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After the demise of communism, the beautiful capital of the Czech Republic has once again become a vibrant city that attracts many tourists. The medieval centre is strewn with sphere-shaped towers and spires. Along the Karel bridge there is an impressive array of statues of saints, and on the other side there is the cosy baroque area of Malá Strana and on the hill behind it there is a castle.
After the fall of communism the population of Prague decreased. The introduction of the free market economy led to a rise in the costs of living and a fall in the nation's birth rate. The housing market in Prague is also very tight. The city now has about 1.3 million inhabitants.
Prague is located on the river Moldau, which in Czechoslovakian is called Vltava. The two parts of the city on both banks are connected by many bridges. Many people think Prague is in Eastern Europe, but in fact it is located in Central Europe, at a little over 700 kilometres from Amsterdam, 250 kilometres from Vienna and 280 kilometres from Berlin.
In communist times Prague was a centre of (heavy) industry. Industry still plays an important role in the local economy: cars, machines and metalwork, as well as chemical companies and food industry. Since the introduction of the free market economy, the city has developed rapidly as a commercial and financial centre in Eastern Europe. During communism there was hardly a service sector, but now it is responsible for a large part of the economy.
In addition, the city is a centre of government, there are many educational institutions and Prague attracts millions of tourists each year, providing a boost to the entertainment sector.
The international Ruzyne Airport is located 20 kilometres to the north-west of the city centre. Since the fall of communism, the number of flights has increased dramatically, among other things due to the arrival of budget airline companies.
There is a shuttle service with minivans from the company Cedaz between the airport and námestí Republiky. The minivans make a stop at Dejvická metro station. City bus 119 also goes to that station. By car, all you need to do to get to the city centre is to follow the Evropská Boulevard.
The city has an extensive public transport network, consisting of metros, trams and buses, and a cable train to the top of the Petrin hill. Within the time indicated, you can use a single ticket on all forms of public transport. You can also buy 3, 7 or 15 day tickets. Public transport tickets can be purchased at metro stations, tobacconists and newspaper stands (trafika). The tickets need to be stamped as soon as you board. At night, there are a few night trams and buses every half an hour.
In addition, there are many taxis, although a warning is in order here. Never catch a waiting cab in Prague, but ask a hotel or restaurant to order you one. Agree on a price with the cab driver and ask him for a receipt. That way you can be sure he uses his meter.
Pickpockets are especially active in the metro. They also operate on the Wenceslas square, the Old City square, the Karel bridge and in the shopping centres.
The best way to explore the old centre of Prague is on foot. Traffic can be very busy and many streets are one-way only. Rental cars are very suitable for trips in the area around Prague. In recent years the roads have been improved enormously, but do not (yet) expect motorways like in Western Europe.
In the city centre there are various parking zones (orange, green and blue). The blue zones are reserved for residents, so do not park there. In the orange and green zones you can park for 2 and 6 hours respectively, after putting money in the coin machines. If you park too long on in the wrong spot, chances are your car will be clamped and you will need to pay a hefty fine before having the clamp removed.
Car break-ins are pretty common in Prague. So it is better to park your car in a guarded car park, like the one near the main station Wilsonova, the Masaryk train station or on the Malostranské námestí. There are also parking areas near the metro stations along the major entry roads, but they are unguarded, on the námestí Jana Palacha near the Old City square there is an underground car park.
Prague is the economic, cultural and tourist centre of the Czech Republic. In recent years the number of accommodations has grown enormously, and the service level is much better than it was right after the fall of communism. Some historical buildings in the centre have been beautifully restored by luxurious international hotel chains. This means there is a wide range of hotels on offer, although that does not mean Prague is cheap, especially not during peak season between May and October. To pay the best price for a room it is imperative that you book in advance, preferably at least 3 months in advance.
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