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Prague -- worried by what I read

So many posts say Prague is completely overrun by tourists, to the point where it sound as if it spoils the whole travel experience. We always travel shoulder season. April, May, late September and October, but even so it sounds like a zoo.

What's the best strategy for having a good experience? Get in, get out in a couple of days? Get up at 5am to avoid the people climbing up your back on the Charles Bridge? We have been to London, Paris Rome, multiple times so we know what's it's like to be in a place that is loved a little too well. So it does go with the territory, and we understand that. But Prague sounds so much worse that any of those cities for the tourist crowds.

It's also been said more than once that the people in Prague are not nice, that folks are much nicer in Budapest. Is one better off with some of the smaller towns in the Czech Republic, in terms of the friendliness of the locals? (We are not that picky, people say that Parisians are rude, but I have never found that at all!)

We would really like to go to Prague and have a nice time, but reading the board here gives me pause. Your advice appreciated!

Posted by
276 posts

Hi Vernon,

I think the reason Prague comes across as so much more of a "zoo" than other destinations is that the main tourist area is much more compact, so all the tourists are packed cheek to jowl. There is a reason why those areas are popular with tourists, but there's also a lot of beautiful architecture and history just a few block off the beaten path where it's much less crowded. Yes, there are streets where you feel like if you lifted your feet, you would be swept along with the tide of people. HOWEVER, Prague is a truly breathtaking city and well worth braving the crowds.

As for the locals being rude, I'm one of those who have stated a preference for the people of Budapest who are just extraordinarily warm, but though the people of Prague may not be overly friendly, I didn't experience any actual rudeness either.

Prague is great, just be sure to pack your patience and sense of humor and you'll enjoy it.

Posted by
590 posts

My first impression of Prague was not a good one. I walked the Charles Bridge in the afternoon and was so turned off by the hordes of tourists. Everything annoyed me, especially the guys standing out in front of the store/restaurant fronts trying to lure you in. Then I walked down the same stretch later in the evening and I fell in love with it. The next few days I did my strolling in the early morning or late afternoon. The crowds were much more manageable and the tourists were more "relaxed". I was there the first week in May. Couldn't imagine what the summer would be like.

Posted by
12040 posts

It is true that if you want a good, unobstructed view of Charles Bridge, you have to go early in the morning before it gets clogged with tourists. And, I've probably felt the crush of my fellow tourists more in Prague than any other large city in Europe. As mentioned, the areas of interest to tourists are relatively small, and there's few museums to suck the crowds off the streets. And it seems to host more cheap souvenir stores per capita than any other comparable European city.

But who cares? All those people are visiting because for the most part (minus some of the awful sections from the Communist period), it's a gorgeous city. I probably wouldn't spend as long there as I would in London or Paris, but I wouldn't not go either. The centers of Brugge and Rothenburg can also resemble tourist fun houses, but that doesn't negate the basic reason to visit.

Posted by
307 posts

Go...you'll have a good time and won't regret it. I found the area around Wenceslas Square was fairly crowded when I was there( last Sept)but it's not like that everywhere, simply what other posters said, compact tourist area. I would highly recommend Prague, it's a beautiful city and I never found the people to be rude( they won't greet you like a long lost friend perhaps, but they aren't rude I don't think). Definitely a city worth visiting...

Posted by
4524 posts

As others have mentioned, it's not as though there are more tourists in Prague as other cities, it's just that they are all in the same places without any locals to dilute the mix. The old center has basically been turned over to tourism. It's very noticeable, but not unpleasant. I don't think it's any more crowded than other popular cities. I wouldn't count the people in Prague as the most friendly, but I didn't notice them being particularly rude either. Perhaps reserved is a good word.

Posted by
45 posts

Hi Vernon,

In my opinion, you definitely must see Prague. It has tons of historical value and it is a beautiful city. My friends and I traveled there last winter in January. Even tho it was not as crowded, there was some restoration work going on with the Charles Bridge and it was hard to squeeze by with the foot traffic. It is a beautiful city. In the span of 3 days, my friends and I saw the New & Old Castle Quarters and The Jewish Quarter. Even though I am not Jewish, I am very much interested in that time frame of history and the tour of the Jewish Quarter is worth the admission. We had a private tour guide (Roman Bily) who was amazing and came Rick recommended. Even if you do have to make your way through the crowd, you'll find that it is well worth the push and shove!

