EXCLUSIVE: The Honest Guide on tourist traps, overtourism, and favorite Prague spots to visit

Prague influencer Janek Rubeš sat down with Expats.cz to give his candid views on the state of tourism in the capital – from scams to hidden gems.

Thomas Smith

Written by Thomas Smith Published on 06.06.2024 15:02:00 (updated on 10.06.2024) Reading time: 12 minutes

Expats, tourists, or simply those who can’t get enough of watching fraudsters squirm will most likely be familiar with Janek Rubeš, the face of Honest Guide – an online scam-busting and tip-giving channel about all things Prague and Czechia.

Making weekly videos for eight years along with his videographer Honza Mikulka, Janek has around 1.4 million subscribers with a whopping 130 million cumulative video views on YouTube. Among other things, he explores exchange-office scams, gives restaurant recommendations, shows the most affordable ways to navigate the city, and explores the uncertain origins of the ubiquitous trdelník.

We sat down with Janek at the grand Červený jelen restaurant in the center of Prague to get his insights on things to look out for, places to avoid, and hidden spots in the capital – and to see his insider knowledge of the Czech capital could match that of our Prague-savvy audience.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

You’ve been doing this for several years…what made you start the channel?

We started off as a way to guide and help tourists. I thought that most were seeing things that I would not want to see myself – very mainstream stuff – so I thought: “Let me show them what I like to do.” I wanted to show more hidden things off the beaten path.

Before Honest Guide, I was also part of a show called “Prague versus Crooks,” where I exposed scammers operating in Prague. That was quite stressful and went on for a few years – so I decided to do something calmer and more positive. 

“There is nothing more positive than helping someone in need – and tourists very often are.”

What was Prague versus Crooks about?

It was a show to reveal scam taxi drivers, rip-off exchange offices, and son. We gained inspiration from an earlier show called “Scam City” that depicted similar tourist traps – but the City of Prague actually sued the director, claiming he was falsifying the scams!

When my ex-colleagues and I saw that, we were surprised. We thought: “We are Czechs; we don’t know the life of a tourist in Prague,” but we wanted to gain insight.

I speak English with an American accent, so I thought I could pretend to be a tourist and expose scams.

Where do you get ideas/tip-offs for scammers to expose?

Scammers are out there…in fact, they’re right under your nose. You just need to change your perspective and put yourself in the shoes of a tourist. Then, I see a lot more things. If I look at Prague the way locals do, you won’t recognize the scams – Czechs are often oblivious to what’s happening.

Other than that, I often get tips from tourists and locals, though only a few are genuine scams – many are just about overpriced goods and rip-offs.

Seeing a string of bad reviews for an innocuous service on Google Maps also makes me think something odd is happening.

And do you see any recurrent themes or repeated scams/rip-offs?

It’s almost all money or cash-related. Using a different currency [than the Euro] makes scams and rip-offs so much easier for crooks. When tourists in minimarkets buy a beer or a canned soft drink for CZK 150, they may not know how much they’re paying.

Of course, there’s an argument that they can count for themselves. But still, the fact stands that someone is taking advantage of them. If you walk into a minimarket (potraviny) and ask for the price of an item in Czech, it’ll often be substantially cheaper.

Rip-off exchange offices and individuals offering to exchange currencies on the street are also common trends.

What are some of the most popular scams you have exposed?

One of my personal favorites is the expose of how visitors to Czechia were tricked into buying overpriced highway vignettes at the border and faced very bad exchange rates.

Another big one showed how food sellers and vendors in Prague trick tourists by charging for items (like sweets, ham, or fruit) by weight rather than quantity. For example, sellers at the Havelské tržiště nearby Můstek would charge small baskets of fruit for EUR 20 or EUR 30.

Were there any episodes that ultimately failed? Or have you had any situations that you simply couldn’t show?

I believe that throughout the eight years we have been doing this, we filmed just one episode [about a car rental company] and did not publish it. Sometimes, we don’t show things because we know doing so may cause more harm than good. So, we tell the people involved that they should improve instead of airing their mistakes.

