Sunday, May 16, 2021

How To Travel Around Czech Republic

EuropeCzech RepublicHow To Travel Around Czech Republic

The Czech Republic is served by the multimodal router IDOS, which covers all Czech trains, buses and urban transport, as well as many train and bus lines abroad.

By plane

There are domestic flights from Prague to Brno and Ostrava operated by CSA Czech Airlines.

By bus

Student Agency buses are an excellent and inexpensive means of transport between Prague and other major cities. These buses are usually slightly faster and cheaper than Czech trains (not taking into account discounts). On some routes (e.g. from Prague to Brno) the cost is marginal, but on others, such as from Prague to Karlovy Vary or Liberec, there is no direct rail connection, so buses are by far the best option. It is not usually necessary to reserve a seat, but if you are travelling to or from Prague on Fridays or during public holidays, it is advisable to do so. You can book your seats online on the Student Agency website. Apart from this operator, there are many other bus companies that regularly connect Prague with other cities and towns, even remote ones. Most buses in Prague leave from the Florenc Central Bus Station, but other major bus stations are located in Na Knížecí (Anděl metro station), Černý Most, Zličín and Roztyly, which are all close to the metro stations.

Local bus transport between small towns and surrounding villages is usually run by companies called ČSAD (name of the district), a remnant of the state-owned Československá Autobusová Doprava from the communist era. On the local buses, you simply tell the driver where you are going and pay the fare when you get on.

By car

Czech drivers may sometimes seem aggressive, especially in Prague, but this is a far cry from the “madness” found in some southern European countries.

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The Czech Republic is a zero-tolerance country for alcohol. Driving a motor vehicle under the influence of any amount of alcohol is illegal and violators are severely punished.

However, you must buy a vignette to drive on well-maintained motorways, unless you drive a motorbike. In 2014, these vignettes cost 310 Kč for ten days (for vehicles under 3.5 tonnes), but can also be purchased for longer periods (1 month for 440 Kč or 1,500 Kč for a year). If you do not affix a vignette to your car when driving on motorways, the fines can be very high (at least 5,000 Kč).

Make sure you buy the right vignette: There are vignettes for vehicles under 3.5 tonnes and vignettes for vehicles between 3.5 and 12 tonnes. Vehicles over 12 tonnes must use an on-board device (“premid” device) to pay the distance-based toll.

The condition of many roads is constantly improving, but to be economical and fast, you should drive on the motorways as much as possible, although if you want to get to remote parts of the country, you won’t avoid the back roads, which can sometimes be a bit bumpy.

In the Czech Republic, the speed limit is generally 130 km/h on motorways, 90 km/h outside motorways and 50 km/h in cities. Petrol is cheaper than in the rest of Europe (36 Kč/€1.40), but expensive compared to the United States because it is heavily taxed.

Road traffic fines can usually be paid on the spot.

The use of daytime running lights (dlr) or dipped headlights is mandatory, even during the day, all year round. If you do not switch on your lights while driving, you risk a fine from the police.

The obligatory equipment includes

  • First aid kit
  • Set of replacement bulbs
  • Replacement fuse set
  • Warning triangle (not required for motorbikes)
  • reflective waistcoat

By train

In the Czech Republic, trains are mainly operated by the state-owned company České Dráhy (Czech Railways). In 2011, RegioJet (a subsidiary of the student agency) started operating modernised trains between Prague and Ostrava. They were joined in 2012 by the LeoExpress on the Prague-Ostrava route.

Trains reach even the most remote parts of the Czech Republic and, unlike buses, usually run regularly outside peak hours and at weekends. However, apart from the major modernised corridors, the level of travel is often the same as in the 1970s, so it takes quite a long time to get to provincial towns or villages as trains often meander through the countryside.

