjoy a large banquet, with a wreath made out of crops adorning the heads of farmers. The feast involves lots of sauerkraut and a traditional sweet cake called kolache. Both are fun to experience, especially in the countryside.
This momentous music festival has become a key fixture on Prague’s cultural calendar and is one of the most popular events in Europe. Local Czech and international musicians and performers travel to the capital to celebrate the best of classical music, including big name stars with crowds attending by the thousands.
The Verdi Festival is a month-long event celebrating stage arts such as ballet, opera, and theater. Held in September at the stylish Prague State Opera house, it’s a must-see for lovers of the classics.
Less a festival and more an important day of remembrance for the Czech nation, November 17 marks the anniversary of the violent police reaction to the peaceful student protests. Known as the Velvet Revolution that took place in Prague in 1989, it brought an end to the Communist government. The day is marked by mourning the deaths of those involved and celebrating the positive political change.
One of the more fun and playful national events in the Czech Republic, December 5 is a day when adults get to dress up and visit the children in their neighborhood to determine who has been naughty and who has been nice, leaving gifts along the way.
The Czech Republic has a moderate continental climate with warm summers and relatively cold winters. Average temperatures are around 23 °C to 25 °C from June to August, while winters (December to February) have temperatures between -5 °C and 0 °C. Temperatures up to 35 °C in summer or below -20 °C in winter are possible though. Precipitation is heaviest during the summer period, and winters can have signficant snowfall, especially in the higher hilly or mountainous areas, such as the area near the border with Poland. The east of the country is a bit warmer in summer and slightly colder in winter, but differences are small.
Ruzyně International Airport (PRG) is the main international airport in the Czech Republic, serving Prague. It services flights to destinations in Europe, North America, the Middle East, Asia and Africa. Czech Airlines, the national flag carrier, has its main hub here.
The Czech Republic is well connected by train from neighbouring countries and even direct trains to countries further away. Prague and Brno areon the route from Berlin and Dresden to Bratislava and Budapest. Another route leads from Hamburg and Berlin to Vienna, passing Prague and Brno as well. Trains from Frankfurt and Munich pass through Plzen on the way to Prague. Finally, daily express trains serve Prague from Warsaw via Wroclaw or Katowice in Poland.
You can cross into the Czech Republic from Germany, Poland, Slovakia and Austria across dozens of international borders. Crossing is straightforward and with the proper documentation regarding yourself and the car (including an international driving permit and green card/insurance) you will face no problems.
Czech Railways operates the rail network in the Czech Republic. Most trains originate and terminiate in Prague and serve most cities and bigger towns.
Czech Republic has an extensive and well maintained network of motorways and other primary roads and also the secondary roads are generally in a good condition, even after more severe winters. You need a vignette for using the motorways, available at borders or petrol shops and included when you rent a car from one of many international and local companies on airports and downtown in most cities.
You need a national driver's licence with a photo ID, otherwise an international permit will do. Be sure to have valid insurance (green card) and turn your headlights on at all times!
There are dozens of buslines in the country with even the smaller places having at least a daily connection, but often more. Check the timetable for more information (also train timetables by the way).
Few regular passenger services are of use to travellers, if at all they exist. A leisurely cruise on the main rivers is always a nice way to experience the country of course and most boats will leave from Prague.
Main article: Schengen Visa
If you are a European Union (EU) citizen, you may enter without any restriction as per your EU citizenship rights. If you are not an EU citizen and Czech Republic is the first stop on your visit or your main destination, you will need to obtain a Schengen Visa from the Embassy of Czech Republic. This visa is valid for any country in the Schengen zone.
Also see http://www.mzv.cz/jnp/cz/informace_pro_cizince/visa_form/index.html for more (official) information on czech visa and immigration policy (information is minimal; best contact your local Czech consulate directly)
See also: Money Matters
The Czech Koruna (CZK) is the official currency. One Koruna ("crown" in English) equals to 100 haléřů (singular: haléř, nominative plural: haléře). The Koruna is abbreviated as "Kč" while the haléřů with just a "h". Banknotes are in denominations of 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, 1,000, 2,000 and 5,000 Kč. Coins in use are 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 Kč.
