Is Prague safe?

The centre of Prague from Letna © Ricky Yates

This is a question which I get asked from time-to-time, and in various forms, is one many of my congregation also get asked by their family and friends. So for anyone contemplating a visit to the delightful city of Prague, or thinking of coming to live in the Czech Republic in the near future, here is my answer to this question.

There is an inevitable tendency to think that where I normally live is safe, and to question the safety of anywhere else. This comes about because of familiarity – I am familiar with where I live and therefore I think it is a safe place. The worst offenders in this regard are Americans, partly because roughly two thirds of the American population, have never set foot outside the borders of their own country.

The reality is, that of all the nations in the developed Western world, the United States of America is actually one of the least safest places to live. It has one of the highest murder rates per head of population – 4.7 per 100,000. Compare this to the United Kingdom, where the rate is 1.2 per 100,000. And the Czech Republic? The most recent figures from 2012, show a murder rate of 0.8 per 100,000. So in simple terms, there is the answer to the question in the title of this post.

As in any major city, there is a certain risk of petty theft which any visitor or resident needs to be aware of. This usually takes the form of pickpocketing in busy places, such as Charles Bridge on a sunny summer’s day, or in crowded tram and metro carriages. Simple precautions, such as making sure your handbag or rucksack is closed properly, and not putting your wallet in your back trouser pocket where a thief can easily access it, are the best ways to avoid becoming a victim of this sort of crime.

Petty theft used to be a far bigger problem in Prague some years ago, than it is now. Because petty theft was giving the city a bad reputation, there was a major police effort to crack down on it, before it caused further damage to the important tourist trade. The effects of this is born out by my own experience which I do accept may not be statistically accurate 🙂

I have now lived in Prague for nearly five-and-a-half years. During the first eighteen months of my time here, two members of my congregation were victims of petty theft. One had her shoulder bag slashed whilst on a crowded tram, and various bank and credit cards stolen. The other had her mobile phone taken from her pocket whilst travelling in a crowded metro carriage. Since then, I’m only aware of one other congregational member who has suffered in this way – another female who had her iPhone stolen, though she admits she was rather careless with it.

One other way in which tourists can become victims of street crime, is to respond to shady individuals in the streets, who offer to ‘change money’ for you. Just ignore them and instead use a bank. Or draw Czech currency from an ATM using your bank debit card. You will get a far better exchange rate, without the risk of having your wallet snatched or being given counterfeit notes.

Quite honestly, the greatest risk to life and limb in Prague, are trams and motor vehicles. In simple terms, do not have an argument with a Prague tram – you will always lose! Except where a pedestrian crossing is controlled by lights, trams to do NOT stop for pedestrians. That is the reason the words ‘Pozor Tram‘, are painted on the tarmac before crossing tram lines!

Officially, all motor vehicles are meant to stop and give way to pedestrians at zebra crossings. Unfortunately, there are a proportion of Czech drivers who either ignore this law or believe that their urgency to reach their destination, is vastly more important than your right to cross the road in safety. Just be aware of this and exercise your right of way with caution.

Even late at night, Prague is a very safe city. I know from personal experience that I would much prefer to travel on the Prague Metro late at night, than on the London Underground. Several other people that I know, have expressed similar sentiments. Of course, there are a few areas of the city which are best avoided late at night, in particular, several streets off Václavské námestí / Wenceslas Square. This is where certain of the more unsavoury aspects of city life can be seen, and young ladies are best advised not to walk through there wearing short skirts, or there is the risk of being mistaken for what they are not!

However, with that one proviso, and by taking simple precautions against petty theft, Prague is a very safe city both to visit and in which to reside. A place with far less dangers than many other cities in the developed Western world.

14 comments to Is Prague safe?

  • Based on my admittedly limited experience, I would heartily agree with this, Ricky. I’m not a city person, yet I explored the centre of Prague thoroughly on my own and travelled on public transport by day and night without feeling even slightly at risk. Of course I wore the strap of my bag across my body and didn’t keep anything in my pockets other than a hanky 🙂 but I never once felt threatened. Indeed I was treated with a great deal of courtesy, with young people regularly offering me their seat in a crowded train, tram or bus. I had a wonderful time. 🙂

    • Ricky

      Indeed Perpetua – as long as you take sensible precautions such as those you mention, travelling around Prague both during the day or at night is perfectly safe, even for a woman on her own. These days, with being increasingly folically challenged, young people also get up & offer me their seat on a crowded tram or bus too 🙂

  • Mike in Bohemia

    Hi Ricky,
    Yes, I agree with your article, it seems realistic to me.
    I feel safer in my North Bohemian town than I did in Outer London.
    A few streets away in London there was a stabbing, and my car was stolen by teenagers and wrecked against a tree when I was away on holiday.
    Sometimes they even set fire to a car every few months for a laugh.
    On our local train heading for central London from the suburbs a gang steamed thru the carriages with knives and stole peoples belongings at 11 AM.
    Best wishes

    • Ricky

      Hi Mike,
      Thank you for your words of support. I’m sorry to hear of your bad experiences of living in Outer London & can fully understand why you feel safer living in North Bohemia.

  • Yea! I am still making an occasional appearance in this blog – this time with a stolen mobile. Other than that one unusual time of petty theft, I too echo your remarks that Prague is very safe. I felt completely comfortable coming home at night in Prague 1.

    One of my European friends from another country than the Czech Republic also pointed out to me that when you see a Czech going home having had too much to drink, he’s always by himself, gingerly bumbling along on his way home.

