Traveling by car has some obvious advantages: it offers much more flexibility and is often quicker than a bus or train. But these advantages can be outweighed by the costs of the rental and gasoline, as well as the general hassles of driving in the Czech Republic. Most roads in the country are of the two-lane variety, and are often jammed with trucks. And then there's parking. It's impossible in Prague and often difficult in the larger cities and towns outside the capital. If you do decide to rent a car and drive, don't set out without a large, up-to-date Český Autoatlas, available at gas stations and bookstores, or an updated map on your smartphone.
A special permit is required to drive on expressways and other four-lane highways. Rental cars should already have a permit affixed to the windshield. Temporary permits—for 10 days (310 Kč) or one month (440 Kč)—are available at border crossings, post offices, and service stations.
Gas stations are plentiful on major thoroughfares and near large cities. Many are open around the clock. At least two grades of unleaded gasoline are sold, usually 91–93 octane (regular) and 94–98 octane (super), as well as diesel. Prices are per liter, and the average cost of gasoline is substantially higher than in the United States. The Czech word for gasoline is benzin, and at the station you pump it yourself.
Finding a parking spot in Prague can be next to impossible. Most of the spaces in the city center, Prague 1, 2, 3, 7, and 10 are reserved for residents, so you’ll have to look for public lots with machines that issue temporary permits (look for the big blue "P" on machines). To use the machines, insert the required amount of change—usually 20–30 Kč an hour—then place the ticket in a visible spot on the dashboard. Violators will find their cars towed away or immobilized by a "boot" on the tire. Some hotels offer parking—and this is a real advantage—though you may have to pay extra. A few streets also have meter parking that sells tickets to put in your window, but finding a spot is a virtual impossibility. Changes in the parking policy are pending, due to complaints from local businesses.
Parking is generally unrestricted in the outer areas of the city, though vacant spots can still be hard to find. If you have a car and you need to get rid of it, try parking it on one of the streets in Prague 5 or Prague 6. There’s an underground lot at Náměstí Jana Palacha, near Old Town Square. There are also park-and-ride (p+r) lots at distant suburban Metro stations, including Skalka (Line A), Zličín and Černý Most (Line B), and Nádraží Holešovice and Opatov (Line C). These charge as little as 20 Kč per day, substantially cheaper than downtown parking.
Rules of the Road
The Czech Republic follows the usual Continental rules of the road. A right turn on red is permitted only when indicated by a green arrow. Signposts with yellow diamonds indicate a main road where drivers have the right of way. The speed limit is 130 kph (78 mph) on four-lane highways, 90 kph (56 mph) on open roads, and 50 kph (30 mph) in built-up areas and villages. Passengers under 12 years of age, or less than 150 cm (5 feet) in height, must ride in the backseat.
Several major rental agencies have offices at the airport and also in the city. Prices can differ greatly, so be sure to shop around. Major firms like Avis and Hertz offer Western-style cars starting at around $45 per day or $300 per week, which includes insurance, damage waiver, and V.A.T. (value-added tax); cars equipped with automatic transmission and air-conditioning are available but are generally more expensive. Small-size "city cars," like Smart cars or Mini Coopers, are cheaper. It's best to reserve your rental car before you leave home, and it may be less expensive as well. Smaller local companies, on the other hand, can rent Czech cars for significantly less, but the service and insurance coverage may be inferior.
Drivers from the United States need no international driving permit to rent a car in the Czech Republic, only a valid domestic license, along with the vehicle registration. If you intend to drive across a border, ask about restrictions on driving into other countries. The minimum age required for renting is usually 21 or older, and some companies also have maximum ages; be sure to inquire when making your arrangements. The Czech Republic requires that you have held your driver's license for at least a year before you can rent a car.
Major Rental Agencies
Avis. 810–777–810; 800/230–4898; www.avis.com.
Budget. 800/472–3325 ; www.budget.com.
Europcar. 235–364–531; www.europcar.com.
Hertz. 225–345–000 ; www.hertz.com.
Auto Europe. 888/223–5555; www.autoeurope.com.
Europe by Car. 212/581–3040; 800/223–1516; www.europebycar.com.
Eurovacations. 877/471–3876; www.eurovacations.com.
Kemwel. 877/820–0668; www.kemwel.com.