Prague City Profile
For visitors, expatriates and the people who live there, not a day goes by in Prague where some glimpse of its magnificence doesn’t grab you.
Without question, Prague stands as one of the most beautiful cities in all of Europe. Centered in the western half of the Czech Republic known as Bohemia, with a population of 1.4 million and an unemployment rate in the negative, Prague attracts more tourists than any other city in Eastern Europe.
Since 1989, Prague can account for as many as 77 million tourists annually. In the peak of the tourist season, May through August, it may seem that in the middle of the city you hear people speaking more English or German than Czech. But persevere a little off the beaten track and you will always find the quiet cafe, a square, or a neighborhood pub where the tourists following their guide books never dare to venture.
Prague’s popularity is a result of several factors: its architectural grandeur, natural beauty, rich history, and location in the geographical center of the European continent. The fact that it survived World War II and that it serves as the capital of the Czech Republic are also important considerations. Expatriates flock to Prague for all of these reasons and a few more. The cost of living, especially when compared to the West, is definitely lower, but keep in mind that as the country opens up to the world market, prices respond accordingly, especially where rents are concerned.
The Czechs are usually tolerant of expatriates who come to live and play in their capital city, especially if those foreigners show an effort at the language and an interest in the local culture. Westerners, usually Americans or Canadians, have opened bars, restaurants, and night clubs in the city which cater to both Czechs and foreigners, although most Czechs find these places prohibitively expensive to patronize on a regular basis.
Due to the high concentration of expatriates in the city, your chances of finding your niche through contacts are much greater than in less-developed centers. All year long, Prague hosts both local and international festivals of film, music, and the arts.
More and more, any European cultural exhibition or tour inevitably finds its way to Prague.
Prague’s climate is moderate. Winters are worse for their constant greyness than for their cold temperatures. Spring and summer are inspirational to say the least, and even though Prague is no exception to the general rule that the air in Central Europe is polluted, on a positive note, it’s at its worst in the winter because of the burning coal, but the red sunsets and golden glow of the city at night almost make up for it.
With the Vlatva river twisting its way through the middle of the city, Prague Castle presiding above it on a hill, and the old town square just a ten minute jaunt away, Prague strikes an uncanny storybook pose. Stare mesto (Old Town), Nove mesto (New Town), Mala Strana, and Hradcany are all fascinating, labyrinthine neighborhoods best seen on foot. Starting from Old Town, head across the Charles Bridge (built in the 14th century) to Mala Strana, and up the hill to the Prague Castle. Here you will find museums and the 14th-century St. Vitus Cathedral, as well as President Havel’s offices. Vaclavske namesti (Wenceslas Square) is located in Nove mesto. This enormous city square was the site of political demonstrations during both the Prague Spring of 1968 and the Velvet Revolution of 1989. Josefov is Prague’s Jewish neighborhood. The area contains five synagogues, including the Old-New Synagogue (built in 1270), and the Old Jewish Cemetery. Vysehrad is an ancient fortress that predates the Prague Castle as the seat of Czech government. Worth seeing are the Slavin Cemetery (where many famous Czechs, including Capek, Dvorak, and Smetana are buried), and the Rotunda of St. Martin. This is also a good vantage point from which to look out over the beautiful city.
All in all, Prague is a magical place, and nearly everyone who has lived or visited there will vouch for its alluring qualities.