Getting Around the Czech Republic

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Getting Around the Czech Republic

IDOS offers an exceptionally useful online timetable, that covers all Czech trains, buses and city transport and 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

A cheap and excellent means of travelling between Prague and other major cities are the buses from Student Agency. These buses are usually a bit faster and cost less than the Czech trains (not considering discounts). On some routes (e.g. Prague to Brno) this is marginal, but on others such as Prague to Karlovy Vary or Liberec, there is no direct train connection so the buses are by far the best option. Usually, you do not have to book a seat but if you travel on Fridays or during holidays from or to Prague, it is recommended. You can reserve seats online at the Student Agency website. Apart from this operator there are many other bus companies that link Prague and other cities and towns, even remote villages, regularly. Most buses leave Prague from the central bus station at Florenc, but other major bus stations can be found at Na Knížecí (metro station Anděl), Černý Most, Zličín and Roztyly, all of which are located next to metro stations.

Local bus travel between small towns and surrounding villages is usually operated by companies named ČSAD (district name), a remnant of the nationwide state-run company Československá Autobusová Doprava from communist times. On local buses you simply tell the driver where you're going and pay him a fare as you get on.

Timetables for both local and long-distance bus travel are available on the IDOS website.

By Car

The Czech drivers may seem aggressive sometimes, especially in Prague, but it is far from "madness" as found in some southern Europe countries.

The Czech Republic is a zero tolerance country. It is illegal to drive a motor vehicle under the influence of any amount of alcohol, and violations are heavily punished.

In order to drive on the well-kept motorways, however, you need to purchase a toll sticker. These stickers cost CZK 310 for ten days (for vehicles lighter than 3.5 tonnes, price as of September 2012), but can be purchased for longer periods of time (1 month or a year). If you do not have a toll sticker on your car when you drive on the motorways, the fines can be very steep (CZK 5000 minimum).

Make certain that you purchase the correct toll sticker: there are those for vehicles under 3.5 tonnes in weight and those for vehicles between 3.5 and 12 tonnes. Vehicles larger than 12 tonnes in weight must use an on-board unit ("premid" unit) to pay tolls based on distance.

The condition of many roads is continually improving, but to be economical and fast, drive on the motorways as much as possible, although if you want to get to remote parts of the country you will not avoid side-roads that may be a little bumpy sometimes.

Speed limits in the Czech Republic are usually 130 km/h on motorways, 90 km/h off the motorways, and 50 km/h in towns. Petrol is inexpensive compared to the rest of Europe (CZK 37 / 1,40€), but it is expensive compared to the United States, as it is heavily taxed.

Traffic fines can usually be paid on the spot.

The use of headlights is mandatory at all times. Failure to have your lights on while driving may result in a police fine.

By Thumb

Hitchhiking is very common and some drivers stop even on places where they shouldn't.

Take care to use very a clear gesture with the thumb pointing upwards. A gesture looking like you are pointing to the ground may be mistaken for prostitution solicitation.

As a word of advice, if you are hitch-hiking through the Czech Republic from the south to the German town of Dresden, never go to or past Prague unless you are in a ride going all the way to Dresden. Prague itself has no major and continuous beltway, so residents of the area must maneuver a ring of major and local roads to get around the city from south to north. Therefore the great majority of traffic you will encounter is going into the city. Past Prague, the previously major highway turns into a two-lane mountain road through local villages, in which again, the great majority of traffic is local and international travelers are hesitant to stop.

Try a letter-sized (A4) piece of paper with the destination written on it so it is clearly visible where you would like to go.

By Train

Trains in Czech Republic are operated mostly by state-owned company České Dráhy (Czech Railways, ČD). At Praha–Ostrava line there are two new private operators Regiojet (a subsidiary of Student Agency) and Leo Express with very comfortable and modern trains comparable to European standards.

The trains go even to the most remote locations of the Czech Republic and unlike buses, they usually operate regularly during off-peak hours and during weekends. However, outside the modernized main corridors, the standard of travelling is often the same as it was in the 1970's, and therefore it is quite time consuming to get to the provincial towns or villages, the trains tending to meander around the countryside.

Train categories:

The following train categories are recognized and shown in timetables or departure boards:

  • Osobní (Os) - slow local trains, stop everywhere, usually operated by ČD
  • Spěšný (Sp) - faster than "osobní", usually skip little villages, operated by ČD
  • Rychlík (R) - fast trains, stop in major towns, commonly used trains for longer distances, operated by ČD
  • Expres (Ex) - faster and usually a bit cleaner kind of "Rychlík", operated by ČD
  • Intercity (IC) - fast trains coming up to European standards, currently only the RegioJet uses this category, with a compulsory seat reservation
  • LeoExpress (LE) - the LeoExpress has registered its own train category, with a compulsory seat reservation
  • Eurocity (EC) - international fast trains coming up to European standards, stop in major cities only, operated by ČD
  • Supercity or Pendolino (SC) - the fastest tilting trains between Prague and Ostrava, operated by ČD, with a compulsory seat reservation

Train tickets:

The normal train ticket price can be discouraging (roughly CZK 1.40 per km), but Czech Railways (ČD) offer plenty of discounts. Return ticket gives you a 5% discount, and a group of travellers (even two travellers are considered as a "group") is treated roughly as "first person pays full price, others pay half price". Therefore ask for "skupinová sleva" (group discount) and/or "zpáteční sleva" (return discount).

