From beautiful glass baubles to puppets and live carp, find the ornate and the extraordinary in these bustling shopping Meccas
Forget loading up your luggage with neon bobble hats, singing Santas and knock-off purses – while many of Europe’s so-called “traditional” Christmas vendors shamelessly hawk all manner of junky detritus, Prague Christmas markets remain largely unspoiled by all things “Made in China.” Prague Christmas MarketsPrague hosts two must-visit, central Christmas markets in the Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square, though a small scattering of others are located across the city, where locals tend to do their browsing. Wherever you venture to, veer past any lingering displays of light-up toys (they’re sure to die within 24 hours of purchase) and instead put the following traditional Czech products on your Christmas list – from honey wine (medovina) and mulled wine (svařené vino) to delicious pastries (trdelník) and, err, live carp.
A traditional local tipple, medovina – which translates to “honey wine” and is effectively Czech mead – will have you feeling deliciously medieval. Stow a bottle for curious friends at home, and fight off the cold with a mug or two in hand. Just not too many, or you may find your bargaining abilities diminished.
Christmas… sausages? Among Prague Christmas markets, it’s one of the most ubiquitous snacks. Opt for Frankfurter-style párek sausages, or for the hungry, the larger Pražská Klobása, which are bright red, subtly spiced, and ideal winter fare.
One sight of revolving trdelník, and it’s clear you’re a long way from the mince pies of home. These unusual pastries – long, cylindrical-shaped strips of dough that are covered in sugar and almonds and rotated over piping-hot coals – may look a little different, but don’t be shy; they’re best eaten when still finger-scorchingly hot.
No Christmas market is complete without a proliferation of mulled wine booths, but not all vin chaud is made equal. Svařené víno is the traditional Czech serve, which is notably sweet and well spiced, and – caution – frequently spiked with stronger stuff.
Christmas isn’t Christmas without the tree – and the tree isn’t the tree without baubles. Hand-blown and hand-painted glass ornaments are a popular souvenir of Prague Christmas markets, but make sure to wrap them in lots of padding before packing away in your suitcase.
Given that it’s home to a National Marionette Theatre, Prague’s reputation among puppet-lovers should come as no surprise. That passion extends to the city’s Christmas markets, where hand-carved, highly detailed marionettes can be taken home.
Delicate lace has been a traditional local craft since medieval times. Celebrate Prague heritage, then, and pick up some delicate pieces of hand-embroidered lace. Helpfully, it won’t require much space on the journey home.
For those who like to smell good – and who doesn’t? – Prague’s fragrant purpura can be found at most Christmas markets. The local, seasonal version of potpourri features cinnamon and other winter spices, and will have your home smelling like wintertime Prague – not to mention everything else in your suitcase.
Functional and aesthetic: long famous for its traditional, hand-painted pottery, Prague Christmas markets are full of plates and other serving ware decorated in detailed folkloric patterns. This is one for the tricky shoppers on your list.
Forget the Christmas turkey – in Prague, the Christmas feast revolves around carp. That’s why buckets full of the live carp are found at markets and elsewhere around the city. Even if you don’t fancy taking home a prize catch of your own, keep an eye out for this offbeat local spectacle.