Prague blends East and West, with eight centuries of European history on display in its architecture and Continental cafe culture at its best. The snow-covered scenery looks especially alluring lit by old-fashioned gas lamps, and winter in Prague puts forth a full slate of activities with the advantage of far fewer crowds. Pack your puffy coat, and prepare to be charmed.
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History on Display
Central Prague contains some of the best preserved medieval architecture in Europe, with abundant evidence of the Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque periods as well. Rococo and Cubist elements sitting side-by-side with sleek Bauhaus forms and stark communist reminders turn the city into a veritable walking tour of European history.
You can marvel at the various architectural styles at the Old Town Square, where buildings from across the centuries still stand. An elaborate display of Gothic architecture, St. Vitus Cathedral on the grounds of Prague Castle took centuries to build. And stop by the Czech Museum of Cubism in the House of the Black Madonna designed by Josef Gočár to see a relatively rare example of this uniquely Czech architectural style from the early 20th century.
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Prague Christmas Market
Christmas in Prague undeniably upstages all other winter events. The market, which runs from the end of November through the first week of January, delivers a film-worthy Eastern European Christmas experience. The flavors, sounds, scents, and sights of the season converge in Old Town Square, where an annual market, complete with decorations and an events lineup, shows off Prague's Christmas cheer. Shop, people-watch, enjoy holiday pastries and hot mulled wine, listen to music, and take photographs. Christmas gifts from Prague include crystal, garnets, and other locally made items.
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St. Nicholas Day
Visit the Old Town Square in the early evening on December 5 to watch Mikulas and his sidekicks, an angel and a devil, interact with equally apprehensive and eager children. Mikulas roams the streets on December 5 to pass out candy and treats to good children, who sing songs and recite poems to impress the Czech St. Nick. Naughty children receive lumps of coal and risk being hauled off to hell in the devil's musty sack.
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Nativity Scenes and the Procession of Three Kings
Nativity scenes, both live and crafted out of wood, straw, and other materials, punctuate the Prague landscape in December. The Three Kings Procession, a parade led by costumed kings on camels, marks the end of the Christmas season on January 5. Children dressed as kings use the opportunity to collect money for the needy. During Advent, a lamplighter dressed in period clothing lights the gas lamps each night on the Charles Bridge, where local actors stage a live nativity scene.Continue to 5 of 15 below.
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Christmas Holiday Exhibition
This holiday exhibition in the basement of the Bethlehem chapel in Prague's Jewish Town centers around a particular theme each year (glass, bells, or wood, for example) and runs through the end of November to the beginning of January. In 2017 the exhibition featured a feast theme, with antique cooking utensils on display and demonstrations of traditionally prepared meals. This event makes a good addition to other Christmas-related activities in the Czech capital city.
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New Year's Eve
New Year’s Eve in the Czech capital city is an all-night event. You can take to the streets or enjoy the warmth and comfort of a cozy pub, swanky upscale venue, or river cruise boat. Watch the fireworks at midnight and toast to the excitement of ringing in the new year in the City of a Hundred Spires. If you want to brave the cold, head to Old Town Square, Wenceslas Square, or Charles Bridge.
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This romantic holiday gets cozy against the backdrop of the Czech capital, with its castle, fine-dining establishments, concert halls, and shops selling jewelry and other heirloom treasures. Call ahead to the restaurant of your choice to make a reservation, and enjoy a relaxed candlelit meal. Mlynec Restaurant overlooks the scenic Charles Bridge in Old Town. Café Mozart on the Old Town Square combines dinner with live performances of classical music and jazz.
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Czechs started the pagan tradition of Masopust, a farewell to winter, back in the 13th century, and some of the ancient rituals have earned status on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The festival nearly died under Soviet rule, along with most other religious traditions, but the carnival celebrations were revived in modern Prague with masked parades, lavish feasts, and fancy balls occurring throughout the capital city at the end of February or beginning of March.Continue to 9 of 15 below.
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Ice skating may arguably be the best activity to mingle with the locals, who still like to get fresh air and exercise in the Czech winter. Surprisingly sophisticated rinks pop up in various locations around the city during the coldest months of the year. You can rent skates at most; take a whirl on the ice at the Old Town Square to get your heart pumping. Or try the considerably bigger rink at Na Františku, located near the Convent of St. Agnes.
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Concerts and Performances
Concerts and performances fill the halls of Prague’s theaters and churches year round. Look for advertisements for string quartets, orchestras, and symphonies, opera, theater, and dance performances all around town. At the Municipal House's Smetana Concert Hall, the largest orchestras perform evening concerts. You can catch a classical performance at lunchtime at Lobkowicz Palace or listen to a concert in the Mirror Chapel at Klementinum in Old Town where Mozart played the organ.
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Duck out of the chilly weather and into one of Prague’s hot museums, where you can explore the city's art, history, music, and literature. The National Gallery of Prague houses an international art collection, with rotating exhibits joining permanent exhibitions from Europe. The Museum of Communism provides a realistic look at that era of history in what was then Czechoslovakia, from the coup in 1948 until the collapse of communism in 1989. Other museums take a more unusual focus, such as the Torture Museum. While many museums are located in Old Town, don’t forget to visit the ones on Castle Hill.
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Wrap your fingers around a mug of something hot and dig into a bowl of soup or a European-style dessert in any one of Prague’s many cafes. These cafes reverberate with history, and most of them serve up palate-pleasing plates, too. Cafe Slavia, Prague's most famous cafe, has been in business across from the National Theater since 1884. To sample a masterful Prague kolache, or fruit-filled pastry, visit EMA Espresso Bar, which may be the busiest in the city.Continue to 13 of 15 below.
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Prague's traditional cuisine makes perfect sense for cold-weather comfort. Roasted and smoked meats, sausages, hearty soups and stews, dumplings and rustic breads—generous calories keep the internal fires stoked during a cold, damp Czech winter. Just be sure to do plenty of walking between dining locations. The Michelin Guide 2017 awarded a Bib Gourmand to ESKA for "simple yet skillful" cooking at a budget price. A local chain of five restaurants, Lokal has built its reputation on classic Czech cooking in a pub atmosphere.
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Beer and Mulled Wine
Along with the centuries-old architecture, you can find breweries dating back to the Middle Ages in Prague. The Czechs made Pilsner famous; order "a beer" in a pub or restaurant and the bartender or server assumes you mean a liter of the light, refreshing brew. But while the Pilsner still rules, a fast-growing craft-beer scene means you can sample a worldly menu of styles.
When the weather turns cold, Svarak stalls open across the city, serving steaming cups of the Czech version of mulled wine. Recipes start with red wine, but any standard ends there. A batch might include citrus or apples, cinnamon and other warming spices, a sweetener, and occasionally rum.
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When you finally feel ready to collapse from all of the activity and filling foods, it's time to find a sauna. Though not a Czech tradition, saunas and steam rooms feature prominently in the modern culture. At Sauna Spot, Sauna Nike overlooks the Vltava River while other rooms introduce aromatherapy, dry heat, or a built-in salt panel for upper respiratory tract health. You can take it one step further and have a sauna actually on the river, on the Lázně na lodi sauna boat.