Before you visit the Czech Republic, learn a bit about the history, religion, geography, climate, and local traditions so you can be fully prepared for your journey abroad. Within this article, we provide the best overview of the Czech Republic, plus some first-hand travel tips along the way!
Welcome aboard to our Globally Educated Series where we focus on one nation at a time to give you the most comprehensive overview of each country before embarking on your journey. We look forward to helping you prepare for your trip to the Czech Republic - so let's get started!
Imagine it: Packed with history, UNESCO-designated sites, some 2,000 castles, and charming cities like Prague (featured in the photo above) and Brno, the Czech Republic is one of the top countries to visit in Europe right now. Step into its picturesque world, and you’ll quickly long to stay. Here’s what to know before traveling to the Czech Republic.
Brief History of the Czech Republic
Kick off your Czech Republic knowledge with a little backstory on its history. Don’t worry, we’ll keep it brief.
From about 400 BC the land was inhabited by a Celtic race. The Romans called them the Boii and they gave their name to Bohemia. Flash forward to roughly 100 AD and a Germanic people called the Marcomanni conquered the area. The Romans traded with the Marcomanni, occasionally fought with them, but never conquered their land.
The Germanic tribes were later replaced with Slavic people who entered the land in the 6th century. During this time, they were more so a collection of tribes and not a single, united front.
Once we get to the 9th century, a people called the Moravians created an empire in Central Europe. It was called the Great Moravian Empire and it included the modern-day Czech Republic, Slovakia, and parts of Germany and Poland. It was during this time, too, that Christian missionaries began to spread across the land.
The stronghold of the Moravian Empire reached its peak in the later part of the 9th century. Then, in 896, a group from the east called Magyars invaded. They conquered Slovakia but the Czech side remained independent.
The 14th century is referred to as the Golden Age for the Czechs. This is thanks to the reign of Charles IV Bohemia. The Holy Roman Empire ruled over the land for many years until the 1800s when the Austrians and the Habsburg Empire took hold.
The industry sector grew rapidly in the 19th century, particularly in the textile, sugar, and iron industries. It was also a time of arts and culture. The great Czech composer Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904) wrote concertos, symphonies, and operas during many of these years.
WWI & WWII
The defeat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in World War I cleared the way for the foundation of an independent state of Czechoslovakia, which was founded on October 28, 1918. Before Czechoslovakia, the area was called The Bohemian Kingdom.
The Munich Agreement took Czechoslovakia for a turn. In Munich, Great Britain, France, and Italy made an alliance to sacrifice the state of Czechoslovakia, allowing Hitler to annex certain parts of the country.
After the end of World War II, the restored republic became part of the Soviet sphere of power. From the 1948 Czechoslovak coup d'état to the Velvet Revolution in 1989, Czechoslovakia was ruled by the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia.
This so-called Velvet Revolution ended Czechoslovakia’s Communist dictatorship in 1989. Finally, the Czech Republic became independent from Slovakia in 1993.
Languages in the Czech Republic
Ahoj! That’s a simple way to say “hello” in Czech, the official language of the Czech Republic. The origins of the Czech language trace back to the 9th and 10th centuries when both Czech and Slovak branched from the West Slavic language group. Now it’s spoken by the vast majority, about 96% of the population.
As a West Slavic language, it has similarities to Polish, Russian, and Croatian. And it actually ranks among the most complicated languages in the world!
So, just how widely spoken is English in the Czech Republic? While Czech is the dominant language, you can also hear Czech, Polish, Russian, Ukrainian, or even Vietnamese as these are the languages of the country’s largest minorities. While native English speakers don’t make-up one of its largest minorities, the language is relatively well-spoken in cities across the Czech Republic.
According to recent data, some 45 percent of the population can communicate in some level of English. Within that, 1 in 10 people speak English at a minimum and only 14 percent at a basic level. So, when traveling in the Czech Republic, it’s important to keep in mind that every person you meet might not speak English or speak it naturally. Be patient and understanding, and communication will come.
