Czech Trains & Buses

How to make the most of the Czech Republic's extensive and inexpensive public transportation networks

UPDATED: 27.06.2012

There comes a time in everyone's life when they realize that they need to get the heck out of wherever they are at that time. Some people need to literally get out of their own skin. To them, I say, "Don't forget your towel."

The "City of a Thousand Spires" has a thousand-year history, not to mention at least a thousand non-stop Herna bars. But even though Prague is cool, there are days when I could actually strangle the jerk blocking my exit on the tram or peeing in broad daylight at the Václavské náměstí tram stop. When I feel this way, I know it's time to get out of the city.

Although it's a land of less than 80,000 square kilometers, the Czech Republic boasts nearly 130,000 kilometers of roadways and over 9,500 kilometers of railways. There's basically no place that you couldn't reach via bus or train. But how do you do this?

Shedding a little light on the mysteries of train and bus travel is necessary for travelers and expatriates alike -- especially for Americans, I think. I hadn't been on an actual train voyage until I was 20, and in the six years I attended college in Tucson, Arizona, I never once took a bus.

Where do I start?

There are several starting points to choose from, but if you're reading this article online, you're already on your way. The best place to start is the internet.

There are probably millions of websites and lonely blogs if you search for "train" or "bus" and "Czech Republic." So let's start there.



• A group of two or more people receives a discount rate on trains

• Buying a return ticket drastically reduces the price of the second leg of the journey

České dráhy (ČD)
This is the country's national transport line and it has a bad reputation, even with Czech people.

This is the link for the official České dráhy website

They have some useful English-language information on it, but you are better off using the IDOS online transport timetable site.  

On IDOS, you can switch from Czech to English or German by clicking on the flag icons in the bottom-right corner of the homepage.

On IDOS, you can switch from Czech to English or German by clicking on the flag icons in the bottom-right corner of the homepage.

This truly great resource contains complete ČD rail timetables, plus bus schedules and various other methods of locomotion. (Airplanes, city transport, pogo sticks, banana peels, and steam-powered roller skates.)

You can use IDOS to plan your journey, print off a possible schedule, and even calculate the cost of the trip using a tariff calculator. Prices are based on the total distance in kilometers.

Be aware that depending on where you go, you may have to change trains before you reach your destination. Look carefully at the schedules too; more than one little train or bus icon means a transfer of some kind is necessary. Don't worry, though -- typically, you only have to walk about 10 meters to another platform.

Types of Trains
ČD operates several types of trains, ranging from the local and painfully slow osobní vlak service to the speedy, international EuroCity and SuperCity services.

Ordinary second-class tickets are valid on most trains, but to travel on InterCity, EuroCity, and SuperCity trains you'll need to pay extra.

The type of train that services a particular route is indicated on the IDOS timetable with a series of abbreviations.

Here, from the slowest through to the fastest, are the trains and abbreviations you'll come across:

Osobní (Os)Local Train
Spěšný (Sp)Semi Fast Train
Rychlík (R)Fast Train (F)
Expres (Ex)Express Train
InterCity (IC)
EuroCity (EC)
SuperCity (SC)

SuperCity Pendolino
ČD's new Pendolino trains provide the fast but limited SuperCity (SC) service to Ostrava, via Pardubice and Olomouc, and to Bratislava, via Pardubice, Brno, Břeclav, Hohenau (Austria), Vienna, and Kúty (Slovakia). The Pendolino costs extra but the trains are sleek and offer more services. Pendolino trains leave from the Nádraží Holešovice station.

For a trip to Vienna, this may be your best bet. The Pendolino offers a more direct route with fewer stops and has a higher priority than regular trains at signals. There's a fairly helpful SC Pendolino website, in Czech, English, and Slovak, but it's only possible to buy tickets online in Czech.

The bad news with the SuperCity service is that your journey will be only marginally faster than many regular services. Although Pendolino trains top out at 230 kilometers per hour, this country's curvy rail network rarely allows for a straightaway long enough to reach these speeds.

Seat reservations are required for SuperCity services. These cost 200 CZK but are normally included in the price of your ticket.

Many regular ČD discounts, including the group discount for two or more people traveling together and the discount on return journeys, aren't available on SuperCity services though.

