Indie Travel in the Czech Republic for $45 Per Day
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Twenty years ago when the Czech Republic had just emerged from Communism, Prague was still an up-and-coming destination and as such was disgustingly cheap. It has kept that reputation, but the truth doesn’t always match up to the legend. Times have changed, and the onset of international tourism and the scramble to get a piece of the pie has altered the face of Prague and the rest of the country.
Generally, the Czech Republic is on a par with most of Europe if you want to buy clothing, an ipod, or books. But it is very competitively priced for a few things – food, alcohol, lower-end accommodation, and transport – all the facets that make up a nice, well-budgeted RTW trip. So, it is certainly possible to live on the princely sum of $45 per day.
I’ve chosen $45USD from my experience of living in Prague and traveling around the country, and I believe this amount can get you a decent hostel ($15), a public transport day pass in any town or city ($5.60), onward rail/bus travel ($7.60 – interchangeable with entrance fees if you’re staying in one place), a street food lunch ($3) and filling dinner ($6.60), and a handful of their heavenly beers ($1.50 each). All of which amounts to, not exactly an extravagant lifestyle, but a lovely day of indulgence and independent exploration without trying too hard to save.
In this guide I will mainly use a price range for Prague, easily the most visited destination, so for everywhere else just merrily gravitate towards the bottom end of the spectrum.
The domestic transportation infrastructure in the Czech Republic is acceptable – it’s certainly not as organized or speedy as much of Central and Western Europe but it certainly shines when compared to neighboring Poland. The Czech Republic is one of those rare countries in Europe where the bus beats the train as the prefered method of travel, but both have their positives and negatives, which I’ll explain in this section. When you get to your destination, you’ll invariably be met by a magnificently efficient and frequent urban public transport network.
You can enter the Czech Republic by three main methods:
Plane: Vaclav Havel Airport Prague (formerly Ruzyne) is the Czech Republic’s main hub for international flights, and many airlines fly here daily. With Prague’s location in the very center of Europe, it’s connections radiate out in a circle as far out as Lisbon, Edinburgh, Oslo, Malta, and Moscow with most major destinations in between. The airport also has limited connections to cities throughout Central Asia, the Middle East, and the Far East.
- The journey from the airport to the city center remains an undertaking. Despite a recent crackdown on the notoriously corrupt taxis operating out the airport as, at $25, they remain expensive. Always negotiate a price before getting into a taxi.
- Alternatively, usually the best bus option is the 119 bus from the airport to the Dejvická Metro Station (end of Line A) before continuing your journey by Metro or bus from there. A $1.60 ticket lasts 90 minutes and should get you to your destination or a $5.60 day ticket is good for 24 hour use within Prague
- An essential way to stay inside your budget is to remember to validate your ticket when you get on the bus as Prague’s brutally unforgiving transport police regularly go hunting on this route.
Brno, the country’s second city, also has its second largest airport which mainly has connections to London, Milan, Eindhoven, and Moscow through budget airlines.
Buses into the Czech Republic are usually the most direct and cheapest land route into the country, but they’re best only when traveling from one of the major cities immediately surrounding the Czech Republic.
Rail: International and local trains run between Prague and most of the major cities of Central Europe, but they are typically less frequent, feature more arduous journeys and are far more expensive than buses. Choose your trains wisely to avoid many changes, and look into paying for local trains to and from the border to get cheaper combined tickets.
- By rail: Berlin is the easiest German city to get to from Prague with multiple trains per day. The journey to Munich looks deceptively simple but takes 6 hours. For Nuremberg you can use a bus operated by German railways, which takes just 2 hours and can be used with an interrailing ticket.
- By bus: Direct services from Munich in 5 hours, Berlin via Dresden in 5 hours and Dresden in 2 and a half hours.
For neighbors, Poland and the Czech Republic are very poorly linked.
- By rail: The trains from Krakow and Warsaw are infrequent and take longer than the buses. A good option is the daily sleeper train to these cities as at least you can get a private compartment. Traveling from nearby Wroclaw you will have to change a number of times.
- By bus: Direct local bus services from Krakow via Ostrava in 5 hours and Wroclaw in 4 hours.
- By rail: Vienna is the best connected of all these cities as trains run every two hours from the Austrian capital to Brno and on to Prague in about 5 to 6 hours.
- By bus: The simplest route is from Vienna via Brno in 5 hours.
- By rail: Bratislava is also frequently connected to Brno and Prague with many trains each day taking about 4 hours.
- By bus: Bratislava via Brno in 4 hours and longer services also run from Kosice.
As with most countries it’s easiest to choose a hub. Prague’s Hlavní Nádrazí and various bus stations are best for town and city hopping, the smaller cities of Karlovy Vary, České Budéjovice, Olomouc, and Liberec are good jumping off points for exploring the countryside. Due to the relatively small size of the country, nowhere is more than a four hour bus or rail journey away.