The main language spoken is, not surprisingly, Czech. The Slovak language can also be often heard, as there is a sizable Slovak minority and both languages are mutually intelligible. Czech people are very proud of their language, and thus, even in Prague you will not find many signs written in English (outside of the main tourist areas). Many older people, especially outside the large cities, are also unable to converse in English, so it's good to learn some Czech or Slovak before your arrival. However, most young people speak at least some English, as it has been taught in most schools since 1990. Useful dictionary in the Czech language when you are travelling around:
Traditional Czech food is hearty and suitable after a hard day in the fields. It is heavy and quite fatty, and is excellent in the winter. In the recent time there was a tendency towards more light food with more vegetables, now the traditional heavy and fatty Czech food is usually not eaten everyday and some people avoid it entirely. However nothing goes as well with the excellent Czech beer as some of the best examples of the traditional Czech cuisine, like pork, duck, or goose with knedlíky (dumplings) and sauerkraut.
There's a wide range of accommodation options in Czech Republic. There are excellent 5* hotels in Prague and some others cities, while you can also get a cheap bed in hostels or camping grounds at major cities and tourist areas. In between there are B&B's, guesthouses, midrange hotels if you don't want to break the bank but want some comfort. If you are with a big group, there are loads of houses for rent, either at parks or individual places through websites like Homeaway.
The Czech Republic is the country where modern beer (pivo in Czech) was invented (in Plzeň). Czechs are the heaviest beer drinkers in the world, drinking about 160 litres of it per capita per year. The best-known export brands are Pilsner Urquell (Plzeňský Prazdroj), Budweiser Budvar (Budějovický Budvar) and Staropramen (freely translatable 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 (made in Brno, the capital of Moravia). Other fantastic beers worth tasting are Svijany and Dobřanská Hvězda. 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.
See also: Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to the Czech Republic. It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to the Czech Republic. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended.
It is also recommended to have a vaccination against tick borne encephalitis when you go hiking and/or camping for 4 weeks or more in the period of March to November.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also: Travel Safety
The Czech Republic in general is a very safe country to travel around. Just take normal precautions like you would at home. Be aware of pickpockets in busy places like markets and stations and avoid quiet dark streets and use a taxi instead late at night.
Wifi is available in many restaurants and most cafés, especially in larger cities. In particular, all branches of Starbucks, KFC, Gloria Jeans Coffee and Costa Coffee offer free access. You may need to ask a waiter for the passphrase. There are also some hotspots available on the streets and some city quarters (for example in Prague) offer free wifi coverage for everyone. However such coverage is usually very slow and unreliable and you may need to create an account (using a web browser and the page it is automatically redirected to) to be able to use it. In most larger cities, there are also several internet cafés available.
See also: International Telephone Calls
There are three main mobile phone operators using the GSM standard, their coverage is very good (except in some remote, mostly uninhabited areas). If you find using roaming with your own operator too expensive or you want to have a Czech phone number, you can buy an anonymous prepaid card from any of the three main operators.
You can call emergency numbers from any phone for free (even without any card). The universal emergency number 112 is functional and you can use it, however you will reach only a telephone operator who will need to contact the real emergency service for you. To save precious time, it is best to call directly the service you need: 150 for firefighters, 155 for medical emergency, and 158 for state police.
Ceska Posta is the national postal service of the Czech Republic. It offers good services with reliable, affordable and relatively fast delivery of postcards, letters and parcels. Postcards and letters weighing up to 20g which are being sent to countries within Europe cost 17 CZK, other countries cost 18 CZK. Within the Czech Republic, prices start at 10 CZK. Opening times of post offices vary but most of them are open from around 8:00am to 6:00pm or 7:00pm Monday to Friday, closing at noon on Saturday, closed on Sunday and public holidays. Larger and/or central post offices might keep longer hours and some have English speaking staff. You can buy stamps here, or at newspaper stands, kiosks or some small (souvenir) shops. Post offices offer a few other services, like (international) money transfers as well. FEDEX, DHL, TNT and UPS offer courier services as well, with fast but relatively expensive services.
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