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The Tourist in the Czech Republic

The Czech Republic ranks among those countries with high tourist traffic. Immediately after 1989, millions of foreign visitors wanted to find out about the land of the velvet revolution and their curiosity in this interesting topicality brought them on a short-term visit. These guests then found that the Czech Lands are full of historical sights and natural beauty and have colourful and attractive entertainments of all kinds on offer, and so they come back to enjoy a longer holiday.

A little about the Czech Lands

Whenever Czechs go abroad they find that people usually do not know their country and confuse it with Yugoslavia and it doesn't even help to remind them about Pilsen beer, Ivan Lendl, the religious reformer Jan Hus and other personages of whom the Czechs are proud. Only at the name of "Vaclav Havel" do listeners usually react with the words "Yes, now I know". So let us introduce the Czech Lands to you with a few lines.

The Czech state was constituted in the eighth century AD and its rulers soon started to intercede ambitiously in European politics. Czech kings were among those who voted for the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire (as so-called kurfürsts, i.e. electors) and a large number of Czech rulers bore the imperial crown. After an intermezzo lasting for the entire fifteenth century, when Jan Hus' followers started a European religious reformation more than one hundred years before Martin Luther and so took the country for a long time out of the European context, Bohemia became a part of the Austrian confederation of states though without the Czech state ever being dissolved as a legal entity. With its great economic potential, Bohemia was a boon to its Austrian rulers. The Empress Maria Theresa is on record as saying that without Bohemia she would just be a poor Austrian archduchess.

The influence of its population on events within the Austrian Empire did not reflect the full significance of Bohemia, however, and the inability of Austrian governments to react to the growing ambitions of Bohemia and other countries within the empire led to the dissolution of the Austrian monarchy at the end of the First World War. In 1918, the Czechs joined with the Slovaks, who had also been living up to that time in the Habsburg confederation, to found the Czechoslovak Republic. The troubled developments of 20th century Europe, however, brought Czechoslovakia a number of disasters. First of all it became one of the first European victims of Nazi totalitarian aggression in the Second World War, only to find itself shortly thereafter within the sphere of interest and practically a colony of the totalitarian Bolshevik Evil Empire. So out of the 74-year existence of Czechoslovakia only 20 years can be described as being a period of real democracy and prosperity.

These circumstances did not provide the Czechs and Slovaks with enough time to find a suitable way of living together in a common state and meant that with the arrival of freedom in 1989, the long years of accumulated unresolved problems involved in living together culminated in a peaceful separation. Czechoslovakia was dissolved and on 1st January 1993 the Czech Republic took up the 1200 year old tradition of a Czech state. On 1st May 2004 Czech Republic became a member country of the European Union.

Czech national anthem


The Czech Republic is today a country with an area of 78,703 square kilometres in which over 10.3 million people live, including not only Czechs but also minorities of Slovaks, Germans, Romanies, Poles and other nationalities. Administratively, the Czech Republic is divided into 14 regions, one of those being the capital city of Prague, but the historical tradition has always unofficially distinguished "the Lands of the Czech Crown", i.e. Bohemia with the metropolis of Prague, Moravia with the metropolis of Brno and Silesia with the metropolis of Ostrava (formerly Opava).

The mild climate and the natural resources of raw materials have long formed a basis for good economic management in Bohemia and almost all areas of industry and agriculture are represented in the modern-day Czech economy. Between the wars, Czechoslovakia used to rank among the ten most highly developed countries in the world. The following half-century of devastation by totalitarian regimes may well have caused considerable damage, but those long traditions and solid foundations give it an advantageous starting-point for renewal. The gross national product is today approx. $ 18,200 per inhabitant. The average net annual income of an economically active citizen is approx. $ 14,500. The currency of the Czech Republic is the Czech crown (CZK) whose current rate of exchange ranges between 19 and 20 CZK to $ 1 and between 25 and 26 CZK to 1 €.

Where we would advise you to spend your holidays...

The greatest magnet for tourists is undoubtedly the capital city of Prague, whose main allure is in its unique genius loci comprising a mix of architectural styles, represented in a truly wide range in the city centre, the mutual harmony of which is enhanced by the large extent of urban green spaces, old aristocratic palace gardens, romantic nooks and dozens of churches.

