The Best Things to Do in Prague at Christmas

Prague during Christmas is a scene straight out of a winter fairytale, with its picturesque cobbled streets, ancient buildings, and squares all aglow with festive lights. As the cold sets in, the city transforms into a winter wonderland, highlighted by the soft glow of Christmas lights adorning street lamps, bridges, and trees, making it one of the most enchanting times to visit. Snow often dusts the city’s iconic landmarks like Prague Castle and the Charles Bridge, creating a magical backdrop for holiday festivities and seasonal joy.

Table of contents

Discover the Charm of Christmas Markets

Old Town Square Christmas Market

Christmas Market

The Christmas market in Old Town Square is the centerpiece of Prague's yuletide celebrations. Nestled around the Jan Hus statue and beneath the medieval Astronomical Clock, the market bursts into life with numerous stalls draped in twinkling lights and festive decorations. Vendors offer a variety of goods from beautifully crafted glass ornaments to wooden toys and intricate jewelry. The air is filled with the aromas of holiday treats, from freshly grilled sausages to sweet pastries, drawing locals and tourists alike into the festive spirit. A massive Christmas tree, transported from the forests of the Czech Republic, towers over the square, meticulously adorned and lit up in a grand lighting ceremony that is a spectacle in itself.

Castle Hill and Lesser Town Markets

Lesser Town Market

While the market at Old Town Square tends to draw large crowds, the ones on Castle Hill and in the Lesser Town offer a more subdued experience. These markets are smaller and have a distinctly local feel, making them perfect for those looking to escape the hustle and bustle. They are nestled within the quaint streets and historical ambiances of their neighborhoods, offering unique handmade crafts and souvenirs that are hard to find elsewhere. The Castle Hill market, with its stunning backdrop of Prague Castle, provides not only shopping opportunities but also breathtaking views of the city draped in its winter finery.

Must-Try Christmas Treats

Chimney Cake

No visit to Prague's Christmas markets would be complete without indulging in the traditional Czech culinary delights that define the holiday season:

  • Trdelník (Chimney Cake): This spit cake is made from rolled dough wrapped around a stick, grilled, and topped with a sugar and walnut mix.
  • Svařák (Mulled Wine): A staple at Christmas markets, this hot, spiced wine is perfect for warming up on a chilly December night.
  • Perníčky (Gingerbread): Soft, spiced gingerbread cookies, often beautifully decorated with white icing.
  • Roast Chestnuts: Hot and aromatic, these are a popular snack, perfect for munching as you stroll through the markets.
  • Medovina (Honey Wine): Another warm beverage, medovina is sweet and comforting, made from honey fermented with water.

Exploring these markets offers not just a chance to buy unique gifts but also to immerse oneself in the festive traditions and delicious tastes of Prague at Christmas.

Roast Chestnuts

Cultural Insights and Traditions

Czech Christmas Customs and Superstitions

Christmas in Prague is steeped in rich traditions and fascinating superstitions that reflect the deep cultural heritage of the Czech Republic. Many of these customs are centered around Christmas Eve, which is considered the most important day of the Christmas holidays.

  • Generous Day (Štědrý den): Christmas Eve is known as "Generous Day" in Czech, a reference to the feast prepared for the family dinner. The meal traditionally includes carp and potato salad, and it is believed that no one should leave the table before the meal is finished to ensure the unity and well-being of the family.
  • Superstitions: One of the most charming Czech superstitions involves predicting the future with a carp scale placed under the dinner plate. It is said to bring wealth and happiness for the coming year. Another tradition is casting shadows on the wall with a light behind a walnut shell; the shadow's shape is supposed to predict the future.
  • Golden Pig: If you fast all day until the evening meal on Christmas Eve, you might see a vision of a "golden pig," which is a sign of good luck.

Nativity Scenes and Midnight Masses

Nativity Scene

Nativity scenes (betlémy) and midnight masses are integral parts of Czech Christmas celebrations, deeply ingrained in the spiritual and communal life of Prague.

