Prague Christmas markets are among the most magical we have visited in Europe. Europe’s Christmas markets originated in Germany, dating back to the 14th century, but have long since spread across the continent and even beyond. We had already been to several Christmas markets in Germany and Austria, and decided to visit Prague in December, spending our first Christmas in Prague and trying the Prague Christmas markets to find out what they were like with a little Czech twist.
Prague Old Town Square Christmas Market
Prague’s Old Town Square must be one of the most enchanting in Europe, and it makes a stunning setting for the main Prague Christmas Market. On one side, the fairy-tale Gothic spires of the church of Our Lady before Týn overlook the tree and stalls. Opposite, the Old Town Hall, with its 15th century Astronomical Clock and tower on one corner make for a magical backdrop, as does the Baroque church of St Nicholas further along the north side of the Square.
The Town Hall Tower is a great place to get your bearings, with an outstanding view over the Square and, from the other side, to the skyline that has been unchanged for centuries – church domes, the distinctive towers of Charles Bridge and beyond, the New Town and Castle Hill, dominated by St Vitus’ Cathedral. It’s likely to be rather busy up there, so if you’re a vertigo-prone claustrophobe, stay downstairs.
Once daylight has disappeared and the lights come on around the square for the blue hour, the Market is at its cosiest and most atmospheric. Families climb a glittering staircase to a viewpoint close to the Týn church, and children make a beeline for the animal stable for a chance to pet a donkey, goat or sheep.
All around, the smells and flavours are as irresistible as the sights. Everywhere you sense the warmth staving off the winter cold, from the hot mulled wine to giant roast hams and klobasa sausages, to the sweet comfort food, everything from gingerbread to strudels to traditional Czech trdelnik, a round, sugar-frosted pastry cooked on a spit or stick. The bars also have a plentiful stock of Czech beers, possibly among the finest in the world, and medovina, the Czech take on the honey-based liqueur, mead.
Apart from the food and drink, the markets are a great way to stock up on Christmas presents. We found some beautiful traditional wooden toys, Christmas decorations and a characterful ceramic bird called Alfons. As we were in Prague at Christmas itself, we had already done most of next year’s present shopping before the end of our Christmas Day!
Christmas in Prague
We loved spending Christmas in Prague, and wholeheartedly recommend it. Be aware that if you arrive Christmas Eve evening – when Czechs have their biggest celebration – it’s a taxi or a trek from the airport. In our case it was a bus to Arbesovo namesti then an onward tram which ran as far as Ujezd, followed by a 20-minute walk before we reached our hotel in the Mala Strana (Little Town) district.
Apart from things winding down on Christmas Eve, the other five days we spent there didn’t really differ from any other winter days. The Christmas markets were in full flow the whole time, and most cafes, bars and restaurants were open.
Where are the Prague Christmas Markets held?
The two main Prague Christmas markets are held on Old Town Square (Staromestski Namesti) and on nearby Wenceslas Square (Vaclavski names).
There are other smaller markets around the city – on Republic Square, Kampa Island and (our secret tip) in the square outside St George’s Basilica, across the river and up the hill in the Prague Castle precinct.
Prague Christmas Market Dates
This year’s markets started on 2nd December 2017, continuing until 6th January 2018. We’ll update the article to include the 2018-19 season dates in due course.
David Angel is a British writer and photographer who has been travelling and photographing the world for over 25 years. His work is regularly featured in worldwide media including the BBC, the Guardian, the Times and the Sunday Times.