In the last few years the natural allure of Prague has been successfully supplemented by a wide range of services for tourists, whether for every level of client requirement and for every pocket or the opportunity to anywhere from the McDonald's fast-food restaurant chain through the typical Prague pubs and wine-bars to the specialist restaurants which can satisfy the connoisseur.

The visitor to Prague can choose from the wide range of culture on offer throughout the year. You can visit a range of galleries and museums full of classical and modern art, enjoy concerts of classical and rock music, or go to a foreign-language theatre performance. Music festivals, the most famous of which is the Prague Spring, have a long tradition. You can also find places with less demanding entertainment such as discotheques or pubs with popular music, while those who indulge in the kind of attraction which the city does not usually flaunt will also be satisfied.

Basically, you have just got to see Prague - it really is not easy to get bored here. Perhaps the greatest testimonial to the ever-fresh attraction of Prague is the fact that since the fall of the Communist regime, there has been a community of several tens of thousands of young intellectuals and romantics from the USA and other countries living here together with the thousands of foreign businesspeople.

The centres of other cities can also be of interest - take the Moravian metropolis of Brno or the fascinating city of Olomouc, or Ceske Budejovice in southern Bohemia. But the really charming ones are the smaller towns in southern Bohemia and Moravia such as Cesky Krumlov, Tabor, Telc, Jindrichuv Hradec and especially Slavonice (must see!).

Outside the cities throughout Bohemia and Moravia the history lover will also find many well preserved castles and chateaux in which there are usually guided tours of the period interiors laid on for visitors. Near Prague, the most visited medieval imperial castle of Karlstejn, Konopiste Castle - the seat of the Austrian Archduke d'Este, whose murder started the First World War, the very attractive Veltrusy Castle, and the more distant Melnik Castle which repays the traveller his pains with a range of quality wines on sale including some excellent dry sparkling ones. Visitors to the Moravian capital of Brno have absolutely got to go and see the castle complex at Lednice, Valtice, Mikulov and the whole Palavske vrchy region where the journey will again be recompensed by fine experiences for the tourist and a range of quality wines.

Nature lovers will also find some attractive places in the Czech Lands. The communists' amateurish management resulted in some areas being totally devastated by industry and insensitive large-scale agricultural production but then elsewhere in extensive areas of almost untouched countryside. These latter include Sumava Mountains and a large part of southern Bohemia including the Novohradske Mountains which are yet to be discovered by tourists, as well as the Jeseniky Mountains in northern Bohemia and Moravia. Then again, for those who would like to show their children what an environmental disaster looks like we can recommend a visit to north Bohemia, particularly the Krusne hory Mountains.

The most interesting things for sports enthusiasts will be a winter stay in Krkonose Mountains, where we can recommend the traditional winter-sports mountain centres of Spindleruv Mlyn and Harrachov, or in Sumava Mountains, where there are more of such centres though it is more difficult to find really good hotels there.

There are not many large rivers or lakes in the Czech Lands though there are several reservoirs which might please those interested in water sports. Not far from Prague there are the Slapy and Orlicke Dams, the Lipno Dam in Sumava and even more popular are the Novomlynske Dams in southern Moravia and the Rozkos Dam in eastern Bohemia. Motor boats are usually forbidden so the range of sporting activities is limited though at least your stay there is not disturbed by noise and fumes. Most reservoirs are surrounded by hotels, guest houses and camping sites for motorists and it is easy to find private accommodation there too. Even though the shores of reservoirs are often crowded with tourists, only two or three kilometres from them we can usually find peaceful and undisturbed countryside.

Bohemia can be described as a real paradise for cyclists. Lots of quiet minor roads and paths through fields and forests are to be found with terrain for leisure excursions as well as more demanding sports routes. The most challenging terrains, however, are in natural reservations and national parks, where sports activities are forbidden - all the more reason then for ramblers to enjoy themselves.

