When visiting Prague it is hard to ignore the masses of tourists which populate the city centre. A record 7.9 million people visited Prague in 2018, this is close to six times the population of the capital with significant increases year upon year. The city has struggled to keep the historical relevance and prestige that Praha has with various legislation such as attempted bans on beer bikes and stricter public drinking laws. This is in the face of a rise of a new Czech capital, Prague, a ‘lads’ holiday paradise with cheap beer and relaxed drinking laws.
A short walk through Prague 1 to the old town you will see countless bars bristling with backpackers and groups of western European men taking the famous ‘mobile bars’. An Irish bar even sits on the corner of the old town square- the historical centre of the city. After talking to a few of the visitors it isn’t hard to work out their motives for visiting the city. “One of my mates came here a few years ago and told me I had to come for the beer and nightlife, flights were only 40 quid as well” said Tom Baker, 23 from Manchester, after I inquired on his reason for visiting the city. Very few travellers that I spoke to showed any interest in the historical aspect of the city with one Irish man named Dylan proudly telling me that he was not planning on visiting any of the historical sights. With articles such as ‘the ultimate Prague stag do guide 2019’ you can see how the situation has arisen and many Czechs, including newly appointed night mayor Jan Stern, see it as causing “significant issues” in the city centre.
Various efforts have been made over recent years to try to control and prevent the centre of Prague turning into a landlocked Magaluf. The most significant of these was the ban on public drinking in the whole of Prague 1 in 2017 and the appointment of a night mayor at the start of 2019 to mediate between municipals of Prague 1, the police and the owners of drinking establishments in order to limit the negative impact of Prague nightlife on residents and the prosperity of the city. However, not all legislation has been easily passed with staunch opposition from various drinking outlets. An attempted ban on beer bikes to take effect in August was postponed due to lobbying from a brewery named Gwern which supplies the beer for the bikes. However, Prague deputy mayor Adam Scheinherr has stated that the ban will still come into effect after the delay.
Several measures have been put in place over the years in order to reduce the impact of drinking tourism in the city centre. In August 2018 noise metres were introduced in the hope they would deter tourists from being rowdy late at night. However, the plan backfired when tourists competed to be the loudest resulting in a recall of all the metres. Similarly the introduction of security teams in the centre was also rescinded as it caused more unrest than it prevented.
Police presence within the old town is also a clear indication of the current situation and what the city is doing about it. When asked why the police always have a van and officers within the old town square one officer told me that “it was for the safety of the tourists because of lots of crime in the area”. Many signs in the centre reflect this issue, warning tourists of scams and also of drinking related fines.
The increase in legislation and measures to control drinking tourism in recent years shows that the city is making an active effort to combat this issue with Pavel Čižinský, mayor of Prague 1, stating that there needs to be more information drives to promote tourists to visit other historical sights further out of the city. We will soon see the effectiveness of these schemes.