Quality of Life Metrics: Prague leads Central Europe
Last year we posted a somewhat controversial piece about why we thought Prague was the darling of Europe, and the best place, for our money, to live the Startup Life. And honestly, our assessment has nothing to do with hookers, despite some reactions. Today, we’re going to revisit that opinion (about Prague, not hookers), and expand upon it with some more detail.
Prague is only the 14th largest city in the European Union by population, just behind Milan and Munich. Though it’s much smaller than places like London, Paris, and Berlin, with just over 1 million in population, several quality of life metrics rate it as one of the best cities, in the world, to live in, and it is routinely ranked the best in all of Central and Eastern Europe.
According to the European Commission report on perceived quality of life, Prague rates alongside London and Paris for its transportation system. The modern, 3 line Prague Metro is the most widely used, per capita, in the world, and its tram network is also the most heavily used in Europe, second only to Zurich, with total patronage numbers rivaling the larger systems of St. Petersburg and Budapest. Prague transport is also a trend-setter in technology, first with the world-renowned classic Tatra T3 trams that have been copied and exported around the world, and lately with the Porsche-designed Skoda 15T, which is being exported to China, and is already also in use in Riga. With over 800 active rolling stock, it is one of the densest, and most accessible tram networks in the world. And operating 24 hours a day, it can get you anywhere in the city that you need to be, and is usually as fast as taking a cab.
Add to that the cost of transportation to the consumer. Prague transport operates on a unified, open ticketing system, with tickets available by sms, or through machines. A single trip costs about one Euro, 30% less than average for systems in Germany or France, with over half the total real cost covered by the city. Monthly all access passes are priced at just 20 Euros, making transport a fraction of the expense it is in other capitals like Berlin, Paris, and London.
Employment and Entrepreneurism
The above study also showed that employee confidence is the 3rd highest in Europe, with 56% of those surveyed saying that finding a job in Prague is easy. The city employs a stunning 150,000 foreign workers, nearly a quarter of the worker total, and over 80% of total jobs are in services. Eurostat research also shows that Prague ranks 5th in Europe for GDP per capita, at 172% of the EU average.
The low cost of living and high quality infrastructure has translated to a haven for entrepreneurs from across Europe, who come for the snappy local economy, and stay for the low cost of good living that is hard to give up.
Self-employment in the Czech Republic is also straightforward, and taxes and regulation on independent contractors are light, and lightly enforced. While the biggest obstacle to gaining employment here is the language, international workers, particularly in tech, find that to be a minor issue, as English is the official language, or a lingua franca, for virtually all international firms, and an employment requirement in most tech jobs.
This makes hiring local workers, such as marketers, software engineers, and IT workers exceedingly easy and painless for small companies, giving employers a great amount of flexibility in finding great local talent.
According to statistics compiled by Numbeo, which tracks visitor perception, Prague has one of the lowest crime indexes in Europe, on par with Helsinki, a full 10 points below London, and 20 points below Paris. Users rate Prague as safe or very safe for walking alone in at night, and the biggest perceived criminal problem in the city is corruption- an issue that extends more into politics than it does local business or the tourist trade. The Czech Republic boasts a murder rate of just 1 per 100,000, which is the same as the UK, less than 1/4th that of the United States, and 1/10th that of Russia.
Culture and Food
Prague is well known and appreciated for its amazing variety of good eats, good beer, and a wide selection of places to go for just about anything. The cottage industry of local food blogs is testament to the vibrant gustatory scene, and a highly decent lunch can be had for as little as €5, with a world class half-liter of beer coming in at around €1.
Housing In Prague
I won’t attempt a definitive neighborhood guide to Prague. But I’ll give you an idea of what some of the living options are. For those who will be attending our program in 2015, I will mark locations convenient to our offices (either by transport or nearby), with an asterisk (*).
Old Town: Prague 1
The old town comprises several neighborhoods, on either side of the river, close to the central, historical part of the city. Here you will find most of the high-end restaurants, theaters, bar/clubs and hotels in the city. The sections of Old Town that surround Old Town Square, at the heart of the city, are usually swarming with tourists, and are, at least in my opinion, unattractive for day-to-day living. They are also expensive, and transport is crowded and difficult.
