Gotta love Christmas shopping. If Christmas is the holiday of calm and peace, Christmas gifts are the stuff calm and peace are made of. You can say that gifts don’t matter, but explain that to the eight-year-old when he unwraps the “really, really warm” knitted socks from grandma, when all he wanted was a Nintendo. And grandma ain’t winning the “Grandma of the Year” award this Christmas, either. Yes, a gift can make or break a Christmas celebration.
And that’s where we come in. We have set up a list of our recommended Czech Christmas gift that will satisfy kids and adults alike. Just like Haribo gummy bears. We may be running Prague food tours but have families too, you know. Think about this list as poor man’s Goop. And we’re not selling any weird jade eggs, either.
Here’s Taste of Prague’s Czech Christmas shopping tips and guide.
So my Czech Christmas gift ideas are targeting travelers with small bags or carry-ons only. Remember those days when luggage was included in your ticket, you had a meal on every flight, and flying was a cool, swanky experience? I actually do remember those days, which can only mean one thing: I’m old. Because those days are goooone. But no worries. Need to bring, light, cool gifts home? Read on.
Zufánek Slivovitz 100ml
When asked about Slivovitz on our food tours, I always say that Zuzi’s grandpa used to have a shot of Slivovitz a day… and he lived to be forty! No no, joking aside, if these is one liquor that defines the Moravian experience, it must be this clear plum brandy with a delightful kick (50% ABV) and an addictive fruity finish. The best producer in Moravia must be Mr Zufánek, who happens to be a dear friend, so graciously answering our questions about the bar scene in Prague for our new Prague Foodie Map (which will come out by the end of February).
Anyway, the problem is - how do you put a 500 ml standard bottle of Mr Zufanek’s slivovitz in your carry-on? Won’t they throwing away at the airport? Will you have to board your flight horribly drunk since you won’t want to throw it away? That’s what Mr Zufanek must have been thinking when he came out with these handy, legal, TSA-approved 100ml bottles. What? Too small? Well, you buy a lot of them! Duh. Jeez, do I really have to explain everything? (Buy yours at the Bartida store/bar at Havelska 25.)
Astra Superior Stainless razor blades
Seeing Astra blades in the bathroom must be one of the quintessential childhood memories in former Czechoslovakia. Owning the 5-piece little box was, in my mind, an undeniable sign of male adulthood and an irresistible ambition for a kid. Each blade was wrapped in a tiny paper, and the blade was light, flexible, and a joy to inspect when no-one else was around. This is the perfect gift for your lumbersexual relative or friend who wears plaid shirts and spends obscene amounts on beard wax. Hey, that bushy beard won’t trim itself, will it? Bonus: the blades say “superior stainless” one them. How cool is that? To complete the experience, look for Pitralon after-shave. To me, it smells like grandpa. In a good way. My grandpa was awesome.
Inflatable toys by Lubuse Nikova
These toys are inflatable! (Drops mike.) No, really, these inspired designs by the best toy designer who ever lived are the stuff Czech childhood memories are made from. When folded, they are the size of a notebook. But a few powerful blows and one spinning head later, you have a beautiful, squeaky elephant or buffalo that you can ride, take in anywhere because it’s super light (inflatable, remember?) and easy to clean. And that smell of plastic is simply addictive. In a good way. They have added more designs recently but the classic elephant or buffalo are the ones I would go for. Go to Hugo chodi bos do buy yours.
Anything at Ingredients
“So would you like something more floral, or citrus? Or heavier? Into the wooden and leather tones? And what’s the occasion and how will she wear it?” - “I don’t know the answer, or what you’re even asking. Now, will you please just sell me something?” According to the owner of the Ingredients store that sells high-end perfumes (none of which are Czech, okay), that’s the typical interaction with a nervous male shopper on December 23. All I know is that whenever I want to make Zuzi happy, I just go to Ingredients. Deal with that information any way you like. Just remember: 100ml, or tears at the airport.
A souvenir from the Nase maso butcher shop
I used to work there when I came back to Prague, so I am partial to Nase maso. Their apron with leather straps is beautiful and really well made, and takes no space in luggage. Or you can just buy their tote bag so that you don’t have to use paper or plastic the next time you shop there. Planet saved.
Anything at SmetanaQ
I’d go for Bohemian crystal or Czech porcelain by the big guns of the local design scene (think Maxim Velcovsky, Lukas Novák, Dechem and many others) in the Deelive store on the ground floor. Or just walk past the shop into the building to buy local Czech fashion: the first floor accommodates workshops / showrooms of local designers like Odivi and others.
Prague Brutally Beautiful at Camp Praha
This incredible reopened space for urban planning and development has just published the “Prague Brutally Beautiful” book, in which distinguished experts explain buildings for notable buildings built in Prague in the Communist era between 1969 and 1989. It’s published in both Czech and English versions. I will let you choose which one you’d want. Both available in the amazing Camp Praha.
