Christmas in Prague
By Ben Fant
20 Dec 2007
Traveling north in the winter is not the custom of many holiday travelers, but there is no better time to see Prague than in December. Czechs embrace Christmas nearly as much as Americans, and all the town squares, markets, and shops are ablaze with twinkling lights and lush evergreen décor while the music halls advertise Christmas symphony concerts.
With the echo of what small, town American Christmases once were, the streets of Prague resonate with sights and sounds familiar and magical, as you can purchase hot wine, that is sweetened with botanicals and fruits, and roasted chestnuts from street vendors while a band of flutist, accordionist and violinist bounce their carols off the walls of the square. It feels as if you are stepping into an older, easier time, a time that your grandparents may have told you about, when gingerbread cookies were still in fashion, and Christmas was sustained on the communal atmosphere of goodwill.
Beginning the first Sunday in December and lasting the entire month, the holiday markets open in the squares of Prague. The stalls are open everyday, and the merchants sell anything relating to Christmas. Handcrafted ornaments are a popular sell, and delectable sweets, nuts, and candies can be found tucked between stalls of merchandise. Hot mead, a sweet, honey-liquor, keeps you warm as you peruse the stalls, and kielbasa sausage, served traditionally with a slice of rye bread and a dollop of mild mustard, keeps away hunger pains. Some squares have large stages constructed where holiday concerts entertain shoppers in the evenings. The markets become very busy in the late afternoon, as locals leave work and add to the mass of mostly-European travelers who come to enjoy the Christmas revelry.
Staying near the center of town provides access to the more popular sites and allows most of your venturing out to be done on foot. Prague is a medieval city, and its diverse history is most visible in the stunning architecture. These popular architectural attractions become the epicenter for the Christmas celebration, and the spires of the city provide stunning backdrops making the scenery surreal.
Prague is cold in December and even a short walk from your hotel to the Charles Bridge or Old Town Square can get your ears turning red. For some excursionist, this seems too much to bear for a time that is meant to be vacation, but as one traveler said about Prague weather, "Yes, it's cold. So what we live in Florida."
Having to deal with the cold regularly, Prague citizens keep establishments warm and toasty, and layering your clothes becomes extremely important. Being able to lose some layers indoors, or in the off chance that the sun emerges to provide an uncustomary dash of warmth will keep you comfortable.
The best way to defeat the cold is by distraction. Following the narrow, winding cobblestone streets leading to one beautifully designed building after another while watching young children enchanted by Christmas delights all around them will keep your step light and bright. A handy travel guide will mark all the most popular sites, but setting a course of your own is an enjoyable way to spend the afternoon.
The cost of traveling to most European countries has almost doubled with the decline of the dollar, but you don't have to worry about the lopsided euro in the Czech Republic. They issue krona that has a more favorable exchange rate, but prices in Prague are set for exchange and are comparable to most U.S. cities. December is off-season and that can also greatly reduce travel prices, as well as, limit the number of tourists crowding the streets. Combining these points, traveling to Prague during the holidays is a great value.