One of the best things about being an expat in Europe this time of year is that there are so many Christmas markets right at our fingertips! We’ve done the German thing a couple times in Cologne and Hannover, which were amazing. People refer to “German Christmas Markets” most of the time for a reason, because they set the bar high. But there are so many places in Europe that simply rock at Christmas, so how do you choose which one to visit?
For Christmas this year, I wanted to be somewhere dreamy. Honestly, I’m a romantic, so I wanted to feel like I was in an old timey Christmas movie in a big poofy dress. I wanted to be somewhere everyone loves who has traveled there. And I wanted to be somewhere that isn’t insanely expensive. I figured if we found a place that met all those requirements, we couldn’t go wrong.
That’s how we ended up in Prague in the Czech Republic. Oh the city of spires. It’s skyline is unlike anywhere else. And it has famous Christmas markets!
The thing is…we didn’t just do Christmas markets in Prague, we spent Christmas in Prague! This is the first we have traveled for Christmas, and quite frankly I didn’t know how it would go. Wrapping a holiday into travel was unknown to us. I mean…is it a holiday or vacation? Are you taking in all that you can? It shouldn’t be this hard!
What Christmas is like in Prague
What do you do? Are things open? Is public transit running? Can I get dinner reservations?
Prague is a great place to spend Christmas! Both Christmas day and the season leading up to it there is a great vibe everywhere with beautiful decorations and twinkling lights and of course massive Christmas trees. They have their fair share of Christmas markets, as well. The main one is in the Old Town Square but we loved the one in the Prague Castle too! It’s in the shadow of the Saint Vitus Cathedral, which is definitely worth going into for its amazing stained glass.
To answer the questions we had: most things are open until sometime on Christmas Eve, many regular stores shut down for Christmas Day and the day after Christmas (Second Christmas or Boxing Day depending on what you called it!). The Christmas markets are actually open on Christmas day, but they closed early on Christmas Eve.
Public transit does keep running, maybe a bit slower, but it’s there. However, Prague is a very walkable city. Stay on either side of the river and you can easily mosey around to the main attractions and sights. It’s worth the walk just to take it all in.
Dinner reservations are a MUST! Trust me on this one. We found a website that kept track of all the restaurants that were open Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, what the menu was, and even took reservations. We used this service to make reservations. Unfortunately, both places we went to did not have our reservation. That was super disappointing, but I showed my confirmation and they kindly made room for us. So, if you find such a website, use it for the information, but make your own reservations directly with the restaurant. Lesson learned!
For all other meals, we mostly it Yelped everything or snacked at the markets. There is plenty of food at the markets! My favorite is a round pastry rolled in cinnamon sugar. It’s seriously drool-worthy. But if you like a bit more substantial food, the Prague ham is super tasty too. Here are just a couple foods we saw.
But this wasn’t any food tour. Nope. It was Christmas themed. Seemed like the right thing to do! We ate traditional Christmas dishes while learning about local culture around the holidays. It involved meaty dishes, tasty drinks (some alcoholic), and of course a sweet finish. I had never tried much of what we ate and drank which is one of the reasons I love these kinds of tours.
Our guide was Leona from Prague Food Tour, and as a Czech she was able to tell us the real story behind everything in Prague, the culture, and the food. Our group was super small with only three of us plus Leona!
Old Town Hall and The Tower
We were lucky enough to grab a spot on the Old Town Hall tour and go up in the tower. Sounds super boring, right? Why would you tour the Old Town Hall?
There are so many reasons…like history, cool spaces, and going underground. Best to show you, I think.
Going up in the Old City Hall Tower is a MUST. Don’t miss it or you’ll be upset with yourself. The view is incredible. Sadly we weren’t up there in the daylight which I’ve seen photos of and are amazing, but with the Christmas market right below, I wasn’t complaining.
Concert in a Palace
We wanted Christmas 2016 to be the most Christmas-y Christmas ever. To that end, I booked us a concert in a palace. It was the Mozart Orchestra Prague and we got to listen to a string ensemble play heavenly Christmas music in the Clam-Gallas Palace. The acoustics were incredible. The room was breathtaking. And the music was perfect for the time of year. So glad I got that itch for a concert! It’s really made us want to attend more concerts and other performance art.
Christmas Eve & Christmas Day
Everything stops early on Christmas Eve so we missed out on one of the neighborhood Christmas market we wanted to visit in Namesti Miru. By the time we headed back to the main area of the city, the others were closing too. It’s like the world was conspiring to slow us down “Ok, force me to relax!”.
It had been days of long walks! Crazily enough, we had friends staying in the hotel across the street from us so we had planned to have Christmas Eve dinner together at Kolkovna Celnice Pub & Restaurant. It was delicious and the portions were quite generous. And get this…four entrees and multiple drinks and the bill was about 60 euros. Not per person, but TOTAL. Gotta love eating out in the Czech Republic!
Christmas day consisted of sleeping in and hanging out until we were hungry for lunch. We were excited the markets were back open so we pigged out on some ham and other snacks while sipping some hot mead (honey wine). Even though it’s not super traditional, we had a reservation at an Italian spot in town. Christmas or not, it was good Italian food. Definitely check out Corto Pizza & Pasta Restaurant if you’re in the mood for it in Prague.
Did it feel like Christmas?
Prague was great. Exploring the city, the castle, the markets and more, was a nice experience. Yes, Prague was magical at Christmas and we can’t wait to get back when it’s warmer, but I’m just not sure if I want to travel over the Christmas holiday again. Part of this is because we had a very specific Christmas routine in the U.S. with family. This is our third Christmas abroad and I was a bit disappointed. Our tiny tree with ornaments collected from our travels wasn’t with us, we didn’t have any Christmas movies to watch, and we weren’t home…where we are comfortable. A hotel room just didn’t do it for me.
Do you travel this time of year? What makes it feel like Christmas for you? Do you love it? I really want to hear your stories!
Pin for next Christmas!