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.
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?