  • Nativity Scenes: Many churches throughout Prague set up elaborate nativity scenes that are often handcrafted and beautifully detailed. Notable locations include the Church of St. Matthew in the Lesser Town and the Bethlehem Chapel in the Old Town, which houses a large and historically significant nativity scene that attracts both locals and tourists.
  • Midnight Masses: Attending midnight mass is a revered tradition in Prague. The most famous is held at St. Vitus Cathedral, located within the Prague Castle complex. This mass is a majestic affair, with soul-stirring music and liturgical ceremonies. It's advisable to arrive early, as it tends to be very popular. Other churches throughout the city also hold masses, which are generally welcoming to visitors of all faiths.

Nativity Scene

These cultural practices offer a deeper insight into the spiritual and communal life of Prague during Christmas, providing visitors with a meaningful connection to the local traditions and celebrations.

Festive Activities and Entertainment

Ice Skating Rinks in the City

Ice Skating Rink

Prague transforms into a winter sports paradise during the Christmas season, with several ice skating rinks popping up around the city. These rinks offer a festive atmosphere, complete with sparkling lights and holiday music, perfect for families, couples, and solo visitors alike.

  • Old Town Square Ice Rink: Situated in the heart of Prague, this rink is surrounded by the beautiful architecture of Old Town and the Christmas market. It's a popular choice for its central location and stunning views.
  • Ovocný trh Ice Rink: Located in a less crowded but equally charming square behind the Estates Theatre, this rink offers a more tranquil skating experience. Free entry and skate rental available on-site for a fee.
  • Letná Park Ice Rink: For those looking for larger rinks, Letná Park provides a spacious ice-skating environment with panoramic views of the city below, making it a favorite among locals.

Seasonal Concerts and Performances

Rudolfinum

Prague’s reputation as a city of music is well-deserved, and the Christmas season highlights this with a variety of concerts and performances across historic venues.

  • Rudolfinum: Home to the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, the Rudolfinum is one of Prague’s most prestigious concert halls. During December, it hosts a series of Christmas concerts ranging from classical music to festive jazz.
  • National Theatre: Offering a mix of opera, ballet, and drama, the National Theatre presents special holiday performances, including classic ballets like The Nutcracker—a must-see for its elaborate costumes and enchanting music.
  • St. Nicholas Church: Located in the Lesser Town, this baroque church holds regular organ concerts and chamber music performances, featuring both international and local artists in a stunningly atmospheric setting.
  • Klementinum: Known for its beautiful baroque architecture, the Klementinum often hosts classical Christmas concerts in its Mirror Chapel, a venue known for its excellent acoustics and breathtaking interior.

These activities not only provide entertainment but also allow you to experience traditional Czech culture and holiday spirit. Whether you’re gliding across an ice rink or enjoying a live performance, Prague offers numerous ways to celebrate the festive season.

Christmas Lights and Decorations Tour

Illuminated Prague Tour

Old Town Square

Exploring Prague’s festive lights is a highlight of the holiday season. A self-guided walking tour can take you through the city’s most beautifully decorated areas, creating a memorable evening of sightseeing.

  • Starting Point: Wenceslas Square: Begin your tour at the top of Wenceslas Square, where you can admire the grand Christmas tree and the illuminations that light up the National Museum in the backdrop.
  • Route through Old Town: Stroll down from Wenceslas Square through the pedestrian-friendly streets to the Old Town Square. Here, the Christmas markets are surrounded by an array of sparkling lights, with the towering Christmas tree and the Astronomical Clock serving as focal points.
  • Continue to Charles Bridge: From Old Town Square, make your way to Charles Bridge. The path leading to the bridge and the bridge itself are adorned with lights, offering magical views of the lit-up Prague Castle in the distance.
  • Finish at Prague Castle: End your tour at Prague Castle for a breathtaking night-time view of the city. The Castle and surrounding areas, including St. Vitus Cathedral, are spectacularly lit, providing a perfect conclusion to your festive tour.

Special Light Shows

Botanical Gardens

During the Christmas season, Prague hosts several special light shows that transform the city's already stunning architecture into dazzling displays of color and light.