Posted by
4637 posts

Don't get discouraged. Stare Mesto and Mala Strana (Old Town and Lesser Quarter) are magic and medieval. What's crowded it's so called Zlata kralovska cesta (could be translated as Golden King's Way or Golden Royal Way). It goes from Wenceslas Square to Old Town Square then to Charles Bridge and up to the Castle. The street is narrow medieval and most of tourists are trying to get through that street. If you want to walk that street and enjoy it, start at 8 am or earlier. You will have it almost for yourself, views and everything. True, most souvenir shops will be still closed but I consider it plus. Just one or few blocks away Prague is not crowded. Just like other big city. I didn't find people in Prague any less friendly than in other big cities. In small towns people are of course more personal but I think that's everywhere. Enjoy your stay, walk and look around, Prague is for walks and views and excellent beer with still reasonable price. Outside Prague price is even better.

Posted by
521 posts

The Czech people are not rude, they just all seem to look at you with one arched eyebrow. Definitely not rude, just skeptical.

Posted by
4362 posts

It reminds me a bit of Venice - it's better early and late, and definitely a must-see. I think the main problem is that it's gotten soooooo popular; not that many years ago, it was much less crowded and touristy and many people return and are very disappointed at how things have turned out. Prague has officially been discovered! I've never come across any rudeness, but if you travel 'the tourist route' it'll be crowded - look at your map for some 'back ways' to your destination. And get a GOOD map.

"...loved a little too well" - very well put. You'll be fine with this attitude!

Posted by
17 posts

Go to Prague! Do not hesitate! It is a magical city. We just returned on October 3 from a 4 night visit to Prague. There is a reason for all the tourists. As in many cities there are sights that you should not miss, despite the crowds. Do go to all the tourist locations, the top of the Clock tower, walk across the Charles Bridge (no need to do it at 5:00 a.m.), tour the Castle. Then wander the small medieval streets in the quiet neighborhoods and stop in a small cafe where the residents of the city have their meals. People were so helpful and nice to us. We felt that people were proud of their city and wanted us to love it as much as they do. There are two experiences in this truly wonderful city; seek out and delight in them both. Go to a concert in a Church. Visit the Jewish quarter and the surrounding neighborhood. Take a train out of the city to a small town.
Hope you decide to travel to Prague; there are so many reasons to love that city.

Posted by
186 posts

I agree with Elizabeth completely. We had a wonderful
visit in September and were treated well Prague, a
magical city. We stayed at the Arcadia Residence/Kozna 6. We had been warned about the crowds........and
didn't experience them.

Posted by
186 posts

Sorry...I meant to say that we were treated well in Prague!

Posted by
3696 posts

Don't miss Prague...if you don't like crowds do as I did. Being a photographer I got up at 4a.m. and watched the sunrise over the Charles Bridge and took my favorite image from that trip. You can see my photos at terrykathrynlawrence.com to entice you to be sure to not miss Prague. Also loved Budapest. Same thing...go to the sites in the off hours or when everyone else is having dinner. Rude people?
I agree with another comment... maybe reserved, but I find if I smile and laugh at myself, people are people...and I have been helped in every country I have ever traveled to. I think it is the Rick Steves attitude...he has taught us not to be the 'ugly american tourist'

Posted by
2876 posts

This question reminds me of an old Yogi Berra-ism. When his teammates invited him to eat at a particular New York restaurant, Yogi replied, "No one goes there anymore, it's too crowded."

Posted by
48 posts

We were just in Prague for 4 days of our 28 day European adventure, not the least bit over crowded. We had pubs to ourselves a couple of times early in the evening, and crossing the Charles Bridge at 9:30 in the morning there were some people but by no means the epic crowds we heard of. The city is magical, I too was worried about crowds beforehand, so glad I didn't let that change our itinerary. The locals treated us very well, no problems with any scheming or rip-offs I had read about. Go with an open mind and heart, you'll be glad you did.

Posted by
4637 posts

Randy, it didn't used to be that way. But lately Prague became more worldly and commoners simply don't have money to live in Downtown (Old Town and Lesser Quarter). It's more profitable for owners to rent it to businesses, hotels, tourists. But I think most big cities downtowns are like that.

Posted by
1525 posts

We were there last July. Yes, there were lots of tourists. But it was not the number of tourists or any crush of bodies that bothered me. That wasn't the issue at all. What bothered me was that there was no there there - in other words, it was not apparent to me that any Czech life was going on anywhere in the center of the city. I got the distinct impression that the only people there who spoke Czech were serving the tourists and that the 5 floors of apartments above the street level shops were empty.

It is a stunningly beautiful city if you focus on the structures. Even today, I oooh and aaahhh at our photos. But there was no there there. It made me sad.

