Best bets at this year’s Christmas markets
Making a list and checking it twice doesn’t help much if you’re stuck for Christmas gift ideas. This time of year, desperate shoppers usually look for inspiration at the mall. But there is an easier and, shall we say, almost fun way of getting unique gifts: Prague’s Christmas markets.
If you’ve shopped at the markets in years past, you’re no doubt familiar with the lines of stalls selling the same souvenir ceramics, magnets, hats, scarves and wooden toys. However, the variety of goods is growing, and it’s now possible to find something different and special — with some advance planning and guidance.
The two biggest and most well-known markets are on Wenceslas Square near Mustek and on Old Town Square. They’re also notorious for crowded booths and narrow walkways that make it nearly impossible to look at gift items, much less buy something. Market organizer Taiko, a.s., took these problems into consideration this year, and there’s a new layout at both markets as well as maps posted at the entrances. The change is most noticeable on Old Town Square, where there is a lot more room to maneuver this year.
As for variety: Yes, you will still find many of the same old items for sale, especially at the Old Town and Wenceslas Square markets. But with a bit of persistence, there are some unique items to be had.
Your best bet on Wenceslas Square is the stand selling screw sculptures. These are handmade in a village near Prague by an artist who welds screws, nails and other assorted toolbox finds into a variety of unique sculptures — some naughty, some nice. It’s the last booth on the left (if you’re facing the National Museum) in the exterior row. In that same row, you’ll find a stall with wooden mechanical Christmas decorations that move and play holiday tunes.
On Wenceslas Square, Old Town Square and at námestí Míru there are booths selling mind puzzles made of either wood or metal that are good for keeping idle hands busy or just confounding someone you’re not particularly fond of.
The Old Town Square booths have addresses. The mind puzzles are at No. 66, and just two stalls down, at No. 68, you’ll find fuzzy slippers lined in wool. Other items of note here include super-soft stuffed animals and dolls for the little ones (No. 39). As you’re facing the Astronomical Clock, look for booth No. 24, which sells handmade glass Christmas ornaments.
At námestí Míru, stop by the Lavea booth. Lavea products are handmade in the Czech Republic, and include a variety of soap and natural bath products. Combining fruits, flowers and herbs, these are attractively packaged and make a nice hostess gift, or something to have on hand in case you’ve forgotten someone.
Unless you are looking for hats, scarves or mittens, you can skip the market at námestí Republiky. It’s small, and a majority of the booths are dedicated to such outerwear. There is, however, a stall selling English-language children’s books that’s worth a look if you’re in the neighborhood.
Ditto for the mini-market on Malostranské námestí, which is perhaps best viewed from the window as you’re riding by on the tram. If you’re waiting at the stop, check out the stall with straw people and ornaments, which isn’t at the other markets.
Finally, no Christmas market run is complete without a food stop, and there’s more on Old Town Square this year than the usual klobása and chléb, perník and hot wine. Try a babiccina placka — grandma’s pancakes look suspiciously like a tortilla and can be filled with, among other things, jam, cinnamon or cheese. Large potato pancakes are next door, with ketchup, cheese and garlic condiments. If your holiday isn’t complete without a fruitcake, you may want to pick up a loaf of ovocný chléb, a moister cousin.