How widely spoken is English in Prague? Overall, you will be able to get by speaking only English in Prague. The city is cosmopolitan and touristy enough that hospitality staff are able to accommodate visitors comfortably. Now if you try strolling into a tailor shop, for example, or some other localized service, you may struggle to communicate.
Before you travel to the Czech Republic, know some handy Czech words and phrases. This language guide is a fantastic starting point when preparing for your trip!
Demographics of the Czech Republic
While many European countries have a slowly declining population, the same can’t be said for the Czech Republic. In fact, it is one of the few countries in Europe that has a growing population. The country is currently growing at a rate of 0.18%.
Recent data shows the diversity of the Czech Republic. Most of the population, about 83.8% is Czech, followed by Moravian ethnicity 5.0% and Silesian ethnicity 0.2%. Of the minority ethnicities, Slovak (1.3%), Ukrainian (1.1%), and Vietnamese (0.4%) are the largest.
While the largest international population resides in Prague, the city and country as a whole are still quite homogenous. The main non-white minorities are the Roma and the Vietnamese.
Czech Cities & Locations
The Czech Republic is filled with some of Europe’s most incredible cities. From offering world-class museums, architecture from empires past, and unique experiences, Czech cities are certainly worth Czechin’ out. Here are some cities to know before you visit the Czech Republic.
If you’ve only ever heard of one Czech city, it’s probably this one. No shame, though. This city is spectacular and deserves all the praise it receives. The country’s capital is coined “the city of a hundred spires”, which is plain to see upon any view of its skyline. In fact, 100 spires aren’t quite cutting it. Estimates range the number of spires, towers, turrets, and steeples in Prague to somewhere around 500 to 1,000.
People come to Prague to take in its medieval “fairytale” ambiance, dreamy red roofs, and wintertime vibrance. With Prague Castle, the world's largest castle complex, and one of Europe's oldest bridges that dates back to the 1300s, Prague is home to a host of attractions, including the world's oldest astronomical clock still in operation.
The Czech Republic's second-largest city is located in the south of the country, nestled near the border with Austria. It is known as a university and cultural hub, home to the Špilberk Castle and fortress, which sits on a hilltop and once served as a prison for the Austrian Empire. It boasts just one UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Villa Tugendhat, celebrated for its modernist architecture. While Brno isn’t one of the most touristic destinations in the Czech Republic, it’s still a fantastic place to visit or live.
Located near the border with Poland, Ostrava is Czech Republic’s long-standing industrial city. For centuries, it was the main, urban coal-mining area in the country, but many things have changed since then. Now only a few industrial sites adorn the streets of Ostrava, and they are now considered historical heritage. The Lower Vítkovice area is home to the city's most significant industrial architecture, and it’s a popular part of Ostrava to explore.
Nonetheless, as the Czech Republic's third largest city, it is full of other unique museums, delicious restaurants, the lovely Silesian Ostrava Castle, and a charming city center packed full of history. It’s well worth a visit to see another look at city life in the Czech Republic and is a great stopover en route to Poland.
#4 Český Krumlov
While it’s not one of the country’s largest cities – in fact, it’s not a city at all – it is one of the most stunning places to visit in the Czech Republic. Český Krumlov is one of the most popular day trips or weekend getaways for visitors to Prague.
It’s like Prague in miniature, packed full of old-world charm. A UNESCO World Heritage city center, a dreamy castle, and a number of medieval buildings with facades covered in original frescoes are just a few of the things to see on a visit to Český Krumlov.
Geography of the Czech Republic
Before you visit the Czech Republic, you’ll want to get a rough idea of its geography. It’s important to know where you are in the world, and with several countries bordering the Czech Republic, it's not always easy!
First things first. The Czech Republic is located in Central Europe. It’s bordered by Poland to the north and northeast, Slovakia to the east, Austria to the south, and Germany to the west and northwest. The country actually has a fantastic location for exploring much of Europe!