For journeys between larger cities you can buy a discounted ticket called Včasná jízdenka Česko, which is generally of the same price or even cheaper than bus. The earlier you buy it, the cheaper it is. The ticket isn't bound to particular train, only to a specific day and route. You'll buy it online (it is bound to your name and Passport/ID number) and print it yourself. You can buy these tickets directly at station counters too, but at least one day in advance.

The ČD e-shop offers also international e-tickets called Včasná jízdenka Evropa, which are often much cheaper (sometimes more than twice) than tickets purchased at a train station. However there are limitations: only major destinations are subject to this discount, tickets cannot be used to travel to the Czech Republic, but only for one-way or return trips starting in the Czech Republic, they must be stamped by Czech conductor, purchased at least 3 days in advance, bound to the specific train and passenger name, they are non refundable and you must print them before the journey on your own printer.

Regular travellers can use a ČD loyalty card, called In-karta IN25, for CZK 150 (3 months), CZK 550 (1 year) or CZK 990 (3 years). It offers a 25% discount for normal and return train tickets and 5–25% for the Včasná jízdenka Česko. Its price will pay for itself quickly. You have to fill in an application form at the ticket counter and provide a photograph. You will get a temporary paper card immediately and start using the discount. After three weeks you will get a plastic chip card.

Note that if you intend to travel on the RegioJet or Leo Express train, a special ticket is required. The ČD tickets and international tickets (including InterRail) are not valid on these trains. If you combine private and ČD trains, you have to buy two separate tickets. Both private companies offer a comprehensive e-shop and have ticket offices at major stations at Praha–Ostrava route. They have similar ticketing system to airlines, so the earlier you book the ticket, the cheaper it will be.

Travel tips:

There is an unofficial English page about Czech train travel tariff, but not quite up to date. And consider a calculator of domestic and international ticket prices. It uses same system as cash desks at train stations, so its interface can be a bit user-unfriendly for a newbie.

If you travel in a group on weekends, you can use a daily pass Skupinová víkendová jízdenka for unlimited travelling on Saturday or Sunday. It is valid for group up to 2 adults and 3 children. The pass is valid in all trains including EC, but in SC you need a compulsory reservation. The whole-network variant costs CZK 600 and regional variant costs CZK 200 to 275. Buying online and printing the ticket yourself gives you a small discount of 3% and you'll avoid the queue at the station.

Although many train stations were repaired and modernized, the rest is still like a trip back in time to the communist era. There is no need to be afraid but try to avoid them in the late night hours. Trains are generally safe (there are regular police guards assigned for fast trains) and very popular mean of transport and they are widely used both by students and commuters. Therefore especially the principal rail axis Praha–Pardubice–Olomouc–Ostrava is crowded during peak times (Friday and Sunday afternoon) and seat reservation is recommended.

Prague has a pretty good network of local trains connecting it with suburbs and surrounding cities called Esko (S-Bahn). The Prague public transport tickets (e.g. CZK 32 for 90 minutes) are valid on these trains (Os and Sp category) for travel within the area of Prague.

Taking bikes or pets on the train:

The basic ČD ticket for a bike costs CZK 25 for one train or CZK 50 for whole day. You load and unload your bike by yourself. Trains with such possibility are marked with a bike symbol in the timetable.

Some long-distance trains (with a suitcase symbol in timetable) have a luggage wagon, where the train staff will care of your bike, but the ticket costs CZK 30 for one train or CZK 60 for whole day.

Some trains (with square-framed bike or suitcase symbol in timetable) require compulsory reservation for bikes for CZK 15 at counter or CZK 100 at train staff.

Smaller pets in cages or bags may travel for free. Bigger dogs must have a muzzle and must be on a leash. Price is CZK 15 for one train or CZK 30 for the whole day.

No bikes or bigger dogs are permitted on private trains of RegioJet and LeoExpres.

By Bicycle

The Czech Republic is an excellent place for cycling. There are lots of pleasant country lanes, cycling marked paths and picturesque villages along these paths (always with a pub...), it's easy to find the way, and the trains have bicycle racks in the baggage section for when you get tired. Try cycling in South Moravia region (close to Austrian borders) where you can find dozens of well-marked paths that will lead you through beautiful countryside full of vineyards, vine cellars and colourful villages.

Also border mountains (Krkonoše, Šumava, Jeseníky etc.) are more and more popular among mountain-bikers. There are usually no fences along the trails but always keep to the roads or marked cycling paths here as these mountains are National Parks/Reserves and you can be fined if you cycle "off the beaten track".

On Foot

In addition to walking in the cities, there are a great number of hiking paths and scenery-rich trails going through the Czech Republic's forests and natural areas, and the Czech Tourist Club (Klub českých turistů) has mapped and marked these trails so that walkers can easily locate and navigate thousands of kilometres of scenic paths, in fact it is probably the best maintained system of marking in Europe. You can buy maps of their paths on their website, or in the Czech Republic in most bookstores, tobacco shops or museums (green maps, marked with the organization's symbol and the words EDICE TURISTICKÝCH MAP KČT 1:50000 at the top). These maps are based on military maps and very accurate. It's also possible to go by train to a small village at the edge of a forest and find the on-site map of the surrounding area, and four possible paths will be visible, marked in red, yellow, green, and blue nice tourist maps. Nearby such a map will be a set of directing signs, usually posted to a tree, pointing the initial direction on any of the coloured paths. The path's colour will be marked on trees throughout the path: three short horizontal bars, the outer two white and the innermost the colour of the path you're on. This symbol at times will appear as an arrow, indicating a turn. Bus and train stops will also be indicated on signs. You can also register to become a member of the Czech Tourist Club, where you can camp for 30–50 Kč a night in cottages around the Czech Republic.

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