I can’t even contain my excitement about Christmas right now. After spending a few days at home recovering from jet lag, I emerged into a wonderful winter wonderland. I can forgive Prague for being a little lackluster about Halloween because the Christmas situation here is lit (pun totally intended).
There are Christmas markets all over the place. The entire city is bathed in Christmas lights, which is nice because we’re averaging 16 hours of a darkness a day, and I need something to help me get out of bed. The delicious smells of fresh dough and roasting ham and chestnuts wafting about are a pretty good incentive to go out. Even the buskers are getting into the spirit by playing Christmas carols for spare change.
If you’re visiting Prague in December, you’ll definitely end up at a Christmas market whether you want to or not, because they’re basically unavoidable. There are several main markets.
The Old Town Square Market
This one is huge, beautiful, and is going to have the most people. It’s also going to be the most expensive. It’s open from 10 am to 10 pm, with most food stands staying open until midnight. I made the rookie mistake of going there on the day of the first tree lighting, and it was unbearably packed. I would advise you to skip this on the weekend altogether if you can. I returned on Monday night, and it was way more enjoyable because you can actually walk around and see things.
And you don’t have to miss the Christmas tree lighting. They do it every night, every hour at 4: 30 pm, 5:30 pm, 6:30 pm, 7:30 pm, 8:30 pm, and 9:30 pm. The tree is turned off and re-lit along to festive music. If you can score a spot on the platform in the center of the square, you’ll have a great view. This is considerably easier if you go earlier in the evenings and on weekdays instead of weekends.
The market has the largest variety of food, crafts, and lots of warm booze. If you’ve ever been to a Christmas market, you’ve probably had mulled wine. The Prague markets have plenty of mulled wine, but they also have hot honey wine, which is what God drinks in heaven probably.
You can easily spend several hours in the Old Town Square Market. There is a stage set up for concerts and holiday movies. You can buy just about anything including toys, ornaments, clothes, weapons made in person by a blacksmith, baskets, soaps and spices. There is also a small petting zoo where you can feed and pet goats and ponies.
The Wenceslas Square Market
This is the second largest market in Prague and will probably be almost as crowded as the Old Town Market. It’s less than 10 minutes away on foot so you can do both at the same time. It’s technically divided in half since Wenceslas Square is one long street.
The larger, busier part of the market is on the side of the square closest to Old Town. It’s marked by the larger Christmas tree. Here you’ll also find plenty to eat and drink. There is a small petting zoo and plenty of crafts, as well, though not nearly as many as the market in Old Town. On the other side of the square, right under the statue of St. Wenceslas, there are a few more rows of stands selling fresh food and drink.
Both the Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square markets run until January 6th. But there are many other smaller markets scattered throughout the city that you can enjoy through Christmas or the end of the year.
The Christmas Market at Prague Castle
You’ll find one of the most touristy, and yet least busy, Christmas markets at Prague Castle. The lines for security to get in the castle complex are the longest this time of year so you won’t see many locals huddled around St. Vitus Cathedral drinking mulled wine. The market is not terribly big, but still has a lot of different food options and stalls with crafts and ornaments. It’s worth checking out if only to avoid the massive crowds that you’ll run into in Old Town.
Peace Square Market
Just outside city center is a sizable but considerably calmer market at Peace Square (Náměstí Míru). With a large beautiful tree and a small rows of stands, this market will have a lot of locals from the nearby residential neighborhoods. You’re less likely to see English translations for things, but you can always smile and point. The square is easy to get to by tram or Metro, and it’s outside of the busy city center bubble.
Republic Square Market
The other market worth visiting is at Republic Square (Náměstí Republiky) right next to the Palladium mall. This one is also less crowded despite the fact that it’s very much in city center. This market is accessible by the yellow line on the Metro or on foot from Old Town Square.
If you don’t find the perfect wool coat or slippers here, you can go to the mall next door and warm up indoors with your hot chocolate and your gingerbread cookie.
As a visitor, the markets will be an adorable and memorable treat. As a recent transplant, I can’t believe I live here. America, I’ll work on the Czechs and Halloween, but you have to promise to step up your Christmas game. In the Cold War of holiday spirit, we’re losing to the Czechs by a long shot.