"We’ve been doing this for so long that nothing surprises us: sometimes, you get ignored by someone you think is going to punch you, and sometimes, you get punched by someone who you think is going to be peaceful."

You recently published a video about Euronet [an ATM network] deceiving people. They were not happy about it. Have any of your videos and exposes led to legal problems? Have you ever been taken to court?

Never. People are often unhappy with us exposing them, but other companies and people are the ones who violate many rules and laws. We just describe and show how people do their business.

Have your videos ever caused a business to close?

Two I can think of. 

One was an exchange office on Old Town Square called Chequepoint, which offered truly terrible rates for currency exchanges. It was a British-owned company, and I remember the guy who owned it saying in a thick London accent on the day we were filming there: “This branch has been here for 25 years, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

We then uploaded a video that showed him holding the store sign while he was leaving the branch!

The second was a different chain of exchange offices – the Czech National Bank fined them millions of crowns [for setting low and illegal rates], and they closed up and left the country.

Has the situation regarding dodgy exchange offices improved in the last few years?

Yes, significantly, in fact, there is a law that we helped introduced – I still refer to it as “our law” – and it grants you three hours to get your money back after you exchange it at an exchange office.  

"Quite often – this happened all the time – people would get shortchanged by hundreds or thousands of crowns when exchanging their cash."

We sat with two politicians who asked us, “What can we do to improve the situation?” I suggested this move. Now, things are better.

Now, onto overtourism. You recently published a video showing the paternoster elevator at Prague City Hall. This led to an influx of tourists, the elevator being shut, and a new entrance fee. Have you ever regretted publicizing such places?

There are 25 paternoster elevators in Prague. If you are Czech or live in Prague, you most likely know of 24 other elevators. So why would you be unhappy that there’s one where tourists will be charged to ride it? 

"I don't think most people who complain about me unveiling hidden gems or showing places even go to them!"

I've seen people who like legit hate me for bringing tourists to their workplace.

There has never been a case of us destroying a place with mass tourism. The only exception is Skautský Institut [on Old Town Square], which was from an overload of Czechs because we covered it on a Czech show.

With the paternoster, I am probably going to be tortured and burned as a witch for that – but the Prague City Hall was unhappy with the fact that I sent tourists to enjoy the elevator. 

Can you think of other former ‘hidden gems’ that have become very popular due to videos?

Yes, and actually TikTok does a big job of driving tourists to areas, as it targets people based on location – but without context. For example, tourists will queue up to see the Infinity Book Tower of Prague but have no idea they’re entering the Municipal Library.

I do not know or recall a place we showed, and then, as some claim, it would be destroyed.

I take this topic seriously: we always ask a venue whether we can publicize it before filming.

TikTok creators, on the other hand, do not discuss this with the places we film in.

Is the City of Prague doing a good job of combating overtourism? What could they do differently?

This will sound harsh, but I don’t know what job they are doing. I don’t think they can affect it. I don’t think any of us can affect it.

They’re not enforcing their own rules. I can point out 10 activities in the Old Town that are currently restricted or banned, but tourists are still doing them. 

I recently saw two cops on Old Town Square, and I thought to myself: “Wow! You rarely see those here.” And I don’t mean that in a bad way.

"If the city is to ban e-scooters, for example, who will enforce it? You cannot drink at Old Town Square, but people are not fined."

If, once in a while, a stag party that’s loud and drinking in public was just told they could not do this, maybe it would help. 

But it’s laughable. When the city is discussing new rules, regulations, or laws, I would say you can't even enforce the simplest and basic ones.

Despite the mass tourism that Prague experiences, do you think the Czech capital is still a livable city?

There’s no doubt that, with the emergence of cheap flights, things have massively changed since I was younger. However, tourism affects 1 percent of Prague. Prague 1 is 1 percent of the area of Prague. For example, if you live in Dejvice, you’re unlikely to come across a tourist! Prague is certainly still livable.

How much have things changed in recent years?

