Scenes from Prague & The Emergence of Overtourism

By Kate Riley September 15, 2018

The city of Prague has intrigued me since my brother told me tales of his adventures from when he visited in the late 1990s. One of my most fun friends is also from the Czech Republic so when she asked me to come visit her, I was more than happy to make the trip. I started by spending three days in Brno then we drove together to Prague to explore it for another three days.

 

Prague is a beautiful city, but if you really want to appreciate the architectural beauty of the old town, you need to do it in the early morning, because once the cafes begin to fill at 9 a.m. and for the rest of the day (at least when I was there in June) the main squares of Prague are so completely overrun with tourists that I just wanted to escape it, which brings me to some reflections on overtourism, but I’ll share more on that at the end of this post.

One morning I got up early and walked around the main city and squares between 7 and 9 a.m., there were very few people out and about so I felt as if had the streets to myself.

 

 

 

MY LATEST VIDEOS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prague is filled with stunning architecture, but the one design element I kept noticing was the constantly changing patterns in the pedestrian sidewalks around the city, all of them made with the same gray and white cobblestones but in varying patterns.

 

 

 

 

 

Despite my aversion for the overcrowded streets of old town by day, I confess Prague at night is really magical. Walking around the city feels like a fairy tale with the old world lanterns lighting up the misty sky and the curving cobblestone paths. The pictures don’t quite capture the inky blue sky that lingered long after the sun set. The color was surreal, it was if you were in a giant movie studio and that deep blue was being projected on a screen above you.

 

 

 

 

Prague is known for its nightlife and I could see why! For hours into the evening, the streets were filled with people into the early morning hours since the cafes and clubs are open late into the night.

My traveling companion Ingrid and I found the best underground bar I’ve been to called Black Angels in the Old Town Square. I have no pictures because inside it’s forbidden to be on your phone so instead you order a drink and spend your time talking to the people all around you (imagine that) while you soak in the dimly lit interior filled with traditional Czech crystal chandeliers and gilded framed works of art hung on thick white stone walls. As you soak up the ambiance, you’re entertained by the elegantly dressed and multi-talented bartenders mixing libations while you listen to the live piano player, it’s an enchanting place in the style of the 1930s, like one you’d find during the Prohibition, and a highlight of my visit.

When in Prague I loved looking at all the Czech crystal, you see in everywhere in storefronts and shops. After three days of looking I found one store off the beaten path and inside bought a set of highball glasses.

 

 

I’m always on a quest for the best local dish, so like the three days I spent in Brno, I had my share of goulash and beer! And you’ll find so many vendors for the traditional dessert trdelnik , a sugar coated dough that’s filled with any topping you choose.

 

 

One impressive place we visited was the Vyšehrad Fortress, just outside the old town, it was a great place to escape the massive amounts of tourists crowding the main city streets by day.

 

 

 

 

Vyšehrad is situated above the river with beautiful panoramic views of the city, we were lucky to have perfect visibility and blue skies.

 

 

Vyšehrad wins for having the most beautiful church doors.

 

 

A great place to spend an afternoon was down at Naplavka by the river where a series of boats are anchored along the Vltava river serving beer and wine. Notice the special guests that kept us company.

 

 

 

 

On my last afternoon we took a walk up to the famous Prague Castle complex – make the hike up the hill and you’ll enjoy the panoramic views of the old city below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have to give a shout out to the doors of Prague, there were so many that made me stop just to admire the details and snap a photo.

 

 

 

I’m always a sucker for a centuries old door!

 

 

I did love my visit to Prague but truth be told, I was overwhelmed by the amount of travelers in the city. I was there in June and during my stay I noticed an onslaught of tour groups that took over, with tour guides holding sticks up in the air guiding massive crowds of people from place to place. I was only able to enjoy the main parts of the old city in the early morning hours and in the late evening hours because there were just so many tourists during the day. As a result, the old town part of the city was unpleasant by day and if I hadn’t made the effort to see Prague in the early morning hours I would have left with a distaste for this historic place.

The central streets of Prague were so unbearable on our first day that we ducked into a local proprietor’s small deli to escape the crowds. Inside, my traveling companion Ingrid (who is a citizen of the Czech Republic) started a long conversation about what has happened to the city in the last decade. Tourism has robbed the once authentic streets of their cultural charm. Now they are filled with global brand stores and souvenir shops, many selling Czech Republic memorabilia manufactured in China.

What is overtourism? It’s when a place becomes so popular to tourists that its businesses and infrastructure can no longer handle the influx of travelers that takeover the streets, hotels, and cafes, making the destination unpleasant due to the excessive amounts of people visiting. It’s happening in Santorini, it’s happening in Machu Picchu, it’s happening in Barcelona, in countless other places, and it was present in Prague.

