Prague Travel Guide
The Czech crown has been quite strong, and many of the bargains people expect might no longer exist. Prices are approaching those of Western Europe quite rapidly. But many hotel prices have become more realistic due to tough competition, and it's easy to find last-minute bargains. Prices at tourist resorts outside the capital are lower and, in the outlying areas and off the beaten track, very low. The story is similar for restaurants, with Prague being comparable to the United States and Western Europe, whereas outlying towns are much more reasonable. The prices for castles, museums, and other sights are rising, but still low by outside standards.
ATMs are common in Prague and most towns in the Czech Republic, and more often than not are part of the Cirrus and Plus networks, meaning you can get cash easily. Outside of urban areas, machines can be scarce, and you should plan to carry enough cash to meet your needs.
In Czech an ATM is called a bankomat, and a PIN is also a PIN, just as in English.
Prices throughout this guide are given for adults. Substantially reduced fees are almost always available for children, students, and senior citizens.
Banks in the United States never have every foreign currency on hand, and it may take as long as a week to order. If you're planning to exchange funds before leaving home, don't wait until the last minute.
ATMs and Banks
Your own bank will probably charge a fee for using ATMs abroad; the foreign bank you use may also charge a fee. Nevertheless, you'll usually get a better rate of exchange at an ATM than you will at a currency-exchange office or even when changing money in a bank. And extracting funds as you need them is a safer option than carrying around a large amount of cash.
PIN numbers with more than four digits are not recognized at ATMs in many countries. If yours has five or more, remember to change it before you leave.
ATMs are safe and reliable. Instructions are in English. If in doubt, use machines attached to established banks like Česká Spořitelna, Komerčni Banka, and ČSOB.
Throughout this guide, the following abbreviations are used: AE, American Express; DC, Diners Club; MC, MasterCard; and V, Visa.
It's a good idea to inform your credit-card company before you travel, especially if you're going abroad and don't travel internationally very often. Otherwise, the credit-card company might put a hold on your card owing to unusual activity—not a good thing halfway through your trip. Record all your credit-card numbers—as well as the phone numbers to call if your cards are lost or stolen—in a safe place, so you're prepared should something go wrong. Both MasterCard and Visa have general numbers you can call (collect if you're abroad) if your card is lost, but you're better off calling the number of your issuing bank, since MasterCard and Visa usually just transfer you to your bank; your bank's number is usually printed on your card.
If you plan to use your credit card for cash advances, you'll need to apply for a PIN at least two weeks before your trip. Although it's usually cheaper (and safer) to use a credit card abroad for large purchases (so you can cancel payments or be reimbursed if there's a problem), note that some credit-card companies and the banks that issue them add substantial percentages to all foreign transactions, whether they're in a foreign currency or not. Check on these fees before leaving home, so there won't be any surprises when you get the bill.
Before you charge something, ask the merchant whether he or she plans to do a dynamic currency conversion (DCC). In such a transaction the credit-card processor (shop, restaurant, or hotel, not Visa or MasterCard) converts the currency and charges you in dollars. In most cases you'll pay the merchant a 3% fee for this service in addition to any credit-card company and issuing-bank foreign-transaction surcharges.
Dynamic currency conversion programs are becoming increasingly widespread. Merchants who participate in them are supposed to ask whether you want to be charged in dollars or the local currency, but they don't always do so. And even if they do offer you a choice, they may well avoid mentioning the additional surcharges. The good news is that you do have a choice. And if this practice really gets your goat, you can avoid it entirely thanks to American Express; with its cards, DCC simply isn't an option.
Visa, MasterCard, and American Express are widely accepted by major hotels, restaurants, and stores, Diners Club less so. Smaller establishments and those off the beaten track, unsurprisingly, are less likely to accept credit cards.
Reporting Lost Cards
American Express (888/937–2639. www.americanexpress.com.)
Diners Club (255–712–712 in the Czech Republic. www.dinersclub.com.)
MasterCard (800/627–8372 in U.S.; 636/722–7111 collect from abroad. www.mastercard.com.)
Visa (800/847–2911; 800–142–121 in the Czech Republic. www.visa.com.)
Currency and Exchange
Though at some point in the future the Czech Republic is supposed to change to the euro, for now the unit of currency in the Czech Republic is the koruna (plural: koruny) or crown (Kč), which is divided into 100 haléřů, or hellers. The 50-heller coin, the last of the small denominations, was phased out in 2008, but prices are still marked in hellers. There are coins of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 Kč; and notes of 100, 200, 500, 1,000, 2,000, and 5,000 Kč. Notes of 1,000 Kč and up may not always be accepted for small purchases. Notes for 50 Kč have been phased out as of April 2011 and are no longer being accepted.
Try to avoid exchanging money at hotels or private exchange booths, including the ubiquitous Chequepoint and Exact Change booths. They routinely take commissions of 8% to 10%, in addition to giving poor rates. The best places to exchange money are at bank counters, where the commissions average 1% to 3%, or at ATMs. The koruna is fully convertible, which means it can be purchased outside the country and exchanged into other currencies. Of course, never change money with people on the street. Not only is it illegal, but you will almost definitely be ripped off.
On arrival at the airport, the best bets for exchanging money are the ATM machines lined up in the terminal just as you leave the arrivals area. The currency-exchange windows at the airport, happily, offer rates that are no worse than you will find anywhere in town, if not quite as good as those at banks.
At this writing the exchange rate was around 20 Kč to the U.S. dollar.
Even if a currency-exchange booth has a sign promising no commission, rest assured that there's some kind of huge, hidden fee. (Oh … that's right. The sign didn't say no fee.) And as for rates, you're almost always better off getting foreign currency at an ATM or exchanging money at a bank.
Exchange (nám. Franze Kafka 2, Prague, Bohemia. www.exchange.cz.)
Service is not usually included in restaurant bills. In pubs or ordinary places, simply round up the bill to the next multiple of 10 (if the bill comes to 83 Kč, for example, give the waiter 90 Kč); in nicer places, 10% is considered appropriate for good food and service. Tip porters who bring bags to your rooms 40 Kč–50 Kč total. For room service, a 20 Kč tip is enough. In taxis, add 10%. Give tour guides and helpful concierges between 50 Kč and 100 Kč for services rendered.