The veritable winter fairytale, Prague warms the soul at Christmas. From classical music concerts and traditional markets to mulled wine and gingerbread, here’s how to enjoy it to the full
December is one of the best times to visit fairytale Prague. Not only does the holiday season set the Golden City’s streets aglow with twinkling lights and the merriment of some of Europe’s finest Christmas markets, but the medieval metropolis also hosts an array of cultural events this month, from classical concerts at Gothic churches to sales of local handicrafts – perfect for those one-of-a-kind gifts.
Christmas lights with Tyn Church as backdrop
The wooden stalls of Prague’s Christmas markets dot many of the city’s main squares and thoroughfares, with the largest taking place on Old Town Square, with its backdrop of Tyn Church and the Orloj, or astronomical clock. Live music plays most evenings, and freshly grilled sausages and hot mulled wine (keep an eye out for the rarer but not-to-be-missed white and rosé varieties) will fuel your shopping appetite as you browse hand-blown ornaments, sheepskin boots and jewellery. For high-class window-shopping straight out of a Christmas film, stroll down nearby Parizska Street, home to many designer brands. Escape the cold by heading to the brick-lined cellar that is Black Angel’s, just off Old Town Square, for a reviving cocktail.
This year, the large square outside the entrance to Prague Castle, which boasts postcard-perfect views over the cityscape, also hosts a Christmas market, providing ample opportunity to stop for refreshment after touring the largest castle complex in the world. Heading back down cobbled Nerudova Street, follow your nose to the Gingerbread Museum, which showcases the edible wares of 15 artists and lets visitors design their own sweet keepsakes.
The Christmas Market in the Old Town Square
On the evening of 4 December, the streets are full of children and adults dressed up as angels, devils and St Nicholas, marking his Saint’s Day, Mikulas, on the fifth, and most neighbourhoods put on theatre and music programmes (in Czech) for the younger set. Children and the young at heart will also enjoy taking to the open-air Ovocny trh ice rink behind the Estates Theatre, which is open daily until 9.30pm.
Warm up with a hot drink, or something stronger, at the famed Art Nouveau hangout Café Louvre, near the National Theatre, before walking along the Vltava River to an Advent concert, on offer each evening at the impressive Klementinum national library complex and the St Salvator Church, located right next to Charles Bridge. For dinner nearby, relax with a golden pint and a hearty plate of goulash at the classic U Rudolfina pub, or sample the Italian offerings at the popular La Finestra.
The Church of St Nicholas
The traditional meal served on Christmas Day (which in Prague is celebrated on 24 December) comprises fried carp and potato salad, although many of the city’s top restaurants offer multi-course special menus that go far beyond this humble fare. At the Michelin-starred Alcron, just off Wenceslas Square, chef Roman Paulus – renowned for his skill with seafood – hosts a five-course menu on the 24th, while the hotel upstairs serves a brunch on the 25th.
At Mandarin Oriental, Prague, Christmas has all the trimmings you could wish for. You can have your own decorated tree in your room, warm up with a festive hot toddy or glass of punch in Spices Bar, or enjoy a two-hour seasonal Bohemian pampering ritual in the gloriously serene Spa, housed in a former Renaissance Chapel.
The Ovocny trh ice rink
To send off 2015 in style, bag tickets to the New Year’s concert by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, featuring works by Beethoven and the Czech composer Antonin Dvorak, performed in the historic Municipal House. It is worth the price of entrance alone to glimpse the building’s breathtaking Art Nouveau interiors.