Illustration by Ahmed Bilal

Moje Krásná Praha: A J-Term Guide to Prague

Prague is the best place to spend a January or June term abroad. It’s cheap, fun, beautiful at all times of year, easy to navigate and close to many other popular places in Europe. Read on for a guide of “musts” for your time in beautiful “Praha”.

Feb 13, 2022

Shortly before the world fell apart with the Covid-19 pandemic, I spent my first year J-term in Prague in 2020. I had spent about a week in Prague previously in the summer of 2018 living with a host family and, having seen the city in both the winter and summer seasons, I can say with absolute confidence that Prague is my favorite city.
Prague is a perfect destination for college students: it’s incredibly affordable, it’s easy to navigate, it’s beautiful and has a perfect mix of old town European history and modern, youth-oriented attractions. If you get bored — which will be difficult — you’re only a short train ride from other popular European destinations such as Vienna, Krakow or Berlin (a particularly popular destination if you have friends studying at NYU Berlin at the time).
Before we get into specifics, here are a few main points to bear in mind. First, finances. Prague is consistently ranked in the top ten cheapest European cities to live in or visit. While some students may struggle more with budgeting in more expensive J-term cities like New York or Paris, students usually have no issues living very comfortably with their study away support in Prague. The currency is the Czech Koruna (CZK), and for conversion purposes, 1 AED is approximately 6 CZK. While they share this is in orientation, be sure you do not use Euronet ATMs to withdraw money. These ATMs charge exorbitant fees up to 60 AED per transaction and up to 20% conversion fees.
Second, living arrangements. I lived in the Slezská dorm, which is about a 20 minute trip from the NYU Academic Center if you take the metro to the Staroměstská stop at Old Town Square. The Slezská dorm has a full kitchen on the top floor, a sizable laundry room and basement lounge and TV area, and is situated in a comfortable neighborhood area home to many cute cafés, cheap restaurants and parks. The rooms are very different from the Abu Dhabi campus, many of them with three to four beds in the same bedroom, and not all rooms have common areas. You’ll have traditional keys for the building as opposed to electronic keycards, so don’t lose them! Unfortunately, the dorm does not have athletic facilities, but if you’re looking for a gym for your time in Prague, PRO-ONE Fitness is an eight minute walk from the dorm and costs about 1000 CZK, or 170 AED, for a one month membership.
Although I give a number of activities and places that everyone visiting Prague should experience, one of my favorite things to do while in Prague was to simply wander around the city after classes. You’ll stumble on some hidden historical gems as well as surprisingly modern pop-ups. Don’t waste a minute in this beautiful city.
Getting Around
Wear good shoes! Public transportation is incredibly convenient and inexpensive in Prague, but if you’re planning on exploring the city you’ll still end up walking a lot. On the weekends I would log anywhere from 40,000–60,000 steps on the old cobblestone streets.
In January 2020, J-term visiting students were given an unlimited month-long metro and bus pass that covered the duration of the program. If you’re given this pass, use it. Prague’s public transportation system is one of the easiest and most comprehensive that I’ve experienced (once you adapt to the exorbitant amount of consonants and accent markings on the station names). While there are some specific apps for Prague public transportation, I found that using Google Maps was the most efficient and accessible as a non-Czech speaker. Its “offline” mode is also very convenient if you don’t have data during your time in the city and want to download trip itineraries ahead of time.
The Charles Bridge at sunset in January.
Things to See
The Charles Bridge is one of the most iconic places in Prague. It’s a gothic bridge from the mid 1300s that connects the two main parts of the city, being the “Old City” and “Lesser City.” On both sides of the bridge, you’ll find towers that can be climbed for views overlooking the two parts of the city. It is also lined with Baroque statues of important Czech figures, primarily religious leaders and martyrs. The bridge was closed to trams and cars years ago so you can wander freely without worrying about traffic.
Prague Castle as seen from Old Town Square.
The Prague Castle is a UNESCO monument and the heart and soul of Prague. It’s the largest coherent castle complex in the world, and is home to not only beautiful historical architecture but also expansive gardens and agricultural spaces, such as the orangery. Students under the age of 26 are eligible for the discounted admission price of 125 CZK, or about 20 AED. I would absolutely recommend adding the 100 CZK (17 AED) one-hour tour guide so you get the full history of the castle.
