Prague bridge covered with snow
Prague

The pro’s guide to Christmas in Prague

Prague is an idyllic destination during the festive period that takes on the smell of festive treats and can resemble a winter wonderland around Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square, but if you think that’s all that the Czech capital has to offer then you’re missing out on so much more

Christmas market in Prague

Where to shop

Running the gamut of the festive period, from 28 November to 6 January, Prague’s Christmas markets (pictured above) centre on the atmospheric, lantern-lit huts on Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square. A five-minute stroll connects the two, while also within striking distance are the stocking filler-sized cabins on Republic Square, as well as those at Havelská Market and in front of St George’s Basilica. Take a moment and look up: fairy-tale Prague Castle soars above, giving you that perfect stuck-in-a-snow-globe rush. For further VIP inspiration, the designer boutiques of Bulgari, Gucci and Cartier on Parizska Street have late opening hours throughout December. To see it all in one swoop, join a private Old Timer tour of Prague – preferably in a 1930s Alfa Romeo.

Iced pernick Christmas biscuits

What to buy  

As at all Christmas markets worth their salt, puppets, children’s toys and holiday ornaments take centre stage; and let’s not underestimate a well-made wooden toy as a timeless Christmas gift for small people. But Prague lords it over the Christmas market competition with a little extra: you can pick up handwoven clothes, garnet rings, iced pernick cookies (pictured above) and seasonal potpourri. Do pick up a dinky pot or two of aromatic Frankincense as well. Burn it like incense, then inhale a deep lungful and it’ll help reinvigorate the soul. Or so the locals will tell you.

Beyond the Christmas markets, for something a little more unpredictable, head to Guma for retro animal inflatables, once a staple of Czechoslovakian playrooms (the hot-pink lobster is a particular seasonal head-turner).

Man serving food on a street market food stall

Where to eat street snacks

What really keeps the Christmas market tradition alive is the belly-hugging grills (pictured above) dotting Prague’s mediaeval squares. Like eating a dirty hotdog from a New York City cart, it’s a prerequisite to sample a beechwood-smoked klobása sausage from a timber stand. A little more high-end is a minced párek sausage or utopenec, a pickled sausage with red pepper and onion from Naše Maso, a hip butcher re-educating locals in the history of Czech sausage. Don’t miss your chance to sample some of Prague’s sweet treats, such as trdelník – a spindle-shaped walnut pastry (it grabs you by the earmuffs and says: “eat me”) rumoured to originate in Hungary. Pick up yours all over the city or head to local favourite MLS Bistro’s Creperie U Katejana.

Exterior of U Pinkasů restaurant, Prague

Where to drink like a local

Wash down your dinner with an unpasteurised Pilsner at one of the city’s unmissable pubs (pictured above). One worth lingering at is Pivnice U Rudolfina, which pumps in spiritually satisfying suds from their own vast tanks. Or stop by U Sudu, which has been serving the locals beers for almost a hundred years. The perfect antidote to all that time-worn, wood-panelled beerhall drinking is a Bohemian cinnamon punch from a street stall, ideally enjoyed with a slab of your own handmade honey-spiced gingerbread made earlier in the day at the Gingerbread Museum. Either that or try the local hot wine, grog, and warm honey liquor called medovina.

Performers sing on stage at Prague Christmas market

Where to soak up the atmosphere

For “pa-rum-pum-pum-pum-ing” school choirs, both Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square have regular concerts and carol sing-alongs (pictured above). Every year the markets celebrate with a new theme, which is announced towards to the end of November. Around this part of the Old Town, St Nicholas mills around with an angel and a devil by his side, checking which people have been naughty or nice. Another scenario entirely is offered-up at Prague’s Gothic churches, where a series of advent concerts run throughout the month. Of note are the carol galas and concertos at the beautifully preserved Klementinum (Klementinum 190) and St Martin in the Wall Church (Martinská 8).

Interior of Spices restaurant at Mandarin Oriental, Prague

And finally… where to eat Christmas dinner

As in most of central Europe, Christmas Day is celebrated on 24 December. Of course, there’s never a wrong time to eat at the critically acclaimed Spices (pictured above) at Mandarin Oriental, Prague. Its Asian flavours are the perfect antidote to a jaded festive palate and its setting in a former monastery with a Renaissance-style vaulted ceiling certainly delivers.

Elsewhere, in the city, at chef David Šašek’s celebrated restaurant Coda, the menu dips into tradition with a parade of local treats, including fish soup and fried carp fillet with potato salad. Just off Wenceslas Square, meanwhile, chef Roman Paulus’ Michelin-starred Alcron offers a seven-course menu which reflects on both the classics and the contemporary, with previous festive menus including snails and parsley porridge for Christmas dinner.

Mandarin Oriental Prague
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Mandarin Oriental Prague

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Your essential guide to Prague

From the fairytale spires to the intricate astronomical clock, Prague is both culturally rich and architecturally beautiful. Discover the city's best sights and places to eat