Prague Demystified: Essential guide to the next Drupalcon capital
Prague - the capital of the Czech republic, an ancient city, one of the most beautiful in the world, a place that has caused political turmoil throughout centuries, mecca for on-the-budget bachelor parties, and the next venue for Drupalcon. What should you know, what should you try to see, and what to avoid?
Welcome to my guide to essential Prague - all the things that you should do, visit or try while in the Czech Republic. I would like to give you a perspective of someone born in the country and who has lived in Prague for over 7 years - and provide tips for some less traditional trips and visits!
Let’s start with travel, i.e. how to get there. Prague is served by the Václav Havel airport - PRG, try the Matrix ITA for the best fares, also make sure to try cheap longhaul fares to London, Paris or Amsterdam, and then lookup low cost tickets with Easyjet or Wizzair if you are on the budget (do your numbers though, a transfer from LHR to Luton where Wizzair flies from might cost you more than what you save). There is a direct connection from Prague with North America thanks to Delta airlines via JFK (the fly time is some 8.5 hours), and the return ticket price is ~ 1000 USD. If flying from Asia, there is a direct flight from Seoul with Korean Air, or through Istanbul with Turkish airlines.
As an alternative, you could fly to Munich in Germany, rent a car and drive to Prague through a city called Plzeň. If that sounds familiar, yes - that is the city where the famous Pilsner Urquell or Budvar (Czechvar) beers are made (see below for trip options). The trip Munich -> Prague will take you between 4 - 5 hours. Also, you could fly to Vienna and then drive from Vienna through South Moravia, which is one of the top 10 regions to visit according to Lonely Planet, or get a bus ticket or train ticket.
Trips & Visits
If you want to learn something about the Czech Republic, you should consider taking a few trips out of the city. This is of course best done if you rent a car or have local friends who would join you. But the public transport is extraordinarily good in the country, and you could make trips with a train ticket only easily. I will focus on the less notorious places.
Plzeň: Stop there on the way from Munich or just drive 50 minutes from Prague to organise a tour of the brewery, complete with tastings. Easily achievable with a train or bus as well.
Liberec: Jested, designed in 1966, this futuristic TV tower in the city of Liberec, 1 hour drive north from Prague will give you fantastic views of the local mountains from a monument that won many architectural prizes.
Prague: Petřín and Strahov. The Petřín tower is a monumental view tower on a hill overlooking the Prague castle and most of Prague. You can go there from the Prague castle through beautiful gardens and check out the mirror maze they have. It is called sometimes the little Eifell tower.
Other trips around the Czech Republic include Červená Lhota or catacombs in Kutná Hora. Some closer more traditional places you should visit are Konopiště and Karlštejn. While traveling through the Červená Lhota, you should of course stop at my mom-in-laws bed & breakfast, running on Drupal.
Geek out timeout: While at Petřín, you should check out Strahov Silicon Hill - this as part of the large dormitories of the Czech Technical University is also one of the largest networks in the world run purely by students. Each dorm room features two 100/100Mbit/s Ethernet sockets through a fibre network connecting the 12 buildings together and attached to a giant Cisco 6509 with 10Gbit/s Internet connection provided by the University. All of the network and operations is entirely run and funded by the students. Local club 007 Strahov (http://www.klub007strahov.cz/) is one of the oldest underground clubs in the country founded in 1969!
Some say that Czech beer is one of the best in the world. Whether you agree or not, in 2004 we had the highest consumption of beer per capita in the world. Czechs are particular about their beer, they mostly drink Pilsner style lager beer and usually don’t accept any alternatives. You should check out Staropramen, Pilsner Urquell, Krusovice (dark lager) and also some less known choices such as Svijany. Czech beer is usually draft, served cold with a big cap - refuse the glass if you are served something stale and flat!
Bars / Restaurants
If you want to dine in Prague, you have many options. Practically all cuisines are represented in Prague, the restaurants differ massively in terms of price and service. The quality is usually good, it varies from OK to great.
Let’s start with some really cheap and non traditional stuff: Vietnamese Bistro at Holešovice Market. Advice: Ignore the picture menu and look for a paper with vietnamese specialties. Pho, Bun Cha and other goodies! While at the market, plan a visit to SaSazu, one of the best (expensive) asian fusion restaurants in Czech and a 2000 head music club.
Continue with Lokál, a modern twist on the 1980’s in Czech. Cheap food, good beer and you will feel like 30 years back! Here is where to try “Smažený sýr” or Fried cheese, the Macaroni Cheese of our country - universal kids food that almost cannot go wrong.
If you are up for some more upscale dining, don’t miss Osteria Da Clara. A Toscan experience cooked by an American chef, this is the best South Europe experience in Prague. Watch out, this is a family run small place, they won’t handle a Drupalcon invasion so make a reservation.
Image: Cafe Imperial
You HAVE TO try “oblozeny chlebicek”. If you google it, you will see why. There isn’t a more typical Czech delikatesse than oblozeny chlebicek. Weddings, batisms, parties, funerals, you name it, the chlebicek will meet you there. If you walk across the bridge from the convention centre (Nuselsky most), you will get to Charles University campus. The birthing clinic is one of the most beautiful buildings and they sell chlebicek at the snack counter in the foyer. You can also look for “Lahůdky” or “Lahůdkářství”, snack counters that sell them.
Finalize everything with Cafe Imperial, the art deco classic of Prague, one of the best coffee/food places in the city center.
Couple of options close to the congress center include Hotel Opatov (budget hotel) or Top Hotel Praha (nice place). Both are within couple minutes walk to the Metro and 4 stations away. Get out at Vyšehrad.
If you are on the budget, check out Strahov - this is part of the Silicon Hill dormitories and you will sleep for measly $30/night! Get ready for “something” though - this place for the adventurous and unphased.
Taxis in Prague represent a kind of their own. Unfortunately, their reputation is not necessarily good, especially among foreigners. Avoid stopping a taxi on the street and rather prebook with bigger companies: AAA Taxi, Taxi Praha or Tick Tack. - these won’t rob you of all money you have and you can usually pay by card.
That takes me to cash - get it. Always check in advance when you arrive somewhere to make sure they take cards. Most restaurants do, but many small ones or small shops don’t. Avoid getting cash at the airport, it will be expensive (as usual).
Update: Drupal Association is providing a free public transport pass for Prague. Just pick it up when you get your badge and don't buy a separate ticket!
Get a 3 day ticket or monthly pass for public transport - it will cost you less than $20 and offers unlimited travel around Prague with any public transport (bus, metro, tram). If you have a ticket, it is important to always tag the ticket in yellow stands in buses and metro entrances, that’s the only way to make it valid for that travel. Monthly passes don’t need this. Here is a journey planner.
To get Internet access, Vodafone, T-Mobile and O2 operate in Czech. If you are a customer of some of the European providers it might be cheaper to just data roam but if you need a card, get a prepaid card for your cell. All providers have 3G (no LTE) in Prague.
This concludes my quick guide to Drupal Prague and see you there!