The Vltava river runs north into Prague before its first major bend, 90 degrees toward the east. It's at this crook in the river where Old Town sits. Directly across the Charles Bridge to the west, intimate, mysterious Mala Strana's narrow lanes line the hills up to the castle. New Town lies to the south, and Vinohrady out to the east. Northern New Town and Wenceslas Square host most of the city's businesses and major shopping areas, while the southern part of New Town and Vinohrady are quieter and more residential, but have many excellent restaurants and cafés. Addresses generally start on the side nearest to the river and go up numerically as you move farther away.
The city is divided into 15 administrative districts (most visitors will want to stay in Prague 1 and Prague 2, within the historic area bordered by Prague Castle to the northwest and the National Museum at the southeast end of Wenceslas Square). Each district is made up of numerous neighborhoods, such as Old Town and Mala Strana, but confusingly, the names and numbers don't always match up. Vinohrady, for example, sprawls into parts of Prague 3 and 10, though most of it lies in Prague 2.
It's common to hear foreigners, even those from leafy burgs, comment on just how green Prague is. Two major parks (Stromovka and Letenske Sady) stand across the river from Old Town to the north, and there are also major reserves at Petrin and around Prague Castle.
WHEN TO GO
First and foremost, avoid high summer. In July and August, Prague is more crowded than Venice; December, with Christmas markets and picturesque snow, can be almost as bad. Spring is the best time to visit in every way, though it can remain cool through May (with a possible burst of warm sun in April). Fall is fine, too, but it can be damp.
HOW TO GET THERE
Czech Airlines offers direct flights to Prague from the U.S., flying from both JFK and Newark, though Delta will start direct connections from Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson in May 2007.
Also known as Ruzyne, Prague Airport is about a 30-minute drive from downtown, and a taxi connection should cost about 700 CZK, or around $32. The Visa-brand taxis—a fleet of shiny gray VW Passats—look attractive, but they have a reputation for bad driving. Check for a cab from AAA, Profi, or Rony instead—there's a taxi stand just outside the arrivals gate. Almost as fast is the 119 bus; there's a stop just on the other side of the taxi stand. A 20-CZK ticket is good for one person all the way to the line's terminus at Dejvicka metro station, and it's also valid for a continuing metro or tram ride. (Be careful: The 100 express bus uses the same stop, but it lands in far-out Zlicin.) On your way back, another 20-CZK ticket will get you to the airport in about 40 minutes from Dejvicka.
Most international trains arrive at either Holesovice or Hlavni Nadrazi (Main Station), both of which are on Prague's C metro line. Bus travel is one of the fastest ways to get to the Czech capital from neighboring destinations like Dresden. Most buses arrive at the Florenc bus station, just steps from the Florenc metro, a connecting station for the C and B lines.
Bring sturdy shoes: Despite (or because of) the cobbles and hills, Prague is made for walking. Pick up a good pocket-size map like the Prague Pocket Atlas, available at most newsstandsthough getting lost in labyrinthine Old Town and Mala Strana is much of the fun. Trams and the metro are efficient ways to travel outside the center. If you plan to use the metro more than a few times, buy a three-day (220 CZK, about $10) or weeklong (280 CZK, about $12) pass. Two Travel Information Centers sell passes and mini maps every day until 10 p.m. at Prague Airport. Stamp your ticket when you use first use it, either at the entrance to the metro or on a tram. It's not valid otherwise, and if you get caught by one of the plainclothes inspectors, the penalty is the same as for riding without a ticket, and you'll be subject to an annoying fine and an even more annoying lecture. For schedules and complete information in English, go to www.dpp.cz.
Taxis here still have a bad reputation, but thanks to some major scandals after the country's EU entry in 2004, crooked cabbies are largely out of business. Be sure to take a cab from a reputable agency like AAA, Rony, or Profi. Unassociated cars lurking outside the city's Irish pubs and other tourist haunts are more likely to be among the few remaining crooks.View Czech Republic Factsheet