Traveling to the Czech Republic, there is much to appreciate about its landscape. While dominated by hills and surrounding mountains, the Czech Republic is still full of winding rivers and natural lakes while serving as a fantastic base for exploring some of Europe’s mountain ranges. These include the Carpathian, Ore, Sudetic, and the Šumavarva Mountains (or the Bohemian Forest).
The country’s highest point is Mount Sněžka in the rolling Sudetic Mountains. There, it rises to 5,259 ft. near the border with Poland.
What is the climate like in the Czech Republic?
This country has many advantages of visiting throughout the year! The Czech Republic has a typically European continental climate with cold, snowy winters and warm, occasionally wet, summers.
Winters (November to February) can get very cold, with January being the coldest month. Daytime temperatures fall below zero along with strong, cold winds. Snowfall can be heavy and frequent, but the mountainous areas will see far more snow.
Summer temperatures average between 68°F (20°C) and 77°F (25°C) but often reach as high as 86°F (30°C). Summers are sunny, but rain and thunderstorms are common.
As you will probably visit Prague on a trip to the Czech Republic, keep its average temperatures in mind. The country’s capital experiences average temperatures ranging from 25°F (-4°C) during winter and 73°F (23°C) during summer.
Religion in the Czech Republic
While on a walking tour through cities like Prague, you may find your guide expressing about Czechs and their religion – or rather, their lack thereof. Be ahead of the game and know these statistics on religion in the Czech Republic.
About 7 out of 10 Czechs (72%) do not identify with any religious group. This percentage includes 46% who describe their religion as “nothing in particular” and an additional 25% who say “atheist” describes their religious identity.
As such, you’ll hear some Czechs proclaim that they are the most atheist country in Europe. While it’s hard to be exact with these statistics, the country is certainly up there, falling above Estonia (another one of Europe’s most non-religious countries).
So while most Czechs might not be heading to church every Sunday morning, religion still has its place in many households. Some 21% are Catholic, and the remaining percentages align with another branch of Christianity. Visitors can also find Buddhist temples, mosques, and other places of worship in the country.
Economy & Major Exports in the Czech Republic
When it comes to the economy, the Czech Republic is doing pretty well. The Czech Republic’s economic freedom score ranks the country 14th among 45 countries in the European region, and its overall score is above world averages.
The country has come a long way from its Czechoslovakia days. With the so-called Velvet Revolution of 1989, Czechoslovakia freed itself of communist constraint and set out to adapt its economy to the free market in Europe. As a result, Czechs – at large – enjoy a standard of living higher than most other former communist countries. Nonetheless, employment rates and standards of living vary by region.
As for exports, the most valuable exported products are cars, computers, automobile parts/accessories, phone devices, insulated wire or cable, lower-voltage switches or fuses, miscellaneous toys, seats, electrical energy, and medication mixes in dosages. Those top Czech products represent more than two-thirds of all exports.
What is the Czech Republic known for?
While not an exceptionally large country within Europe, the Czech Republic still makes its presence known. Before you visit Prague and beyond, here are a few things Czechs and the Czech Republic are known for.
Many Central and Eastern European countries are avid beer drinkers, but Czechs truly excel. They are, year after year, the world’s biggest beer drinkers. Every year, Japanese brewery Kirin releases an annual report on global beer consumption by country, per capita, through Kirin Beer University. Every year since 1993, the Czech Republic has led all countries in beer consumption. It’s surely no coincidence that the Czech Republic became an official country in 1993 either.
So when you visit Prague and travel further into the Czech Republic, be sure to stop at a pub or two. Try the original Budweiser, Pilsner Urquell, and if you like darker beer, Kozel Černý is one of the best beers in the Czech Republic!
Per square kilometer, the Czech Republic is claimed to have the most castles in Europe. Are you surprised? With that number somewhere around 2,000, the country is impressively packed with castles.
