NEED TO KNOW
Capital City: Prague
Population: 10.3 million
Area: 30,500 square miles
Telephone Calling Code(s): 420
Electricity: 230V, 50 Hz
Currency: As of Nov 22, 2011:
1 Czech Republic Koruny = $0.05 US Calculate Other Amounts
The Czech Republic, a member of the EU, does not require visas for citizens of the United States. A valid passport is sufficient for a three-month stay.
GOOD TO KNOW
Books and Movies
For a small region, the Czech lands have produced significant world literature in two languages, Czech and German. It would be impossible to talk about Franz Kafka without mentioning Prague, the city in which he spent almost his entire life, and the great German poet Rainer Maria Rilke was also deeply influenced by his childhood in Prague. Literature in the Czech language has also grabbed the world's attention: novels by Milan Kundera, plays by onetime dissident (and former president) Václav Havel, and short fiction from the delightful Bohumil Hrabal. In film, too, Czechs have made remarkable contributions: Jan Sverak's Kolya raised the profile of Czech films with his 1996 best foreign-language Oscar, though the cinematic tradition runs through Czech-born Oscar winner Milos Forman all the way back to Ecstasy, the first nonpornographic film to have a significant nude scene (starring Hedy Lamarr), filmed at Prague's Barrandov studios in 1933.
Most visitors don't think of Eastern Europe as a foodie destination—but Prague (and nearby Budapest) might soon change that opinion. In the years since the Velvet Revolution, an array of excellent restaurants have opened, serving everything from first-rate Korean to high-end haute cuisine. In traditional Czech restaurants, look for great game dishes like goose and wild boar served with knedlíky (dumplings). Czech wines have improved immensely, especially whites, and it is no coincidence that the wine region of Moravia (the country's eastern half) shares a border with some of the best Austrian rieslings and sauvignons. After dinner, ask for a Moravian brandy made of plum (Slivovitz) or apricot (merunkovice), or try the herbal liqueur Becherovka, distilled in the Czech spa town of Karlovy Vary (a.k.a. Carlsbad) since 1807.
Bohemian glassworkers introduced the world to exquisite lead crystal in the 17th century, and a skilled tradition of glass, crystal, and porcelain means there are plenty of souvenirs to take home. Wooden toys, marionettes, and other handicrafts make great mementos for younger travelers.
Tips of about five to ten percent are appropriate across most of the country.
With low crime rates, the Czech lands are some of the safest places to visit in Europe, though pickpockets and camera thieves can be a problem in bigger cities like Prague. Since joining the EU, the problem of crooked cabbies has almost disappeared entirely, though a stigma certainly remains. Be sure to choose a cab from a reputable company such as AAA, Rony, or Profi, and it's always wiser to call a cab than to grab one on the street. The lush Bohemian forests invite long nature walks, but look out for uninvited guests: In some areas of the country, ticks and other bugs may carry encephalitis.
Czechs remain relatively old-fashioned in speech, almost always using the formal "vy" (like the French "vous") among strangers. Titles, too, are practically mandatory: Czech co-workers refer to each other as "Professor Novaková" and "Mr. Vesely," for example. It is considered especially impolite to refer to a third person as "he" or "she" if that person is within earshot. Instead, use the person's name—and full title, of course.
Did You Know?
Prague was the capital of the Holy Roman Empire at two points in history: under Charles IV in the mid-14th century and again under Rudolph II at the end of the 16th century. Both periods saw a flourishing of culture, the evidence for which remains today.
January: 1, New Year's Day
May: 1, May Day; 8, Liberation Day
July: 5, St. Cyril and Metod Day; 6, Martyrdom of Jan Hus Day
September: 28, St. Wenceslas Day
October: 28, Independent Czechoslovak State Day
November: 10, Feast of St. Martin
December: 24, Christmas Eve; 25, Christmas Day; 26, St. Stephen's Day
Spring: Easter; day after Easter, Easter Monday