Budget Travel

Prague for penny-pinchers: steps to make your city break even cheaper

Prague has long held an identity like a prime budget city getaway – and although the days of gasp-inducing affordable prices are gone, the Czech capital won't punish your bank account the way in which many other European destinations can.

Its good value is partly right down to the affordability of some key ingredients to some good holiday – namely public transport, food and beer. It also never hurts that the city's medieval center is similar to a free-wheeling open-air gallery, where Gothic grandeur, surprising street art and ancient bloom-filled gardens can be admired for free.

Still, it's useful to possess a few money-saving ideas to hand if you want to stay with a budget. Here are a few methods to reduce your costs when visiting Prague.

Flying is often the cheapest method to reach Prague

Most major European airports, plus some smaller regional ones, have regular low-cost flights to Prague. Book well ahead to find the best deals, and become aware some routes don't operate in winter. For anyone who is connecting through a European capital, do some research before booking an onward low-frills flight from an airport on the other hand of the city, because the transfer costs could negate any savings on airfare.

Flying generally calculates to become cheaper than rail. That said, if you want to gorge on panoramic views and consume a couple of different cities on the way, it's worth investigating train tickets; a single seat from Brussels to Prague can be had as little as EUR35 ($40).

Travel from the airport to central Prague for less than $2

Prague's public transport product is safe, reliable and an excellent value. Using the network to visit from the airport to central Prague takes around 50 minutes, and even though there's a bus-metro transfer required, the trip is only 40Kc ($1.80). You can buy tickets at the visitor-information office or from machines in the terminals. (Make sure to look at your bank's charges before making use of your credit or debit card abroad.)

Visit during winter for half-price accommodation

Other than festive December, winter in Prague is a cold, quiet season. This tranquility not only means fewer people drifting into your photos but also substantial savings on accommodations, with some hotel rates dropping to 1 / 2 of their August peaks. Obviously, these winter deals come with a trade-off: the shorter days and freezing temperatures allow it to be harder to relish the city's free yet primarily outdoor diversions. A potential option would be to invest in a hardy winter wardrobe and plan for the odd stop at a warming beer cellar or cafe.

Stay outside the center

Whatever the growing season, you will find tempting accommodation prices by booking a minimum of a couple of months ahead by looking beyond Prague's cobblestone center. The districts of Karlín and Holesovice are very well served by trams and the metro, as well as their colorful mansion blocks house a choice of unfussy holiday apartments and sociable hostels. Remaining in either neighborhood means being close with a vibrant nightlife with no risk of stumbling into a tourist trap.

Backing onto Nové Město (New Town), leafy Vinohrady may be probably the most desirable (and expensive) addresses for locals and expats, though it also offers its fair share of spick-and-span, budget-friendly holiday stays. Hostel One Míru offers its guests free city tours and serves up complimentary family-style dinners.

Figure out which transport ticket works for you

Public-transport tickets last 30 or 90 minutes, with one- and three-day passes available as well. Once validated, all permit you to switch between metros, trams, buses and ferries inside the allotted timeframe. One- and three-day passes likewise incorporate the Petrín funicular railway, which otherwise costs 60Kc ($2.70)

It's worth checking the various prices and making some rough itinerary-based calculations to maximize good value; whichever ticket you select, you're guaranteed a great deal. Bear in mind that the knotted lanes of Staré Město (Old Town) and Malá Strana (Little Quarter) are compact and therefore are fun to understand more about by walking.

Take a walk

Pack a pair of your most practical shoes and obtain to understand Prague at the walk out – free of charge. Should you prefer a little help having your bearings, you can book walking tours that run on the tips-only basis. Prague Extravaganza will lead you beyond the elegant art nouveau facades and fairy-tale Gothic towers of Prague's Old Town and Jewish Quarter. Their knowledgeable guides also host regular strolls over Charles Bridge and up to the free-to-enter complex of courtyards and gardens within Prague Castle.

Hunt down lunch specials

The trend for weekday lunch specials sprung up in response to many of Prague's workers in offices receiving food vouchers an employee benefit. Thankfully, you don't need to be wearing business attire to take benefit of the discounted meals. Instead, look out for that short denní menu (daily menu) offered by many restaurants between 11:30 -14:00, on which a soup is about 50Kc ($2.30) and a small main is 110 -140Kc ($5 -6.50).

Eat Vietnamese

Prague's sizable Vietnamese community means you're never too much from an authentic and good-value bowl of pho. Visit Ph Bar on Národní or squeeze into the standing-room-only Pho Vietnam Tuan & Lan in Vinohrady to test some of the city's best noodle-laced soups. In addition to comforting broths, Bao Bao serves affordable bao buns and generous mains. Deli Viet, off Wenceslas Square, has fast service and filling portions.

Drink local beer

The Czechs produce some of the world's best beer, served up at equally world-beating prices. Pilsner Urquell, Budvar, Gambrinus and Kozel are popular brews, and a hefty 500ml tanker of those local lagers well set you back around 50Kc ($2.30) inside a city center pub. For more reasonable prices, go to the outlying districts: student-filled Zizkov has a well-earned track record of delivering an inexpensive and raucous evening out.

Bring a picnic blanket

Despite many Czech restaurants' generally excellent value, you may still save a few korunas by packing an open-air picnic. Look out for branches of Albert, Billa or Tesco supermarkets for reasonably priced provisions. Alternatively, treat your senses having a trip to a farmers market. On Saturday mornings, there's seasonal fruit, hunks of fresh bread, jams, honey, and all sorts of manner of pastries at Naplavka; it's also worth browsing Jirího z Poděbrad Farmers Market on Wednesdays to Saturdays. Bring your spoils towards the grassy slope at Riegrovy sady and dine while surveying the spire-filled skyline.

If cobbling together your own feast sounds like an inconvenience, get a chlebícek. These traditional open-faced sandwiches are the ultimate inexpensive Czech fast food. The versions sold by Sisters Bistro and Ovocn'y Světozor count the lunchtime queues. Alternatively, the most popular butcher's shop Nase Maso sells meatloaf sandwiches and cooked sausages with homemade mustard for under 100Kc ($4.50).

Pick your attractions wisely

Prague City Pass and Prague CoolPass both promise free and discounted admittance to some key museums in addition to sightseeing tours. While you can argue about which offers the very best value, neither provides great returns if you don't strive to cram most of the included attractions to your itinerary.

Free museums in Prague are rare (using the notable exceptions from the National Memorial towards the Heroes of the Heydrich Terror and many visiting exhibitions at Galerie Rudolfinum). Many offer excellent value, though, particularly the large-scale national institutions. So, where a ticket to a small, private museum can cost around 300Kc ($14), entry to the vast collections at the National Museum is 200Kc ($9), and kids under 15 are free. If you are under 26, you are able to enter the dazzling permanent exhibitions at the National Gallery of Prague without charge (simply have your ID to exhibit).

Daily Costs

Hostel dorm room: 450 -900Kc ($18 -40)
Basic room for 2: 1100 -2200Kc ($50 -100)
Self-catering apartment (including Airbnb): from 1,400Kc ($60)
Trains and buses ticket: 30Kc for Half an hour ($1.4), 330Kc for any 3-day pass ($15)
Coffee: 60Kc ($2.70)
Traditional open-faced sandwich (chlebícek): 40Kc ($1.80)
Dinner for two in a traditional Czech restaurant: 400 -1200Kc ($18 -$55)
500ml glass of Pilsner Urquell beer in a pub: 40 -60Kc ($1.80 -2.70)

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