This country was for a very long part of the Austrian Habsburg Empire, one of the biggest and most powerful countries of its time. This resulted in the construction of castle after castle. Now, the Czech Republic is celebrated as the ‘Castle Capital of the World.’
Oldest functioning astronomical clock
The Czech Republic has many claims to fame, and another one is its legendary clock tower in Prague’s Old Town Square. First installed in 1410, this astronomical clock is the third oldest in the world and the oldest functioning astronomical clock to date.
Every hour on the hour, crowds gather in the main square to watch the astronomical clock’s 45-second performance, indicating a new hour has begun. Add this to your Prague bucket list!
When it comes to what to know about the Czech Republic before visiting, food is a big one. It’s probably one of the areas you know the least about the country. Czech food isn’t highlighted on many menus, after all.
Czech food doesn’t always look aesthetically pleasing, but it doesn’t mean it’s not delicious. Here are a few of the top Czech foods to try in Prague and the rest of the Czech Republic.
Goulash is a rich and meaty stew. It consists of chunks of stewed beef in a thick meat sauce and seasoned with paprika. It is commonly served with dumplings (called knedliky) on the side and is easily a wintertime staple. Don’t forget to try knedliky either!
You’ll find it on the menu at many traditional Czech restaurants in Prague and beyond, and is definitely one of the top foods to try in the Czech Republic.
Kulajda is an aromatic and delicious cream of mushroom and potato soup. The balanced flavor of mushrooms and sour cream helps add both sweet and savory notes to the dish. There’s also dill for added flavor and a poached quail’s egg to top it off. It is commonly served as a starter, but the starches help make this a hearty and filling dish!
Bonus points if you find this dish or another potato soup served in a bread bowl. You don’t wanna miss out on that!
The closer you get to Eastern Europe, the more potato pancakes you’re going to find. Bramboráky is the Czech Republic’s version, and it is a hit. They are most often made from shredded potatoes, crushed garlic, milk, cumin, marjoram, flour, eggs, salt, and pepper. They are then shallow-fried and served alone or with sauce. Many people pair them with beer or enjoy them at festivals.
When you visit the Czech Republic during winter, especially during the Christmas market season, you’re bound to find this pastry on display. This combines a rolled dough topped with cinnamon, sugar, and nuts to form these hollow cylinders that will rock your world. Some bakeries or vendors will fancy them up with Nutella or other sweets, but the classic is just as delicious.
You’ll find them sold by street vendors and at markets in Prague, and they are well worth trying for a warm and sweet treat.
Essential Travel Tips for Prague & Czech Republic
Before you venture off to this dreamy Baltic country, there are a few final things to know before visiting Estonia - here's our list:
- The Czech Republic uses the Czech Koruna (CZK), not the euro. $1 equals roughly 23 CZK, but check the updated exchange rate before you travel to the Czech Republic.
- Layer up in winter! A warm hat that covers your ears, mittens, and a long water-repellent coat are musts during the coldest months.
- Tap water is completely safe to drink. There is no need to waste money (or plastic for that matter) on water bottles. We recommend bringing a reusable water bottle and filling it up before you leave your accommodation and at restaurants throughout the day.
- Tipping is usually expected. It is most common to tip 10% at restaurants. Remember to call out for the bill as the waiters don’t tend to bring it to the table unless asked for.
- Visiting the Czech Republic, you will need a standard EU adapter to charge your phone, laptop, etc. It’s not recommended to bring a blow dryer or other hair tools unless you also have a voltage converter, as the voltage is also different in Europe.
- The Czech Republic is a fairly affordable country! You should expect to pay between 35-55 CZK (around $2) for a pint. If you see prices around 65-75 CZK, it’s probably a tourist trap. A cappuccino will cost around 60 CZK.
- Watch out for pickpockets in Prague. Never leave your bags unattended.
- Call 112 in case of an emergency!