As my husband and I are planning our first trip to Europe, we are a little nervous about getting around in Prague (especially since we don't speak Czech). Does anyone have any good advice about getting to know the system? When we travel in the U.S., we usually rely on our phones to navigate public transportation - but since we probably won't have much access to data in Prague, that doesn't seem to be an option. Any tips or resources would be greatly appreciated!
You pickup a map of the mass transit system and follow it. We've never had any troubles anywhere following maps of the trams/buses/subways.
The following website will link you to maps of Prague: http://www.pragueexperience.com/travel_flights/public_transport.asp
You said previously you want to get lost in Prague. Use the public transport in Prague. Nothing worse (if you wear moneybelt) than getting lost can happen. The website which will help you to get from one location to the other:
<http://jizdnirady.idnes.cz/pid/spojeni It has also English version - low and right on the page click on English. Center of Prague is served by Metro and trams. Further to the outskirts are buses and trolleybuses.
All young people should know at least some English. It is a mandatory language at school now.
Order the Borch map of Prague. You can get it on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc. It's laminated, amazing detail, with the center on an expanded map. It shows all the Metro stations and their routes, and also the tram lines and stops at publication.
At every tram stop there are placards showing the times and stops for the entire route of each tram that stops there. While it may be in Czech, it is easy to decipher with your map. The good thing about these is that reroutes due to construction are posted there, and with the map you can figure them out.
Borch makes excellent maps like these for all the major European cities.
If you know the stop you are starting from and the stop you are headed to, I suggest using dpp.cz. There is a British flag in the top right that will switch the site to English. You would definitely need internet for this though. I like the site because it gives you the best possible route wherever you are going and lists metro, trams and buses.
If you are coming in summertime, there is a chance tram lines will be re-routed (although main tourist lines rarely change) so dpp.cz will give you the most up to date info.
I have an article about decoding tram signs that I received when I first moved here. The only problem is that it is in a magazine. If you'd like it, contact me and I'll send you a PDF. It made my life much easier!
Jennifer is right to caution you about trams being re-routed in spring and summer (maintenance of tracks when it's not snowing or freezing!) At the tram stop, schedules for each tram are posted in different colors. White is the regular schedule while yellow indicates detours. Lately green also indicates detours or changes. There will usually be a thoroughly confusing diagram at the stop, in Czech only, explaining the changes and their duration. Not fun.
The best way around this is to use the Internet. If you bring a small laptop you can use dpp.cz (clicking on the British flag to get English) to see posted changes and to research your tram line and timetable. To find out which trams go to your destination, use Google Maps and click on the "transit" feature. Tram, Metro, and bus icons will appear near your destination. Click those to see what trams or buses go there. Then go to dpp.cz's journey planner and enter your tram stop and the destination tram stop to see all the various ways you can get there and how long they take.
The Metro has only 3 lines, and maps of these are clearly posted. If you know your station and the color/letter of the line, it's hard to get lost. Unless you are staying far from the historical center, you will not likely need a bus.
A paper map of the historical center with the names of all the tram stops is handy.
Also note that the pre-recorded announcements of tram/ bus stops are only in Czech. Some modern trams also have electronic display signs with the sequence of stops. Old trams do not. To listen to the tram announcement in Czech, remember that the current stop is named first, followed by the name of the next stop (příští zastávka) beyond that. If you have the name of your tram stop written down, you can match it to what is posted in the time tables at the stop as well as ask for help while on the tram from someone who doesn't look like a tourist.
See dpp.cz for info about tickets of various sorts, where to buy them, how to stamp them, etc.
It may look daunting at first, but after a couple of tries you'll be an old hand.