Buses, although less environmentally friendly than trains, are often cheaper and more convenient over shorter distances.

Because private companies operate most bus routes, competition has forced prices down.

Check out Student Agency for great prices and a comfortable ride.  They have WIFI (sort of), a free beverage and in-ride movies.

These "bargain" tickets often mean cramped conditions, though, and some unlucky souls have to stand for the majority of a three-hour ride.

Buses score another point over trains by traveling to more bizarre destinations. Otherwise, you may have to switch trains and backtrack, just to get to a village that has Europe's best dumplings.

On the whole, I prefer trains because they're safer, more reliable, greener, and offer a lot more room. Smokers can visit a smoking car, and drinkers, well, can drink wherever they want.

Hlavní nádraží (sometimes abbreviated to "hl.n.") is the main train station, and Florenc (behind the tramlines and metro station, towards the dodgy end) is the main bus station. Cash and all major credit cards or bankcards are accepted at both.

Hlavní nádraží is also where you'd go for train travel information, as they apparently do not give this at any other station.

The English spoken by the employees of bus and train stations can range from incomprehensible to barely comprehensible to decent.

The tellers here usually regard your presence as a major inconvenience, encouraging you to get out before you get what you need.

Masarykovo nádraží is another sales point for national and international tickets.

And, in case you were wondering, Prague's train and bus stations are all shady and depraved, just like every other train or bus station I've ever seen.

To purchase a ticket at a station in person, some Czech could be useful. Before I started learning the language, I just wrote down the names of places and times of departure with arrows and stick figures.

For both trains and buses, it's important to note that some routes take far longer than others. I recently saw a train ride to Kladno (about 20 kilometers west of Prague) that stopped at six different stations, in a ring of hell around Prague lasting eight hours.

Be careful to note the distance and estimated journey time before choosing a particular route, as well as which station it departs from.

Using IDOS, you'll see that trains and buses heading to popular destinations like Karlštejn, Kutná Hora, and Český Krumlov leave from various Prague stations. If you're traveling to Kutná Hora, for example, trains leave from Hlavní nádraží, Nádraží Holešovice, or Masarykovo nádraží.

To travel by bus to Český Krumlov, for example, you can choose to leave from Florenc, from Na Knížecí, near Anděl metro station), or from Roztyly, in the south of the city.

Beyond departing and arriving at particular times, neither station offers a particular advantage over another.

By looking closely at the timetables, however, you'll see that there's a direct Prague-Česky Krumlov bus that doesn't stop in České Budějovice like most of the others do.

On a bus, the driver may nod at you, stamp something, or possibly even sell you a ticket. For short journeys, you must buy your ticket from the driver.

On a train, a conductor will come around and punch a little hole in your paper ticket, so don't look for the time-stamp machines you find on trams or in metro stations.

If you get lost or confused, ask a young person to help you, since they're more likely to speak English -- I can't tell you how many times I've seen foreigners walk up to approachable-looking old ladies that know absolutely no English (but do know how to curse you out in Russian or German).

Your first experience of bus or train travel in the Czech Republic will probably be murky, confusing, and often nerve-wracking.

Poorly funded government agencies and unhelpful employees create a constant obstacle to travel, and there's no good way of arranging travel in advance.

But this country's transportation system is comprehensive, cheap, and fun to use. The trains, with carriages up to half a century old, provide a sense of travel as it used to be.

Either while racing by or at a complete stop, the green, rolling countryside opens to a page in the past, when people used to wear their best clothes for traveling -- not throw on their $100 sweat pants and bring a pillow with an iPod built into the zipper.

Travel used to be a rare event, only for the fortunate; nowadays, we can't help but complain about the smells and irritation of traveling in this way. But all those annoyances will disappear as you rock peacefully in the bumpy, noisy cradle of a Russian train car, plunging forward -- and sometimes backwards -- on another adventure.

train(s) -- vlak(y)
bus(es) -- autobus(y)
station -- nádraží
city center -- centrum
ticket -- jízdenka or lístek
seat -- místo or sedadlo
reservation -- reservace
seat reservation ticket -- místenka
group rate -- skupinová sleva
return trip -- zpáteční lístek

RELATED ARTICLE: Observations on Traveling on Czech Trains & Buses

RELATED VIDEO: Riding the rails: Taking the train from Prague

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