Legend has it that the Charles Bridge has stood for so long because egg yolks were mixed in with the mortar. But looking at the bridge on any day of the year, regardless of rain, sleet or snow, one could argue the bridge is held together with tourists bear hugging each other from one end to the other.
Of the over 6 million visitors to Prague last year it would be a slight exaggeration to claim that all of them crossed the Charles Bridge. It is crowded, always. As ten people walk off, ten more walk on. This makes the bridge one of the best Prague tourist traps.
Prague Tourist Traps to Avoid
As you stroll heal to toe along the bridge your gaze bounces from the statues lining the balustrade, to the castle perched on the hill, to the river below on its journey to the North Sea. An idilic moment that could transport you back to a time of kings and valiant knights on horse back. It could if it was not for the hawkers lining the bridge selling caricature paintings of Tom Cruise or the more mentally intrusive music box man belting out polka music. What type of tourist travels all the way to Prague to cross the 700 year old bridge to buy a polka music cd? I don’t know. Certainly not you.
Read more about the City: Don't go to Prague as a tourist
You buy nothing and continue down the bridge. Avoid the temptation of touching the Statue of St. John. Touch it for good fortune they say, but touch it and all you will get is the common cold from one of the hundreds who touched it before you. Look at it, take a picture of it, but unless you are wearing gloves, don’t touch it. At the end of the bridge you decide it is a perfect time to relax and try the world famous Czech beer. Although not true, but locals believe it, good beer was invented in and only exists within the borders of the Czech Republic. For Czechs beer is not a beverage to consume for the alcohol, it is a mandatory compliment to traditionally greasy and hearty Czech meals. Grandmothers will have a beer with their lunch, men will have a beer with their goulash and dumplings breakfast. Beer is a staple and that is why compared to everywhere else in the EU it is cheap as bread – the government risks its reign by increasing the beer tax.
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Stairs lead off the side of the bridge. You walk down and turn around. There as if ready-made just for you is a little stand tucked under the stone archway. The sign says authentic Czech beer. Your finger to gesture one the man behind the counter responds by pulling out a shiny green and gold can. He cracks it open and the sale is done. You just bought a can of beer for more than twice the amount locals pay. You fell into a tourist trap.
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Of course Prague is not the only city with tourist traps. But Prague has more effective ones than most. There are two main reasons for this. The first is because tourists limit their visit to a few key sites: the Prague Castle, Charles Bridge, Old Town Square. First time visitors with only a few days feel that they must see these landmarks – they are mandatory sites just like the Eiffel tower in Paris. Tourists bounce between these sites with no time left for the rest of Prague. The fortunate store and restaurant owners established near these sites and on the streets connecting them have a constant stream of tourists. This certainty of tourist traffic allows them to raise prices.
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The second reason Prague is an ideal for tourist traps is language. About 10 million people in the world speak Czech and most of them live in the Czech Republic. As a tourist the odds are you do not speak the notoriously difficult language. Those trying to pick up even a few phrases quickly come to understand why it is refereed to as the Rolls-Royce of languages. Not only are there phonic sounds that exists no where else – the tongue slapping sound of ?, but even the word for beer changes depending how many beers are involved (1 pivo, 2 piva, 5 piv). Efforts to learn even the basics quickly end in bewilderment and frustration. Most give up after hello (dobry den) and thank you (dik). Unable to communicate, tourists fear venturing too far from the safety of the little English speaking islands in Prague. This keeps them confined to the tourist traps.
Fortunately tourist traps in Prague are very small (an tourist trap app that tells you whether you are standing in one). Usually it is just a matter of walking 10 minutes in a random direction and you are in local territory. Pull out your wallet, you are trap free in the real Prague. A Prague where you will not come across a man selling polka music. A Prague were the price for a mug of beer is less than a bottle of water.
Roman lives and writes in Prague. On Travel Prague he shares his tips and advice for tourists. He invites you all to the city and hopes you don’t fear venturing into the narrow cobbled streets of the real Prague for the best beer in the world.