Back at the start of Covid-19 days, you could see what Prague would look like without mass tourism. It was a different world – the prices were four to five times lower than today! Euronet ATMs have cropped up everywhere – interestingly, during Covid-19, these were all switched off, which shows they are just tools to get money from tourists.

There are also many overpriced minimarkets now that don’t sell basic amenities. They’ll charge you more if you don’t speak Czech, and a taxi driver from the Prague main station will not take you if you do.

Speaking of the overpriced minimarkets, should there be more regulation for them?

If it’s a city-owned building, the municipality should not rent it to someone who will target and exploit tourists. We don’t need any more minimarkets – the city is not a money-making machine; it should try to improve life in the city.

"I get criticized for the paternoster, but there are still huge issues with the minimarkets and the Euronet ATMs."

Which videos would you say have been most helpful for viewers?

I think it would be our videos on public transport. It's important that we tell people that it's safe, reliable, and fast – the response to our video on how to get from the airport to the city center was huge. 

It still draws constant viewership. It’s the one thing that every tourist searches for. Showing tourists that you can do this for only about EUR 2 and that it takes 35 minutes is very well-received.

Did you ever imagine that you would become as big as you are now when you started doing this?

Never ever. I vividly remember that in the first episodes, I was just saying: “Let’s never, ever do anything negative.” I just wanted to show nice, positive stuff. That changed quite quickly – and even more so when we started doing videos in Czech.

I would walk down the street and get recognized by a tourist, and my Czech friends would say: “Wait, what?” I explained that I do a show in English, and then I decided to make a Czech version [Kluci z Prahy, or “Boys from Prague”]. 

Now, more Czechs follow our content.

You are the face of the Honest Guide, but what goes on behind the scenes, who helps produce your videos, and how long does it take?

Hozna is my videographer and video editor; he’s the brains behind the project.

We aim to produce one video per week. A basic (or explainer) video, such as one showing the different types of beer, will take around half a day to film and a day to edit.

But if we are doing a complicated series on how a certain scam works, the one thing that I always want to have “bulletproof” is that if I accuse someone of doing something, I want to be certain about it. So that will take days, weeks, months, or even years to film due to collecting separate footage and sometimes interviewing the scammers.

You’ve published a print guide and become a viral video sensation. What’s next for you to conquer?

Honestly, I don’t know. We may well shrink to a smaller level and focus on our Patreons [subscribers to a paid platform, offering exclusive content]. We make custom maps for them relating to different topics, and we also want to do more personal guiding.

A question from one of our readers: would you ever consider becoming the mayor of Prague if the opportunity arose?

Definitely not. With the current system or and how it’s set up, you cannot change many things as a mayor. 

And have you met with any current or former mayors or senior politicians?

In the past, I’ve met the current mayor, Bouslav Svoboda, and interviewed him about taxi scams – I believe he wrote in his book that I’m an inspiration for what he’s doing (although I haven’t seen any evidence yet to suggest that)!

"I met with most of the mayors during my time doing this. I spoke with ex-Mayor Jan Kasl, who opened the City Hall to the public, and I’ve met with the former mayor multiple times. He actually interviewed me, which was weird."

One reader wants to know: Why not accept the trdelník already?

I absolutely respect the food – I am the only one who put it on a T-shirt and sold it as merch! I don’t think it’s Czech though…it wasn’t around when I was a kid.

I think it’s something that tourists brought with them and left it here. I was raised and taught as a kid that I should ensure a place is cleaner when I leave it. It seems ]they are doing the opposite!

You speak great English, by the way – how did you learn?

Ha-ha, thank you. My parents spoke English when I was a kid; I guess they would kind of force me to study. 

My mom actually translated the Jesus Christ Superstar rock opera, so when I was a kid, we would listen to it over and over again. My dad also sent me to the U.S. for summers.

Which European city would you most like to live in if you couldn’t live in Prague?

I know very few European cities. Most of the ones I visited, I loved, and I could imagine living in any of them. I’ve just recently been to Barcelona, which I absolutely loved. The language barrier would be tough, though. I love London and Kyiv, but the weather would be nice in Barcelona. 

But hey, Prague is the best!

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