Posted by
8 posts

Prague is a magnificent city. We visited Prague for 3 days in May 2009. Yes, there are tourists but we did not find it overwhelming. We took a day tour outside of Prague which was quite interesting. Prague is a city that requires alot of walking. However, we found people very nice and willing to accommodate your needs.

I would highly recommend visiting Prague.

Posted by
1 posts

My family and I are currently living in Prague. There are always times to see the sights while avoiding the masses. Mornings are magical[INVALID]-and before 9:00am you'll have a lot of places to yourself: Great views from Letna park, perfect time for coffee in old town square, less crowded bridge stroll etc. etc. Once you're outside of the castle and Old Town Square, you'll find so much more to Prague that isn't crowded out by tourists. I don't know when you're traveling[INVALID]but I'd recommend this time of year. As it gets colder here, folks visit the sights later[INVALID]-and the leaves are lovely around the palace gardens/Petrin Hill. As for friendliness, we find that visitors misinterpret "reserved" for "cold". It's a shame[INVALID]as we cannot say enough good things about the people where we live. Attempt to speak a little Czech. You'll find that most folks are helpful and kind.

Posted by
100 posts

Rebecca, it's VERY important what you mentioned about people being reserved and not cold, and it's very easy to misinterpret that kind of interaction. I know many Czech people and a lot of Croatians, Polish, and Hungarians here where I live in this Los Angeles harbor town and they are not unfriendly at all, simply conservative and as you say, reserved more or less in public.

Hey Vern, I am going to Prague in December and I had the exact same concerns as you, as well as a host of safety issues.... but no longer. I can't wait to get there and I don't care how cold it is. As far as crowds go, hey we're tourists, face it..we can deal with it, I know I will, I'm sure you can too. Prague is a must see. Raise a glass and toast Dubcek.

Posted by
2023 posts

Prague is definitely worth a visit and did seem crowded when we were there two years ago in October. I found that store clerks were impatient when I had trouble with Czech money. I also think that tourism is somewhat new to them after years of communism and few visitors. Wenceslas Square area is skippable IMO but the Jewish Quarter is a must see. Prague is the only place in Europe where I actually had people walking on my heels. I will return but as another poster said, Budapest is much friendlier and atmosphere is more relaxed.

Posted by
276 posts

Rebecca and Dutch, I really appreciate your defense of the Czechoslovakian people, so please don't misunderstand me when I say that the people of Prague aren't overly friendly; notice that I say people of Prague, not Czechs. I spent a lot of time in Poland, have many Polish friends, and have met Czechs both in Europe and, believe it or not, here in Oklahoma; I know that the Poles and Czechs are truly wonderful people! I understand and appreciate that "reserved" does not equal "cold", I actually find the reserved manner of many Europeans to be refreshing. I just found the people in the tourist industry in Prague to be a bit jaded by all of the visitors. Hey, I can't say that I blame them, it must be frustrating sometimes. All I was saying is that the people of Budapest were surprisingly friendly, and it made me feel more welcome as a visitor. And yes, I did try a little Czech, but I'm afraid it got mixed up with Polish, so maybe did more harm than good.

And Rebecca, I'm VERY envious!

Posted by
1259 posts

Dutch, it wasn't seeing the hookers that disturbed me. It was the packs of men on stag weekends roaming around drunk looking for them and shouting obscenities.

Posted by
1259 posts

Admittedly I was there in 2004 so it might have changed, but it was June and the tourist horde was thicker than that of Rome in July 2008 or Venice September 2010.

I'm surprised nobody has mentioned the sex tourism. That is what turned me off the city in a big way. Perhaps it's moved further east since then?

Posted by
100 posts

I don't think anyone's mentioned it because it's too commonplace to large population centers everywhere in the world.....and no culture has stamped it out yet. It's probably bigger than when you were there....there's always a demand for it.

Finding a MCDonalds in the same square as the Pantheon was more disturbing to me than the hookers.

Posted by
839 posts

I'm curious where you heard that Prague was this "zoo" of crazy tourists. We were there a couple of weeks ago, and had a wonderful time. There was no bigger a concentration of toursts here than in Berlin, Budapest, Munich, Amsterdam, or central Brussels. No one was climbing up anyone's back on Charles Bridge, even in the middle of a sunny afternoon.

I also did not notice any lack of friendliness on the part of locals. If anything, they were nicer than a lot of Berliners we encountered.

And also...this board can collectively exaggerate a lot of "fears" about Europe. For example, I bought a money belt and brought it with me, only to leave it locked in my hostel room or zipped up in my bag. Never actually wore it, and everything was just fine.

