The third stop on our Great Winter Adventure (#SandTGoChristmasMarketing) is the Prague Christmas markets. Beautiful, magical Prague. I fell in love with the Old Town Square Christmas Market on our first Christmas market trip and I knew we had to go back again. (I found out that there are Easter markets in Prague, and now I’m trying to figure out how to make that a thing…) At any rate, we’ve made several trips to Prague, and it never seems to get old. Perhaps most exciting on this trip is the fact that we found some new restaurants! Food in Prague has been a challenge for us, so I’m excited to share our finds!
Important Trip Planning Note: The Prague Christmas Markets open later in the season than the Austrian Christmas markets. If you are hoping to visit the main Prague Christmas markets, they typically open the first weekend in December. You won’t be able to visit them during a Thanksgiving trip. The bonus, however, is that the Prague Christmas markets are open on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, after Christmas (including New Year’s Eve / New Year’s Day) and typically close the first week in January on the Epiphany (January 6), which is much later than the German and Austrian Christmas markets!
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links for tours and products I love at no additional cost to you. You can read my full disclosure policy here.
Where to Stay in Prague
We’ve stayed in three distinct areas in Prague: Old Town, Mala Strana, and New Town. Each area had its advantages and I can recommend any of the hotels that we’ve stayed at. We stayed at the Four Seasons Prague on our most recent trip. (Full review of Four Seasons Prague stay!) I found a great rate, booked the hotel, and when I found an even better rate, I asked for a rate adjustment. On our 2016 trip, we stayed at the Mandarin Oriental with a Stay for 3, Pay for 2 deal. We’ve stayed at the Carlo IV twice. I say all that to say that there are some great deals to be found in Prague!
Four Seasons Prague
I kept going back and forth between booking the Four Seasons and the Mandarin this year. I love the Mandarin and its location, but I also wanted to try somewhere closer to the Old Town, especially since we were traveling with my mom. The Four Seasons is located between the Old Town and the Valtava River and it’s approximately a 5-7 minute walk to Old Town Square. It’s a 3-minute walk to the Charles Bridge. There is a tram line that runs right in front of the hotel. The metro isn’t too far away. In short, you can get anywhere in Prague from the Four Seasons.
We booked Modern Rooms in the main building. Our rooms overlooked the building next to us, so we didn’t have much of a view. It didn’t matter though. The rooms are beautifully appointed. My mom swears that the Four Seasons bed is the most comfortable bed she’s ever slept in. I love the striped wallpaper, the blue accents, and the crystal finishes.
The marble bath is large with a separate toilet area, a soaking tub, and full-size shower. The Four Seasons offers Lorenzo Villoresi amenties. The room offers full-length mirrors, fluffy robes and slippers, and turn down service. Every amenity is readily available in the room, so there’s no looking for anything. Of course, if you do need anything, the hotel concierge is ready to help.
There’s an on-site spa, Ava Spa, which offers incredible treatments and a vitality pool. Even in the winter, we enjoyed using the vitality pool to unwind. My mom and I both enjoyed massage treatments as well. The treatment rooms overlook the river and are incredibly tranquil. I appreciate that they have longer hours so that I don’t have to choose between sightseeing and massages! You can read my full review of the Four Seasons Prague on this blog!
Mandarin Oriental Prague
Located in Mala Strana, the Mandarin Oriental occupies one of the most picturesque corners of Prague. It’s across the Charles Bridge from the Old Town Square, but you can be there in a brisk 10 minute walk. If you are looking for a quiet hotel that is far away from the crowds of Old Town Square, I would choose the Mandarin. If you’re looking for a romantic hotel for your honeymoon, I would choose the Mandarin.
Our room was located in the garden wing with beautiful floor-to-ceiling windows. Even in the winter, the view is beautiful. My mom ended up with a room in the Baroque wing that was totally different than ours. The rooms are large with streamlined design elements. I loved the colorful accents and luxurious fabrics. I think the down comforter is one of the best that I’ve ever experienced. The linens are some of the softest I’ve ever experienced.
The bathroom is very similar to the Four Seasons with a separate shower and soaking tub. The heated floors and towel racks were an added bonus for December. There’s an on-site spa with numerous treatments available; my mom strongly recommends the Oriental Foot Therapy after a day on the cobblestones.
In addition to the spa, the hotel offers an on-site bar and restaurant. We were provided a free welcome drink on arrival, which was a nice way to start off our stay. Turndown service included Christmas cookies, and they were certainly the highlight of my day. (I am such a child.)