- Bus: You will find several different bus transportation options. If traveling from Prague, note that the city’s main bus stations – Florenc, Černy Most, and Zlicin – are in completely different areas, so make sure you read your ticket properly and leave plenty of time to get to your point of embarkation.
The yellow coaches of Student Agency, who service most of the main towns and cities throughout the country, are generally quick, regular, inexpensive, and comfortable with a complimentary hot meal and drink and episode of Friends or How I Met Your Mother provided. If traveling between urban areas, this is the best option.
A number of local bus operators service the countryside, smaller towns, and ski resorts. Using the general booking desks at Florenc Coach Station is the easiest way to book.
- Rail: The rail network is quite extensive and probes into every nook of the country. It’s the most picturesque way to explore the country and will often stop at a cowshed train station in the middle of nowhere. A good example is the stop for České Šternberg – an attractive Bohemian castle in the middle of nowhere serviced by two pubs and one carriage train. Generally, it’s not the best form of transport if going long distance across the country as it can involve numerous changes and seem like your train is going in concentric circles until it reaches your destination. Everywhere seems to be three hours from Prague.
- Air: Flying within the Czech Republic is limited (Prague, Karlovy Vary, and Brno are the only sizeable airports). Moreover, it’s also a little against the spirit of indie travel.
- Rental: Renting a car in the Czech Republic is easy and recommended for exploring the mountainous regions on the country’s fringes, like Krknoše and Šumava. Renting a car at Prague’s Vaclav Havel Airport is probably the best way to go (the frenetic city center can be dangerous for the uninitiated). If renting a car within the Czech Republic, make sure the ten day road toll is included in the rental, otherwise it needs to be bought for $18.40USD when you cross the border into the country. Two other things to note: this is a no-tolerance zone for drinking and driving and headlights must be on at all times.
- Hitchhiking: This cheapest form of travel has always been popular in the Czech Republic and the practice still prevails today. All the usual safety advice applies.
- By bus: With Student Agency or the local buses, a one-way journey of up to an hour and a half costs $3-7.60, and longer journeys, to Česky Krumlov or Ostrava for example, cost $10-18. If possible, book online in advance as the Czech’s love to get out of the cities at the weekend.
- Rail: Domestic rail travel is similarly priced to the coach. Shorter journeys range from $2-8 and longer ones are around $15. There are a number of slightly confusing discounts, but the general rule is that the first person always pays full price and then discounts build up as the group traveling grows larger.
- Air: Airfare is always changing, but it is always the most expensive form of internal transportation.
When it comes to accommodation in the Czech Republic, there really is a huge number of places to stay with a great variety of options. In these days of the internet, it’s easy to wade through the sea of hostels and hotels to find one to match your needs and to avoid the inevitable seedy areas. In towns and cities, as with most European countries, shared dormitories are the cheapest option – from $10 – and thanks to excellent public transport throughout the country, being extremely central is not always essential. Typically, there is not much difference between private hostel rooms and low-to-mid end hotel rooms, so plumping for the hotel is often a good idea. Well-located hotels in Prague can be very expensive, but with the advent of online hotel wholesalers, finding reasonable hotel accommodation is getting easier.
Now for a number of disclaimers as it’s not that easy to compartmentalize Czech accommodation! This is a very rough guide as there are anomalies galore and prices fluctuate with the seasons and periods of high demand. It is possible, but not typical, to find a hostel in a prime position in the Old Town for $15, but as always, check the reviews online before you book. I’ve concentrated mainly on Prague as this destination has the biggest variation in prices and neighborhoods in which to stay.
- $5-10: For a campsite (you have to bring your own tent) and access to hot showers and electricity – the cheapest way to sleep in the Czech Republic, but obviously this is mainly for adventures out in the country.
- $10-$18: A bed in a comfortable dormitory in one of the less touristy areas of Prague. These can include districts surrounding the center like the student district of Zižkov or the New Town. At the lower end you could find yourself in a random area of the city showcasing endless housing blocks. These may seem slightly intimidating at first but are normally very safe, have excellent public transport links to the center, and will be cheaper for groceries and eating and drinking out. Outside of Prague, this budget should be good for a choice of shared and private rooms in pensions (basic bed and breakfasts) and hostels.
- $18-$39: This budget will get you a dormitory bed in a hostel in one of the sought after areas of Prague like the Old Town or Málá Strana.
- $30-$50: This should get you a private room in a central hostel or a hotel room within a reasonable tram or Metro journey from the centre.
- $50-$100: Spending in the region of $50-100 USD per night will get you a three star hotel in the Old Town area. Or for a unique and convenient stay you could spend a night on a Botel on the Vltava moored within walking distance of Charles Bridge. But if you’re trying to live off $45 this price and above probably isn’t the right option for you.