The Prague Astronomical Clock in Old Town Square.
The Prague Astronomical Clock, known as the Orloj, is in the same square as the NYU academic building, leaving students with no excuse to leave it off their itineraries. The clock is the third-oldest astronomical clock in the world that is still in operation, having been installed in 1410. Every hour between 9 A.M. and 11 P.M., huge crowds emerge to watch as the clock presents a walking procession of the Twelve Apostles at the turn of the hour.
The Petřín Lookout Tower, or the mini Eiffel Tower.
Things to Do
Petřínská rozhledna, or the Petřín Lookout Tower, overlooks the city and was created as a loose copy of the Eiffel Tower in 1981 for the Jubilee Exhibition. Students under the age of 26 are eligible for the reduced ticket price of 100 CZK, around 17 AED, to go to the top of the tower and overlook the city. If you’re visiting Prague for the newer iteration of J-Term during summer, you can walk through stunning rose gardens near the tower. I’d recommend visiting at sunset to catch the natural beauty of the area and be able to stick around to go up the tower and see the city lit up at night from above.
The Petřín Lookout rose gardens in June.
Another incredible Prague experience is a dinner cruise on the Vltava river. It’s a bit of a splurge activity, costing around 850 CZK, or 145 AED, but for a two-hour river cruise with included dinner and the opportunity to watch the sunset from the water and watch the city light up at night, it’s worth it! Alternatively, there are one-hour river cruises without dinner that cost around 330 CZK, or 55 AED. While this is a beautiful experience during the summer season, I wouldn’t recommend it in January unless you’re particularly warm-blooded.
If you’re visiting Prague during the traditional J-term in winter, you have to explore traditional Christmas markets in the city. Although J-term arrivals happen shortly after Christmas, there are usually still a few remaining markets and you can still see the large christmas tree featured in Old Town Square. Visit the markets to purchase traditional handmade ornaments and souvenirs and warm up with mulled wine and hot chestnuts. You must also go outdoor ice skating at any of the many rinks set up during the winter season!
And, a short miscellaneous list of less traditional things to do: Prague is home to a lot of dance clubs and discos for those looking for fun nightlife during their time abroad. Tattoo shops in Prague are great for those looking for very affordable, professional and safe tattoos. There are also many small, unusual museums dedicated to a wide range of topics, from Franz Kafka and the KGB to alchemy, sex, toilets and comic books.
Things to Eat
Eastern European food is the epitome of comfort food, and especially if you’re in Prague in the winter, you’ll easily eat your weight in heavy, hot dishes to stay warm.
The best street food you’ll find is trdelník, which, although originally Romanian, is a pastry you’ll find on nearly every Czech street corner. You’ll also find palačinky, the Czech version of crepe style pancakes. Both of these dishes can be made sweet or savory, and they’ll usually cost around 60 CZK, or around 10 AED.
Czech trdelník being made on cast iron cylindrical molds.
Unfortunately eating street desserts for every meal is frowned upon, so Havelská Koruna is an amazing, incredibly cheap self-serve canteen that’s only a five minute walk from the NYU academic center. It can be a bit overwhelming on your first visit to walk through the cafeteria-style lines and pick items from the menu boards on the wall, but the traditional food is delicious and the homey, family feel of the restaurant can’t be beat. It’s a must-visit with your friends after class.
Goulash is a traditionally Hungarian dish, but of all its Eastern European iterations the Czech version is definitely my favorite. My personal go-to restaurant for quality goulash is Restaurace Mlejnice. Lokál is another must-visit during your time in Prague. They serve not only a wide variety of traditional Czech cuisine, including smoked meats they make in their own butcher shop, but they’re also one of the best beer halls you’ll find in Prague. There’s a common Czech saying that “the best Czech wine is… beer,” so it’s become a staple of the Czech dining experience. Even the most expensive meals at Lokál will cost a maximum of 350 CZK, or about 60 AED.
For anyone wondering if Prague is a good choice for a J-term or semester abroad, don’t miss the opportunity to study in this beautiful city that you might not otherwise have the opportunity to visit. You'll never be bored, you’ll never go hungry and you’ll always feel uniquely at home.
Grace Bechdol is Editor-in-Chief. Email her at
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