Despite its reputation as an inexpensive destination, prices in Prague are not as cheap as they used to be. The collapse of the dollar coupled with the strengthening of the Czech crown has only made things pricier for traveling Americans. In 2002, one US dollar could buy you forty Czech crowns (koruna); today the exchange rate for the dollar is hovering at about half of that rate. The dollar may not get you as far as it used to, but if you plan smartly and carefully, it is still possible to get some bargains in the City of 1,000 Spires.
Let’s start with accommodation. Hotel costs have skyrocketed in the wake of Prague’s tourism boom. There are legends of a time where you could get a bed for $10 a night, but those days are as long gone as Communism. Most standard hotels in the center will set you back at least 100 euros a night in high season. It is possible to hunt around for pensions and hostels that cost a bit less, but these can be a bit of a crap shoot – some are quite lovely and clean, others not so much. For the traveler who wishes to stay for more than a week, the best bet is to rent an apartment. It is less than a hotel and most agencies have discounted prices for longer stays. There’s also more room and amenities (a small kitchen including a stove and fridge, for example) and are often more centrally located. It is quite possible to pay about 60 euros a night for a small apartment that is smack in the middle of Prague’s Old Town.
Once you have the self-catering apartment with a kitchen, this makes it easier to save money on food. Restaurant prices in the center have risen so dramatically that most Czechs now shun them completely. Buying fresh food from a local supermarket is a good way to avoid the 300-500 crown entrée meal at the some of the more touristy restaurants. And while sampling the native food is one of the essential experiences of any trip abroad, you can splurge on some traditional Czech meat and dumplings a few times during your stay without feeling guilty because the previous night you enjoyed a self-catered, cheaper meal on the terrace of your apartment. However, if you don’t want to cook while still eating cheaply, the sausage vendors in Wenceslas Square can be a good way to eat authentic Czech food on a budget. They offer several varieties of klobasa and parek sausages for less than 100 crowns. (But try to pay in exact change if possible. As it is in a big tourist location, sometimes the vendors are less than scrupulous and may try to rip you off by not giving the correct amount of change back.) One final way to eat on the cheap is to always order beer as the beverage. The low price of beer is one reason that Prague’s reputation as a budget city has not completely evaporated yet. Beer is still cheap and plentiful as the Czechs are world-famous for their record per capita beer consumption. It usually costs less than water and the serving size is bigger than any of the soft drinks on offer.
Once you have properly digested the heavy Czech food and Pilsner beer, Prague is a great city for walking. Most of its attractions can be reached on foot if you are located in the center. But if you ate too many dumplings to be able to climb the many steps to its beautiful castle and cathedral, the impressive transport system can get you anywhere you need to go. It is possible to buy a multi-day pass that offers a discount on standard ticket prices, if you know that you will be using the trams, metro and buses often enough. You can also purchase the Prague card for about 1200 crowns (less if you’re a student), which will not only cover transportation costs, but also give you free entry into many of its attractions for 72 hours.
There are some very lovely towns just outside the city as well and you will see tourist agencies offering to take you there for several hundred crowns. What they don’t tell you is that train tickets cost a mere fraction of that. The trains are efficient and you can find timetable information and prices on their website , which is also available in English. The towns of Kutna Hora and its famous bone church and Karlstejn with its Cinderella castle are among the most popular and can be reached in about an hour for less than a hundred crowns round trip.
So while Prague may no longer deserve its fame as the budget capital of Europe, its other attractions do not disappoint. The sights (castles, cathedrals and old Jewish cemeteries) and sounds (Mozart and Dvorak concerts at night) of this Bohemian jewel are well worth any additional expense.