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Learning a few dos and don'ts can improve your stay in Prague

With the tourist season moving along quickly, Think set out to make a key list of things tourist should know while traveling through the Czech capital. Prague really isn't a dangerous place; however, some precautions should be taken, just like in any big city.

We contacted some people in the tourism and hospitality industry to find some pointers and not only staying safe but getting the most out of your trip.

Customs:

1. If you can't speak Czech, that's fine. But it's good to know some key phrases. "Dobrý den" is a polite greeting for entering a store or restaurant and "na shledanou" is the way to politely say goodbye. The most common toast is "na zdraví," which many tourists mangle as "nádraží," meaning station. Especially outside of the center, people will appreciate the small effort.

2. Most people round to the nearest 10 Kč when tipping. When paying, just say how much you want to be charged. (Example: 85 Kč would be rounded to 90 Kč). If service is exceptional downtown, about 10 percent would be a good tip. 

3. People are expected to give up their seats on public transportation to the elderly. Some seats near a green-cross sticker are for the disabled. If someone shows you a stamped certificate, they are probably trying to tell you to get out of the seat.

4. Stay to right on escalators if you intend to stand still, as the left half is for people walking up or down.

Pilsner Urquell at Letná terása by Tobin (CC)Pilsner Urquell at Letná terása by Tobin (CC)

Food and drink

1. Smoking is permitted in some bars and restaurants. Each one should have a sign explaining whether the venue is smoking, nonsmoking or has separate rooms. Nonsmoking places are becoming more common, but are harder to find outside the center.

2. Try looking down side streets for restaurants or going one or two metro stops from the center. Neighborhood places often have better prices and nicer service than those in the most touristy areas.

3. Check menu prices before ordering. If it is not clear, ask whether it is in Czech crowns or euros. Beware of any welcome drinks or other unordered items. Also ask if there is a cover (couvert) charge.

4. Be careful ordering fish or anything sold by weight. A favorite trick is to give you a sardine and charge you as if it was Moby Dick. Confirm the price before you eat it, as once it is gone the restaurant can say whatever weight they can invent.

5. Count your change.

6. If you are in a group, keep track of how many beers you order. Billing for phantom beers is a popular trick.

7. Don't miss out on trying Czech gulaš or svíčková, along with a Czech beer of course. A neighborhood pub with outdoor seating will give you the best experience. Some neighborhood restaurants can be smoky inside.

8. The quality of food has gotten better in the last decade, but still lags behind that of major food capitals — although the prices can be the same. Once you have had enough gulaš and want to try something else, ethnic food restaurants are often a better value than upscale places.

9. Definitely try some microbrews while you're here. In recent years the number of small breweries has grown dramatically.

10. The Czech Republic has been developing amazing award-winning white and red wines in the past few years. Prague even has a number of urban vineyards. Wines from Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia are also good and fairly undiscovered.

Segway tours have gotten popular, but don't expect people to jump out of your way. Photo: FaceMePLS (CC)Segway tours have gotten popular, but don't expect people to jump out of your way. Photo: FaceMePLS (CC)

Going Out:

1. Some people come to Prague for stag parties and they tend to be rowdy and belligerent. If you're going out, respect the city and the people because you are a guest. Also, drinking while on the street is now illegal in some of the city center (due to noisy stag parties). Drinking at outdoor seating at a bar is still fine, but carrying an open beer or liquor bottle is no longer OK on many streets. Some have signs and some don't so it is best to avoid open carry. Loud singing and other noise is also illegal at night.

2. Organized pub crawls are a good place to meet other travelers, but also a good way to find trouble, especially if you are alone. Find out exactly where the crawl goes and how it ends. Some leave you far from the city center late at night. Most offer more alcohol than is sensible to drink. Losing a vacation day to a hangover isn't a good bargain, and losing your wallet and passport is a major pain.

3. There's always something going on in Prague whether it's free music or a festival, look these events up online on the Prague Post website, the City Hall portal (Praha.eu) or the Prague Information Service (www.praguewelcome.cz).

4. Some classical music venues have a dress code, usually stated on the ticket. It is a bit more lax in the summer, but sometimes shorts and a tank-top don't cut the grade.

5. Be certain what you are buying tickets to, especially if it is from a street vendor in front of a concert hall. Many classical shows in the summer, especially generic classical greatest hits played by unnamed musicians, are of poor quality. Organized festivals with specific acts are a safer bet.

Colored by the sun. Photo: Miroslav Petrasko (CC)Colored by the sun. Photo: Miroslav Petrasko (CC)

General:

1. Prague is so much more than just the city center. Visit the different areas of Prague and get lost in the winding streets. There are small lakes, local fairs, old churches, charming cemeteries and forested parks across the city. And lots of public art from the Baroque era up to modern times can be found even in the most remote areas.

2. If you're looking for a change of pace, watch the sunset from Vyšehrad, Strahov, Riegrovy sady or along the now-lively waterfront at Naplavka. Small relaxing moments are what make the trip worthwhile.

3. The Prague Zoo and the Fata Morgana tropical greenhouse, both near the Troja Chateau, are nice escapes from the city center.

Transportation:

1. Trams and metros are easiest and best way to navigate Prague. Tickets are available (look for the yellow automated machines) near most tram stops and inside all metro stops. You can also buy tickets at most of the little magazine stands and small food stores. You can buy tickets for 30 minutes, 90 minutes, one day or three days. Month long tickets can be purchased at station offices. You can buy a ticket on a bus (for an added fee) but not on trams.

2. Stamp your ticket in the small yellow pole-mounted box before getting on the metro or right as you enter the bus or tram. If you don't know how, watch someone. Ticket inspectors seldom cut much leeway. An unstamped ticket is not valid.

3. Always stamp a ticket for going to and from the airport on public transportation. It is the most-checked route.

4. Taxi drivers are known to rip off tourists. Have an idea how much it will cost you to get where you're going. Pricing should be according to the meter, but many meters are rigged. Ask the driver how much he thinks the trip will cost. If what he says is out of line, don't get in. Call one of the reputable firms like AAA Taxi (222 333 222) or the newcomer Tick-Tack (14 222).

5. The city has designated spots to get a standing taxi. These have signs guaranteeing a fair price. Avoid taxis at other locations and never hail a moving taxi.

6. There are night trams that run about every half and hour. The night routes are different than the day ones. If you plan on drinking past midnight, figure out the route home before you start. All the trams meet a central changeover point called Lazarská.

Street performer in Prague. Photo: Bill Hertha (CC)Street performer in Prague. Photo: Bill Hertha (CC)

Safety:

1. Watch out for pickpockets in crowded tourist areas, especially near street performers. Watch your purse and pockets on crowded trams. Tram 22 is a notorious place for pickpockets. Catching people in tram doors is a favorite trick, as is jostling the crowd near the Astronomical Clock Tower.

2. Beware of people coming up to you with strange questions who are trying to make physical contact while they talk. It is often a pickpocket trying to find your wallet.

3. Pickpockets work in teams. Calling loudly for police will usually make them leave, but they can get violent when confronted.

4. Beware of any scam that has you show your wallet to prove something, like you don't have counterfeit money, or any scam that involves handing over your passport for inspection.

5. Don't change money on the street. It is illegal and you will often get invalid money. Exchange money at a well-known bank, or go to reputable exchange booth. Always find out exactly how much money you will get BEFORE you hand over your bills. Don't accept "like it is written" or "what the sign says" as answers. The sign often has an asterisk and a bunch of exceptions written in Czech. Get an exact figure. The signs usually are for large transactions or for the reverse rate.

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