Friday 24 May 2019

Pól Ó Conghaile: Why Prague's crowded centre needs a reality Czech

Prague's city centre is increasingly crammed in peak season, so how can tourists skip the crowds?

The Old City Hall in Prague with its famous clock (Freeartist/Getty Images)
The Old City Hall in Prague with its famous clock (Freeartist/Getty Images)
Pól Ó Conghaile

Pól Ó Conghaile

Sunset is particularly sweet on Prague's Charles Bridge.

The sting is slipping from the heat; St Vitus' Cathedral is fading into silhoette. Musicians are playing, caricaturists drawing, and the air carries the warm smell of pretzels. It's ideal... if only I wasn't sharing it with thousands of fellow tourists.

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It's a travel dilemma for our times.

With endless cheap flights and Instagram spinning destinations like a slot machine, popular spots are cramming up in peak season.

There were over 1.4bn tourist trips last year, according to the UNWTO, and tourism magnets such as Barcelona, Venice and Santorini are feeling the pressure of packed streets, frustrated locals and over-stretched infrastructure.

Visiting Croatia last month, I learned that limestone in Dubrovnik's Old Town has been buffed so dangerously smooth by flip-flop-footfall, that it's now manually 'roughed up' by chiselling workers before each summer season.

Tourism crowds in Prague (photo: Deposit)
Tourism crowds in Prague (photo: Deposit)

Prague is another poster child for overtourism, with over a dozen flights a week from Ireland alone. In looking to cover the Czech Republic in our travel pages this week, we had a question. How could readers explore without the crowds?

One answer, we think, is to look beyond that city centre crush.

There's more to Prague than Charles Bridge, stag parties and an Astronomical Clock, as Thomas Breathnach discovers in Holesovice, while Yvonne Gordon leaves the city entirely - venturing further afield to explore the lesser-known cities of Brno, Ostravo and Olomouc.

We're not alone in this trend.

Several tourism boards are encouraging visitors beyond pinch points - NYCgo.com is actively marketing boroughs beyond Manhattan, for instance, and Fáilte Ireland is developing the 'regionality' and 'seasonality' of our own tourist season.

Prague City Tourism has also been promoting off-radar 'hoods like Holešovice and Letna, and a new 'Night Mayor', Jan Stern, has been tasked with managing nightlife in a city where beer is cheaper than water.

"Prague has a reputation of a party place with cheap booze and almost no rules," he's said. "It's time to change that."

An annual 'hotel night' also offers locals a chance to experience hotels in their neighbourhood at low prices, "as a way of thanking them for putting up with the occasionally less than pleasant aspects of living in a massively popular tourist destination".

Clearly, dispersing tourists is just part of the solution. Before showing visitors to alternative neighbourhoods, media and marketers need to be sure they are ready for visitors, and not tumbleweed towns in the off-season.

Thanks to Thomas and Yvonne, I think we've got a good mix.

Irish Independent

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