The Carlo IV is in New Town, and it’s approximately a block from the train station. For that reason, it has easy metro station access, too. Tom loves it because it has easy access to a Billa. (There is also a Christmas market in front of the Billa.) The area is less frantic than Old Town Square, but it’s not as picturesque as Mala Strana. For those reasons, I think the Carlo should be the more affordable option. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. If the price is right, the Carlo IV is a perfectly fine hotel. We are Marriott Titanium, so we did get free breakfast which was a nice perk. As far as the other benefits go, however, they are pretty much non-existent.
Rooms are on the smaller side of the luxury hotels in Prague and most of them are pretty dark. We’ve stayed in a couple of the classic rooms and eventually got upgraded to an exclusive room after receiving a room with no water pressure. The bathrooms have the traditional shower and tub combination but they are well-laid out and have Etro amenities. (I love the Etro Relent bath salts.) They do have a pool and spa in the basement. The pool was out of service when we were there for our anniversary, but it was fine when we were there on our first visit.
Again, if the price is right, I think this is a fine hotel. We paid $110 on our first visit and $162 on our second. Tom thinks that anything over $150 is too much for this hotel. I don’t know what the right price point is. I paid $185 for the Four Seasons this past December and when I checked the Mandarin 3 for 2 deal for our dates, it was less than the Carlo. If you’re a Marriott member, it might make sense for you, but I found that the customer service for elite members leaves a lot to be desire. Temper your expectations and it is a fine hotel.
Where are the Christmas Markets in Prague?
While it’s easy to find the larger markets that surround the major tourist attractions, it seems like you can find smaller markets with a more local feel if you look for them. For example, we found a great one right below the Charles Bridge in Mala Strana that we didn’t expect. We also found the smaller one in New Town that replaces the ordinary market in front of the Billa during the holiday season. Again, we didn’t expect to find that one, either. It’s fun to explore on your own, but it’s also nice to have a guide.
Take a Christmas Market Tour in Prague
The best way to find the smaller Christmas markets is through this tour. The tour departs from Jungmann Square, which is very close to Wenceslas Square, so you can easily check out that market before the tour. Our guide took us outside of District 1 to local markets where we were able to experience traditional Czech Christmas treats and mulled wine, prices were less expensive, and crowds were significantly smaller. I loved the market at Peace Square (Náměstí Míru). The markets had more of the Czech family traditions available for purchase, rather than simply focusing on commercialized goods. She also took us to a nativity exhibit, which is beautiful and not covered in any of our guidebooks. We ended in Old Town Square, so we didn’t have the navigate the tram or the metro to get back to the city center. Overall, we learned a lot about Czech Christmas traditions and were able to get off the beaten path, which is always welcome!
Prague Old Town Square Christmas Market
The Old Town Square is the most magical of all the Christmas markets in Prague. I prefer it from blue hour until closing time. That being said, I think it’s the best place for eating lunch in Prague, too. The sausage roll, the spiraled potato, and a trdelnik is a complete meal in my book. The local vendors sell toys, traditional metal work crafts, and plenty of Christmas ornaments. One of my greatest regrets is not buying a tree topper in Prague! Maybe next time… We did, however, pick up more than a few Christmas ornaments. The prices are very good and they have a large selection of blown glass and hand-painted ornaments. In addition to the biggest Christmas tree I’ve ever seen, there are musical performances that add to the jovial spirit of the market.
Prague Castle Christmas Market
From the moment you start climbing towards Prague Castle, it feels like a fairytale. (It’s especially lovely at night but it’s cold and there’s not as much to see.) Watch for the Christmas Shop! It’s a great break from the stairs! When you finally arrive at the main square and start walking down Golden Lane, you’re transported into your own little world. Make sure that you visit the entire castle complex, including St. Vitus cathedral. If you only choose one thing to visit in Prague castle, make it St. Vitus. I’ve never been anywhere more beautiful in my life. One thing to note, though the Castle district is open late, the Christmas markets close fairly early. I would make this a morning or afternoon stop, if you don’t book this walking tour of Prague Castle. Most of the markets closer to Old and New Town are open longer.
Republic Square Christmas Market
If you like to shop, the Republic Square market will be a nice addition to your trip to the Palladium mall in Prague. In addition to the typical retailers that you expect to find (like Sephora), the Palladium mall actually has a lot of local retailers that offer traditional Czech food options that you can bring back. (The crowd favorite is Fidorka, which are way cheaper in Prague. Skip the coconut.) It’s worth a visit in its own right. The Republic Square market is a smaller market with a lot of fresh food options. It is open late and offers great ambiance. Tom enjoyed it so much that he wants us to try and find a hotel near Republic Square next time. (We’ll see. I love the hotels I’ve found.)
