What to see in Prague at Christmas time
Many people say one of their favourite cities is Prague. Probably it would get on my top 10 list, too. I’ve been there a couple of times myself, for different reasons: shopping, visiting friends, city tour or just as a stopover while waiting for a flight somewhere else. All of those times I did enjoy as if it was for the first time there.
I’m always kind of impressed again and again. The last time I visited this magnificent Czech capital at Christmas was on the 30th Nov 2010, then in 2012 and now again in December 2014. Back in 2010 it was on my way back to Brindisi from home, so after 14 hours on the train, I finally came to Praha hlavní nádraží (main train station) at 9am and I had 6 hours till meeting a friend for a cup of tea before my flight back to Italy.
As you can expect, and I did as well, Prague was very cold, full of snow and already with Xmas decoration all over the center. I left my suitcase in the left-luggage office (2 or 3 euro per 24 hours) at the train station and started walking. It’s very easy to see all the main attractions in Prague following the signs only.
But as I’ve been there before, I knew what I wanted to visit. I started at famous statue of St. Vaclav on a horse at Vaclav’s Square, checked out some shops quickly (I especially love the book shop there) and followed till the end of this long 750 m square to the small Xmas market.
Then I headed through the little streets full of small shops with Czech glass and jewellery products, souvenirs and restaurants to the Old Town Square (Staroměstské náměstí) which is the most famous place of Prague because of its Orloj – Astronomical clock on the Hall Tower. The clock is one of the biggest clocks in the world and in Oct 2010 celebrated its 600th anniversary with a big show. Every hour there are people waiting below the clock for the chime and the mechanical walk of Apostles. It’s just the experience you cannot miss when in Prague.
Now in Prague at Christmas time there is a huge Christmas market covering the whole Old Town Square together with a big Christmas tree and a stage for concerts. You can spend a lot of time there buying some presents, such as folk art, or just hanging around with a cup of hot wine and eating roasted chestnuts, roasted meat, sausages, sweetcorn, trdelníky, langoše etc. This is the place where you will feel the proper Xmas atmosphere all around you.
Once you are refreshed enough to continue walking (or too frozen now to stand), head off to the Charles Bridge (Karlův most) like I did. It used to be called the Stone Bridge, then the Prague Bridge and finally since 1870 has been named the Charles Bridge after the King Charles IV who gave the order to its construction. It’s another of the Prague main sights – the bridge connects the Old Town to the Lesser Town, decorated with 30 statues of patron saints (the 1700 baroque-style original ones were placed in the National Museum and replaced by replicas in the 20th ct).
It’s a perfect place for a romantic walk, calm down watching the Vltava river and observing skilled painters, or buying a small present from the traders. The Charles Bridge is overfilled with tourists during summer, but even now at winter time there were still plenty of people admiring this amazing Gothic bridge.
Crossing The Charles bridge you get to the Lesser Town and if you go up the hill a bit, you will come to The Prague Castle which is visible from all the center. The Prague Castle was built around 850 and since then it’s been the seat of the administration of the country. The Bohemian Crown Jewels are kept there. The Prague Castle is in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the biggest coherent castle complex in the world. From the Castle you get a jaw-dropping view of the whole capital.
Apart from watching the change of the guards here at 12pm, you can see The Basilica of St. George with the relics of the first national patron St. Ludmila and the Royal family members; wander through the Royal Gardens (apart from winter time), visit Toy Museum which is a great entertainment for children.
But what you definitely have to check out is the St. Vitus Cathedral – a Roman Catholic Cathedral. Its Gothic style and outside ornaments (together with the rose window) will sweep you off your feet. As the biggest church in the Czech Republic it’s the seat of Archbishop of Prague and contains tombs of many Roman Emperors and Bohemian Kings.
On the way down from the Prague Castle I passed the Manes Bridge and the Old Town Square and followed to the Powder Tower (Powder Gate). From the 15th ct when it was built to the 17th ct it was called the New Tower, then was used to store gunpowder so was renamed to the current Powder Tower. Nowadays the exhibition about the tower is open for visitors.
If you have more time, what I did not the last time in Prague, the Jewish Quarter is worth the visit. It’s located between the Old Town Square and Vltava. The remains of the Jewish ghetto, Spanish Synagogue, the Old-New Synagogue, the Jewish Museum, the Jewish cemetery, the Ceremonial Hall are just some of many interesting sights you can see here.
Prague is one of the nicest romantic historic capitals in the world so there are plenty of places to visit all year round if you like history and architecture. But in Prague at Christmas time, you can enjoy also Christmas music koledy, some hot wine, get special presents at the Christmas markets, or make a snowman in front of Orloj. Don’t forget to dress up warmly.
There are more photos of Prague at Christmas if you are interested.
PS: If you are looking for a good restaurant to try Czech food, all home-made and from the best ingredients in a lovely atmosphere, try Excellentica at Husova 5 (close to Betlémské náměstí.)