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A Bohemian's guide to save money in Prague

The dictionary defines Bohemian as "a socially unconventional person, especially one who is involved in the arts”. One imagines a thin man in worn overcoat, scarf wrapped twice around the neck, hands in pocket, walking the streets head down, against the wind. Wondering city streets alone, hungry and cold with a heart broken by love. Young aspiring poets have this as an ideal. They believe that only under these harsh bohemian conditions can inspiration come. Could be true or could not, regardless you will notice these aspiring artists attempting to understand the human condition by replicating this image and drifting though the city. Now Prague in a state called Czech Republic but for hundreds of years it was in a region called Bohemia.

History has forgotten why the bohemian lifestyle linked with the Bohemian region. There is nothing uniquely bohemian about the average Czech. In reality if you notice a messy haired 25 year old in long overcoat and scarf it it usually a foreigner trying to extract poetry from the medieval city. They decided to become bohemian before they arrived. They come to the city stripped of previous lives and money and wait for creativity to bubble up - only by steady lack of food and comfort will your core and source of poetry surface.

I cannot attest to how profound bohemian poetry actually is but it is a fact that bohemian poets lack money. They spend years in Prague living off dollars a day. Yet even with their limited means they always find a meal, drink beer and despite their effort to be depressed are some of the happiest people in Prague. I cannot help you write better poetry but I can make a few suggestion on how to enjoy Prague like a bohemian (save money). It is possible to visit Prague for less than $20 dollars a day. You wont be eating at fancy restaurants or attending a Mozart concerts but you might be surprised to discover that the city makes a poet out of you.

A bohemian spends a lot of time on benches to save money

Prague is known as the city of a thousand spires. But it could just as easily hold the less prestiges title of the city of a thousand benches. Benches are everywhere and they are not the sad ones with half the planks missing. With a curved base and back side a bohemian slides into the bench and comfortably sits for hours watching people being people. There are benches because there are statues scattered around the city. A statue is nothing unless people are admiring it and the surest way to ensure people enjoy it is to plant benches around it. And since benches live in packs you get the sense of participating in a social act. A mother rests and rocks her carriage, a old lady feeding pigeons, a tired sad man eating a sandwich - you the bohemian in the middle of it all watching. Bench hopping through the day you be immersed in the rhythm of lives. Benches are also perched high on the hills surrounding Prague. For 150czk ($10) buy a reasonable bottle of wine at a Vietnamese shop. Take the wine and climb up one of the hills (Letňany) and slide into a bench. The sun out and a slight breeze you have a view of a thousand spires and the hum of spirited people passing around you. It is effortless to float through a whole day simply sipping and sitting.

On sun blaring days head towards the castle, find the Vojanovy gardens and get shade from woods providing the service since the middle ages. A warning - peacocks roam the gardens - a warning incase you bring two bottle of wine and start to worry you have had too much to drink. But even the most experienced bohemian bench sitter will need to take a nap. Head again to the Vietnamese shop and buy a blanket and another bottle of wine. Find your way to Petřín hill, look for the Eiffel tower, and wonder down through a forested path until you stumble upon the completely secluded and out of time and place St Michael Church. This east orthodox church which was built in Ukraine in the 1600’s and served there until the 1920’s when it was brought over plank by plank and reconstructed. Lay your blanket down on the grass and let the smell of old church wood and birds and wine put you in a deep sleep.

A bohemian saves money by walking in Prague

At its core the city is narrow streets and cramped blend of buildings built from 1300’s to the present. Hidden passages between and through buildings allowing for shortcuts and shade. The city is small enough to enable zigzaging from the one side to another. From the castle on the hill to to the Old Town square can be walked within a half day. As long as you know the general direction you can always tunnel your way through narrow alleys and passages. Walking is the destination - move slowly and look up at the buildings.

Prague was built over a thousand years. Buildings pressed against each other since birth were actually built hundreds of years apart. Each a creation of years and years. Each one a display of architectural talent and craftsman’s hand - dedications to God and king. I walk the same streets daily and whenever I remember to look up I notice something I have missed for years - a gargoyle on a window ledge, a weeping angel laying over the window head. Every building has a story told by its details - the balconies, the transom, the cornice, the keystone. As your eye passes over the structure you imagine the masons with their trowels and artists with their chisels. You imagine the times and the people from long ago. You imagine the hopeful architect as he watches his creation slowly come to life. Each building a expression of respect for the city and optimism for the future. The building was once just a thought and a dream, one of rare dreams which become reality and survived for hundreds of years to tell a tale - all you have to do is to look up.