  • Video Mapping at the National Museum: This modern technology projects dynamic Christmas-themed videos onto the facade of the National Museum, located at the top of Wenceslas Square. These shows usually occur in the evenings and are a modern twist on holiday decorations.
  • Kampa Island Light Festival: An annual event that features creative light installations and interactive light art. It’s a less traditional, more contemporary celebration of the festive season, appealing particularly to families and those interested in art and technology.
  • Christmas Light Garden at Botanical Gardens: For a more immersive experience, visit the Botanical Gardens where a special Christmas light garden is set up. The garden paths are lined with themed light installations that create an enchanted forest vibe.

These tours and light shows not only highlight the beauty of Prague in winter but also offer visitors a chance to see the city from a different perspective, enveloped in the festive glow of Christmas lights.

Culinary Delights of the Czech Christmas

Traditional Czech Christmas Dinner

Traditional Czech Christmas Dinner

The Czech Christmas dinner is a cherished tradition, featuring a feast that brings families together in celebration. Understanding the components of this festive meal can enhance your holiday experience in Prague.

  • Main Dishes: The traditional dinner on Christmas Eve, considered the most important meal of the holiday, typically includes fried carp and potato salad. Some families may also serve roast goose, duck, or pork with dumplings and sauerkraut.
  • Soup: The meal often starts with a rich fish soup or mushroom soup, which are winter favorites in Czech cuisine.
  • Desserts: No Czech Christmas dinner is complete without a variety of sweets. The most traditional is vánočka, a braided bread made with raisins and almonds, and cukroví, small cookies prepared in many different flavors and shapes.

Where to Have It: For those wanting to experience an authentic Czech Christmas dinner without a local invitation, several restaurants in Prague offer special Christmas Eve menus:

  • Restaurant Mlýnec: Located near Charles Bridge, this restaurant provides a picturesque setting and a gourmet version of the traditional Czech Christmas dinner.
  • Kampa Park: Famous for its location by the river, Kampa Park serves a luxurious holiday menu that includes modern takes on traditional Czech dishes.

Best Restaurants for a Festive Dinner

Traditional Czech Christmas Dinner

Prague boasts numerous restaurants that offer special menus throughout the Christmas season, combining festive ambiance with exceptional culinary experiences.

  • Café Imperial: Known for its stunning Art Deco interior, Café Imperial offers a festive menu that features both international and Czech holiday specialties.
  • Bellevue: Situated with views of Charles Bridge and Prague Castle, Bellevue offers a sophisticated Christmas menu, perfect for those looking to splurge on a memorable holiday meal.
  • Lokál: For a more casual dining experience, Lokál is a chain of Czech pubs that serve hearty, traditional Czech food in a lively atmosphere. It's a great option for tasting authentic local dishes without the formal setting.

Each of these restaurants provides a unique dining experience that showcases the best of Czech culinary traditions and holiday cheer, making them perfect choices for a festive dinner in Prague.

Unique Shopping Experiences

Christmas Shopping in Prague

Christmas Shopping in Prague

Prague during the Christmas season offers a plethora of shopping opportunities, where visitors can find authentic Czech gifts and decorations that make for memorable souvenirs and presents. Here are some top spots and tips for Christmas shopping:

  • Prague Christmas Markets: The markets, especially those at Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square, are perfect for finding traditional Czech Christmas items like handcrafted ornaments, glassware, and wooden toys. Look for unique items such as hand-painted glass baubles, which are a local specialty.
  • Manufaktura: This shop offers authentic Czech products, including cosmetics made from natural ingredients and traditional wooden products. Manufaktura's shops can be found in various locations throughout the city and are ideal for gifts that embody the essence of Czech craftsmanship.
  • Botanicus: For those interested in organic and natural products, Botanicus is a must-visit. Located in the heart of Old Town, this shop offers a range of locally made products from spices and herbs to soaps and lotions, all beautifully packaged and perfect for Christmas gifts.

