Prague During Christmas: The Magical Winter Wonderland
January 1, 1970
by Kristýna Franková
Prague is the city I’ve called home for the past 3.5 years. Also, it is the most magical time of the year now, as Christmas is coming to town. It is not a coincidence, that CNN named Prague as one of the top 10 Christmas destination cities, because Prague deserves this nomination for the outstanding and beautiful atmosphere it creates for its visitors.
On a Saturday, four weeks before Christmas eve the Christmas markets are officially opened when a Christmas tree is lit on the Old Town Square. Therefore, the city centre gets filled with decorations and market stands selling souvenirs, local food, and drinks.
Don’t you also love the smell of cinnamon and mulled wine? I do! That is why Christmas in Prague is one of my favourite times of the year. Even though the temperature often drops below 0, the markets have such a magical atmosphere that no one who stays in Prague during this time cannot miss it.
During day-time, a walk around the city will show you the beautiful sights, but it is night time, when all the lights and decorations are on, that the magic happens. The city centre is transformed into a traditional Czech village, as the design of the market stands reflects the old days the children know from books and stories of their grandparents. This year’s decorations are inspired by nature, simplicity and four traditional colours – green, gold, red, and white.
Here, I will show you all the things you absolutely have to try and see when visiting Prague during Christmas season!
The Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square
Every year, a beautiful Christmas tree is built on the Old Town Square and is decorated in a certain theme. This year, the 22-meter tree is decorated with gingerbread ornaments, natural straw decorations, and mistletoe.The tree is then decorated with 4.5km of lights, traditional red bows and other ornaments, including a grand gold star topper. Last year, for example, the decorations were inspired by the work of a famous Czech artist, Josef Lada, whose “Cat Mikeš” or “Goat Bobeš” painting hung from the tree.
The lighting ceremony is visited by thousands of people every year, but don’t worry, since last year, it is repeated every hour after dusk during weekends, so that more people can witness the beautiful show accompanied by classical music by Antonin Dvořák. The ceremony is choreographed by designers, as the tree slowly comes to life in front of your own eyes and the star at the top shines bright though the square.
The Wenceslas Square is only a few minutes walk from the Old Town Square, and it also continues with the traditional Christmas markets setting, food, and souvenirs.
The Craft Stands
The Christmas stands on majority of the city centre squares, and from this year also on the Prague Castle, provide the visitors with an insight into the “old Czech” Christmas traditions. You can buy variety of traditional cookies and treats, handmade souvenirs such as candles, tree ornaments, lace, decorated glass, and of course, hats, gloves, and scarves. The Prague markets have been a tradition since the 13th century, when farmers and families came to Prague to buy supplies for the coming winter months, nowadays, they are more of a tourist attraction, but the mood and feelings all the decorations evoke in the visitors must be the same as in the history.
Next to the Christmas tree, you can also visit a live Bethlehem, where you can feed goats, sheep, and ponies, while listening to Christmas carols and soaking in the atmosphere of Christmas in Prague.
The Local Street Food
As you maybe already know about the Czech culture, we are very peculiar with our food tastes. The traditional Czech cuisine includes heavy sauces, dumplings, loads of oily meals, and of course, meat. The markets offer variety of food to taste, from modern hot-dogs and pancakes to more traditional options, such as potato pancakes, halušky (which are small potato dumplings cooked with smoked ham and white cabbage), fish soup, or variety of potato based dishes. As you can tell, potatoes were extremely important ingredients to our ancestors, therefore many traditional dished include them. You can also try delicious roasted chestnuts and other treats.
Trdelnik – or as it became to be known to the tourists – The Chimney Pastry
One of the most significant and recently also world-known pastry comes from Moravia (a region in the Czech Republic). The pastry is made from white dough, which is rolled into a thin trip and then rolled around a wooden form. The bakers usually fit around 4 pastries onto one form, which is then put on a spinning machine above a coal fire. This bakes the pastry crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. When baked, the pastry is rolled in a mixture of sugar, cinnamon and nuts, which gives it its signature taste and lovely smell.
The English name “Chimney Pastry” came not as a direct translation from Czech, but rather as an inspiration from the shape of the pastry, as it is hollow in the inside. During summer 2016, the sellers invented an upgrade for the pastry (which you might have seen pictures of flying around the social media already) and started filling the inside with Nutella, ice cream, fruits, and other fillings. However, I am a fan of the traditional and simple plain pastry as it shows the beauty and tradition.
Something to Keep You Warm
As you know, nothing keeps you warmer in winter time than a good beverage. For adults, that beverage of preference would probably be mulled wine. You can buy it literally at every corner all around the city. Street vendors offer both red and white mulled wine, with cinnamon and usually it should also come with a stripe of orange or lemon. But don’t worry, if you are not a fan of wine or day-drinking, there is also hot apple punch, hot chocolate (often with marshmallows or cream) and selections of teas to keep your bodies warm.
If you are a fan of neither of the mentioned, you can always count on being able to buy a pint of beer from a street vendor at the markets. As Czechs, we are extremely proud of the beer we produce, therefore you won’t regret trying out some of our original brans, such as Pilsner Urquell, Kozel, or Svijany (which are probably my favourite brands).
Concerts and Performances
Especially on the Old Town Square, you can see many performances from children choirs, dance groups and traditional musicians. There is a stage in one corner of the square, and you can watch the shows for free during the days. There are also various Christmas concerts held at the Prague Castle, the Municipal House, Rudolfinum theatre, the Spanish Synagogue, St. George’s Basilica, and the Church of St. Salvatore is famous for their beautiful Advent concerts.
Other interesting place to see, with an easy walk from the city centre, is the Vltava riverside. During winter, hundreds of swans and ducks float on the river looking for food, therefore, if you want to get in touch with the nature and help those animals, bringing an older piece of bread or leftover vegetables from lunch and feeding them to the animals will be a great new experience, as the animals are not afraid to come up-close and be hand fed.
So, if you are planning a trip to Prague during the next few weeks, I hope you enjoy it as much as I do everyday, but remember, DRESS WARM, because it can get very cold.