What is the reason for overtourism? Mostly it’s because travel has become cheaper. I admit I’m the first to take advantage of a great flight deal. I’m an advocate for budget travel, and most often I rent from Airbnb for reasons I’ve written about.

I’m thinking about overtourism more carefully as I plan future trips. I always want to avoid the sea of sameness that I found traveling in Europe and renting apartments in both Bergen, Norway and in Prague. I much prefer the rent a room method I tried in Seattle or the personal spaces I’ve rented in Austin and Brussels and Oslo where it’s clear from the host’s profile and the way the property is decorated that the space is curated with personal items, rented to supplement income, and is not a place owned by a corporation or property hoarder constantly turning over their dozens of lofts decorated cheaply in all IKEA products for easy profits.

Countries are fighting back against overtourism and local governments are taking action and getting creative in their efforts to control tourism. This article by Nomadic Matt proposing solutions to overtourism directly addresses the issue in an insightful way.

Travel in the off season, support businesses run by locals outside the touristy areas, and show respect to the local culture. Don’t make your trip about the Instagram moments, but rather about the experience of exploring a new place and immersing yourself into a culture for the education it brings.

Have you witnessed overtourism in any of your recent travels?

.

28 comments

  1. We were in Croatia and Sicily this August, and yes, we most definitely witnessed overtourism in Debrovnik and Split, the two main cities that our yacht went to (beginning and ending respectively). The small, charming islands we visited were far more pleasant. Unfortunately August is not the best time to travel to Europe as not only do you have the regular influx of tourists but Europeans themselves are typically on holiday then, but we had no choice this go around.

    • It’s a dilemma, since many people can only find the time to travel to Europe in the summer and don’t have a choice if they want to go somewhere. What irked me were the busloads of tour groups that were there, I get it, the people want to see the sites, but it was truly overwhelming for me but the ones I feel sad for are the locals.

  2. We visited Prague in early May and agree that the masses of tourists made the beautiful city pretty unpleasant. It is such a shame – I’m glad we went but would not want to go back and would not recommend it as a place to visit.

  3. I’d been to Santorini in the late 60s and 70s. It was a magical place. I returned with my husband this year and it was Hellish.
    There were way too many people. Large cruise ships were disgorging thousands of people! It was like a Queen termite who keeps churning out larva. Just awful!
    We only stayed an hour and I was in tears. They definitely need regulations as to how many cruise ships, and passengers, can arrive each day!

    • I’ve read about the cruise ships and huge masses of people disembarking for the day, it’s a really big problem in Santorini. I think they plan to limit the number that come to port.

  4. Gorgeous photos and post Kate! I finally achieved a dream of 30 years to visit Paris this year. Like you, I stayed in a gorgeous tiny Airbnb and got up early to explore.
    We arrived on a Thursday, and obviously those big tour groups began arriving on Monday. They were awful, there was so much litter by all the tourist bus stops, and they were so loud! They completely ruined The Louvre for me, it was so bad. And the ridiculous crowd swarming a painting they don’t care about, just to take a selfie with really got to me.
    Paris, however was far, far better than I could ever have expected, and I found the people lovely. I’m not sure what the answer is, everyone does want to travel and see these beautiful places, but how to do it lightly, without destroying the charm?

    • Yes I see that so much now, people swarming a popular thing just for the selfie!!! I read a story about people fighting in front of the Trevi fountain in Rome over a selfie!

      I agree with you, we can’t deny people the right to travel to wherever they wish to go. I have a big problem with the tourists that are pushy and selfish and disrespectful to the locals.

  5. Beautiful photos, thanks for sharing. If you’d loved Prague, you’d love Budapest if you haven’t been yet.

  6. I have a problem with the idea of disliking “too many” tourists. The experience of traveling amongst overly (tourist) crowded cities would of course annoy and dishearten me, but somehow this comes across as selfish, with an “I’m better than you’ sentiment. After all, by traveling someplace yourself, YOU too are the very problem!

    Perhaps the only “answer” (that you can implement yourself) is to not travel during peak season to any given location.

    • I hear what you’re saying, with so many wanting to see the famous places, you can’t tell people to stay away or have an attitude that they don’t deserve to be there as much as you.

      I just hate that these historical places a desirable destinations are totally overrun during the high season. As I mentioned to Doreen, many people can only travel in the summer, or they just like to travel in the summer because that’s what our culture does, we get away from our regular life, in the summer! Personally, I’ve found it more pleasant to travel in the off season, April and May, September and October, when the weather is still nice and there are far less people. I was able to enjoy Scandinavia in late April and France in late September more because I went during those off season months.