The neighborhoods of Mala Strana* (the “small side”), are those across the river from the old town. This is traditionally the haunt of the city’s best known writers and artists of ages past, and today it hosts a number of the best cafes, wine bars, and theaters in the city. The area is also host to a number of foreign Embassies, and has a high concentration of art galleries and museums, including the Museum Kampa, the modern Art Museum in Kamp Park, along the river. Here can also be found the city’s only funicular railway, at Petrin hill, which offers beautiful views of the castle and the city. Many parts of this neighborhood are very attractive for living, including those blocks which connect Mala Strana with Smichov, between the Ujezd and Svandovo Divadlo tram stops. Mala Strana is connected to the old town via Charles Bridge.
New Town: Prague 2*
New Town, or “Nove Mesto,” is an area that includes a series of neighborhoods from the lower edge of Old town, down the right bank of the Vltava river. Some important areas here are Na Plavka, the riverside embarcadero that hosts a thriving farmer’s market in warm months, and Karlovo Namesti, one of the largest open public squares in Europe. This area also contains Prague’s second largest Castle, Vysehrad, which is ideal for walking and relaxing, with idyllic beer gardens and paths. The area also has one of Prague’s best swimming facilities, Podoli, where the Czech national swim team trains, and which is open to the public. Areas such as Palackeho Namesti, Vysehrad, and Vyton are very attractive for living, with easy transport to the center, and plenty of good dining opportunities.
When looking for housing, you’ll find more attractive rents and larger flats in these neighborhoods. I lived in this area for 5 years myself, and fell in love with it.
Vinohrady and Zizkov: Prague 2 and 3
Up the hill to the east of New Town are the neighborhoods of Vinohrady and Zizkov. Historically cheaper areas, these neighborhoods have been consistently popular with foreigners, and have a wonderful home-grown feeling cafe culture. Vinohrady between Italska street and Riegrovy Sady (a park with an unparalleled set of beer gardens), is traditionally the gay quarter of Prague, although clubs and bars catering to LGBT customers have also migrated more and more towards the city center in recent years. Further up the hill, Jiriho Z Podebrad is an area that has much improved in recent years, and is known for a lively alternative club scene. Lower Zizkov, the area that reaches up the hill from the central train station, Hlavni Nadrazi, is a traditionally seedier and cheaper part of town, where low rents mix with bars open until very early in the morning.
The Vinohrady and Zizkov will offer attractive rents in comparison with more central areas, and have a great variety of things to do. Transport connections there are generally pretty good as well.
Letna and Dejvice Prague 6 and 7
On the other side of the river, and to the north of Mala Strana, are the areas of Letna and Dejvice, which are generally seen as quieter, more established, and family oriented districts. When my wife and I started a family, for example, these are the areas in which we looked for a place to raise children. The Dejvice area is also thick with foreign Embassies and diplomats, including the enormous Russian embassy, and the US Ambassador’s residence, which would probably embarrass most heads of state for its size and luxury. Still, if you like parks, quieter restaurants, high end shopping (gourmet foods, wines and foreign shops) and a more local atmosphere, these areas can be ideal.
Smichov: Prague 5*
A traditionally industrial area to the south of Mala Strana, Smichov has developed into a vibrant business center in recent years. Still the home of several of The Czech Republic’s largest breweries, it is built up around a large train interchange. Seznam, Google, ING, and other international firms have their homes in Smichov, and the area offers corporate apartment living on a monthly basis, and has a high concentration of business-travel hotels. It is not, strictly speaking, the most attractive area in the city, but it has convenient shopping, and a number of very good restaurants around the Andel area, where Node5 and StartupYard are located.
Housing here is generally cheaper than in the center, with some higher priced offerings closer to Mala Strana. Transport to the city center via metro is not terribly inconvenient from this area, although night transport can be difficult, as night trams (after midnight) are less accessible than in other areas.
Housing Via Social Media:
Several busy Facebook groups serve the Flat-Sharing and rental market in Prague, and these may offer the most convenient short term options for housing.
- a Czech language flatsharing group
- an international flatsharing group
You can also find answers to simple and complex questions from groups like:
- an expat focused community board for Prague
- A question and answer group for anyone in the city