While Prague is beautiful in the summer, the city is at its most idyllic in the winter. There is something classic about grey skies, snow-capped church domes, and the sprinkling of frost on the paths along the Vltava. Business and tourism slow down in the winter months, giving visitors the room to enjoy Prague without bachelor parties and backpackers.
January and February are the least busy months for tourism due to the bitter cold you may encounter in the Czech Republic. Hotels slash prices by 20 to 40 percent compared to peak season rates -- though travelers should avoid the Christmas and New Year’s period. Booking well in advance and checking the hotel website will often save you plenty of money. Hotels will post last-minute and seasonal rates especially when trying to fill rooms.
The Hotel Questenberk offers great value, with beautifully cozy rooms for just $61 per night in the low season, compared to $103 in July. The Questenberk is a luxurious boutique hotel in the UNESCO Word Heritage district called Hradčany, just a 15-minute walk from the city center.
If the low season is too cold for your tastes, an early spring visit may be more to your liking. The weather is starting to let up, the magnolia trees lining the streets have begun to flower, and the tourist season has not yet truly begun.
Paying the entrance fee to visit Prague Castle isn’t necessary unless you want to see something specific that must be paid for. The Prague Castle is less a castle, more a site of churches and buildings. Exploring the grounds is free and you’ll be able to see the noon Changing of the Guards, which is a unique experience. The views from the grounds are stunning. It’s the archetypal Prague scene: orange rooftops and church spires scattered around the city.
While it is often overshadowed by the Prague Castle, the 10th century neo-gothic castle Vyšehrad is also worth a visit. It’s home to the Rotunda of St. Martin, which is the oldest building in Prague and the burial ground of some of the most famous figures in Czech history. You can walk along the Vltava to get here and discover new places you won’t read about in any guidebooks.
Unfortunately, the most touristic areas of Prague are known for taking advantage of visitors, with restaurants, shops, and taxis being the major culprits. Sleeping and dining outside of the city center is sure to save you money, and Prague’s excellent metro and tram system make it even easier.
If you’re traveling to Prague on a budget, avoid staying in the main tourist zones and try to explore some of the city’s alternative neighbourhoods such as Vinohrady -- so-named due to its history as a vineyard district. It’s a growing community of expats so you’ll find plenty of apartments and Airbnb residences here along with excellent parks, an old market, and easy access to the center of the city.
Another up-and-coming neighbourhood is Holešovice, the former meatpacking district that has transformed into Prague’s artsy quarter. This is where the DOX Center for Contemporary Art can be found alongside great boutique shops, all within a short tram ride of the major sites.
For extra savings, offer to pay your hotel bill in cash. Small, independent hotels outside of the center often offer discounts to visitors who pay in cash. Be sure to call ahead and get any confirmation of this in writing. Always compare prices online before calling and ask the front desk staff what the best price they can offer you is. If you’re planning a long stay you’re bound to get a better rate.
Even before the advent of Airbnb, renting private apartments was a common way to get around the high costs of accommodation, especially when staying for more than a few days. By forgoing the perks of staying in a hotel, travelers pay less and get extra savings by having a kitchen and eating in.
Hostels in Prague are of a high quality. Following the hotel boom in the late 2000s, luxury hostels started springing up around the city. They offer the feel of a boutique hotel with rates that are competitive with hostels. Miss Sophie’s was rated one of the best boutique hostels in the world by The Guardian newspaper, and visitors can stay in a dorm bed for less than $20 a night in the low season, which includes an indulgent homemade breakfast.
Newly refurbished Art Deco hostel Mosaic House is centrally located near sites like Charles Square and the Church of Saints Cyril and Methodius. Rates are as low as $11 per night in the off season, though prices go up to $18 in the middle of July for a stay in a 26-bed dorm. The hostel is clean, chic, and offers free tours and activities to lodgers.
Another option for cheap lodging are family owned pensions which are common in the Czech Republic. They don’t offer the same services as hotels but these guesthouses are far more inviting and homey. If you don’t plan on spending too much time indoors, the Pension Prague City is the perfect place to stay on a budget. It is located in the center of the city with excellent bars and restaurants nearby. Rooms start at $38 per night, even in the high season.
One of the biggest advantages of a trip to Prague are the low prices that come with an excellent exchange rate. If you’re only in Prague for a short time, take a tram ride on the number 22 to get a local tour of all the major sites. The tram starts at Prague Castle and takes you past top locations like the National Theater and the Charles Bridge, and it even goes all the way out to the developing neighbourhood of Hostívar.
To see these sites, a 90-minute tram ticket is all you need. At 32Kc, or $1.43, it’s the perfect way to catch your first glimpse of the best sites and decide where you would like to go back to for a more in-depth view. Beware of pickpockets though; they tend to pick this tram to target tourists.
Prague has a full calendar of cultural events occurring throughout the year, but there is a special magic to Prague during the Christmas season. The festive period gets underway on December 5th, with St. Nicholas Eve where children dress up in scary costumes and play pranks on each other. The Prague Christmas Market opens up in the Old Town Square, selling mulled wine, inexpensive artisanal gifts, and plenty of food.
One of the most popular attractions is the famous Astronomical Clock, and it doesn’t cost anything -- provided you keep an eye on your wallet! Every hour the clock plays a cute show, and visitors gather around the watch it. This is another time where pickpockets seek out tourists who are paying more attention to the show then their wallets, so stay on high alert. To really get the most of it, head to the Old Town City Hall in the early morning. It’s stunning to watch the sunrise over the tower, and there will be almost no tourists to block your view.
Airbnb has hundreds of accommodations on offer, ranging from private rooms to entire homes. A private room near the city center will set you back only $26 per night -- less than a private room in a boutique hostel. While hostels are now equipped with kitchens for cooking, they don’t have the homey feel of Airbnb residences. Airbnb rentals also tend to be in parts of town where residents live, and you’ll be able to save money by going to farmer’s markets and local restaurants, cafes, and bars.
For those looking for a romantic city break, an entire apartment can be rented with a view of the Vltava River for just $44 per night. One of the most popular Airbnb accommodation is the Cozy room in Prague’s Old Town Center. It’s just a few minutes’ walk from the Charles Bridge and has had over 100 satisfied lodgers stay there.
© 2015 Hipmunk, Inc. Hipmunk is a trademark of Hipmunk, Inc.
© 2015 Hipmunk, Inc. Hipmunk is a trademark of Hipmunk, Inc.