Dark times? Prague ranks as one of the dimmest world capitals

The Czech capital has ranked in the bottom 10 of a list of the most brightly lit cities, but that may not be a bad thing.

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston Published on 19.04.2022 13:28:00 (updated on 03.06.2022) Reading time: 3 minutes

Prague has many claims to fame, but being one of the world’s darkest cities isn’t what first comes to mind. A new survey ranked 50 world capitals for brightness, with the Czech capital coming in eighth from the bottom.

The ranking balanced the amount of sunshine in the day with levels of light pollution and artificial brightness, plus public perception as measured by Instagram posts with the tag of the city name plus the word “lights.” The sunshine measure takes into account cloudiness, and not just the time between sunrise and sunset. For the time to count as sunshine, it has to be over a minimum level.

Too much light might not be a good thing. “Increasingly, more cities over the world are installing LED and artificial lights to advance technologically and reduce energy consumption. Although revolutionary in some cities, research shows that the growing prevalence of LED lights could be seriously impacting our vision,” UK-based FeelGood contacts, which made the ranking, stated.

They added that vision loss rates were higher in the top-ranked cities than in the lower ones.

The brightest city listed was Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. It not only has a large amount of natural sunlight, almost nine hours per day, but there are also now lots of artificial lights especially in the financial district contributing to light pollution.

Riyadh skyline at night. Photo: iStock, MOHAMED HUSSAIN YOUNIS.
Riyadh skyline at night. Photo: iStock, MOHAMED HUSSAIN YOUNIS.

Second place was a bit of a surprise. Moscow was a bit behind in sunlight, due to its northern location, but made up for it in artificial lighting, with the highest levels of any ranked city. Washington, D.C., was third. While New York City, known for its neon lights, probably would have scored higher, the list only looked at national capitals.

London and Buenos Aires rounded out the top five. London’s ranking was significantly boosted by almost 63,000 social media posts, compared to Riyadh’s 46 posts. Buenos Aires in 2019 replaced all of its old street lights with LED lights, which now gives it a high level of light pollution in addition to a lot of natural sunlight. All of the list’s top 10 were in the northern hemisphere save for Buenos Aires.

Paris is known as the “City of Lights,” but it barely made the top half of the ranking, coming in at 19 with both a low level of sunlight and average light pollution. It did have the fourth-highest number of social media posts.

Prague was in 43rd place. Due to long periods of cloud cover, the city has an average of 4.57 hours of sunshine per day, putting it in the bottom 10 for that indicator. It also has a low level of light pollution, at 5.21 millicandelas per square meter, while Moscow has some 20.3 mCd/sqm and Riyadh has 18.9. there were also relatively few social media posts, just 691.

Since 2002, the Czech Republic has had a law to limit light pollution. Street lamps, for example, have to be shielded to direct their light down, and not above the horizon. The law is intended to limit adverse health effects linked to excessive night lighting. Astronomers also supported the legislation, as light pollution interferes with their work.

Another factor that might contribute to Prague’s low level of light pollution is its high number of parks and urban forests, which have low levels of lighting at night.

The least-lit city in the world was Bogotá, followed by Reykjavík, Luxembourg, Ljubljana, and Wellington. Bogotá, despite not being far from the equator, has only 3.64 hours of sunlight per day. Reykjavík has even less, at 3.63.

Prague has ranked as one of the world’s top cities, one of the best cities for female solo travelers, one of the top cities for culture, and the most kid-friendly vacation city in Europe. The Czech Republic is also ranked as one of the world’s safest countries.  

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