It is also common for people to come to the Czech Lands for health reasons. Nature has provided curative springs in a climatically favourable environment and there are several world-famous spa towns particularly in western Bohemia, most important of which are Karlovy Vary (Carlsbad), Marianske Lazne (Mariensbad) and Frantiskovy Lazne, while other smaller spas can be found in each region of Bohemia and Moravia. If you are seeking health and tranquility in the places where Goethe, Beethoven and Mozart found them then the spas of the Czech Lands are just the thing for you.

...and where we advise caution

The first problem the tourist faces is that the Czechs do not usually speak foreign languages well enough to deal with everyday situations. The main reason for this is the former totalitarian regime under which language education in schools concentrated on the study of Russian. Teaching methods were also backward so that at school the Czechs learnt some very fine nuances of the grammar of foreign languages but in practice they are unable to order coffee in a restaurant even if they had learnt the foreign language at university. Hence, the tourist often gets an impression of sullenness and uncivility, especially from staff in restaurants, hotels and shops but also in offices and in relations with customs officers and the police. However, these appearances often just cover up the Czechs' irritation at understanding their guests badly. Only one thing can be recommended - speak slowly and patiently using simple sentences and do not increase the embarrassment of your interlocuteur with irritable reactions. A little patience and understanding usually help to penetrate that apparently impervious surface.

Another problem lies in finding your bearings among the range of services of all kinds that are on offer. Several years of freedom to do business have not been long enough for the tourist-service market to settle down and cleanse itself of those who consider doing business to mean primarily collecting huge sums of money for hugely inadequate services. Those who do not want to leave anything to chance for their trip to Bohemia will do best to use the services of a home-country travel agency whom they trust and who have experience with the range of services in Bohemia.

Of course, even without such assistance we need fear nothing worse than that we shall pay more for our entertainment than is necessary.

When you visit Prague and other cities we particularly recommend:

  • that before taking a taxi you agree on a fare in advance with the driver; the fare is normally around 80 ¢ per kilometre on top of a $ 1-2 flat charge. Taxi-drivers are obliged to have a fare tariff for their services on the door of their vehicle but they often take advantage of foreigners' ignorance and charge fares that are several times higher;
  • that when changing money in cash you only use the services of banks and exchange-offices and never take up offers made "by chance" on the street or in a hotel; such offers usually promise an attractive rate of exchange but the tourist is almost always robbed. Fortunately, you will always find automatic cash dispensers in the larger towns and cities and you can withdraw cash using VISA, EC/MC and other cards;
  • that in city-centres you give preference to luxury restaurants and restaurants in good hotels; ordinary restaurants in areas frequented by tourists offer services for prices that are not justified by the quality and it is usually better to eat in your hotel or in clean-looking restaurants outside the city centre.

Talking of restaurants, we should note the frequent offers of "traditional Czech meals" which are indeed tasty and interesting but consist mostly of pork, flour, eggs and animal fat so they often have excessive calories and do not conform to the principles of a healthy diet. Indeed, a third of Czechs are greatly overweight and there is above-average incidence of cardiovascular disorders. Try Czech cuisine by all means, but if you do not wish to put on a few extra pounds during your holiday it is better to choose from the selection of healthier meals which are fairly represented in better Czech restaurants.

It has to be pointed out that the Czechs like their peace and quiet. Tourists from Germany and the Scandinavian countries in particular are sometimes surprised at the Czechs' allergic reaction to their noisier forms of entertainment in restaurants or on public transport. Quiet, restrained and unobtrusive behaviour in public places will ensure that the tourist is spared unpleasant surprises.

The law and order situation in Bohemia is comparable to that of other European countries. Nonetheless, the foreign tourist must take account of the fact that the attention of criminal elements is somewhat more focused on foreign visitors, so you should remember to lock up and secure your car well, to carefully put away your purse and personal documents, and always to pay attention to your luggage when travelling. As anywhere else, thieves in Bohemia make up a small minority on the fringes of society, but they have already managed to spoil the otherwise fine holiday experiences of many tourists.

Before your trip to the Czech Republic

it is certainly a good idea to acquaint yourself with other facts of life here and the Internet is ideal for this. We recommend you have a look at the following servers:

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