Off the beaten tracks

For many people, Prague is seen as a doorway to Central and Eastern Europe. Tourists visit this city, not only for the cheap beer it has to offer, but also to learn more about the history and culture of a region and a country they actually know very few about. Yet, does travelling to Prague really allow one to get to know the Czech culture better?

Every year, millions of visitors travel to the capital of Bohemia. Consequently, the city adapts to fully take advantage of this potential source of income.

If the first thing you notice in Prague is its beautiful architecture, the second thing is the flow of tourists surrounding you everywhere in the city centre. As they are a real opportunity for the local economy, tourist-oriented shops are to be seen everywhere in Prague 1. The thing is, the sold items are not quite as Czech as they pretend to be.

“Many shops sell Russian or Asian things, so I don’t think it’s good for tourists to go to these weird shops”, a Czech student says. “The city was okay but I found it very artificial because there are so many tourists”, a Canadian tourist continues. If you have a walk in the very centre, you will indeed come across the very same shops at every corner: candies, so-called Bohemian crystal, basic souvenir shop (most of which items are made in China) and of course the very local Trdelnik – yet note that Czechs never eat it with ice cream.

Another thing that will make it hard for you to get to know the Czech culture from a local perspective is that tourists and Czechs seem to live in two different worlds. Many Czechs avoid the city centre because they don’t feel very comfortable in its always crowded streets, whereas most tourists stick to the centre, instead of exploring other parts of the city. Besides, many of the workers in the tourism industry are actually foreigners.

Finally, there is also, in some cases, language barriers between Czechs who are not fluent in the English language and tourists who barely know three words of Czech. As a result, locals and tourists do not really interact with one another. “I’m not sure I met any Czech here, they’re quite hard to be found”, the Canadian tourist deplored. “Tourists often ask me for the way to Charles’ Bridge, but it’s my only contact to them”, the Czech student underlined.

This situation could be specific to Prague because it is such a cosmopolitan city, but this is true for other famous places across the Czech Republic. Go on to a day-trip Český Krumlov: you will find it surprisingly peaceful as long as you stay in parallel streets and until 11:00am. After that, buses packed with tourists will arrive and you will not be able to walk normally in the main streets.

Is it then impossible to have a glimpse into the Czech culture while being a tourist? Not necessarily. Czech student recommends to travel to some smaller cities and, most of all, to avoid city centres. In the Czech Republic as well as in any other place in the world, there is actually just one rule to follow if you want to fully experience a country: go off the beaten tracks.

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