Designer and Boutique Finds

Parizska Street

Prague is not only about traditional crafts; it also offers a range of designer stores and boutiques where you can find unique fashion pieces and artisan gifts:

  • Parizska Street: Known as one of Prague’s most fashionable streets, Parizska hosts a range of high-end boutiques and international designer stores. During Christmas, the street is beautifully decorated, making your shopping experience even more enjoyable.
  • Debut Gallery: Situated in the trendy neighborhood of Vinohrady, this boutique features clothing and accessories from up-and-coming Czech designers. It's a great spot to discover unique fashion pieces that are hard to find anywhere else.
  • Kubista: Located at the House of the Black Madonna, a cubist building in Old Town, Kubista offers a range of cubist-inspired ceramics and glassware, perfect for unique and artistic gifts.
  • Harddecore Gallery: This boutique and gallery showcases the work of local designers and artists, offering everything from jewelry and fashion to illustrations and home decor. It's an excellent place for finding one-of-a-kind gifts that support local artists.

These shopping destinations in Prague not only provide visitors with a wide array of choices for Christmas shopping but also offer a chance to purchase unique and locally-made products, making your holiday shopping experience both fun and culturally enriching.

Day Trips from Prague

Winter Day Trips Worth Taking

While Prague itself is a wonderland in winter, venturing out for a day trip can enrich your holiday experience with the magic of the Czech countryside and smaller towns, which are often less crowded and equally festive. Here are some top recommendations for day trips that showcase the charm of Czech traditions and beautiful winter landscapes:

Kutná Hora:

Kutná Hora

  • Distance from Prague: About 1 hour by train.
  • Highlights: Visit the Sedlec Ossuary, adorned with unique decorations made of human bones, and the stunning St. Barbara's Cathedral. During December, Kutná Hora hosts a quaint Christmas market that captures the medieval spirit of the town with traditional crafts and warm beverages.

Karlštejn Castle:

Karlštejn Castle

  • Distance from Prague: Approximately 40 minutes by train.
  • Highlights: Explore this gothic castle, which offers special winter tours that provide a historical insight into the life of Czech royalty. The surrounding village is charming and features small artisan shops perfect for unique Christmas gifts.

Český Krumlov:

Český Krumlov

  • Distance from Prague: About 2.5 hours by bus or car.
  • Highlights: This UNESCO World Heritage site is particularly enchanting during the winter months. The town's Christmas market, set in the shadow of the state castle and chateau, offers a picturesque setting, complete with roasted chestnuts, hot mead, and handcrafted local gifts. The historic center, with its Baroque and Renaissance architecture, looks splendid under a blanket of snow.

Pilsen:

Pilsen

  • Distance from Prague: Roughly 1 hour by train.
  • Highlights: Known for its Pilsner beer, Pilsen is ideal for those interested in Czech brewing traditions. Visit the Pilsner Urquell brewery for a tour and tasting. The city also hosts a vibrant Christmas market in its main square, with a focus on Bohemian crafts and festive treats.

Each of these destinations offers a unique slice of Czech culture and history, making them perfect for a winter day trip from Prague. Whether you're looking to explore ancient castles, picturesque old towns, or indulge in the local culinary delights, these day trips will provide memorable experiences beyond the main tourist paths of Prague.

Staying Connected and Comfortable

Accommodation and Transportation Tips

Christmas in Prague

Navigating Prague during the festive season and finding the right place to stay can significantly enhance your holiday experience. Here are some essential tips for both accommodation and transportation in Prague during Christmas:

Accommodation:

  • Old Town (Staré Město): Staying in the Old Town puts you at the heart of the festivities, with easy access to the Christmas markets and major historic sites. This area is ideal for first-time visitors who want to be in the middle of everything.
  • Lesser Town (Malá Strana): For a quieter stay that is still central, consider Lesser Town. This area offers picturesque views and charming streets, with quick access to Prague Castle and Charles Bridge.
  • Vinohrady: If you prefer a more residential neighborhood with an authentic local feel, Vinohrady is full of great cafes and parks, offering a more relaxed atmosphere while still being conveniently connected to the city center via public transport.
  • Book Early: Accommodations in Prague can fill up quickly for the Christmas season, so it’s advisable to book your stay well in advance.
  • Check Reviews: Look for hotels with central heating to ensure a warm and cozy stay, and read recent guest reviews for insights into the hotel’s holiday services and amenities.

