With a reputation for cold crisp sunshine followed by snow, and a rich Catholic heritage Prague is a glorious place to see in Christmas. With buzzing markets and countless concerts to entertain you, it's a fantastic place to go. From Advent to Epiphany the city is in full Christmas spirit.
Every square in town seems to have a Christmas market of some size. The main one is concentrated on the Old Town Square, which is dominated by an immense Christmas tree. This sparkles in the dark with magic rather than gaudiness, a beacon across the city. The lights are switched on at 5pm every day, transforming an already magnificent tree into one dripping with light.
These substantial,and even lifesize displays are impressive. What is more unusual, however, are the pens of real donkeys which often accompany them. Small dispensers taking local coins dish out grain to feed to the donkeys. The live animals and their hay bring a whole new depth to nativity settings.
More unusually, in the basement by the Bethlehem Chapel, is a whole Christmas world to discover. The chapel itself is worth visiting, with important Reformation connections. If you just want to wallow in Christmas cheer however, this exhibition area is free.
If you go to shop, then the focus is on Christmas souvenirs and decorations. There are some crafts and a lot of food and drink. Delicate glass decorations, particulalrly in fancy shapes, are a real speciality. They are not cheap, but less can certainly be more with the beautiful items. There are some children's stalls, and occasional attractions beyond the donkeys, but these are not primarily activity fairs.
Shopping is hungry work though, especially in the cold.The markets are as much an experience as a shop. No visit to a market would therefore be complete without a trdelnik pastry. Translated as 'chimneys', these consists of a dough wound around a mould and baked in front of your eyes. Whether sugared, dipped in chocolate or cinnamon, or eaten as plain as you can find one, they're warming, tasty, and seem to encapsulate the essence of winter market shopping. The smell of the sweet pastries and cinnamon fills the Prague air, drawing you in. Hot chocolate and mulled wine and cider stalls also abound if you need something sustaining to wash one down with. Czech beers are also particularly fine, and very reasonably priced.
Christmas time is also the season for musical extravaganzas. Typically it was 'the season' for opera, and the opera house is indeed in session. Every church in Prague will have some kind of concert on, with repertoires to suit every taste. You can book in advance through Prague Experience, but just wandering around the city with open eyes will also alert you to hundreds of events advertised through banners, pointing you towards other sources of tickets. Listen to Good King Wenceslas sung in his own chapel, for example, and make your Christmas even more magical.