I never thought that avoiding crowds in Prague would be a real issue!
Somehow, I naively, thought that Prague would never get that busy that I would even have to think about something like that! When I was growing up, Prague was just a big town, but since the Czech borders were unofficially closed, I’ve never really seen people coming to Prague from abroad just to ‘visit’.
When my good friend went back to live home to a small town in South Bohemia after she finished her university studies in Prague, saying that Prague was overcrowded and busy, I thought ‘ Oh, really?’ That was in 1998, when Prague was definitely not overcrowded and visited much less than it’s now.
After 21 years of living in London, I thought I know what a ‘crowd’ is! January sales on Oxford Street, anyone?
Little did I realise that Prague was slowly but surely becoming an overcrowded town, especially in the centre. What was once lovely walk from Wenceslas Square to Old Town Square and then through the King’s Route to Charles Bridge and beyond, become a tad claustrophobic shuffle behind somebody’s sweaty back!
Sorry, if I just spoiled your Prague image, especially if you are doing your research before you travel. The fact is that Prague is on the top list of most visited towns in Europe with over 7.5 million people visiting every year! This means that going to the top attractions during peak season and peak hours is just not fun!
To some extent, you should prepare yourself for crowds anyway – yes, there are going to be people there and it can get crowded, but you don’t need to do what everybody is doing at the same time!
The good thing is that there still fab ways of enjoying Prague without the crowds and here is how:
Visit Prague offseason
The best way to avoid the crowds in Prague is to visit outside the main season, which is in July and August. Most attractions are open during the whole year, so you can easily spend a few days in January visiting all the indoor tourist attractions while being warm and crowd free! If you are not into snowy weather, April/May or September/October is fairly warm and less crowded.
Stay in a smaller hotel or self-catering apartment off the main centre
Places like Smichov, Vinohrady, Letna or Zizkov are only 10 minutes or less by the underground or tram to the centre, but you’ll be staying in a residential area with fewer tourists and quiet atmosphere. You can also enjoy a peaceful breakfast at a local cafe before you head to the centre and eat at a local pub or restaurants in the evening, like locals. This way, you’ll not only escape the crowds but also save a bit of money, as your local eateries are going to be much better value than overpriced places in the centre of Prague!
Plan ahead what tourist attractions you want to visit
Be realistic what you can achieve in your time in Prague. Visiting tourist attractions always take longer than you think, especially as if you are visiting the most popular places and they are going to be busy even if you go during the less busy times (like early morning or late afternoon/evening)
Decide to visit one large attraction and few small ones a day, that are less busy. This way you’ll be less stressed than if you try to visit all the large and busy atractions in one day.
Pick your time well
Plan to visit the busiest tourist attractions off peak, after 2-3pm or right at the start of the day. Most attractions are open from 9 am. Day tourists would generally have guided tours organised for the morning, so if you can do afternoon you’ll probably find it easier to visit. Some attractions open until late ( 22 pm in summer), which is worth checking. Day trippers will be gone by then and you’ll have a less competition for space!
Visit the main attractions during week days
No mather what time of the year you’ll come, weekends are always going to be busier than weekdays. Lots of people visit Prague for a long weekends, so if you can visit the main attractions between Monday to Thursday, you’ll find them less crowded.
Walk away from the main thoroughfares
90% of all tourists seem to walk through the same streets and use the same routes. This is probably because all the tourist guides and books suggest the same routes and people don’t want to miss anything or don’t want to get lost. If you step away from the main routes and walk in the side street you’ll be pleasantly surprised that suddenly you’ll have a room to move!
I would also walk the main route very early in the morning, starting before 7 am in the summer and perhaps around 8 am in the winter. This way it will be much more pleasant experience and you can take some nice pictures at the same time. Mind you if you want to take photos with virtually no people in it, just yourself, you need to get up even earlier – 5 or 6 am, basically when the sun rises!
Choose not to do the ‘touristy’ things
O.K so this might be a controversial thing to say, since you’ve come to Prague to see Prague’s famous tourist attractions, but I often find that if something is too crowded I can’t actually enjoy it anyway. And it doesn’t really matter if it’s the world-famous clock, the latest cool coffee place, that everyone has to see or castle that’s on everyone’s list of things to do. I’d rather see a different part of the town and have a coffee in the next, but still, totally cool place and have an experience that I really want to remember. I find that often this is more about the atmosphere of the town, rather than the top 10 tourist attractions.
Get up early
The only way to take photos without any people in it or to walk by yourself in the centre of Prague is to get up early. And by early, I mean really early! The best thing to do is to check when the sunrise is, which in summer could be before 5 am and during winter around 6 am and be already in the centre at that time. The effort of getting up will pay off as you walk over the Charles Bridge, take the most beautiful photos and enjoy hearing the birds singing. It’s truly magical!
Stay up late
This is not completely crowd free experience, but if you are not keen on getting up early, you can also take a walk in the centre in the evening. Since most visitors (especially day visitors) would want to make the most from their days by starting early (and by 5 pm there will be putting their feet up in their hotels or travelling back home) you can stroll down the centre fairly peacefully.
Escape the crowds by climbing up the hills
There are several places around Prague which are brilliant for viewing the city without feeling crowded.
Visit the parks and green spaces
There are plenty of green spaces and parks in Prague, even in the centre. Most of them are visited by locals, because you know there are ‘just parks’ and not a tourist attraction! These are perfect for escaping the crowds, having a coffee, relaxing for a bit and then carry on with your exploring.
Buy tickets online
If you are planning to visit the Jewish Quarter or Prague Castle, you might like to purchase your tickets in advance to save time when you arrive. You’ll be able to jump the queue and go straight in.
Leave Prague for a day
If you have a spare day or two and fancy escaping the crowds (and the town) there are many places to visit by train or bus from the centre of Prague, which are as historic as Prague is and they are less busy. The most popular places to visit on a day trip from Prague are: Karlstejn Castle, Karlovy Vary, Kutna Hora, Cesky Krumlov or Terezin.