  7. Thanks for sharing the beauty of Prague while also being honest about your experience. Being married to a Brit, have traveled to England for 25 years and watched it become a mini-America in regards to shopping. Last time I visited London’s Covent Garden, I was almost cried. Gone were the adorable,unique shops. Imagine my horror at seeing BUILD-A-BEAR, Gap, Tiffany’s, etc…This is happening everywhere. Even here in the U.S. we’ve lost boutique stores in our little travel areas. THe only benefit is I save money because I hardly shop when traveling now.

    • I’ve seen that phenomenon too, it’s globalization on steroids. I remember being in Munich almost 20 years ago when I was backpacking through Europe and it was so authentic and charming, then I returned two years ago and it had totally changed. Most of the small mom and pop local artisans had disappeared and been replaced with stores like Adidas and H&M.

  8. Venice is such a victim of overtourism! Those enormous cruise ships pull in and dump thousands of tourists daily. We were lucky enough to stay right by the Piazza San Marco, and like you, took advantage of the early morning hours to explore there, then headed into the maze of little canals and alleys off the tourist path (although the island is so small, it could all be considered overrun with tourists!)

    • Yes I’ve read that about Venice, lovely in the morning but stay out of the city during the day, too many cruise ship visitors.

  9. I was in Prague a few years ago. Pretty city, but it didn’t “grab” me like Paris does. I missed the Jewish cemetery in Prague, which I understand is very interesting.

  10. I agree with Barbara Prague didn’t “grab” us either. We were there in early April of 2008 there were no crowds.. I know many people have to travel in the summer months for us we travel off season.

    • I liked so many things about Prague but it wasn’t my favorite either. Salzburg is still the city where I’ve found the most charm, second was Aix-en-Provence, but I plan to visit dozens more European cities in my lifetime so perhaps they will get knocked down a notch or two. :)

  11. It’s hard isn’t it? You want to travel and so do millions of others. We all get annoyed but we’re included in the “problem” because we caught the travel bug. Seems to me individual cities need to keep doing what they’re starting to do and regulate. If you don’t want streets overrun, then the responsibility lies with the city to stop it. It’s not really a solution to tell people to stay out of thecity center when that’s what everyone wants to see. Its like saying “Don’t order the besthing onthe menu because that’s what everyone else wants! Instead you 86 what you run out of!

    • Yep, it’s definitely a dilemma, the cities thrive on the tourism but take a beating, and when they’re overcrowded with travelers it can be a negative experience then people find that these places that used to be charming are now so unpleasant due to the sheer amount of people.

  12. I was in NYC recently and decided to rent a Citibike and ride across the Brooklyn Bridge. It was jammed with tourists. The pedestrian lanes were jammed with people and the bike lanes were interspersed with pedestrians making it dangerous for those of us on bikes. It was not the enjoyable experience I was hoping it would be. Overtourism wrecked it.

  13. I think the answers are with letting people who are staying in the city have access to the whole city. Those people are supporting the economy by staying, eating, and shopping there. Cities will really need to restrict the day trippers such as the tour groups and cruise ships. That’s what is causing the overtourism. And, frankly, those people aren’t the ones who are really supporting the local economy. It’s the people staying there.

  14. Those are some nice-looking photos! I’ll definitely add Prague on my list of places-to-visit. By the way, when do you think is the best time to go there so I don’t get overwhelmed by so many other tourists?

    • I imagine it’s far less crowded in spring and late fall, I believe Prague has a Christmas Market so it probably gets crowded then as well.

  15. My main issue when we travel is always the large tour groups- they move slow, they clog up streets and walk ways and they’re usually the main culprits when tourists are disrespecting historical places and artifacts. I actually saw a middle-aged person from a large group run up and sit on the queen’s 15th century throne in Spain. I think it might sound harsh, but I recommend heavily fining the individuals AND tour companies when they do things like that.

    Also, we ONLY travel internationally in the shoulder season and we cannot recommend it enough! Many times the opera or symphony haven’t even started their seasons during peak travel time so you’re missing out on huge cultural experiences right there alone!

    • That’s a huge frustration for me too, the huge herds of tour groups. I can’t criticize people for taking tours, I know a lot of older people who feel more comfortable with a guide and with their peers so they like traveling like that but I do hear what you’re saying. :)

  16. Amen amen amen!! It is a tragic reality. I think you nailed it when you said we need to have respect for the individual cultures, to immerse ourselves. People now “tour” as if viewing a place from outside a fishbowl. My heart aches at the decline of authentic, grass roots cultures.

Leave a comment!

Keep the conversation going! Your email address will not be published.*

*

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Lately on Instagram (@centsationalstyle)