Prague is a popular destination for city breaks whatever the time of year, but it's at Christmas that this jewel of Eastern Europe really comes into its own. The charmingly intimate streets and ancient fairy-tale like buildings lend themselves well to becoming a winter wonderland. For children, it will feel like being in a Disney cartoon in the town, sitting below an imposing castle. Prague's charm is accentuated during winter and Christmas by the magic and wonder of the festival which grips the city.
Explore the wonderland markets and sights of Prague
Like the rest of the Czech Republic, Prague has its main Christmas celebration on the evening of Christmas Eve. This is the traditional time for having a big family meal, usually of fish, before opening the presents and retiring to the church for midnight mass. If you are staying over the Christmas holiday and want Christmas lunch out, you will need to look in the more upmarket restaurants and hotels. Meals will more usually reflect American traditions and cuisine.
The Christmas market, or Vanocni trh as it is known in Czech, has become a central part of any Christmas, and the markets in Prague are particularly magical. Set in the beauty of Prague's Old Town quarter, the main markets are in Old Town square and Wenceslas square, which are just a five minute walk from one another. Once there, you'll soon find this winter wonderland is full of traditional huts, many of which sell hearty food, hot wine and beers to warm you up. Children will love perusing the hand-crafted gifts and nutcrackers, as well as admiring the animal stable with its petting zoo. On last thing: make sure you visit the large nativity in the centre of the market!
Opera and Ballet
Prague is world-renowned as a leader in classical music, so whilst you are here, why not visit the Opera, Ballet or catch a classical concert performing the likes of Mozart, Vivaldi, Bach or Verdi? Prague's popular Opera houses are amongst the finest in Europe, and over Christmas, the Opera season is in full swing: it's the ideal treat to finish off a Christmas break. If the large venues are a little too pricey, however, Prague boasts a host of intimate concerts in many of its gothic churches.
Shopping is one of the more modern Christmas traditions, and Prague's markets and bustling streets offer plenty of opportunity to pick up some great gifts. In the markets, you can find stalls selling traditional hand-crafted gifts in glassware, jewellery, fine lace, scarves and gloves and Christmas ornaments. The market in Wenceslas Square backs you onto the main shopping areas which run through the square and along Na Príkope. Whatever you are looking for, you should be able to get all your Christmas shopping done in Prague.
An inherent part of Christmas past and present is the Christmas Mass. As in many countries, this is celebrated at midnight on Christmas Eve, for Czech people this will be after their main festival meal earlier in the evening. Whether religious or not, it is a chance to escape the consumerism which has overcome much of the Christmas festival today, and remind us of its true meaning. Visit the Church of St Simon and St Jude on Christmas day to hear the Prague Chamber Orchestra perform the Czech Christmas Mass.
The cacophony of Christmas lights and illuminations bring the ancient buildings of the old town to life again, so whilst in Prague, make sure to explore the wider city and attractions it has to offer. Taking a sightseeing tour - whether by coach or on foot - is a good way to take in lots of sites quite quickly. If you have time, then wander the intimate streets, particularly between the Old Town and the Vltava River, where the Old Jewish Quarter with Synagogues and cemeteries can be explored. Prague is best seen from the river, so take a boat tour to get great views, but you should still climb to the hilltop Prague Castle for some fantastic panoramas.
Explore the magic of Prague this Christmas
Like many cities famous for their Christmas celebrations, accommodation in Prague will tend to book up well in advance. It's a good idea to make your plans early if you intend to visit, and bear in mind that when visiting, most markets and shops will close early on Christmas Eve. However, you'll still find the main markets open on Christmas day, so why not have an early morning hot chocolate treat?