Wenceslas Square Christmas Market
If I’m being completely honest, I don’t understand the appeal of Wenceslas Square as a tourist destination. I think it’s important to understand the history of it (this free audio tour offers a great Prague city walk), but I don’t find it to be the place I want to spend my time in Prague. They do have a Christmas market that runs along the large boulevards, but I think that most of the retailers are things that I can find in the states. I would rather visit Palladium. Again, it all comes down to personal preference.
Other Things to Do in Prague during Winter
As with all of these Christmas market posts, I recognize that you need to warm up, too! While the honey mead at the Prague Christmas markets can help with that, it’s not enough! There are so many things to do and see in Prague, but here are just a few ways that we’ve warmed up in December.
Chocolate Making Class in Prague
While this isn’t our favorite cooking class in Europe, it was a fun way to spend an afternoon and it’s very family friendly. Located a few blocks behind the Old Town, it’s easily accessible from anywhere in the city center. As a bonus, you’ll find a small Christmas fair in front of the store. This chocolate making class lets you learn the basics of working with milk or dark chocolate, candy decorating techniques, and even teaches you about the origins of chocolate. I really enjoyed learning how edible designs are transferred onto chocolate. (I could never figure out how the beautiful designs come to be.) You’ll make two large chocolate bars and two chocolate lollipops per person. There’s no shortage of sugar, so be ready for the sugar high and subsequent crash.
Visit the Prague Synagogues
Not too far from the Prague Christmas markets is the Jewish Quarter of Prague with three distinctive synagogues that you should visit. The Pinkas Synagogue is probably the most famous one because it lists the names of all those from the Czech Republic who were lost during World War II. To say it’s haunting is an understatement. Every time I visit, I find what we are allowing to happen present day absolutely appalling. I wish more people had the opportunity to stand in those rooms and feel the magnitude of those lost. The last time we were there, they had an exhibit of children’s art from Terezin. I found it particularly moving and it reminded me of how much I learned from reading I Never Saw Another Butterfly as a child. The New Old Synagogue was built in the 1200s and is a completely different feel from the Spanish Synagogue. I think you should visit all three synagogues and take a walking tour of the area, especially if you are not Jewish.
Take in a Performance in Prague
We saw the Best of Swan Lake at the Hybernia Theater in Prague. While it wasn’t the glamorous opera house, we were able to get last minute tickets and it was a cool experience. It was also a great excuse to dress up! If you plan early enough, you can get tickets to see the National Theater’s variation on The Nutcracker. We didn’t know what time we would be arriving though since we were driving from Vienna, and I didn’t want to chance us being too tired. If you don’t want to see a full-length performance, there are mid-afternoon concerts in Prague castle!
Visit St. Vitus Cathedral
There are truly not enough words to express how beautiful I find St. Vitus. The stained glass rivals St. Chappelle for me. Find a sunny day and head up to the castle district. It’s worth the entry fee to be able to take your time and enjoy the visit. I think it’s impossible to get a good shot of the exterior, but the interior shouldn’t be missed. If you want to see more than St. Vitus, I recommend this walking tour of Prague castle.
Check out Czech Crystal
Bohemian crystal is absolutely gorgeous and would make a wonderful souvenir for you or someone you love. I know because I’ve made the trip with my mom’s Erpet bags all over Europe. (They also ship. I recommend shipping.) For more modern options, I suggest checking out Blue. I love their vases and wine glasses. Most of their stores carry the same stuff, but some have a larger selection. I absolutely love Artel and Moser, but it is expensive stuff. It’s beautiful, unique, and nothing like what you find in all the souvenir shops.
See the Prague Nativity Museum
Right off the Charles Bridge is a tiny museum that houses a number of Nativity scenes during the Christmas holiday. The Charles Bridge Museum offers a look into the construction of the bridge but also has a significant nativity exhibit during Christmas time. There is a small cafe where you can warm up with tea or mulled wine and Christmas cookies. It’s probably overlooked by most but that keeps it from being too crowded!
Take an Evening Walking Tour of Prague
Okay, so this isn’t a way to warm up, but I think it’s something in Prague that shouldn’t be missed. Prague at night is simply magical. It’s medieval. It’s bewitching when the lamps come on. Even in the winter, I think you should do at least one evening walking tour. This shorter walking tour focuses on the area around the Old Town and the Jewish Quarter. This longer walking tour covers more ground, including the Lennon Wall, Mala Strana, and the Castle District. I enjoyed both, but you have to know what you can take. Prague can be very cold at night, especially on castle hill.