Founded as early as 1799, Tonak has been one of the oldest hat producers (and companies in general) around, and the odds are that if anybody you knew here ever owned a hat in his or her life, it was a Tonak. I happen to love hats of all shapes and sizes (well, ideally, my size), so my first tip is easy. The factory store in the Jewish Quarter displays the full color scheme of the hats, from classic to crazy, which is how I get whenever I walk in. I never leave empty-handed.
Glassware by Dechem studio
So I love me some beautiful vases, and the pieces by Dechem studio are my favorites. (I own two.) They are so nice that even our 14-month old son doesn’t touch them - we did not talk about this, it’s just their beauty simply makes them off-limits, I guess. The designers are a couple with a child, and they are both beautiful and cool, which I have found has been steering my glass purchasing decisions in their favor. Just by the small bandaska vase, wrap it in clothing and pray hard the whole flight. It will be worth it. (Yes, you are buying this one for yourself.)
Rybicka folding knife
A real man has a knife is a popular saying which some men still live by. (Just ask Adam, one of the baristas at onesip coffee, if he happens to have a knife. He does.) Well, I guess I was a real man when I was around eight, because I always carried the rybicka folding knife with me whenever I went. You never knew when you’d need it - to cut mushrooms you picked, cut off a piece of string, clean a vegetable, fight off a member of a rival gang. (Okay, I made the last one up. Or did I?) Anyway, a true design icon that happens to be cute and practical at the same time. Go to the Kotva department store to buy your very own.
A trip to Brno
I love getting experiences for Christmas, and I love Brno. (Lightbulb goes on.) Just over two hours by train, and you can enjoy this beautiful city with a great vibe. Get a room at the Barceló hotel, and enjoy my favorite spots: a meal at Atelier, a tour of the Tugendhat villa, coffee at Industra Coffee or Monogram Espresso Bar, and drinks at Bar, ktery neexistuje. And that’s just the first three hours. I will leave the decision whether to go back to Prague or continue on to Vienna to you.
Glasses by Rückl
If you’re in the market for some Bohemian crystal, why not go for the really good one? Founded in 1846 but following on a 300-year family tradition, Rückl has been one of my favorite glass producers in the country. Mixing traditional processes with touches of modern design, I would love to own all of their pieces, but if you insist on me picking just one (how can you be so cruel?), I‘d go for the love glasses. And maybe the decanter? And the Christmas ball? Okay, here we go. I could do this all day. (Go to their store at Zelezna street to buy yours.)
Studio Muck tablecloth with carps
How to bring a piece of Czech festive Christmas to your (or anyone else’s) home? Tablecloth with a print of traditional Czech fish (eaten on Christmas Eve). Designers from MUCK studio paid extra attention, so they basically did a mug shot of a carp which later turned into a basis for the print they use.
Do you crave this one? Just go to Czech Design Store. But be warned: you might fall in love with more designer items than just this one. . .
Did we mention that we loooooove mushroom hunting? You can find amazing items that might be handy for my fellow mycologists (fancy word alert!) and mushroom enthusiasts. The legendary Rybička knife is a must (not if you travel with cabin luggage only, okay?), adorable woven baskets for both adults and kids (that's right, we train them young) and special brushes. Heck, they also have underwear with mushrooms! All of this at Les Houbeles shop.
I am luckily surrounded by huge coffee lovers, so this one is easy and delicious too. My recommendation from the caffeine department is the beans by Doubleshot (available at Kavarna Místo or Muj salek kavy), Candycane (onesip coffee) or Kavovy klub (Kafe Karlin). Extra tip: while shopping for coffee in onesip coffee, make sure you order the eggnog cappuccino (so festive and you deserve it!) and buy few chocolate bars by Ajala (like their two new special bars for Christmas).
While wandering the Letná district, just crash the Tomski&Polanski graphic studio. Inevitably, you will leave with one of their prints ("cough" Tribute to Havel "cough") or the 2019 wall calendar. A token of love from Prague, beautiful and also practical. Yes, that’s what winning feels like.
Braasi Industry backpack
Designed in Prague, made in Prague, bought in Prague and gifted with love (if you’re able to separate yourself from this awesome yet practical item). The Braasi backpack endures everything (tested for a few years with a heavyweight menace - baby turned toddler turned threenager), and looks the same aka awesome even if I wash it every week or so.
Papelote photo album
All things stationery are awesome, amiright? Especially photo albums and scrapbooks, are you with me? So make sure you give one of these beautiful photo albums by Papelote to your loved ones. Small, medium, big. Awesome cover, accordion pages. This one is a large empty canvas for your creativity.
Good Soldier Svejk
If you want a glimpse into the Czech collective soul, this iconic book - and the most translated Czech novel of all time - is a must. Written in the early 1920s by Mr Hasek, a political satirist, this picaresque novel describes the journey of soldier Svejk, a “certified idiot”, through the Great War, exposing the nonsensical nature of war and paining caricatures of everyone from four-star generals to drunk, poker-playing priests. Full of what Czechs really like (beer and sausages happen on every second page or so), the book puts to test one theory why the Slovaks split from the Czechs: they could not stand how the Czechs make fun of everything anymore.
