Shopping for baubles © iStock/Eva Katalin
Few cities do Christmas markets with quite as much flourish as Prague. The Czech capital’s stalls bristle with unique handmade goods and one-of-a-kind handicrafts, not to mention generously piled platters of traditional local cuisine and plenty of warming tipples. Find the city’s main markets in the Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square. From traditional pastries and warm mead to hand-blown glass baubles and colourful painted marionettes, here are our top picks of what to buy in Prague’s Christmas markets.
Not just a favourite over the festive season, trdleník is a deliciously sugary cake that’s the quintessential Bohemian pastry. It’s a moreish spiral of rolled dough that’s baked over an open fire and smothered in sugar and walnuts, best eaten piping hot.
As Euripides pointed out, “where there is no wine, there is no love,” which must mean that in Prague, there’s a great deal of love going around. In Prague’s Christmas markets, hot mugs of svařené víno are common currency. It’s a mulled wine spiced with cinnamon, cloves and ginger, and it’s often spiked with something stronger for added punch.
If the svarené víno doesn’t hit the spot, perhaps medovine – warm honey wine – will. This is a delicious local mead with Medieval roots. Ward off the cold with a mug or two in hand – just not too many or it may skew your bargaining abilities.
Prague’s Frankfurter-style párek sausages and subtly spiced klobása play a starring role in the food stalls of Prague’s Christmas markets. These are the kinds of hearty warming snacks that are especially suited to a wintry afternoon (and a cup of svarené víno).
Not everything at Prague’s markets is for eating. The hand-blown and hand-painted glass baubles found in dizzying displays of colour among the stalls promise to grace any Christmas tree with added style.
The National Marionette Theatre has its home in the Czech capital, so it’s really no surprise to discover endless puppets among the many collectables to buy in Prague’s Christmas markets. Carved and painted with spectacular skill and originality, they make excellent gifts for children.
It’s not often embroidered lace finds its way onto a shopping list, but then most shoppers won’t have seen the lace made in Prague. It’s been a local craft since the Medieval era, with impossibly elaborate patterns that are nothing short of beautiful.
Prague is a city that loves its ceramics, and with good reason. The pottery here comes exquisitely hand-painted with unique folkloric designs in vivid colours. While it makes a tasteful gift, more than likely you’ll want to keep these spoils for yourself.
Czech potpourri is warm, spicy and laden with cinnamon at this time of year, and it’s an easy buy in Prague’s Christmas markets. It’ll have your home (and entire suitcase) smelling like wintertime in the Czech capital in no time.
One of the more fascinating discoveries at a Christmas market in Prague are the buckets of live carp. The origins of this tradition are religious: on Christian fasting days, fish is eaten rather than meat, which means the focal point of the Christmas Eve meal is fried carp. Stranger, perhaps, to a visitor to a local home is the sight of a carp swimming in the bathtub, which is the fish’s temporary home until it meets its fate on the 24th December.