Bohemians eat buns, ham and fish salad at the butcher's deli

Restaurants offer fake smile waiters, tables with placements, clean toilets and a warm feeling of being involved in a social activity. But the bohemian needs none of this. These are extravagances that cost money and distract from understanding the self. All these things hinder one’s ability to strip away the excesses and chip at the essence of existence - all these luxuries prevent meaningful poetry from being written. A bohemian simply needs to drop calories down the throat and water for the gears. Restaurants distract. Money is wasted on waiters acting glad to serve at your beck and call. The few precious koruna a bohemian possesses cannot be wasted on the ambiance of eating. Every koruna needs to be focused directly at food. The extreme edge of this efficiency is the man sitting on a park bench with a loaf of bread in one hand and a bottle of milk in the other. Although this is a goal to strive for you can enjoy a little more flavour in your intake by spending a tiny bit more koruna.

Before there were supermarkets there were cute little butcher/delis on almost every street in Prague. People did their food shopping daily. Because there were no preservatives in meat, cheese and buns they lasted for a day or two at most. There was no such thing as bulk food shopping for the entire week. Everyday you would stand in line and select hams, cheeses, cutlets and occasionally a pig knee. It was tedious but the food was fresh. Then with the miracle of preservatives these street side shops closed down as people prefer the convenience of once a week supermarket shopping. But in Prague plenty of these butcher-delis still exists. On foot you are never more than 10 minutes from bumping into one. There you can find breakfast, lunch and dinner. My favourite both for taste and for portability is the bun with slice of cheese and ham. For 30 koruna ($1.50) you cover 3 food groups. It is fresh and the unpretentious combination tastes like it should be more complicated. I don’t add sauces or additional condiments, just bread, cheese and meat - a bohemian meal as it is meant to be.

But as much as I would like to live off this simplicity and connivence the psyche needs variance - the man with the bread in one hand and milk bottle in the other is usually mentaly a little off. Fortunately the butcher/deli offers plenty of options to choose from including fish, potatoes salads and pre-cooked chicken breasts - enough variance to keep you bench lounging and poetry writing for a week. Take your ham, cheese, find a bench in front of a statue and enjoy the best restaurant in the world.

A cot is cheaper than a bed and bohemians don't mind the company

In a pinch a bohemian could spend the night in a sturdy cardboard box under the bridge - worth trying at least once as an achievement, but probably an experience that does not need to be repeated. There are plenty of low budget hotels in Prague to choose from but for a true bohemian even these are too luxurious and would deplete a poet’s savings quickly. Hotels include unnecessary amenities anyway - an artist does not need a private toilet or help with their luggage. Hostels provide the perfect middle between hotel and sturdy cardboard box. For about $15 a night you have a cot, common bathroom and kitchen. No privacy, only bohemians sitting around a table playing cards and reciting bench inspired poetry.

Tram22 is a bohemian's version of a cheap taxi

For 42 czk you can have a comfortable seat and 90 minutes of wide window entertainment. Tram22 criss-crosses the city and hits most of the highlights. Plop down on a window seat, set your mental stopwatch for 90 minutes and let your eyes drift as the city passes you by. Up the hill around the castle, over the river, through the business section, tourist zones, residential - basically all shades of Prague. At the end of the line it turns around and does it all over again. Commuters around you will alternate between tourists, mothers, students, office workers. Because the line cuts through the city so thoroughly you are always minutes from a station servicing Tram22. The line can be used as an anchor. For example with a 3 day plan to see the city you can split the line into 3 sections. First day start with the east most section, staying around that area. For the second day move on to the next section and so on. If your hostel is in the first section you can always get back to it at the end of any day regardless of where you are in the city. In case you are lost just ask for Tram22 and you are found again.

A bohemian saves money at free museums

Free Museums. Although at home you would never consider visiting a museum unless as a first date or to burn a Sunday away with the kids. But for some reason in another city museums become a point of interest. To see old stuff from hometown is boring but to see old stuff from somewhere else is interesting. You are in luck traveller - Prague is full of museums. National museums with vases, tools, clothing and even mammoths from thousands of years ago. Entire sections devoted from animals living under ground to displays of human ingenuity from cave days onwards. There are also museums devoted to paintings, artists and communism. If you are in Prague to see middle European art, culture and nature on display you will not be left wanting. But even in the world of art and nature there is a finacial cost to look at long dead animals and paintings that just hang there.

