Living in: Prague
Old town of Prague. (Petr David Josek/Associated Press)
A real fairytale city, with its castle on the hill and famous statue-covered bridge, Prague has starred in everything from moody music videos to real-life revolutions. Its glorious architecture and rich cultural and historical heritage make it a permanent draw for tourists, and the excellent public transport and cosmopolitan and artistic life is a boon to its residents.
What is it known for?
The Prague of the wild, wild east that drew backpackers, adventurers and other peripatetic souls to its cobblestoned streets after the Velvet Revolution has turned (back) into a first-class European city. And is priced like one too. But the attractions remain: the medieval, Gothic and Baroque architecture (and the modern, marvellous “Fred and Ginger” building), Wenceslas Square, the Astronomical Clock in Old Town Square, the Staronova Synagogue and Jewish Cemetery and the Charles Bridge (built and named for the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV who reigned from 1346 to 1378) over the Vltava River. They may be crowded, but there is a reason they attract so many people.
Prague is a central Europe cultural hub, with important national theatre, opera, museums, galleries and a long literary history. But the city’s one million residents are also keen for fun at the local beer hall or beer garden, and will help you get some of those Budvars under your belt. They like to sit with friends in one of the outdoor cafes and listen to some elegant jazz played by a group of young musicians on the square.
Where do you want to live?
Prague is not a big city, but has dense neighbourhoods and outlying suburbs. Most people moving there find it best to rent first in the centre, in Old Town or Mala Strana. “Start in the centre and learn about the area that might work better for you,” advised Prokop Svoboda, managing partner of Svoboda and Williams estate agents in Prague. “Sale prices are high, but rent is low, so rent first.”
The most picturesque and romantic area of the city is Mala Strana, on the banks of the Vltava River, home to Prague Castle and St Vitus Cathedral. For those who want nightlife, the packed streets of Old Town are the right spot, along with the New Town, which is, in fact, quite old. Many expats look to residential neighbourhoods that are close to the centre, such as Vinohrady, Holesovice, Hrebenkach and Orechovka. And many new residents with families live close to where the international schools are located, usually no more than 15 or 20 minutes from the city centre. The English International School is in Libus, the French school is in Smichov, and the German school is in Jinonice.
Others, like Russians, tend to buy close to the Russian Embassy or in new developments in Stodulky in Prague 5. Prague’s neighbourhoods are also grouped together into 22 numbered district, with Prague 1 covering most of the centre and Old Town, and the other numbers radiating out from there.
Many people have weekend cottages around the countryside that are within 100km of Prague. The rivers Vltava, Berounka and Sazava (a tributary of the Vltava River) are popular for day trips, and the mountains are favourite weekend getaways, like the Jizera and Krkonose Mountains on the border with Poland or south to Sumava the Bohemian Forest range on the borders with Germany and Austria. Or drive to see the castles in Moravia or the spa town of Karlovy Vary, now host to an international film festival every July.
Prague’s central European location makes it a relatively easy train journey to Berlin and other German and Polish cities, as well as points south like Vienna, Salzburg and Budapest. The airport is served by 50 international airlines travelling to 130 destinations, and it is about two hours to London and an eight to nine hour flight to New York.
Renting first is a good option, as rents are relatively low in Prague and demand is limited. There are less expats than there used to be in the city and Czechs themselves are reluctant to rent. There were a lot of small residential developers who turned to real estate as a sideline, so there are a lot of apartments on the market right now. A typical two-bedroom apartment of 90 to 100sqm in the centre of town rents for about 900 to 1,000 euros a month.