The Dos and Don'ts of Prague Christmas Markets

Whether you are a fan of Baby Jesus or Santa, one thing is undeniable: Christmas is just around the corner. and with it come the Christmas Markets. The Christmas markets are a specialty of Central Europe: in addition to the Czech Republic, they have a very strong tradition especially in Germany and Austria. These markets combine Christmas souvenirs (usually of the folk tradition genre) with food that is either served on the spot or can make a nice Christmas present.Several Christmas markets have sprung around the city recently, occupying most of the places attractive to tourists: like every year, the Old Town Square accommodates the largest Christmas market, which is visited both by foreign tourists and locals who crowd the square on two occasions: the ceremonial lighting of the official Prague Christmas tree, and the New Year's Eve celebration. Other Christmas markets can be found at the bottom of the Wenceslas Square and at the Namesti Republiky square in front of the Paladium shopping mall. The novelty this year are the Christmas farmers' markets held especially during the advent weekends. So what should you do and what should you avoid at these markets? Here are a few tips:

DO try to stretch out and visit the farmers' markets outside the centre - OK, the Old Town Square Christmas market is nice and all, but let's face it: it is overpriced and aimed at the general tourist crowd. Zuzi and I visited the market today to check it out and we bough and tasted nothing. CZK 110 for a Coke-sausage-bread combo? Please. But if you've never been to Prague, you should go anyway - it is a beautiful place, and the tree is nice, especially when the sun sets down. But if you want to try any food, look elsewhere. In addition, the Czech farmers' markets usually have a great atmosphere and include live music, not Christmas carols from a CD.

DON'T buy Czech souvenirs at the markets in the centre - What can I say - they are overpriced. Buy them in smaller shops or in a department store.

DO try Czech Christmas sweets - Christmas sweets are a great Central European tradition - virtually all Czech families are locked in their kitchens over the December weekends making these small sweets, only to share and compare them at work and eating them all up before the New Year's Eve (the fitness centers are full in the first few weeks of January, as we all try to shed the pounds gained during Christmas). I would suggest you try the ones with poppy seeds (no, they are not hallucinogenic, and taste great!), nuts and Czech rum.

DON'T buy foreign food - Some markets may include stands that do not sell Czech food. I am talking about booths that sell Hungarian sausages and spices, foods and cosmetics with French lavender, Italian cheeses and hams etc. To be sure, they carry nice souvenirs. But why buy them in Prague? Opt for fresh, local produce. As a rule of thumb, don't buy food wrapped in plastic; opt for the fresh stuff instead.

DO have some hot liquids - After a few minutes browsing the stands out in the cold weather, nothing is as comforting as it a bowl of hot soup, or hot wine or mead. Having hot wine at a Christmas market has become a tradition - the hot red wine with spices truly smells and tastes like Christmas!

Where to go for Christmas farmers' markets:

Jiriho z Podebrad square - Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays (8 a.m. to 6 p.m.) and Sundays (11 a.m. to 6 p.m.), 28 December (8 to 6) and 31 December (8 to 4)

Dejvice market - Thursdays and Fridays (12 to 6 p.m.) and Saturdays (8 a.m. to 2 p.m.)

Old Town Square, Wenceslas Square and Namesti Republiky and Namesti miru square - not really farmers' market, just regular Christmas markets. The first one is the biggest one, the last one is near the centre and targeted at locals.