While the Czech Republic will never be a voyage of culinary discovery, the Czechs do a couple of traditional dishes very well – namely the famous pork, gravy and dumplings that make up gulaš and the lesser-known svičkova, a fillet of beef and dumplings covered in a creamy sauce, whipped cream, and jam. Almost every bar and restaurant throughout the country offer these two dishes alongside other invariably pork-based dishes (with vegetables rarely making an appearance) at $5-8.60. You haven’t eaten Czech until you give at least one of these a try.
Between a $1.50-3.30 budget, the often love-it-or-hate it street food is a cheap and hassle-free way to eat on the run. Trustworthy street vendors largely sell classic Klobassas accompanied by mustard and military-issue brown bread or white subs. There’s also the Czech delicacy of fried cheese – which is just what it sounds like – and pizza and gyros (healthy-ish chicken kebabs) vendors pop up on every corner.
International option are also available with Chinese and Italian leading the way from $5, but every other cuisine – increasing including vegetarian – is a bit expensive.
The Czech Republic; however, is very well known for it’s beer and for good reason. The beer is famously tasty, and there are hundreds of different brands to choose from, with the locals tending to favour Pilsner Urquell, Svijany, and Gambrinus. For the sake of variety, there’s light and dark beer, and almost every town and city has its own regional variety. A half-liter of liquid bread is practically the cheapest item you can buy in the country and normally costs less than water (almost never free) and soft drinks. Prices vary between $1.30-1.90 (or from $0.50 in a supermarket). There is absolutely no point in paying more than this, so try and give backstreet bars a chance, and don’t always go on first impressions (unless it’s the dark windows of an all-night Herna bar, then you should probably give it a miss).
If you want to explore, there’s also plenty to see outside of Prague, and travel by bus (for the cities) and rail (to delve into the countryside) will be your cheapest and easiest methods. The country offers plenty of historic towns and cities with their pretty old town centers, quirks of nature, and rolling mountain ranges. The rest of the Czech Republic has been left relatively untouched by international tourism, so it’s prices remain uninflated.
If you’ve got a few days, there are plenty of day trips from Prague taking in castles, spa towns, breweries, and historic cities that offer a mix of pleasant and spectacular experiences. If you really want to explore the country and have a bit more time, there’s also plenty of fine countryside mainly located on the country’s fringes in the regions of Krkonoše, Šumava, and the Czech Switzerland.
- Prague – A beautiful city that needs no introduction. Days can be spent wandering around the cobbled streets admiring the beautiful architecture on show, including Prague Castle, Charles Bridge, Vyšehrad Castle, and practically anywhere around the River Vltava; sitting in a number of city center parks and beer gardens, and generally soaking up the atmosphere.
- Česky Krumlov – This Bruges of Central Europe is an ornate medieval town in the south of the Czech Republic. The unspoilt UNESCO Old Town showcases perfectly preserved cobbled streets, squares, and an imposing castle complex. For the adventurous, rafting is also very popular here.
- Plžen – The main reason for a trip to the quiet town of Plžen is for a tour of the famous Pilsner Urquell Brewery. This working attraction is practically a village and offers a decent guided tour with free samples plus lots of tempting merchandise and an on-site bar. Also, for it’s cheap prices, Plžen is typical for a town outside of Prague.
- Karlštejn – Home to one of the Czech Republic’s many Baroque castles, this pretty town is surrounded by woodland and boasts many restaurants and tourist-tat shops whilst being a very convenient distance from Prague. You can also walk from the town to Velká and Málá Ameriká – two former mines that are now man-made lakes. It’s illegal to descend the steep sides to swim in them, but this is largely ignored by the locals.
Off the beaten path
The highlights above are mentioned in every guide book and advertised by every tour operator in Prague, but there are also a wealth of off the beaten path trips. When deciding whether to stay over, note that most towns and cities outside of Prague get eerily quiet in the evenings, even on weekends.
- Česky Raj (‘Czech Paradise’) – For a natural attraction you can clamber all over and have some physical fun with, there’s the huge sandstone towers, dank caves, and nooks and crannies of Cesky Raj, or ‘Czech Paradise’ as it’s known to the Czechs.
- Beroun – For bears and beers. A unique little town that boasts a bear enclosure in it’s main park and a charming microbrewery serving excellent beer in the middle of a scrap yard containing Communist-era fire engines and the like. Only 45 minutes by train from Prague.
- Herlikovice, Rokytnice or Liberec – The Czech Republic is a comparatively cheap destination for skiing and it’s very easy to hit the slopes in the North East of the country as a day trip from Prague or as an overnight trip. Return bus travel plus one day ski pass and ski hire can be purchased for as little as $45USD.
Adding the Czech Republic to your RTW trip
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For more on traveling to the Czech Republic, check out the following articles and resources:
- Czech Republic Indie Travel Guide
- Prague Indie Travel Guide
- 5 Off the Beaten Path Destinations in the Czech Republic
- Planning an Extended Trip to Central Europe: Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary
- Off the Beaten Rail Path – Six Alternative Destinations in Central Europe