Christmas time in Europe conjures up images of frosty air, snow, and best of all, the Christmas Markets which pop up in the centres of historic towns and cities. If Christmas is for children, then Christmas markets have to be for adults. The town squares are decorated with twinkly lights, trees are adorned with decorations, choirs sing, and orchestras play festive tunes; the atmosphere is magical. There are traditional toys and mouth-watering produce on sale, tempting hot chestnuts and mulled wine on offer, even if you are not a fan of Christmas this will undoubtedly bring on a festive spirit.
Prague is beautiful at any time of the year, but in winter, it’s even more so. The Old Town Square with its enormous Christmas tree, delivered from the Krkonose Mountains in the north of the republic, is a spectacular sight against the Gothic Týn Church. The 15th century Astronomical Clock which entertains visitors on the hour every hour, the beautiful Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque buildings, and the mural covered Storch building are surrounded by small wooden huts decorated with pine, fir and twinkly white lights. Stop off at a stall selling svarene vino, hot wine with liqueur for added warmth, and try a traditional slice of Stollen or a sausage, to soak up the alcohol. All around the marketplace are opportunities to buy beautiful Christmas decorations, baubles made from glass and decorated with intricate hand painted designs, wooden toys, and nativity figures made from corn. Along Charles Bridge, the gateway between the Lesser and the Old Town, there are stalls selling stocking fillers, scented candles, handmade jewellery and puppets, a traditional Czech toy.
The centre of Prague is small and easily explored on foot. It’s not just the Christmas markets that make for a festive atmosphere, the shops and restaurants are decorated with traditional decorations, and sights such as the castle come alive. Prague Castle, the biggest and most ancient castle in the world, looks down over the frost covered city and the Vltava River, and nearby St. Vitus Cathedral with its lookout tower is my favourite photo spot. On the way back down escape the cold, and stop off at one of the small restaurants that can be found in the narrow alleyways. Traditionally the main meal of the day in Prague is lunch, which typically consists of hearty pork or beef dishes with potatoes or dumplings, followed by traditional desserts such as ovocné knedlíky, fruit dumplings. These may seem rather heavy, but it beats off the cold and warms your heart from the inside out.
Finally, the highlight of my Christmas market experience in Prague is an evening concert. Nothing can beat a brisk walk through the freezing streets to a venue such as Prague Castle, St Salvator Church, or the Prague State Opera House for an evening of music by candlelight. It’s a totally unbelievable experience.
Written Christmas 2011 for Euroscape Travel, and included here because it’s that time of year again…