In December (2019) my husband and I travelled to Prague to celebrate his 40th birthday and our 15th wedding anniversary. We chose Prague as it had been recommended to us by pretty much anyone we spoke to who’d been there! The Christmas markets would be in full swing and after a brilliant trip to Budapest in 2017, where the Christmas market really made the trip for us, we decided Prague in December was a must.
We arrived in the evening so it was dark but we were instantly taken by the cleanliness and smart buildings as we got closer to the centre of the city. We couldn’t wait to explore in daylight. And explore we did, my daily step count averaged around 22K. We had made a deliberate decision to step off the beaten track and get down side streets and away from the busier areas. However we quickly found that even the side streets were relatively busy and lots of others had seemed to have the same idea.
Towering over Prague is Prague Castle which is the largest castle complex in the world at almost 70 000m square. The office President of the Czech Republic can also be found at the castle which creates a real mixture of building styles from Romanesque to Gothic. After passing through a security check at the gates we wandered up the cobbles to reach a small square which contained a small and cosy but busy Christmas market. We were instantly impressed with the gothic spires of the Castle and it’s gargoyles and imposing presence.
We paid to head up the tower, as recommended by family. What we weren’t warned about was the number of steps to actually get to the top… 287 to be exact. All in a winding, enclosed stone staircase. There’s a business opportunity flogging bottles of water at the top of that for sure!!! But it was worth it, the views over the city are spectacular.
We fell in love with the Lesser Town area, found underneath the castle. This area is a bit like stepping back in time and my husband found it to be most similar to his idea of what Prague would be like. Lesser Town is set on a hill and has lots of quaint little side lanes with quirky shops. You can also find numerous embassies here and we were amused to find the American Embassy fully equipped with an outdoor electric bar heater on the wall for the guards. If you visit this area, its worth taking a few minutes to seek out the Lennon wall, which is covered in Lennon inspired graffiti, with a united world at its core, and is constantly changing as more is added.
Crossing over the Charles Bridge, which is one of the many bridges spanning the Vlatva river, was like entering a separate area of the city on it’s own. This small bridge is full of artists drawing charicitures, selling their jewellery and small bands playing music, including one man who was using a whisk as his instrument. You exit the bridge, at either side, through a tower. These towers feel like gateways to another town.
The Christmas market at Old Town Square was vibrant and very busy. The smells of hot food, mulled wine, burning coals and sweet trdlniks (cylindrical ‘cake’ cooked over coals on a spit and covered with sugar and spices) fill the air and the huge Christmas tree on which the lights regularly “danced” to music (including the Home Alone theme tune!) was totally magical. Alongside this market, there are lots of smaller markets dotted throughout the city, all selling similar goods.
Old Town square is dominated by the iconic ‘twin’ towers of The Gothic Church of Our Lady Before Tyn. Opposite is the Old Town Hall which is the home of a rather fabulous astronomical clock, built in 1410. One day we saw a large gathering of people standing outside the town hall and started to wonder ‘why’?! A quick google told me that the astronomical clock came to life on the hour and we were there at 10:57am so we decided to stay and watch. The doors at the top spring open and a succession of the Twelve Apostles pass by the windows whist a skeleton pulls a rope that rings the bell. It was pure chance that we found out about it but were happy to add it to the list of things we’d seen. The gathering of people en masse to see the clock also gave me the opportunity to get some clearer photos of the other buildings around the square which included fabulous cameo brooch style facades of varying colours and decorative painted walls. Stunning.
We had lots of good food both from the market and various restaurants and pubs, including a very amusing incident when Kenneth ordered what he thought was a slice of ham and some bread from a market stall ended up with a 400g chunk and 2 pieces of bread, hilarious! However, Wine O’ Clock deserves a special mention. A tiny restaurant, seating a maximum of 14 people which was on the night, run by 2 friendly and humorous Italians. The menu is tapas style and is full of delicious Italian options, we enjoyed every single dish we had. The walls of Wine O’ Clock are lined with, unsurprisingly, wine. There is a definite lean towards Italian wines but there is also a reasonable selection of Czech wines if you want to sample some local options. We LOVED our experience here and would highly recommend it BUT… booking is essential!
Prague in winter is awesome. Hygge can be felt and found all over the beautiful city at this time of year. In steaming cups of mulled wine and spiced juices, in wrapping up warm and exploring the small side streets, in taking time to look in quirky shop windows and in just taking the time to appreciate the treats for your senses offered to you by Praha. Small snowflakes drifting down through the air on our last day made our visit complete. We thoroughly enjoyed our 3 days exploring this gorgeous city. If you’re thinking about it…. do it!
(We went from 9th-13th December 2019 and stayed at the Hotel Century Old Town).