In the latter half of my sophomore year of college, I was in the midst of preparing for my first trip to Europe. I was heading to England to study abroad for a semester, and was already filling my upcoming breaks with planned trips to visit relatives in Paris and Zurich as well as a much-anticipated outing to Prague for four days with my Swiss cousin. A college girlfriend who had visited Prague on a summer trip during high school heard my excitement about seeing the city, and immediately attempted to dampen my enthusiasm.
“Prague is cold,” she said. And she didn’t just mean the weather.
She had visited during the summer, but since she had been there when the city was still under Soviet rule, she said it just felt unfriendly, foreboding, and cold. Sure, Prague was cheap back then for her and her classmates, and they all came home with loads of pretty souvenirs and gifts for family and friends, but she said she wouldn’t be eager to go back.
As I walked around Prague that September with my cousin, I thought about what my friend had said – and sent her a postcard telling her she had to return to the city someday. When I visited, a non-Soviet Czechoslovakia was less than a year old and the city seemed like it was basking in its newfound freedom. The city squares were bustling with life, and the famous Charles Bridge was crammed each day with artists and vendors – and then crammed each night with buskers and musicians.
Best of all, Prague was still dirt cheap.
When I finally returned for a second visit to Prague, it was in a different country (the Czech Republic) and the Old Town was virtually overrun with tourists. On one hand, I was pleased so many people were discovering the beauty of the city. And on the other hand, I lamented that the days of Prague being the off-the-beaten-path and cheap travel destination it had been.
So does that mean it’s no longer worth visiting Prague? Absolutely not. It does, however, mean you’ve got to be a bit more clever about how you visit so that you avoid both the high tourist season and the higher prices. Here are my tips to help you enjoy Prague on a budget – and to help you enjoy Prague at all.
When to Visit Prague
Although the Czech Republic is still considered part of Central or Eastern Europe, Prague now has a high season and low season for tourism that is basically like most of Western Europe. In other words, the summer season is when you’ll find the biggest crowds and the highest prices. Prague’s high season is generally said to be June through August, but as the city grows in popularity that peak season is stretching in both directions – making May and September more crowded and expensive than they were even a few short years ago.
Weather-wise, the summers are when you’ll get the warmest temperatures – in recent years, highs have been in the upper 90s and above. But there’s still plenty of nice weather in May and September (which is why they’re starting to become part of the high season now, of course). And if you want to try to steer clear of the crowds even more, book your trip for April or October – and just pack a light raincoat or umbrella. You won’t have to deal with the cold winter that way, but you’ll also avoid the worst of the crowds (as well as the worst of the high season prices).
Budget Travel Tips for Prague
Even if you plan ahead and visit Prague outside the high season, you could still be surprised by the costs of a Prague vacation. Yes, the city remains cheaper overall to visit than cities like Paris or Rome or London, but the difference isn’t as great as it once was. Not only that, some hotels consider April-June and September-October “high season” in terms of how much they charge per night, so even if you’re missing the peak of summer you might not be avoiding the highest hotel prices.
With that in mind, saving money on your accommodation in Prague is even more important – and luckily, it’s actually not too hard if you stay in hostels or book another kind of budget bed.
Sleeping Cheap in Prague
After airfare, accommodation is typically your biggest travel expense. The good news for budget travelers is that Prague is full of cheap places to sleep. The most obvious ones are the hostels in Prague (and there are many to choose from), but Prague also has other options.
You can rent an entire apartment if you like (an excellent option if you’re traveling with a few friends or have your kids with you), often for very cheap rates. There are also “pension” or “residence” lodging options, which vary from being guest-house style (a few rooms rented out in a private home or apartment) to small apartments rented out in their entirety. Prague has some budget hotels, too, although their prices have risen steadily over the past decade so that they’re not always the bargain they used to be.
Some of the best budget accommodation options in Prague are the hostels, though, and these hostels in particular get high marks:
- Hostel Elf – The party hostel in Prague, it’s close to the city’s train and bus stations in the Zizkov neighborhood and has an on-site bar, free breakfast, and free linens.
- Miss Sophie’s – Located near Wenceslas Square and within walking distance of the Old Town Square, this modern hostel has a nice terrace, guest kitchen, and internet access available.
- Sir Toby’s Hostel – This is definitely a social hotspot, although not totally party central; there’s an on-site bar, a garden for BBQs, regular movie nights, and a pillow-laden reading room.
photo by: Ville Miettinen