Prague Taxis and exchange places remain big problems

Tourism officials say the city is better, but people still need to be careful

Complaints from tourists are down, but they still face hazards in Prague's city center. Prague tourism officials warn tourists to be careful in the coming Easter season, and throughout the summer.

Prague saw 7 million visitors last year, which provides a large target audience for people who want to take advantage of them.

Overtourism is one issue. The city center has become so filled with tourists that local people seldom go there. This gives shop owners and service providers free rein to do what they want. A solution is for tourists to go beyond the city center and explore more of the interesting neighborhoods.

Overpriced taxis remain one of the chief embarrassments in the city, despite years of effort to clean up the situation. Taxi drivers recently have been protesting against competition from app-based ride services, but consumers point out that taxi drivers are the ones who drove their customers away.

A Czech might spend about Kč 300 from the airport to the center, a tourist may spend over Kč 1,000.

One case near Old Town Square saw a foreigner charged Kč 6,000 for a ride that should have been Kč 500.

The Czech Republic has not adopted the euro, so tourists will have to change money. This is another long-standing problem. While the government has passed laws requiring that the rate is posted, many exchange shops post multiple signs to confuse clients. Some exchange shops give roughly half the amount that the exchange rate indicates.

Both of these issues have been covered in videos by Janek Rubeš in a current series of videos called Honest Guide as well as an earlier series. He says that one particular taxi driver he covered years ago is still on the same corner near Old Town Square nearly every day, and still charging excessive rates. His campaign against exchange shops has raised awareness. There are now efforts to pass stricter laws, but so far they have not led to concrete action.

Prague City Tourism spokesman Barbora Hrubá told daily Pražský deník that tourists are complaining less about taxis and currency exchanges than in the past. According to the latest survey, only 12 percent of respondents had a problem.

Part of the reduction in complaints is that people already know about those problems and use alternatives, like public transportation from the airport.

Food in the city center is also a problem for tourists. Shops sell bottled water that would normally be around Kč 20 for over Kč 100. Similar markups can be found in some shops on candy bars and other snack items. Shops with standard prices for these items exist in the center but are far outnumbered by the expensive ones.

Food stands at markets and restaurants in the center often sell items by weight, posting the price for 100 grams. The price looks low, but a serving weighs much more than 100 grams and turns out to be expensive. Most people can't judge weight by looking at a food item. The customer only finds out the price after the food has been eaten, and then it is too late.

“But the city center is improving in this because tourists are now more willing to find a quality restaurant outside of the historic center. This forces competitors to lower prices,” Prague City Tourism's Hrubá said.

Czech culture is also misrepresented by the souvenir shops in the city center. Stacking dolls and fur hats with red stars are Russian, not Czech. While stacking dolls are cute, they simply belong to another culture. Fur hats and other items with red stars, however, are a reminder of the 1968 Soviet invasion and subsequent era of Normalization. Many Czech people find these items deeply offensive.

Also ubiquitous in the city center are stands selling funnel cakes or trdelník. These first showed up in Prague a decade ago, already labeled as a Czech tradition, and sold from stands with signs in old-fashioned lettering. The cakes come from Hungary and are not a part of Czech food culture.

Many of these problems are caused by over-tourism, a topic that became hot last summer in cities like Barcelona and Amsterdam. The city center gets so full of tourists that local people cannot use it and do not go there. As a result, the center becomes a bubble just for tourists and people who prey on them.

Prague does not want to discourage tourism, as it is a big driver of the economy. The city wants to encourage tourists to spread out more.

“The solution is to introduce tourists to less frequented parts of Prague. For example, Holešovice as an art district, Karlín for its interesting restaurants and Vinohrady for its Art Deco style and numerous cafes,” Hrubá said.

Many restaurants outside the city center are affordable and have recommendations from guides like Michelin.

The Prague City Tourism website is a good source of warnings and recommendations, and several apps offer crowd-sourced information and ratings of sights around the city.

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