Posted by
100 posts

I can't write off a whole city based on the behavior of a group of people who are merely obnoxious in public, that's being unfair to all those in that city who were friendly, welcoming and did their jobs well.

I went into the Vatican knowing full well that statistically a certain percentage of the people inside were pedophiles, but they didn't reflect the majority in there or in their service around the world.

Posted by
113 posts

Vernon, I had the same worries, that's why I added a day in Budapest, and took out one in Prague. But, there's not much difference. People there were trained not to trust for 40 yrs under the communists, so my smiley face wasn't enough to get them friendly. Younger people, esp. in services (hotels, restaurants,..) are used to tourists so they tend to smile more, if you do. Yes, LOTS of people in Prague! But the preserved architecture is breath taking. If you don't like crowds, wake up early, or stay up late. Also, go farther out of the Main Square to eat. No crowds. Check Rick's book for place to eat. We also joined the FREE Walking tour that starts in front of Astro Clock. Worth it.

Posted by
115 posts

I agree with ones who say go, enjoy, you will love it! The people are lovely, not to worry. But if you can include a smaller town, we just loved Cesky Kromlov. Took train from Pargue to there, and it was absolutely enchanting.
Hasve fun, wish I was going again, been there twice.

Posted by
135 posts

Just returned from Prague and Budapest. I was worried about the crime that is mentioned online. No crime, no crowds in October. People were great in both cities. (I never had a problem in Paris with the people either.)

Posted by
977 posts

I was in Prague 6 years ago in April. I loved it. We walked the Charles Bridge many times - at night was special.
I found the hordes of tourists, beggars, scammers in Paris when visiting two months ago, much more annoying than anything I encountered in Prague.

Posted by
2 posts

It's the world's oldest profession! Get over it. Don't be such a prude. They weren't obsessing about you, they were just blowing off steam.

Posted by
4362 posts

I don't think stag weekends equal sex tourism. I think it's cheap(er) beer and extremely cheap flights to a place far, far away from Mommy/Daddy/Fiance(e). Kinda like Las Vegas. I've seen the drunks, but I've never seen the sex...and I somehow doubt the drunks did very often, either...

Posted by
34 posts

Part I A defense of residents Eileen is right that historical Prague is somewhat like Venice, except that in Venice you don't see groups of 50 tourists struggling after their guide and sweeping everyone else out of the way. I suppose in Venice they'd be pushing the residents into the canals while here it's just into the street! I don't think residents are particularly rude but quite a few tourists are. We are really tired of drunken Brits on package tours, and loud people of all nationalities are offensive. Having survived the Nazi invasion and the Soviet invasion and occupation, it is really a shock to see this unpleasant side of capitalism. One resident who lives in the center says she feels she runs a gauntlet every time she comes out her front door.

Posted by
34 posts

PART II Tips and some explanations One tip: Czechs are very much like the French. If you greet a shop assistant in France with "Bonjour" and a friendly look directly in the eye, you will get a good reception. Here, the phrase is "Dobry den." Unlike in the U.S. when a greeting as you enter a store often means "We have seen you. Don't shoplift," here it means more like in the film Avatar, or the Hindi phrase "namaste": You see the other individual with respect. This is being eroded by foreign supermarkets which force employees to greet customers at checkout quite mechanically. In untainted interactions, however, you will find old-fashioned Czech values of humbleness, quiet unobtrusiveness, and consideration. People take pride in their jobs, no matter how humble those jobs are. You will also see it on trams, where locals leap up to give you their seat, while tourists obliviously hog the seats set aside for the elderly, blind, and disabled. The most polite way to offer your seat is simply to get up when you see the person most likely to need it boarding the tram, without making eye contact or calling attention to yourself or them. Of course, you may have some idiot tourist misinterpret all this and immediately grab the seat, leaving the elderly man on crutches standing there. No one will say anything. At most there will be a slight rolling of the eyes between two locals. Another person will rise, quietly. Is this rudeness?

Posted by
290 posts

Thanks Hedgie for the reponses. I have tried to explain these things for years to folks in the USA before they head over there. A little politeness to others will go a long way at home and abroad. The "me first" attitude I see many times drive me bonkers. Truthfully, I think the Praguers & especially the pensioners are getting plain tired of the lack of courtesy & respect being shown by tourists - especially on public transportation. Folks forget this is not an amusement park but where people live. On a few occasions in recent years I see elderly men tell tourists to let them sit down while pulling out their senior id to try to make them understand. And there have been a few times when locals tell tourists they should get up for an older woman - most times when she is loaded down with packages &/or grandkid(s). The only reason this happened is all the seats were taken by tourists, so no locals could quietly give up their seat.