Learn More about Prague’s Communist History
Again, this isn’t the best way to warm up, but I think it’s important to understand Prague’s more recent history. This walking tour covers Prague’s role in World War II and the rise of communism. Our guide, Martin, was one of the younger tour guides that we’ve had, but I was impressed with how thoughtful and conscientious he was. He was very comfortable jumping between historical events and time periods, which allowed the tour to be based upon what we were seeing, rather than a chronological history of Prague. Perhaps one of the most salient things he said (and something I agree with whole-heartedly) is “You don’t need history to tell you to be a good human.” Truer words were never spoken, but it’s good to understand it.
Where to Eat in Prague (besides the Prague Christmas Markets)
I get it. Not everyone wants to eat their meals standing up. The Prague Christmas markets food is some of my favorite though so I think you should plan on at least one meal at the Prague Christmas markets. I recommend the kielbasa. Tom recommends the Urquel with the kielbasa. Whether the trdelnik is Hungarian or Prague, don’t miss these delicious chimney cakes. I recommend the traditional one with cinnamon and sugar or the almond variation. As I mentioned at the start of this post, we’ve had a hard time finding good food in Prague, but I am pleased that our restaurant list has extended beyond Meat and Green. Here are a few places I can recommend for lunch or dinner.
Mlenjnice (Old Town Prague)
If you’re looking for a traditional Czech restaurant, Mlenjnice is a centrally located option. Tom and my mom really enjoyed their meal while mine left a lot to be desire. (I should have opted for a more traditional choice.) I suggest the chicken schnitzel, which is tender and flavorful and skipping the steak and potatoes. I’m a big fan of the Aperol spritz while Tom and my mom opted for the Pilsner Urquel. Prices are extremely reasonable.
Pasta Fresca (Old Town Square)
We ate here two or three times in as many days. We also kept asking ourselves why we didn’t try it on earlier trips to Prague. Pasta Fresca is a stone’s throw from Old Town Square and offers an above-ground bar and a cellar restaurant. Everything we tried here is delicious. They have a standard menu and daily specials. I recommend trying the specials, but I can assure you everything here is delicious. We tried the carpaccio appetizer, the arribata (my favorite!), the carbonara, and the amatriciana. Service is friendly, food is delicious. Don’t miss this one like we did!
Pizzeria Donna (Old Town Prague)
It was a cold and rainy night when we headed off to find Pizzeria Donna. We had been unable to get reservations anywhere. My mom was pushing for room service, but Tom thoughts that we might be able to get into Pizzeria Donna. It worked out perfectly. The service is incredibly friendly, the pizzas are brick-oven fired, and the food is cheap. Between the three of us, we tried a couple different pizzas and complemented our meals with Aperol spritzes and Czech beer. It’s only a block from the Four Seasons, so it is perfect for an easy meal when the weather is less than ideal.
Meat and Greet (New Town Prague)
There are an abundance of burger bars in Prague and Meat and Greet is one of my favorites. It’s a couple blocks down from the Carlo IV and offers a menu of gourmet burgers. My favorite is the crispy (without the chili – much to their consternation) and the fries with herbs. The lemonade is refreshing on a spring day, but don’t expect it to be sweet! (As always, Tom prefers the Pilsner Urquel.)
Ferdinanda (Mala Strana)
If we’ve had bad luck with food in Prague, we’ve had the worst luck with finding good restaurants in Mala Strana. That being said, Ferdinanda is one of the best restaurants we’ve found thus far. It certainly wins for ambiance. This underground pub isn’t too far from the Mandarin Oriental and offers hearty portions of protein-heavy dishes. (Their fries are really good, too.) Ask your waitress for insight. My green peppercorn steak was perfectly fine but there are better options on the menu.
A Few Last Tips for Visiting Prague in December
We’ve had beautiful days in Prague in December, but we’ve had several rainy days, too. We’ve also been snowed on in Prague, though it doesn’t seem to accumulate until January. Either way, you’ll want warm waterproof boots. I recommend dressing in layers and always taking your winter gear (hat, ear warmer, gloves, and scarf) wherever you go.
If you get out early in the morning, you can have the Old Town Square to yourself. The Charles Bridge tends to have a wall of photographers in the morning, but if you want the iconic, empty bridge shot, you’ll want to get out there with them. I love the view of the Prague Christmas markets from the Astronomical Clock tower, particularly at night. If you want to shoot at sunset, there is a beautiful view of Mala Strana and Prague castle right behind the Four Seasons Prague. There’s a reason that Prague is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and I think you have to get out early and stay out late to appreciate all it has to offer.
I loved the Christmas markets when i visited, but i had no idea there was an Easter market. That’s probably a little bit warmer at that time of year too. Looks like you had so much gOOd food while you were there. I definitely miss living in Europe for the Christmas markets
I want to visit prague for christmas. It looks so great between the decorations and the fooD. And the hotel?? Sign me up For the four seasons!