Train categories

  • Osobní (Os) – slow local trains that stop everywhere. Includes suburban trains near the largest cities.
  • Spěšný (Sp) – faster than “osobní”, usually skips small towns.
  • Rychlík (R) – fast trains, stop in larger cities, trains often used for long distances.
  • Expres (Ex) – faster and usually a little cleaner kind of “Rychlík”.
  • Eurocity (EC) – quite modern international trains (but also quite usable for domestic traffic), which meet European standards, are fast and only stop in larger cities.
  • Supercity (SC) – the fastest trains of Czech Railways, which offer free Wi-Fi connection among other services, operate only on the Prague – Ostrava route. In addition to the normal ticket, either a special ticket or a seat reservation of CZK 200 is required. It competes with the private trains LeoExpress (LE) and InterCity (IC) “Regiojet”, which offer a similar or higher level of service.

Train tickets

Tickets must be purchased online in advance – [www] for Czech Railways, which operates on all long-distance national and international routes and on the vast majority (99%) of local routes, or [www] (in Czech only) and [www] for private companies that operate trains only on the long-distance Prague-Ostrava route. In any case, there are many advantages over buying tickets at the ticket office: tickets are cheaper in advance and the system automatically recommends the cheapest option (so you don’t have to dig through the often byzantine fares). A visit to the ticket office is only necessary if you pay in cash or if you need certain special fares (e.g. booking a sleeper car) that are not available online. It is not necessary to print out tickets purchased online: It is usually sufficient to show the pdf file to the driver on a laptop or tablet screen. The main disadvantage of buying tickets online is the need to provide the name of the passenger and the number of an official photo ID, such as a driving licence or passport.

The normal price of train tickets on ČD trains, which are always also available shortly before departure, can be daunting (about 1.40 Kč per km), but Czech Railways (ČD) offers many discounts. There is a 5% discount on return tickets, and a group of passengers (even two passengers are considered a “group”) is treated roughly as if the first person paid the full fare and the others half the fare. Therefore, ask for “skupinová sleva” (group discount) and/or “zpáteční sleva” (return discount).

Regular travelers can use a loyalty card ČD, called In-karta IN25 [www], for 150 Kč (3 months), 550 Kč (1 year) or 990 Kč (3 years). It offers 25% discount for regular and returns tickets and 5-25% discount for online tickets. Its price will pay for itself quickly. You need to fill in an application form at the ticket office and present a photo. You will then immediately receive a temporary paper ticket and can use the discount. After three weeks you will receive a plastic chip card.

You can find the complete list of discounts at the ČD.

Please note that on the Prague-Ostrava route you can choose between three competing rail companies: Czech State Railways (which operates standard ‘Ex’ trains and luxury ‘SC’ trains) and private IC trains RegioJet and LeoExpress (LE). In terms of price, LE, Ex and IC trains are equivalent (about 295 Kč), while SC trains usually cost about 100 Kč more. In terms of speed, SC is the fastest, closely followed by LE, while IC and Ex lag behind. Onboard service is better on LE and IC trains.

Travel tips

If you are traveling as a group at the weekend, you can purchase a weekend group ticket [www] for unlimited travel on Saturday or Sunday. It is valid for a group of 2 adults and a maximum of 3 children. The ticket is valid on all trains, including IC and EC, but in SC you need to buy a seat reservation for 200 Kč extra (or less, for less busy times). The network-wide variant costs 600 Kč and the regional variant from 200 to 275 Kč. If you buy online and print the ticket yourself, you get a small discount of 3% and avoid queuing at the station.

Although many stations have been repaired and modernized, the rest is still like going back in time to the communist era. You should not be afraid, but try to avoid them after dark. Trains are generally safe (police officers are regularly deployed on fast trains) and are a very popular mode of transport. They are often used by students and commuters. For this reason, the main Praha-Pardubice-Olomouc-Ostrava line is particularly busy during peak hours (Friday and Sunday afternoons) and it is recommended to reserve seats.

Prague has a fairly good network of local trains connecting it with the suburbs and surrounding towns, called Esko (S-Bahn). On these trains (category Os and Sp), Prague local transport tickets (e.g. 32 Kč for 90 minutes) are valid for travel in the Prague region.

