A romantic old town with three enchanting markets offering traditional Czech food and gifts in a festive environment
Prague is a beautiful city any time of year, but it truly is a sight to see at Christmas. With its gothic skyline lit up with sparkling lights and the sounds of Christmas carols echoing through the cobblestone alleys, it is like stepping back to another time. Although the crowds are quite large (when are they not in Prague?), it is still a very enjoyable experience; Prague should be on everyone’s itinerary when in Europe to see the Christmas markets.
There are three main markets to visit in Prague, and they are all located in the Old Town area within walking distance of each other. The largest and most festive market is in the Old Town Square. The next largest market can be found just about 5 minutes away in Wenceslas Square. The third market is a smaller Christmas market, and encompasses two corners of Republic Square, a square that skirts the pedestrian zone of Old Town. It’s again, just a 5 minute walk from either of the other two Christmas markets.
The Christmas markets are open daily during the Christmas season, and like all other Christmas markets around Europe, they are the busiest on the weekends and during the evening hours.
Travel Tip: If you happen to be in Prague on a Sunday morning, get up early and take a walk through Old Town and cross the Charles Bridge to Lesser Town (Malá Strana). You’ll get some great photos of some of the iconic images of Prague and its Old Town without the massive crowds in your shots. It is such an enjoyable way to see the city with the peace and quiet of the early morning although nothing will be open yet!
Old Town Square Christmas Market
The Christmas market at the Old Town Square is Prague’s most popular market. With ancient buildings and beautiful churches surrounding the square, you’ll find a magnificent backdrop for Prague’s most stunning Christmas market.
If a Christmas market set against Prague’s gothic skyline isn’t enough to draw you to this market, then the entertainment offered at this market should seal the deal. In addition to the many shopping and food stalls, you’ll find carolers performing each night on the center stage, as well as a large nativity scene in front of the dazzling Christmas tree. There are hansom cab rides available at this Christmas Market, too, for a memorable and romantic jaunt around the historic Old Town. For the children, there’s a log cabin offering various activities along with a petting zoo. The market also has a foot bridge constructed in the center of the square, where you can get a bird’s eye view of the Christmas splendor around you.
Wenceslas Square Christmas Market
Wenceslas Square is the site of Prague’s next biggest Christmas market. It’s not so much of a square like the Old Town Square is, but rather, it is more of a rectangular space that encompasses a few blocks extending from the Můstek subway stop to the National Museum on the uphill end. The square, which sits on a popular boulevard, is lined on either side by shops, fast-food restaurants, money-exchanges, and the occasional strip club off an alley.
This area is transformed at Christmas time with the Christmas market erected in the lower part of the square closest to the Můstek subway stop. Although it’s the second largest Christmas market in Prague, it’s not really that large at all. You won’t find as many wooden shopping and food stalls along this boulevard as you will in the Old Town Square, but it still has a festive vibe. Expect large crowds and a lot of congestion here in the evenings.
Republic Square Christmas Market
The smallest of the top three Christmas markets in Prague can be found at Republic Square (Namesti Republiky). Although this is a small Christmas market, I have to admit, I found myself enjoying this market more than I expected to (and definitely more than the Wenceslas Square market). Due to its smaller size and smaller crowds, it is much easier to navigate as well as approach the stalls for some shopping without feeling rushed or bumped. You can have a conversation with the various merchants to learn more about the goods they are selling whether it is honey wine or homemade soap. The crowds seem to be drawn to the other two larger Christmas markets freeing up space at this charming market that sits out in front of the large pink Palladium Shopping Center.
Eat, Drink, & Be Merry!
What to Eat
You may not recognize the names of the food on the boards unless you grew up in a Czech or Polish household, but take my word for it, try them all! The popular dishes served up in the Prague Christmas include sunka (large hams roasting on spits), klobása (sausage), and halusky (a noodle and potato dish).
The food at the Christmas markets In Prague are not all savory, you’ll also find some sweet treats including my favorite Christmas market goodie, the chimney cake (called “trdelnik” in Czech). All of the Christmas markets around Prague sell these round hollow pastries baked over charcoals. The chimney cakes at the Prague Christmas markets are much smaller than the traditional chimney cakes you’ll find served up in Transylvania or at the Christmas market in Budapest, so you might want to order two!
What to Drink
You won’t have a difficult time finding something delicious to wash down that savory Czech food at the Christmas markets. Of course, you can opt for a popular and refreshing pivo (beer) or you can go for the staple drink, the svarak (mulled red wine). For something truly Czech, be sure to try Medovina. Medovina is honey wine, and both locals and tourists alike will line up to get a cup of this sweet golden-hued hot wine. And last but not least, you can always grab a mug of grog or bombardino to warm you up.
What to Buy
Many of the great things to buy at the Christmas markets are typically the same things I would recommend to pick up as souvenirs on any trip to Prague. However, the Christmas markets simply make it more convenient to shop for the traditional Czech gifts. You’ll find the markets are loaded with a lot of tchotchke souvenirs and other novelties that are clearly made in China. However, look close enough and you’ll be able to find some traditional handmade Czech goods.
You’ll be able to find Bohemian glassware, especially glass Christmas ornaments that are hand-blown and hand-painted. Embroidered lace is another popular, traditional Czech gift that you’ll easily find throughout the Christmas markets. You also might want to pick up a marionette. You’ll find some of the most beautifully designed and detailed wooden marionettes in Prague. Lastly, you will see quite a bit of pottery painted in traditional Czech designs at the Christmas markets, which makes a unique addition to any home.
If you are truly interested in picking up a high quality wooden marionette while in Prague, visit Truhlář Marionety and Galerie Marionette. Although you will find several marionette shops around town, the best quality can be found here. This shop is located at one end of the Charles Bridge in Lesser Town.
Prague’s city center is ideal for pedestrians. It’s where the compact Old Town area is located, and there are plenty of hotel choices within this pedestrian zone as well on the fringes. When booking a hotel, look for Prague 1 (city center) or Prague 2 (fringes of the city). Booking a hotel within these areas will put you in walking distance to the big three Christmas markets and the main tourist zone as well as many of Prague’s other sights. I stayed at the Hilton Prague, which was considered on the fringes of the center city, and it made for a fabulous stay and was an easy walk or a quick subway ride to the Old Town as well as some of Prague’s other sights.
Have you visited the Christmas markets in Prague? What were your favorite things to eat, drink and buy? Share in the comments below.