Countdown to Christmas: Pretty Prague
Prague's two main Christmas markets are a five-minute stroll from each other, located in historic Old Town Square (Staromestske namesti) and Wenceslas Square (Vaclavske namesti). Smaller markets can also be found at Republic Square (Republiky namesti), Peace Square (Miru namesti) and the permanent market at Havelska Trziste.
Visitors will find handmade Christmas decorations, fine jewelry, embroidered lace and linens, handmade clothing accessories, ceramics, ironworks, Czech potpourri, frankincense, candles, wooden toys, puppets and dolls. Tasty treats include roasted meats on open spits, traditional cookies and pastries such as Trdelnik (chimney cake), fresh grog, mulled wines and warm medovina, a traditional Czech honey liqueur. Beers on tap include locally brewed Pilsner Urquell (the world's first Pilsner beer, produced in Plzen, CZ in 1842), Staropramen and Budweiser Budvar.
Old Town Square's impressive Christmas tree is shipped in annually from the Krkonose mountain region that straddles the Czech/Polish border, and is draped with thousands of lights illuminated daily at 5 p.m. Children can pet the live animals of the giant nativity, and school children perform carols in daily stage shows. The square, dating to the 12th century, is the original town marketplace and location of Tyn Church, the double-spired Gothic cathedral that dominates the city's skyline, and the world-famous astronomical clock. Legend has it that after the clock's designer completed the clock in 1410, city counselors had him blinded, so he wouldn't make a clock as fine as this for anyone else. Whether you believe the tale, the clock is an exceptional work of mechanical ingenuity and shouldn't be missed.
Christmas market dates: Old Town Square's market, the city's largest, is open daily Dec. 3, 2016-Jan. 4, 2017 including Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year's Day. The market in Wenceslas Square is also open daily.
Helpful hints: Prague is a compact city, with most of the top attractions and historical locations within easy walking distance. Numerous hotels in the city center make it convenient to stay centrally located and walk to the Christmas markets and city sights. For those who wish to spend the Christmas holiday weekend in the city, several restaurants remain open Dec. 24-26, serving special menus that feature both traditional Czech Christmas dishes and international favorites, like roasted turkey. To plan your Prague holiday, visit Prague Experience for a list of local hotels, restaurants, their holiday hours and special holiday menus. You can also make reservations online.
Wenceslas Square, Old Town's former horse market, is named after the country's patron saint and flanks Old Town and New Town. Several hotels line the square and adjoining streets, which make it a great location to stay during your visit. Be sure to take time between markets to stroll along the architectural masterpiece of Charles Bridge, one of the world's best-preserved medieval bridges, and the main pedestrian connection between Old Town (Stare Mesto) and Lesser Quarter (Mala Strana) across the Vitava River. Then, head for Prague Castle (Prafsiky hrad), the world's largest castle and best vantage point for the city's skyline.
Not ready to venture out on your own? USAG-Kaiserslautern Family & MWR Outdoor Recreation has a Prague Express day trip Dec. 10 and a multi-day Christmas in Prague trip Dec. 23-26.
Beyond the market: Make the most of your time in Prague with these other attractions and historical locations. Join a walking tour through the Jewish Quarter and learn about the impact of the Holocaust; take a half-day tour to the "Bone Church" in Kutna Hora. Stroll through the Wallenstein Palace; see the ballet or opera; or shop for garnets at Cesky Granat Turnov, crystal at Moser, or hidden treasures at Praha Thrift Store and Brica Brae. Whatever you choose, the Czech people are warm, friendly and welcome you to their home with open arms, embodying the perfect spirit for the holidays.
Check back tomorrow to find out which European Christmas markets will be featured next as we continue our Countdown to Christmas!
Read more about Europe's holiday season in the Stripes European Christmas Markets & Shopping Guide.