Britons behaving badly: The stag's guide to playing away

The jailing of a British reveller in Latvia should surprise no one: the soon-to-be-married are going wild abroad as never before

By Jerome Taylor
Thursday 21 February 2008 01:00

It's the kind of thing our embassies abroad have come to dread: a British stag-do reveller arrested for gross behaviour in a historic European capital; angry condemnation of "those English pigs" by interior ministers; "shock" expressed by the reveller's friends; and, often, a less than sympathetic reaction from the courts of the country in question. It is also an embarrassingly common occurrence.

This week it happened in Riga, capital of Latvia and one of the most popular destinations for British stags abroad, where an unnamed 34-year-old was caught urinating on a revered monument and was given a custodial sentence. It may not make much difference, but it has shone yet another uncomfortable light on the behaviour of Brits abroad.

Gone are the days when a stag-do was a session at the local pub the night before the big day. They have now evolved into stag trips; Nottingham and Brighton have been superseded by more far-flung destinations; and one night of excess has morphed into a weekend – or more – of bingeing. A combination of cheap flights and cheap alcohol has made the pre-marital overseas jaunt an accepted rite of passage for Britons of all backgrounds.

The Foreign Office estimates that 70 per cent of British stag and hen parties are now held abroad. It adds that one in four of these run into some sort of trouble, ranging from lost money and passports to arrest and even prison. The most recent survey on stag spending habits, by Morgan Stanley, suggested that the industry is now worth £532m a year. Most of this is spent by men: a survey from Teletext Holidays showed stags spend twice as much as hens on their pre-marital parties and are far more likely to travel abroad.

According to Matthew Mavir, owner of, the two most popular destinations for stag weekends are currently Krakow and Riga. "These two cities are both easy to navigate, there are flights going from all over the UK and British men generally believe that Polish and Latvian women are fit."

1. Amsterdam

The Dutch city has long had something of a love-hate relationship with the hordes of British stags who descend upon it for its sleazy sex shows and pot-laced coffee houses. New plans to eradicate most of the city's infamous red-light district may well simplify that relationship, by wiping out Amsterdam's chief allure for stag parties. The city's new deputy mayor, Lodewijk Asscher, has pledged to clean up the $100m (£51m) a year industry, much to the consternation of hotels and tour operators that thrive off the back of the legalised sex shows and prostitution.

2. Dublin

One of the first famous overseas stag destinations, Dublin has for several years been regarded as something of a no-go area for large and loud stag parties. The backlash began in 1997 after two revellers – from a stag group numbering more than 60 – attacked two policemen in the city's famous Temple Bar area. A year later large stag groups were banned and the city brought in a number of measures to empower bar staff and landlords to refuse to serve customers who look like they've had enough. Civilised stag parties are still accepted but don't expect the Garda to look kindly on the type of barbarian hordes that head east.

3. Cork

After Dublin cracked down on the craic (see above), stags and hens wanting to celebrate their last days of freedom in Ireland began to head to the south-west instead. But things soon started to go wrong. In 2001, an Oxfordshire reveller narrowly escaped jail when he admitted manslaughter after attacking a Cork resident with a golf club and pushing him into the river Lee, where he drowned. Smaller towns such as Killarney and Kilkenny soon got in on the act – the later opened its first strip club in 2006, but both have since imposed blanket bans on stag-dos or serving alcohol after 1.30am.

4. Barcelona

One of the few European cities equally popular with both hen and stag parties (women tend to be less keen on the colder climes of central and Eastern Europe), Barcelona received a royal seal of approval in January last year when Freddie Windsor joined well-heeled friends for the stag-do of Lord Beaverbrook's son Rory Aitken. (The jaunt included visiting a sex show on Barcelona's notoriously seedy Las Ramblas strip.) But there has been a backlash from the Catalan government – in 2005 the city introduced a raft of measures to clamp down on drunken groups, with heavy on-the-spot fines for antisocial behaviour and a ban on drinking in the street.

5. Brussels

With 90 breweries making 400 different types of beer, it's no surprise that Brussels is a top stag destination for beer-loving Brits. So far, there have been relatively few reports of revellers getting into trouble. Sadly the same cannot be said of Ostend, where, in 2002, a British best man went missing during a stag weekend. His body washed up two weeks later. The other advantage of Brussels is that it is accessible by train – a plus for the environmentally-conscious.

6. Riga

Easy to navigate, with cheap beer and a plethora of low-cost flights to take you there, Riga has become one of the most popular stag-weekend destinations. But the relationship between the Baltic city and British soon-to-be-weds has been a precarious one. Leaving aside this week's incident, a number of other Brits were arrested in Riga year, including a Scot was caught climbing on the same city-centre monument at the heart of the recent scandal. Meanwhile, some British stags have complained of being frequently scammed by the Russian mafia, who own many of the city's nightclubs and strip joints.

7. Tallinn

Attractions offered by tour operators to visitors to the historic Estonian capital now include medieval lesbian strip shows (apparently a tradition since "1600 and phwoar"). In 2003 and 2004, Brits headed to the Estonian capital in their thousands, but the relationship has since soured a bit. In recent years police have begun cracking down on lewd behaviour, and many bars and hotels have now banned stags parties altogether.

8. Bratislava

The Slovakian capital's Gothic spires and famous castle have endured a fairly tumultuous history. Today the city faces a new kind of invader – marauding British stags. The recent influx of rowdy but free-spending Brits was initially welcomed as a significant boon to a fragile economy. In the past few months, however, authorities have moved to quell the disruption they cause. In June last year Steven Mullone from Worcester was arrested for skinny-dipping in a fountain. He was sentenced to two months in jail and only made it back home in time for his wedding after British diplomats lobbied hard on his behalf.

9. Prague

Was once seen as the ultimate stag destination, but latest trends suggest that Prague may now be losing out to other central European cities and to the Baltic states. According to the Foreign Office, more people lose their passports in the Czech Republic than in Greece, even though only a third as many Brits visit. In 2004, the Czech tourism board even went as far as to say that 20 per cent of all weekend crime in Prague was caused by British men on stag weekends.

10. Wroclaw

All but destroyed by the Battle of Breslau in 1945, Wroclaw was painstakingly restored before a huge flood in 1997 left most of the city underwater. Police have recently cracked down on public nudity and many bars and clubs have banned kilts. A local newspaper, Dziennik, succinctly summed up the problem with kilt-wearers: "[They] leave behind broken tables and chairs in bars...Then they stop people and lift up their kilts to show what's underneath."

11. Krakow

There was a time when most visitors to Krakow came to to explore its charming cobbled streets or to make an emotional visit to the nearby Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps. Now it's the cheap beer and abundant strip clubs that lure hordes of British stag parties each year. Krakow is now one of the most popular stag and hen destinations in Europe. It is especially popular with the Scots – so much so that last year many bars and clubs in the city, like in Wroclaw, introduced a ban on kilts after a spate of flashing incidents. In 2005, tragedy struck when Michael Forrester was left in a coma after being hit by a tram while celebrating his stag weekend.

12. Budapest

Budapest was where bon viveur Andrew Flintoff took his friends before his marriage last year. (He lost his phone in the river.) In 2000 the website was launched, while Budapest-based airline AirWhizz has expanded its fleet, partly to cater for demand from stags and hens. The British embassy reports being inundated by drunken Brits who have been arrested or robbed or are too inebriated to find their hotels.

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