It’s nearly Christmas! Well, it certainly feels like it here in Prague. The streets are strung with fairy lights and the squares full of huge sparkly Christmas trees and stalls selling gifts and mulled wine. This is all set against a backdrop of Prague’s Gothic spires and domed cathedrals, cobbled streets and stone bridges. Oh, and did I mention how flipping cold it is? That’s cold of the cheek-stinging, hand-numbing variety. We’ve even had snow, as well as some family visitors who’ve come to enjoy the Prague Xmas markets.
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Our Prague Christmas market 2017 trip
If you’re looking for a full-on dose of festive cheer, then you can’t beat a visit to one of Europe’s top Christmas markets. While Germany’s may be the most famous, and we’ll be visiting Cologne’s on our way back to the UK next week, the Prague winter markets are pretty magical in their own right. Aside from that, visiting Prague in December is one of the best times to come, there are carol concerts in the cathedrals and the chance to see snow top the famous buildings.
Although there are many smaller Christmas markets dotted around Prague, the main action is in the Old Town Square, where there’s a stage set up for festive performances and the biggest Christmas tree I’ve ever encountered. At least half the market is made up of food stalls selling meaty Czech fare like sausages and goulash, as well as potato spirals, hot wine and punch. You can also find festive decorations and gifts ranging from wooden toys to jewellery and clothing.
Family visits and market fun
Cold permitting, you can spend hours soaking in the festive vibe, as long as you don’t visit on the day the markets open, which was what we did when my parents visited. The Old Town Square was rammed. You couldn’t even get close to the stalls and when we gave up and tried to escape, we got temporarily stuck in a crowd. My advice? Avoid opening night, we’ve been back multiple times since then and it’s been busy, but not ridiculously crowded.
Speaking of my parents, we’ve been lucky to have three sets of family visits during our time in Prague. We’ve taken night walking tours, visited traditional Czech taverns, seen a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the National Theatre, been beer tasting and of course, spent hours perusing the Prague Xmas markets.
When are the Prague Xmas markets on?
The Christmas markets in Prague run through most of December and into early January. Dates vary from year to year depending on when the weekends fall. For example, in 2017 they began on 2nd December and continue until 6th January 2018, including Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Most markets are open from around 10am to 10pm, while the market outside St George’s Basilica at Prague Castle is open from 9am to 9pm Monday to Friday and 9am to 10pm at the weekends, so there’s plenty of time to get your Prague Xmas markets fix.
Where are the Prague Christmas markets?
You’ll find Prague Xmas markets dotted around the city, here’s where to find them:
Old Town Square (Staroměstské náměstí)
This is the oldest square in the historic centre of Prague, which features the Astronomical Clock, St Nicholas’ Church and the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn. If you go to Prague at any time of year, this will probably be your first stop.
Wenceslas Square (Václavské náměstí)
Has a smaller market and great transport connections for trams and the underground metro, it’s also about a five to ten minute walk from the Old Town Square.
Republic Square (Náměstí Republiky)
Also has good connections for the tram and metro, this is also where you’ll find the Palladium, a huge shopping mall which is a great place to find free toilets. Republic Square has two sets of Christmas market stalls and is just five minutes from the Old Town Square.
The Christmas market here is quieter and set in a small, tree-lined square at the bottom of a set of stairs off Charles Bridge on the castle side of Prague.
Havel’s Market (Havelské tržiště Market)
Havel’s Market is situated between Wenceslas Square and Old Town Square. This is actually a year-round market so if you go before the official Christmas markets start to find general souvenirs and festive gifts.
St George’s Basilica at Prague Castle (Bazilika svatého Jiří)
This market is within the Prague Castle grounds on the north east side of the Vltava River. It’s at the back of St Vitus Cathedral, in front of St George’s Basilica. Unless you’re visiting Prague Castle then it may be a bit out of the way but you can take a tram up there.
What can you find at the Christmas markets in Prague?
From traditional Czech food to donkeys and sheep, you can find quite a variety at the Christmas markets in Prague. Each one has a selection of warming winter drinks like mulled wine, hot apple cider, grog, rum punch, tea and coffee as well as Czech beer.
As for the food, there are general snacks like spiral potatoes, chips and donuts, full traditional Czech meals like goulash and plenty of meat-heavy dishes such as sausages and Prague ham. You can also find Prague’s most popular sweet treat, the trdelnik, or chimney cake, all over the city too. There isn’t a great deal for vegetarians or vegans, we tended to take an ’emergency sandwich’ on our trips into the markets or run into a nearby supermarket to grab something cheap.
At most markets you’ll find wooden and glass-blown souvenirs and Christmas decorations, cute metal tealight ornaments, a few small toys and maybe some hats and other warm clothing.
Prague’s Old Town Square Christmas market has a stage where children and choirs sing carols. You can also nip into St Nicholas’ Church and if you’re lucky there’ll be a choir performing too. At Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square there’s even a little stable with donkeys and sheep, a nativity scene and huge Christmas trees.
Tips for your Prague Christmas market breaks
Watch out for pickpockets – although Prague is generally a safe city, our walking tour guides also warned us that it has an incredibly high rate of pickpocketing. Make sure to take good care of your valuables, especially in the crowds at Old Town Square.
Avoid the first day – the opening day of the Christmas markets was insanely busy, so you’ll have a much more enjoyable experience if you visit at another time. Weekdays are much calmer.
Dress for very cold weather – temperatures have dropped to minus three while we’ve been in Prague and we’ve experienced snow and bitter winds. Make sure to layer up and don’t forget hats and gloves.
Shop around – most markets have the same or similar stalls, so shop around to find the best prices.
Transport – public transport is great in Prague, with a comprehensive and cheap tram, bus and metro system. There are stops in all the key spots and the centre of the city is walkable. Our Prague Airbnb apartment is located on the outskirts of the city, so we’ve also used Uber to get in and out, journeys have cost us just a few pounds. Prague is renowned for its expensive taxis, so we’d recommend using a service like Uber instead.
Food by weight – although food in Prague is cheap by western standards, beware of market stalls that charge for food by weight. Food is cooked in huge cauldrons and the advertised price is usually based on 100g of the dish, so this can quickly add up, especially for meat dishes.
Toilets – there’s a lack of free public toilets in Prague, especially in the key market locations and you’ll normally have to go into a cafe or restaurant to use the facilities. The best free toilets we found were at the Palladium shopping mall in Republic Square and at the Rudolfinum Gallery along the river near the Jewish Quarter.
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Have you been to the Prague Christmas markets or any others in Europe?