When my mom and I were doing our research for where to spend Christmas, several sites said Prague was the number one destination in Europe for the holiday. We had pretty high standards considering we spent the entire month of December at various German Christmas markets but decided to give it a go. The capital of Czech Republic is only a five-hour drive east of where we live, but driving through Germany is a nightmare with long stretches of construction so we splurged and took a one-hour flight instead.
Prague definitely exceeded my expectations. Everyone I know who has been there fell in love with it, but I wasn’t so sure because I’m not much of a city person. Even so, I knew I had to go at some point so what better time to experience it than the holidays! The iconic Old Town Square was magical with the main Christmas market and giant tree lit up in the center. Although it was packed with tourists, I guess you could say it had that exciting hustle and bustle that I look for at this time of year. We also loved just strolling through the city, whether it was along the famous Charles Bridge or past colorful buildings or to the John Lennon Wall. The city was much more walkable than a lot of others we’ve been to in Europe.
We packed a lot into our four days, and for the first time, we made reservations for almost everything ahead of time so we weren’t scrambling to find something to do at the last minute. We started with a tour that took us up to the Prague Castle high on a hill overlooking the river, where there was the immense St. Vitus Cathedral, Christmas market, and offices of the president. I found it interesting that the castle was built in all different styles of architecture as the leaders expanded upon it throughout history, so it didn’t look like what one would think of when hearing the word “castle.” Through the old stone walls we had some lovely views of the city and Vltava river below. The tour then took us on an evening boat ride along the river where we cruised under the Charles Bridge and saw the lights of the city surrounding us. While it was a bit chilly outside, mom and I ordered some wine and enjoyed it on the rooftop deck for the best views.
On this trip we also discovered the beauty of free walking tours…seriously why haven’t we done more of these?! Thankfully, this gave us something to do on Christmas Eve as we got to see the Old Town, New Town, and Jewish Quarter. This was a perfect way to learn more about the history of the Czech Republic, something we knew little about. The tour guide also encouraged us to visit the Jewish Museum, which we did on Christmas Day. It closed early on Christmas Eve ironically enough. There was a moving exhibit of children’s drawings discovered from the Holocaust where they used art to make sense of the events and to stay positive. There was also a ton of information about the Jewish religion, which I enjoyed learning about having grown up with Jewish friends.
Lastly, we did an organized day trip to the town of Kutná Hora, famous for the Sedlec Ossuary, or bone church. The bones were remains of victims of the Plague and religious battles that were then assembled into decorations, including a chandelier that contains at least one of all 206 bones in the human body. It was certainly eerie but the coolest thing I saw on this trip. The tour also took us to two other churches where we learned even more about Czech history.
And it wouldn’t be a holiday if we didn’t eat a ton of food. We got to try some of the things we haven’t found at German markets, including trdelník, which is dough wrapped around a stake and then baked over a fire as the stake rotates, and spirula, or fried spiralized potatoes. There was also a market within the castle where I got a chocolate-covered waffle on a stick. So all in all, the food at the markets did not disappoint.
As for the food at restaurants, two of the nights we ate at the city’s top-ranked Czech restaurants thanks to Trip Advisor. For Christmas Eve dinner, I decided to be adventurous and ordered duck with potatoes over pumpkin puree, and I finished with my new favorite dessert, sticky toffee pudding. It was the best Christmas meal I could have asked for. On Christmas Day, we booked a “Traditional Czech Night” dinner where we were taken to a large farmhouse at the edge of the city and had our meal while watching a show of performers dancing and singing. While it was a super touristy evening, we loved doing something special for Christmas and seeing people from all over the world coming together. We actually ate with a family who are also American and also living in Germany!
So now I see why there’s so much hype around Prague—a beautiful city with friendly residents and amazing history! My first Christmas away from home was the most magical yet.