If you want to visit the dining car of the (blue) Czech Railways train (České dráhy), try to do so while the train is inside the Czech Republic. While the train is inside the Czech Republic, you can get good and tasty meals (including traditional dishes like “Svíčková”) for about 150 Kč. If you order while the train is outside the Czech Republic, you will have to pay almost double the price. This is not a scam, it is the official policy of the company.

Taking a bicycle or pet on the train

The single bike ticket costs 25 Kč for one train or 50 Kč for a whole day. You load and unload your bike yourself. Long-distance trains (with the suitcase symbol in the timetable) have a luggage car where on-board staff take care of your bike, but the ticket costs 30 Kč for one train or 60 Kč for a whole day. Some trains (with the square bicycle or suitcase symbol in the timetable) require a compulsory bicycle reservation for 15 Kč at the ticket office or 100 Kč from the on-board staff.

Small pets in cages or bags can travel free of charge. Larger dogs must be muzzled and kept on a leash. Prices are 15 Kč per train or 30 Kč for a whole day.

By bike

The Czech Republic is a great place for cycling. There are many pleasant country roads, signposted cycle paths and picturesque villages along them (always with a pub…), it’s easy to find your way and trains have bike racks in the luggage area if you’re tired. Try cycling in the South Moravia region (near the Austrian border), where you will find dozens of well-marked trails that will take you through a beautiful landscape full of vineyards, wine cellars and colourful villages.

The border mountains (Krkonoše, Šumava, Jeseníky, etc.) are also becoming increasingly popular with mountain bikers. There are usually no fences along the trails, but you should always stay on the marked roads or cycle paths here, as these mountains are national parks/reserves and you can be fined if you cycle “off the beaten track”. [www] is a non-profit website that provides information about cycling in Prague and its surroundings. A good source is also [www] – change the map (via Změnit mapu Turistická) to see the cycling routes in purple.

We Bike Prague offers various guided and self-guided cycling opportunities in the Czech Republic.

On foot

In addition to hiking in cities, the Czech Republic has a large number of hiking trails and scenic paths through forests and natural areas. The Czech Tourist Club (Klub českých turistů) [www] has mapped and marked these trails so that hikers can easily find and walk thousands of kilometers of scenic paths; it is probably the best-maintained marking system in Europe. Maps of their trails can be purchased on their website [www], or in the Czech Republic at most bookshops, tobacconists or museums (green maps marked with the organization symbol and the words EDICE TURISTICKÝCH MAP KČT 1:50000 [www] above).

These maps are based on military maps and are very accurate. It is also possible to take a train to a small village on the edge of the forest and find a map of the area on the spot. Four possible paths will be visible, marked red, yellow, green, and blue on nice tourist maps [www]. Next to this map, there is a set of directional signs, usually attached to a tree, indicating the initial direction of one of the colored paths. The color of the path is shown on the trees along the path: three short horizontal bars, the two outer ones white, and the color of the path you are on the innermost one.

This symbol is sometimes shown as an arrow indicating a turn. Bus and train stops are also indicated on the signs. You can also sign up as a member [www] of the Czech Tourist Club, where you can camp for 30-50 Kč per night in cabins [www] all over the Czech Republic.

By thumb

Hitchhiking is very common and some drivers even stop in places where they should not.

Make sure you make a very clear gesture with your thumb pointing upwards. A gesture that seems to point to the floor can be mistaken for a request.

A word of advice: if you are hitchhiking through the southern Czech Republic to the German city of Dresden, never cross Prague or drive through Prague unless you are in a car going to Dresden. Prague itself does not have a continuous ring road, so residents have to drive along a ring of major and minor roads to get around the city from south to north. Therefore, most of the traffic you will encounter is heading into the city. After Prague, the main road turns into a two-lane mountain road that passes through local villages, where again the majority of traffic is local and international travelers are reluctant to stop.

Try using a sheet of letter-size paper (A4) with the destination written so that the place you want to go to is clearly visible.

Over the thumb with the animal

It is possible to hitchhike with a smaller dog, but the “wait” will be longer. Expect to see another dog in the car.