Posted by
988 posts

I always thought it was common courtesy to give up your seat to the elderly or disabled. That's what I learned as a child. Of course, who in the US takes public transportation these days (unless you live in a large metropolis).

Posted by
8 posts

Prague is fantastic. You shouldn't let people's comments about crowds worry you. There is so much to see. Instead of focusing on the people around you, look up at the georgous architecture. But, if you REALLY hate crowds, go to Krakow, Poland instead.

Posted by
5 posts

My daughter and I were in Prague for 2 days in late November and found most people were nice enough. But be careful at the train station. We were early for our train and just about to get on when an agressive porter came and took my daughter's suitcases and said he would put them on the train. She said she didn't need help but he took them anyway. I had mine in my hand and he said he would take mine too. I told him no but he took it out of my hand. He put the cases in the compartment and then said we owed him 120 Korunas. We said we didn't have that much Czech money and he said 100 Korunas and 4 euro. He was quite nasty and there weren't any other people on board yet, so we gave him some money. He said he wanted more but then some other people were boarding and he turned and left. That was an unfortunate incident but otherwise we felt Prague was beautiful and enjoyed our time there.

Posted by
4637 posts

As I am aware there are no official porters I would say he was a conartist. I had an experience twice with some Polish conartists in Prague Main Train Station. They spoke polish among themselves that's how I knew they were Polish.

Posted by
134 posts

My first day in Prague, I had only large bills and I was walking around while jet lagged. I passed an ice cream shop and really wanted ice cream. I held up my big bill and asked sheepishly if they had change. I was accustomed to the Italians distaste for breaking large bills. The ice cream lady said with a big smile "yes". Then she goes to get change for entire bill--she didn't even think I was going to buy ice cream. I instantly fell in love with Prague and ate ice cream.

Posted by
12400 posts

Elizabeth, I am afraid you got scammed, hopefully you didn't lose too much to that fake porter. In all my trips and train rides, esp. in Germany and including CZ and Poland, I don't recall ever seeing any porter service. You got picked on because this con guy saw two women alone, since no other passengers were around. I wonder what his behaviour would have been had you insisted on not giving him any money at all since his help with your luggage was totally unsolicited...time was on your side since the imposter took off once the other passengers started to show up. I did see one time for sure, either in 1989 or 1992, at Frankfurt Hbf. this young guy running around with a Kofferkuli and offerring his "help" to women (solo) encumbered by luggage. And one young woman did fall for this...she was not an American.

Posted by
135 posts

We went to Budapest, Prague & Vienna in Oct. and were worried about what we had read online also. However, we had NO problems with crowds, pick-pockets, etc. We loved Budapest, then Prague, then Vienna. The people we met in Budapest were so friendly and helpful and enthusiastic about rebuilding their country after Communism, it was a joy to witness.

Posted by
3 posts

We were in Prague in late September and yes, the olde town is crowded, touristy and noisy. So we stayed at the Guesthouse Lida, off the beaten path, to kick back a little and it's only 4 tram stops (10 minutes) from the Charles Bridge, which is a madhouse unless you go early in the morning and more stunning, later at night. Hotels in the olde town are pricey, staffed by some rude folks, But Jan, the owner of Guesthouse Lida, is wonderful and helped us arrange everything we wanted to do in the three days we had, including picking us up at the train station and recommending a very good local eatery. This is a fun city for young people who want to party all night, yet brimming with history and stunning architecture. Treat yourself and experience the city. We will be going back for certain. Mike & Linda Harley
Laguna Niguel, CA

Posted by
21243 posts

Just returned last night from nearly a week in Prague. It was cold, snowy, and crowded but nothing different than any other European city of same size. Used subway, trains,.trams and had no problems or concerns. Did have to carefully add our restaurant bills as their addition skills seem to focus on rounding up a lot.

Posted by
81 posts

Like Frank, we just returned from Prague. We would go back any time. It was a fabulous trip. People were very friendly, but there were three different occasions where the change given back was 50-100CZK short and when we called it on them the person just apologized and acted like it was a mistake. My husband has been to Budapest and he does think they people were nicer there than in Prague, but we never dealt with anyone that was particularly rude. The first day we had a little more trouble than usual getting our bearings. The streets were a little confusing, but by day two it clicked. I would encourage anyone that has any desire to go to Prague to do it.