Transportation:

  • Public Transport: Prague has an excellent public transportation system, including trams, buses, and the metro. During the Christmas season, public transport operates on a holiday schedule, so it’s wise to check the latest timetables. Consider purchasing a transport pass for the duration of your stay for unlimited rides.
  • Walking: Central Prague is highly walkable, and walking through the historic streets adorned with Christmas lights is a delightful experience. Ensure you have comfortable and warm footwear, as the cobblestones can become slippery if it snows.
  • Taxis and Ride-Sharing: For late-night travel or when you’re laden with shopping bags, taxis and ride-sharing services like Uber are available and convenient. Make sure to use official taxi services or trusted apps to avoid overcharges.
  • Airport Transfers: Plan your transfer from the airport to your hotel in advance. Options include airport express buses, private transfers, or using public transportation.

By selecting the right accommodation and understanding local transportation options, you can ensure a smooth, enjoyable, and comfortable visit to Prague during the bustling Christmas season.

FAQs: Everything You Need to Know About Christmas in Prague

Practical Tips and Advice

Christmas in Prague

Visiting Prague during the Christmas season is a magical experience, but it comes with its own set of challenges and questions. Here are answers to some common queries to help you navigate your holiday effectively and safely:

What is the weather like in Prague during Christmas?

  • December in Prague is generally cold, with average temperatures ranging from -1 to 4 degrees Celsius (30-39 degrees Fahrenheit). Snow is common, which adds to the festive atmosphere but also requires suitable preparation.

What type of clothing should I pack?

  • Warm and waterproof clothing is essential. Pack a heavy coat, thermal layers, a hat, gloves, and a scarf. Waterproof boots with good traction are crucial for navigating snowy and icy streets.

Is Prague safe during the Christmas season?

  • Prague is generally safe for tourists. However, like in any major city during a busy season, it's important to stay vigilant, especially in crowded areas like Christmas markets, where pickpockets can be more active. Always keep your valuables secure and be aware of your surroundings.

How early should I arrive at the Christmas markets?

  • The markets can get crowded, especially in the evenings and on weekends. For a more relaxed experience, try to visit in the early afternoon on weekdays.

Are public transport services operational during Christmas?

  • Public transport in Prague runs throughout the Christmas period, though there may be reduced services on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. Always check the latest schedules on the official Prague Public Transport website.

Can I attend a Christmas mass in Prague?

  • Yes, many churches in Prague hold midnight masses on Christmas Eve, and these are open to the public. St. Vitus Cathedral at Prague Castle and the Church of Our Lady before Týn in Old Town Square are particularly popular. Arriving early is recommended as these services can attract large numbers of worshippers and tourists.

What are the best areas for Christmas shopping?

  • Besides the Christmas markets, Vinohrady and Mala Strana offer boutique shops where you can find unique gifts. Palladium Shopping Center and Wenceslas Square are good for more mainstream shopping.

Are restaurants open on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day?

  • Many restaurants in Prague remain open during Christmas, but it is advisable to book in advance as places fill up quickly. Some restaurants offer special Christmas menus for a festive dining experience.

These tips should help you enjoy a hassle-free holiday in Prague, letting you focus on the festive joy and cultural richness of this historic city during one of its most beautiful seasons.

Conclusion

Prague during Christmas is not just a destination; it's an enchanting experience that captures the essence of a traditional European winter celebration. As the city is adorned with twinkling lights and dusted with snow, it transforms into a picturesque winter wonderland that seems straight out of a storybook. The city’s historic architecture provides a majestic backdrop to the vibrant Christmas markets that fill the air with the delightful scents of holiday treats and the sounds of festive music.

Visitors to Prague in December are treated to an immersive experience that combines the joy of traditional Czech Christmas customs with the charm of its festive markets. From the grandeur of the Old Town Square and its impressive Christmas tree to the intimate and less crowded markets of Castle Hill and Lesser Town, Prague offers a range of settings to celebrate the season. The city not only boasts beautiful sights but also offers a host of activities from ice skating in historical settings to attending classical concerts and midnight masses that reveal the depth of its cultural heritage.

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