Christmas in Prague
Christmas prepping in Prague
By Elloise Bennett
Prague is a city of rainbow-colored buildings, charming art deco cafes, winding streets, and soaring spires – it’s not for nothing that this city, with its long and rich history, is known as the “Paris of the North.”
Visiting Prague has been on “To-Do” list seemingly forever. But I wanted to avoid the summer tourist hordes and beat the snow, so I decided November is the perfect Prague time and I could go there to do my shopping and prepping for Christmas.
It was already cold enough to bundle into scarves and gloves, but the city was not too crowded, and I had the added bonus of seeing the twinkly Christmas lights lighting up the famous vistas of the Charles Bridge.
Northern Europe is also famous for its Christmas markets – a great place to do your Christmas shopping in a setting that gets you in the mood for good cheer. Prague’s Christmas market was set up in the Old Town Square, and did not disappoint!
Wandering through the stalls you can check out arts and crafts, beautiful fabrics, locally-made jewelry and wrought-iron decorative items like candlesticks and medieval-looking door knockers.
But best of all, you can also sample the wines that they sell in pretty little gift boxes. Wines that can be heated up for a cold Christmas evening, or honey wines that are a great dessert complement. Roaming between the stalls with a warm cup of the mulled yumminess is the way to shop!
Or stop at another stall and try a Trdelnik: the Czech equivalent of a cinnamon roll. Literally, dough rolled onto a wooden pike and then baked over the fire. These bakers keep the pikes rolling so it’s crispy on the outside, and fluffy inside, and the cinnamon flavor mingles with the woodsy flavor of the smoke.
Shopping beyond the edges of the Old Town Square and the market ranges from throngs of tourist shops that offer the same Bohemian garnets and silver earrings and Bohemian crystal glasses, to Pařížská Street with Prada and Gucci and Louis Vuitton. The Palladium Shopping Center (smartly built into the ruins of a monastery) on Náměstí Republiky (Republic Square) has everything in between!
I found the shopping in Prague fascinating – partly because it’s inexpensive (for Europe!), partly because no world economic crisis was in evidence anywhere, and partly because it makes me very aware of how much has changed in Prague since the days of the Velvet Revolution. Exploring the streets, you definitely cannot help but ponder the fact that Prague has survived wars, Hitler, and Communism. Of course, part of the reason for the brightly painted colors on the walls is to celebrate that survival, but the spires, the Baroque curls, the lovely squares, the luxurious palaces – those are all also testaments to survival.
You see that survival in the new businesses that are flourishing: Shops, cafes, and restaurants – some with a very traditional approach, but others with a modern twist to pull in not only the tourists, but the locals who want to spend and enjoy.
So if you are like me and shopping and museum visits work up an appetite and a desire for a glass of wine, here are two great spots to try:
- For a cozy cup of coffee, luscious chocolate cheesecake, or fantastic homemade pork dumplings, stop at Angels Coffee! Located in the square behind the Tyn Church (walk down the alley to the left of the church if coming from Old Town Square), this welcoming café is a great blend of comfortably cozy, modern art on the walls, and great views of a quiet courtyard that is a nice escape from the crowds. Good for an afternoon pick-me-up, or a nice meal – they have a great wine list and friendly staff that make excellent menu recommendations. They feature local art on the walls, and have deep chairs to sink into and rest weary feet after a shopping or museum day!
- For a chance to wear your fancy new Prague jewelry to lunch or dinner, don’t miss out on a stop at Host Restaurant. Located in a stairwell hidden off one of the streets in the Prague Castel complex, this restaurant is a good example of the old-new Prague. Gleaming black lacquer bar, striped walls that evoke a Baroque-meets-now feel, incredible views of Old Town Prague, and gleaming wine glasses – all complement the sparkle of the owner, Pavlina, and her team. The food… sigh.
The menu at Host has great variety: Czech traditionals like Gulash are there, but I recommend a venture into the other smart new approaches on local favorites. I tried the pork sirloin served with a creamy mushroom sauce over a caramelized port-wine reduction, paired with potatoes mashed with onions and herbs. Let’s just say, you need to have dinner at Host to experience the melt-in-your-mouth pleasure for yourself!
And through it all… happy exploring!