Prague - a cheap paradise for British stag tourists

Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, Prague has become one of the most visited tourist destinations in Europe. But in the last few years the Czech capital has also become hugely popular with British stag groups, large groups of men celebrating some husband-to-be's last weekend of freedom, or just here to have a good time in a city which has earned a dubious reputation as "the Amsterdam of the East".

Stand on Wenceslas Square on any Saturday evening and you will see lots of British stag groups. And they openly admit they've come to Prague for the cheap booze - and the cheap sex.

Young English men: "There's fifteen of us in various places, all doing the same thing - all in strip clubs. Beautiful women, beautiful women...culture, beautiful blonde-haired culture. We like all that."

Scottish man: "Listen, it's a beautiful city, and the architecture is fantastic. But what we're saying is, it's built up a culture now that's a stag weekend...and people enjoying themselves. Cheap beer, it's easy to get to - two hours from the UK. Fantastic, fantastic."

Scottish man: "I've been to Amsterdam maybe eight, nine times - kept saying I'd go to as chips! Cheap as chips!"

English man: "We had some drinks, but mainly sex."

English man: "It's OK if you only have 'hand massage'!"

Tom Kenyon: "If you enter 'Prague stag' or something like that on Google you'll get at least 100,000 hits, and there'll be at least 100 companies there you can choose from."

says Tom Kenyon of one of the biggest stag weekend organisers, Prague Pissup.

"It's actually really got popular since around 2002, so we're actually only talking about a short period of time, probably the last two or three years that things have really skyrocketed. First of all definitely the biggest driver is the cheap flights - I read somewhere there are 20 cheap flights a day arriving in Prague."

As for the number of men who come from the UK to party in Prague, it could average out at almost a thousand a weekend.

"Our guess is that there are probably about 40,000 over the year. They're all arriving on Thursday, Friday and leaving Sunday, Monday, and there are only a certain number of flights, so there's only a certain capacity. So we think roughly 40 - 45,000 would be a good guess. And out of those we cater for roughly about 15,000.

"About a third of those groups will come on their own, they'll organise something on the internet and turn up. That third particularly we would like to try and discourage from coming, because I think those are the third that probably create a negative impression."

Rocky O'Reilly's Irish pub is on Stepanska Street, just off Wenceslas Square. Owner Robbie Norton is very familiar with the stag scene.

"What you must remember is that a lot of these guys are young men away from home, away from either parental influence or girlfriend or wife influence, which is a very strong influence with us all, let's face it!

"And they find themselves in a strange city, with their friends, very little control, cheap alcohol and all the other things that can really lead a guy into behaviour that he normally wouldn't be associated with."

And that behaviour includes, in some cases, visiting strip clubs and brothels. There are a number of brothels just off Wenceslas Square - mostly on the street Ve Smeckach - and it is impossible to walk down the city's main thoroughfare after dark without noticing the many street prostitutes. Robbie Norton again.

"Personally I think it's terrible, I really think it's horrific and I don't understand why the authorities don't clean it up. It would be unfair and inaccurate to call this a stag party phenomenon problem.

"Because I'm in Prague long enough to remember the prostitution and brothels in Prague, possibly not with such a high profile...but certainly they existed here eight, 10, 11 years ago. So I think it would be unfair to say that's catering for a demand from stag parties."

How do local people react when they see large groups of British lads out on the tear in the centre of Prague? The truth is many Czechs rarely go out in the city centre, which they regard as too expensive and, well, full of foreigners. And those that do go into town at the weekend don't seem to mind stag groups too much, says Tom Kenyon.

"I think it's quite amusing to see ten blokes dressed as 'pimp daddies' walking through Wenceslas Square. Generally all the Czechs come up to them, they're laughing, they're taking pictures of them. All the groups are writing saying they had a tremendous reception here amongst the Czechs, that Czechs find it funny, it's unusual, it's something new to them. It definitely adds a bit of colour to the local scene."

Perhaps a little too much colour sometimes for some people's liking. Pub owner Robbie Norton says most groups are not misbehaved, but some don't know where to draw the line.

"A lot of them behave quite badly. Having said that, a lot of them doesn't mean all of them. We have had many, many, many groups in here extremely well behaved. There is a minority who come to Prague for trouble, but I think is not a uniquely Prague problem.

"I think this happens in my home city of Dublin also, which is probably why Dublin took the step of making stags so unwelcome that they couldn't even reserve hotels. If you try phoning Dublin to book hotel accommodation for 46 people, or 25 people, you're just told, I'm sorry we're full."

The Irish capital took the step of banning stag groups because they were putting off other tourists with their loud and loutish behaviour. Is that something the Czech authorities would ever consider? Rostislav Vondruska, director of state agency Czech Tourism.

"I'm aware of the fact that Dublin banned these groups and I think it's a feasible...evolution. It might happen here if the problems will...not continue because there are not so many, but arise more. I think they are not giving Prague a bad name right now, but it could happen if the future if we actively promoted this kind of tourism - but that will not happen."

Do you think some tourists maybe wouldn't come here because they see on the streets these drunken Brits?

"I don't think so. I mean the stag party participants tend to spend a hundred percent of their time in pubs. I don't think there's a collision between normal tourists and stag parties."

For now it seems the Czech authorities are taking a 'hands off' approach to stag tourism. But in any case, says Tom Kenyon of Prague Pissup, it is only a question of time before young British men in search of adventure discover the novelty of other cities in the former Eastern Bloc.

"There are a lot of new destinations starting all the time. We started doing Budapest last year and Tallinn the year before. And we'll probably do Bratislava and Warsaw in the next year. These other cities are desperate for these clients. They want tourists, and they welcome them - much as Prague did five years ago. It is inevitable that the numbers will go down because of all this competition from these other destinations."

So these stag groups may move on some time in the future. For now, though, they remain a very visible phenomenon in the Czech capital.