Shopping in Prague still feels like an adventure. Around one corner, you’ll find a crumbling shop front and a glimpse of a stooped jeweler hard at work restoring an ancient pocket watch. Around the next, a cutting-edge design boutique selling a mixture of witty home accessories and Japanese denim.
In recent years Czech fashion and design has come of age. While it’s no Paris, there’s a funky, even punky, edge to many of the clothes and objects on offer that will stand out anywhere in the world.
But traditional pleasures still abound. Endearing traditional crafts are available on every cobblestoned street. Each region of the Czech Republic has its own specialty, and many are represented in Prague. Intricate, world-renowned hand-blown glassware, wooden toys and carvings, ceramic dishes and delicate lace all make perfect "I got it in Prague" gifts. The Czechs are also masterful herbalists, and put plants to good use in fragrant soaps and bath products made on local farms.
That said, every city has its kitsch, and Prague is no different. Marionettes have been a favorite Czech handicraft and storytelling vehicle since the late 18th century, and they are ubiquitous here. The trick is avoiding mass-produced versions at tourist kiosks and getting your hands on the real puppet deal.
There are plenty of real deals in the city’s antique shops, art galleries and "antikvariats"—secondhand book and print stores. Some are vast, dusty caverns, some look like an elderly aunty has tipped out her entire attic willy-nilly, while still others are pristine, prissy, and pricey. Either way the unpredictable jumbles of merchandise offer a fun day of flea market–like spelunking—you may pick through communist-era buttons in one shop and find cubist office chairs or ancient Czech manuscripts in the next.
If you like your souvenirs to sparkle, garnet peddlers abound. But take heed: all that glitters isn’t garnet—many are not the real deal. True Czech garnets are intensely dark red. Also known as pyrope or Bohemian garnet, these precious stones have been mined here for centuries. Tight clusters of garnets are found on antique pieces, while modern baubles are often sleeker and set in gold or silver. Stick to our recommended shops for quality gems, and inquire about the setting—if a low-priced bauble seems too good to be true, it could be set in low-quality pot metal.
The international jet set isn’t forgotten either. If you crave big luxury labels, the aptly named Paris Street (aka Pařížská ulice) will give you your dose of runway glam. Do not expect any steals here, although they are available elsewhere in the city’s impressive selection of European chain stores.
Mango, Zara, and H&M, for example, are on-trend but also sell affordable classic pieces.
Most of Prague’s shops are open from 10 am until 6 or 7 pm, and malls tend to stay open until 9 or 10 pm.
If shopkeepers in Prague seem aloof, don’t be dissuaded—try greeting them with a friendly "dobrý den" when entering a store, and you may be surprised by their warmth.