Botas 66 sneakers
What better way to start a new year than with a fresh new pair of super cool kicks? Botas sneakers were the only sneakers widely available under Communism, but now their street style version, known as Botas 66, is so cool it hurts. Based on the classic 1966 model, they come in so many colors you’d be hard pressed not to buy at least two pairs. Each shoe comes with two shoe laces so you can mix and match them. And most importantly, nobody will have them where you’re from. (Unless where you’re from is Chicago - Chance the Rapper wore a pair a while back.)
Anything retro from Hugo Chodí Bos
Sure, giving retro toys that you grew up around to your kids is really a gift to yourself, but hey, why not make this Christmas a bit about you this year, you diva you? No, really, one step into this shop makes me relive my childhood. I have three tips: the felt Indian headgear might not be super pc today, but you should know that when we play “Cowboys and Indians” here, everybody wants to be Indian, which is the good side (cowboys are firewater-pushing gambling backstabbers. Everybody knows that.) The Logic game (think battleships, but a bit different) is so 80s you should put a Miami Vice soundtrack on while you play it, and the Kufrikov living-room-in-a-briefcase is so cute I can’t deal.
Sooo, giving Czech Christmas gift recommendations is a bit of a pickle for me: I am not really Christmas person and we don’t really buy Christmas gifts in our family, but if we did, this is what I’d love to get:
Enamel mugs by Smalterie
This one’s for the creative type that just thinks buying something as a gift is super boring when you can make your own. Smalterie is a small shop that lets you paint your own enamel mugs and they just finish them for you. The shop is cute and located conveniently by the Malostranske namesti in the Lesser Town, so hop on in, roll your sleeves and make grandma proud!
Well, this one is a no-brainer: Czechs have always been known for great porcelain products and while most people would go for the traditional Blue Onion stuff, my recommendation is actually for something more modern and unique. My favorite porcelain producers are Martina Zilova (you can see her work when you pay at the Eska restaurant - they use one of her bowls as a bowl for coins) and Ema Mamisu. Martina has created a technique where something like a dreidel spins and spreads color on a plate or bowl, creating a chance pattern that is unique to each bowl, and Ema Mamisu is just tender and playful and a joy to eat or drink from.
Anything from Harddecore
Harddecore is my one-stop shop for Czech design. Located conveniently across the street from the Vinograf wine bar, this shop carries everything from fashion to pottery, jewelry and even home accessories. I could buy gifts for multiple Christmases there in a single spree. This is too easy.
Now, this is a gift that keeps on giving because as you give a cookbook to someone, they gotta cook from it for you, right? Perfect. Czech Cookbook by Sykora and Vagnerova can be bought in the Kotva dept store or in the Dobrovsky bookstore on Wenceslas Square. The de facto canonical cookbook by Roman Vanek, with the inspired title “Czech Traditional Cuisine”, can only be bought as an iOS download on iBooks. Can a download be a gift? It sure can - just buy an iPad, download the cookbook, hand over iPad. Done.
Fashion by Katerina Geislerova
Katerina Geislerová must be my favorite fashion designer, making feminine, tender pieces and using great materials. Her showroom is accessible by appointment only, but is centrally located. And who said you only have to buy Christmas gifts for other people?
The “verzatilka” mechanical pencil by Koh-i-noor
So I used to be a foreign exchange student in the US back in the day, and whenever I come back to revisit the family, I always bring a pack of pencils by Koh-i-noor. Hey, they invented the number 2 pencil so this is actually packed with history. And it’s a perfect travel gift - inexpensive, tells a story, fits everywhere, doesn’t cause problems with the TSA or customs. My personal pick out of the portfolio is the “Versatil” mechanical pencil with integrated sharpener at the end and a great Mid-Century Modern design.
Did you know that the Czech Republic produces more venial records than all the other countries in the world combined? Then you know what’s my next Christmas gift tip. Actually the GZ Media company, running without interruption since 1951, is the only in the world that still produces new presses and has its own signature vinyl blend for the records. No wonder bands like the Rolling Stones press their records in the tiny village of Lodenice exclusively. So buy a limited edition Stones record here. It makes more sense than you’d think. As an accessory, you can buy a 440 audio turntable. Each takes about 5 months to make by hand, and costs a measly 10 grand (US dollars). Available at Panska pasaz arcade.
Jewelry by Zorya
I have my wedding rings and earrings made by the guys over at Zorya, so this one is close to my heart. (And, I guess, finger and ears?) Anyway, while everybody else stands in line to buy mostly fake garnets, you can take the smart route and support some really cool modern Czech jewelers who produce unique pieces in very small batches. And it won’t break the bank either. There are many small jewelry producers in Prague, but Zorya, with a studio in the cool Letná district, gets my vote.
Ceramic piece by Pavel Janák in Kubista
Pavel Janák may have been one of the leading Czech architects of the early 20th Century, but most households will know him as the author of the wonderful Cubist ceramics pieces and pottery that have been passed from generation to generation. Inspired by pyrite crystals, these pieces are a joy to own, and actually a joy to buy, since the Kubista store is located in the Black Madonna building in the Old Town, a Cubist building worth a separate visit