Christmas markets operate from late November until just after New Year's day, with stalls and Christmas carols, bringing the city to life with the largest at Old Town Square, Wenceslas Square, Havelske Trziste and Namesti Republiky. Smaller local markets can be found all around the city. Traditional Czech handicrafts such as Bohemian Crystal, wooden toys, scented candles, hand-made jewelry, ceramics, hats, scarves, puppets and tree ornaments are among the items for sale. Hot food such as corn, sausages and local specialties, are typically washed down with Czech beer, and hot wine. A huge Christmas tree goes up in Old Town Square, and a blaze of lights is turned on each night around 5pm.
Easter markets take over the city center, harbingers of Springtime. Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square typically have over 100 stalls with crafts such as wooden toys, crystal and glass-ware, jewelry, candles, embroidered cloth, and traditional puppets and dolls. Hand-painted Easter eggs are sold by traditionally costumed women, and barbecued sausages, roasted ham, and local Pilsner beer aren't hard to find either. The hot sugared pasty Trdelnik may also be sampled. Folk singers and dancers travel from all over the Czech Republic to perform on stages set up around the markets.
Vaclav Glazar is an actor known to most Czechs as the corpulent matka predstavena (mother superior) in a 2003 movie comedy. Now he spends most of his time running Srdce a Kamen -or Heart and Stone - the last cabaret in Prague. Before World War II there were 81 he says. When Vaclav opened his own in 1996, he wanted it to be a Czech affair. No Cher and Madonna impersonators, please. Instead, he wanted lots of "old Prague songs" -cherishing them as the essence of traditional Czech entertainment. These are what were sung in Prague pubs, at least since the 19th century as Czech national identity blossomed within the Austro-Hungarian Empire. For a change of pace from the same old thing, check it out. Even if you don't understand a word of it, the music and performers should make you smile.
The first performance of the National Marionette Theatre (Zatecka 1, Old Town) was a marionette version of Don Giovanni in1991. Since then they've gone on to stage more than 20 premieres of traditional puppet performances for both adults and children, with 6,000 re-runs. Don Giovanni still tops the list with 4500 re-runs, and they also have The Magic Flute on the marquee.
Performances of ballet and opera, and concerts of classical music take place all year in beautiful concert halls and churches, even at Lobkowicz Palace in Prague Castle. The opera houses of Prague are some of it's finest treasures.
There are three opera houses, each is quite unique in architecture, and they have constantly changing repetoires. The Prague State Opera near Wenceslas Square has three by Verdi in August: Aida, La Traviata, and Nabucco. The Estates Theatre which dates to 1783, features works by Mozart through August and September. The National Theatre on the banks of the Vltava River, will have different operas, concerts and ballets almost every day, by composers such as Dvořák, Verdi, Bizet, Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky. PragueExperience.com has dates, venues, prices and bookings for these and also for Jazz and popular music concerts.
Speaking of Antonín Dvořák, a most Czech composer, a series of concerts devoted to his works will take place from August 20 to September 4 at the Rudolfinum Concert Hall (Alsovo Nabrezi 12). For details see the website of the Dvorak Prague Festival.
The bone-chilling Sedlec Ossuary — or Church of Bones — is a Catholic chapel in which 40,000 skeletons have been used as décor, from wall hangings to chandeliers. The grim design was started by a half-blind monk in 1511; the current array was arranged in 1870 by the woodcarver Frantisek Rint, appointed to place the bones in order. He did, in a most macabre way. Nothing spectacular in the outside, this small chapel is located in an average old medieval gothic church in Kutna Hora, an hour from Prague in the Czech Republic. See photos and more information at the website below:
Two hundred kilometers south of Prague, in an area that's been called "the Adriatic of Moravia," the Vranov Reservoir has a swimming beach, a water slide and trampoline, and a windsurfing school; also rowing and paddle boat rentals. There are boat trips and sightseeing tours on the Valentýn and Viktorie, vessels that venture as far away as the medieval Bítov Castle, plus summertime wine and cheese tasting cruises. Located in the Podyjí National Park, a pretty river valley in a thickly wooded landscape on the Austrian border, the park has two distinctive ecological regions and uncommon biological diversity, with butterflies, lizards and orchids all around. There are lots of well-marked hiking and biking trails as well as excellent view points above the river. For wine lovers the Šobes Vineyard would be a local attraction. Vranov Summer sports events bring amateur and professional athletes here to the Znojemsko wine country for two weeks each July, including a strongman competition.