    In other countries, like your country, Ricky, my friend shared that drunk men tend to move through the street in groups — lad parties, or whatever they call them. So we have lads to fear where you’re from, and guns to fear where us Yanks are from. Makes the mobile phone incident seem pretty tame, doesn’t it? Yes, Prague is safe!

    • Ricky

      Congratulations on identifying yourself Karen 🙂

      The observation of your European friend is a very accurate one. In contrast, sadly, you do come across groups of drunk youths in some UK cities on Friday & Saturday nights. I shall refrain from further comment about the lack of gun control & the power & influence of the NRA in the USA & just let the murder statistics I quoted, speak for themselves.

      When you personally experience petty crime, it is distressing. But as you rightly say Karen, Prague is safe.

  • Sean Mccann

    Hi Ricky,
    As always I enjoyed your post, I am an infrequent visitor to Prague but have always felt safe there day or night; sadly indeed, I’ve felt much safer there than in some quite small towns in Ireland. Your reply to Perpetua regarding being offered seats on public transport reminded me of an incident that happened to my wife and I on a tram going toward Sidliste Repy when an small, elderly man with a walking stick and a heavy shopping bag got on board. I stood up and offered him my seat in my best, halting, Irish accented Czech and was put firmly in my place by a stream of angry words of which I only understood ne and turisté. Since then I’ve always felt I was probably lucky not to have been fluent in Czech! God bless, keep up the good work.

    • Ricky

      Hi Sean – Thanks for once more visiting & leaving a comment.

      I have to say that the response of the elderly man you describe is most unusual. Some elderly will decline the offer of a seat because they’re only going one or two stops, or sitting down & then having to get up again is more difficult than remaining standing. But they normally do so politely & with an appreciative smile.

  • Sean Mccann

    I’m sorry Ricky, I never meant my comment to be anything other than humorous and I too have seen many people gladly take a proffered seat. I wanted to show that this gentleman obviously did not feel or see himself to be in any sense as frail as he appeared to this interfering tourist.

    • Ricky

      No need to apologise Sean – I took your comment as being humorous! Yes – you do occasionally get someone who takes your kind offer as being insulting, because it implies that they are old & frail. Clearly that is what happened in the case you describe.

  • I’ve always felt perfectly safe in Prague! Moving here after teaching in an American inner city was a shock because it’s just so PEACEFUL. Well done, Czechs.

    • Ricky

      Hi Writergem aka Emily! Thank you for leaving a comment here for the first time. You are not the first American woman now living in Prague, to say something similar to this, to me. Yet the question, ‘Do you feel safe living there?’ is one that relatives frequently ask. Somehow those relatives think that, because it’s foreign, it must be unsafe! Hence I quoted the murder statistics.

  • Ricky, well done on presenting some facts and figures on this. I’m not sure that murder is the sole figure you should rely on, though, and I find the figure you give for the Czech murder rate a little low as there were 182 reported murders last year in a population of a little over 10 million.

    According to the Czech police (1), the crime rate rose by 7% to over 325,000 in 2013. Murders were down but burglary increased by a fifth and property crime is the biggest area overall. In comparison, the UK with 6 times the population had a tally of 3.7 million recorded offences for the year to March 2013. The Crime Survey for England and Wales estimated the total at around 8 million (2).

    It’s easy to blame former President Klaus for this, so I shall, as he was responsible for the amnesty and release of over 6,000 convicted criminals at the start of 2013.

    What’s equally as important, of course, when considering the fear(s) people may have is whether they trust the police to solve crime. The clear-up rate in the CR hovers above the 40% mark.

    As to why the rate is lower in the Czech Republic, well, as I live in South Africa, a country where the fear of crime is much higher and as are the murder and overall crime rates, I think that what the CR does well is (relative) social and economic equality and, very importantly, the way social/public space is used.

    In the UK, the USA and South Africa, you frequently see the visible signs of private law enforcement and frequent signage telling you you are under surveillance/trespassers will be prosecuted and so on. For instance we’ve got a little cabin with security guards on the corner of our street and there are electric fences everywhere here in Pretoria and in the UK CCTV is everywhere.

    In the CR, on the other hand, public space seems freer. I’m thinking of the parks in central Prague or the fact that in many of the older commercial buildings in the old town one can walk in through the door and then speak to a receptionist without the need to speak through an intercom with a body-less voice that controls your entry. What’s more, there tend not to be the high fences or gates around property that you find in the UK (and especially, and to an astonishing degree, here in South Africa). One may not be able to gain entry to a panelak or a block of flats (either one built in the 1950s/1960s like the one I lived in or a more modern block like yours) but one can move around outside the building easily.

    The other explanation is that the USA is a more religious nation than the UK, which in turn has far more people confessing to a religious faith than the CR. Proving that atheists are less violent and more honest than believers.


    • Ricky

      Hi David,

      Thank you for this detailed & supportive comment, with the obvious exception of the last paragraph. I agree with you that the murder rate isn’t the only comparison that should be used. But the stark difference that it reveals is interesting to say the least. The stats I used came from a Wikipedia article. Whilst I know that because it’s on the internet, it doesn’t mean that it’s true, Wikipedia usually is accurate because if it isn’t, somebody soon corrects it.

      What you say in your fifth paragraph is the crux of the matter – that the relative social and economic equality and the way social/public space is used here in the CR, are the main factors in having both a lower rate of crime & lower fear of crime.

      With regard to your last paragraph, I will accept that when writing it, your tongue was rather firmly in your cheek & say no more 🙂