Prague, kind to bohemians, provides a solution. Once a month for one day a week most museums host a free day. Usually it is on the first Monday of the month (National Museum is first Monday, Nation Gallery is first Wednesday). Museums open their doors wide for all. Entry is free but the drawback is that a lot of people flock to free. On free days museums are crowded and lineups form around the corner. Kids buzzing and yelling everywhere. But for the true bohemian the benefits outweigh the costs and free is worth the madness.

If you are exceptionally tolerant of crowds and in Prague during May you can try the Night of Churches or the Night of Museums. Both of these nights are a fantastic way to experiance an overdose of churches and museums. The Church Night is especially interesting because you have access to areas usually closed off to the public. As groups of people move from location to location together the nights have a celebratory feel which is usually found only in Disneyland. Completely different entertainment but the lineups are similar.

Bohemians get a cheap buzz

If you are under 18 skip this paragraph. It is not for you - drinking alcohol is unproductive and will lead to nothing but misery and a dulled mind. Although alcohol is an accepted cultural norm, you young one, ought to cherish your pink liver and ability to think without a buzzed fog. For the rest of us the claws of alcohol are dug in deep as we attempt to pursue better times which alcohol falsely promises to bring back.

Now onto 18+ readers. Alcohol won’t bring back good times but it is always worth another try and there is no better place for a bohemian to get a buzz than in Prague. Unless you are at the main tourist hubs (Old Town Square, Prague Castle) nobody will care that you are holding an open can of beer or sitting along the river with a bottle of wine. Open air alcohol is tolerated in public spaces and on the train. But because of abuse by foreigners it is banned in tourist areas and because of abuse by career drunks it is banned in a few city parks. For the rest of Prague go nuts.

For money strapped bohemians Czech is a cheap alcohol wonderland. Canned beer bought at a supermarket is less expensive than water. And it is not inexpensive because it is of poor quality - actually it is considered one of the best beers in the world. Bohemia is where golden beer was invented. The water and hops are local and the process has been fine-tuned over hundreds of years. And as you sip your beer be confident that you are participating in a truly czech act - drinking beer is a national pastime. Almost every year Czech 'wins' as the top beer consumer per capital (142 litres per year compared to 74 for US). Drinking beer is to put yourself into the bloodstream of what Czechs are. To hit the buzz a little harder there is Becherovka. Produced locally with no chemical additives and considered a 'healthy' drink. It tastes bitter like medicine and made from a secret list of herbs and spices - but whether it improves health is up to you to test. But certainly at 38% alcohol the bohemian will be composing self perceived beautiful poetry well before the half a bottle mark.

The perfect bohemian day and maximal money saved

Lets put everything together. Get up Monday morning from your cot and clean up in the communal hostel bathroom. Hop onto tram22 and look out the window till you notice a butcher-deli shop. Point to the ham cheese bun. Walk around till you find a statue surrounded by benches. Eat your bun as you watch the pigeons and people go about their day. Toss the butt of the bun to the birds and get back on tram22. Get off at Malá Strana station and wonder around till you bump into a Museum. Spend a couple hours priming your creative juices. Now back to the deli and a fish salad, bun, bench and pigeons. Again toss the end of the bun to the birds and find a Vietnamese mini market. Purchase a bottle of wine and blanket. Back onto tram22 until you are taken up a hill near the castle. Look for trees, grass and a view. Lay your blanket down, open the wine, and watch the sun go down on the city of a thousand spires. Exactly at this point poetry verse will spew out of your bohemian soul for a cost that is less than a single fancy dinner served with fake smiles.

Did I bring you pleasure? :)

I hope you find this website helpful. I created the website because I love Prague, I enjoy writing about it, and I get a weird kick out of helping you make your trip to Prague more enjoyable.

I wrote a book about local travel in Prague. The book is my pride, my joy, my unbiological offspring. It was written with a passionate heart. If you find this website helpful consider getting my book full of useful tips that will instil in you the confidence to wander the local streets of Prague. The book is included in the popular (proud to say over 1000 sold) Prague Local Explore Kit.

Thank you,
Roman : Prague 2023

Prague Local Travel Kit