On promontories overlooking the reservoir, the Vranov nad Dyjí Chateau combines Roman and Gothic features in a converted castle dating back to the year 1100. The Althann courts built a late 17th-century Hall of Ancestors, their stately aristocratic residence here, after the design of renowned architect Johann Bernhard Fischer of Erlach, later adding the chapel of the Holy Trinity. Interior wall paintings in the western wing, were added by Count Stanislaw Mniszekand of the Polish Mniszek family shortly after 1800, inspired by his mystical philosophy of "spiritual alchemy" --befitting this magnificent structure atop rocks rising steeply from the Dyje river and surrounding forests. Public tours include the Hall, the Chapel and other interiors.
For hostel accommodations see the Guesthouses Gaudeo lodge, located in the Camping Vranov beach grounds, with cabins, cottages, 400 tent sites, and room for 80 caravans. Sanitary facilities, electricity, WiFi access, a puppet theatre and a July and August open-air cinema are other onsite features.
The train from Prague to Znojmo via Breclav takes just over 5 hours, and by way of Havlickuv Brod it takes 6 hours. Buses from Prague to Znojmo depart Florenc station several times a day, for a trip of about 3.5 hours. Local shuttle buses connect other points within the area - look for the bus station next to the railway station, on Milady Horákové at Znojmo town center.
A 1,200km cyclists' trail passes through the beautiful vineyard countryside of South Moravia, where people have devoted their lives to the cultivation of grapes. The Znojmo Wine Trail passes through areas around Hostěradice and Moravský Krumlov. In the Slovácko region taste Moravian Muscat and Pinot Gris, or along the less hilly Strážnická route, through the White Carpathians, sample the local Riesling or Silvaner wines. Znojemská is the longest of the routes, at 165km, with a great variety of wines to try, along with taking in the sights that might include the Gothic ruins of the Dolní Kounice Monastery, the oldest fresco in the Czech Republic at the Rotunda of St. Catherine (Rotunda sv. Kateřiny), and the Šatovský painted cellar in Znojmo. See the official website for the region, for more options and a schedule of festivals, plus specific information on regional cycling resources.
Znojmo is 200 km from Prague - most easily reached by car. Exit the D1 highway at Jihlava to continue on the E59 to Znojmo. The town is more easily reached from Vienna, a journey of 90 km, or just 90 minutes on frequent trains that operate as often as every 2 hours.
Prague swimming pools are important social meeting and relaxation spots, with saunas, as well as indoor and outdoor heated pools, sports and games. Often they accommodate nude sunbathers too. These include: Na Petynce (tram 8 to Vozovna Stresovicka, open May to September); and Podoli (take tram 3 or 17 to Podolska 74 - open year-round) which is surrounded by sunning lawns and a wooded rise overlooking the river. At Podili the cost is around $5-6, depending how long you stay (open to 9:45pm), and they take a deposit for the locker which is returned as you leave. Here you'll likely find no English spoken, and few tourists, but it's a slice of life among Czechs, to enjoy sunshine, steam rooms, exercise, cool relief on a hot summer day, and a few coy glances. Beer, ice cream and pizza can be bought alongside the outdoor pool, and there's a cafe with typical Czech fare and beer at the front area of the building.
Vodni nadrz Dzban is the largest lake in the Prague area, part of a large nature reserve on the outskirts. There are hiking trails, beaches, sports facilities, boat rentals, and a nude swimming and sunning area on the lake. A swimming pool complex also has table tennis and a restaurant. Entry is about $3. From Dejvicka Metro station, take a tram to Divoká Šárka stop.
Hostivar is a lake, with a sandy beach and an impressive waterslide. Take tram 22 or 26 to Hostivařská, or Metro to Háje then walk - the lake is past the main street Vystavní - $2 to enter.
Zlute Lazne is a sports and activities center in one of the most attractive natural areas on the east bank of the Vltava River. There's a large beach for river dips that includes a nudist area, beach volleyball courts, a three-on-three football cage, a climbing wall, table-tennis tables, and a pétanque area. There's a restaurant and beer garden, frequent DJ sets and WiFi hotspots all over. Price of admission: $3-5. Take tram 3, 16, 17, or 21 to Dvorce.
First Prague Beach, (Prague 5-Smíchov) has 700 tons of imported sand along the west bank of the Vltava, a floating swimming pool in the river, beach volleyball nets, badminton and pétanque. The bar and restaurant Mirage Sun serves food and drinks late into the night, with music from DJs, and live concerts. $3 admission. Find it on the banks by the Botel Admiral, three blocks from Metro Andel station.