In the past decade or so, Prague's shopping scene has changed beyond recognition. An influx of global brand names and glitzy new malls has left the city’s main shopping streets looking very much like those of any other European capital, while a new generation of young Czechs have created their own fashion and design boutiques in the backstreets of Stáre Město.
Glass and Crystal
One of the Czech Republic's favourite buys is Bohemian crystal (sklo) – anything from simple glassware to stupendous works of art, sold at some three-dozen upmarket places in the shopping zone. Prices aren't radically different from shop to shop, though they are highest in Prague's city centre.
Karlovy Vary is the spiritual home of Bohemian crystal – the famous Moser glass-making company opened its first shop there in 1857, and still operates a glass-making factory in the town.
In the tourist areas of Prague, many shops – notably Manufaktura – stock quality craft items made of wood, ceramic, straw, textiles and other materials, handmade in traditional styles. Things to look for include painted Easter eggs, wooden utensils, ceramics with traditional designs, linen with traditional stitching, and Bohemian lacework. Notably popular are figures of Krtek (Little Mole), a Czech cartoon character dating from the 1950s.
Traditional wooden marionettes (and more delicate and lifelike ones made of plaster) are also available in many shops.
Amber (jantar) from the Baltic and gemstones mined in the Czech Republic are good value, and popular as souvenirs or gifts. Amber is better value here than over the border in Germany. This fossilised tree resin is usually honey-yellow in colour, although it can be white, orange, red or brown. Czech garnets (český granát) – sometimes called 'Czech rubies' – are usually dark red but can be many other colours, or even colourless.
Good buys include CDs and sheet music of the works of famous Czech composers (such as Smetana, Dvořák, Janáček and Martinů) as well as Bohemian folk music – even dechovka (brass-band 'polka' music). There are almost as many music shops in Prague as there are bookshops.
The city centre’s single biggest – and most exhausting – retail zone is around Wenceslas Square (Václavské náměstí), its pavements jammed with browsing visitors and locals making beelines for their favourite stores. You can find pretty much everything here, from high fashion and music megastores to run-of-the-mill department stores and gigantic book emporia. Many of the more interesting shops are hidden away in arcades and passages, such as the Lucerna Palace.
The other main shopping drag intersects with the lower end of Wenceslas Square, comprising Na Příkopě, 28.října and Národní třída. Most of the big stores and malls are concentrated on Na Příkopě, with the biggest of them all – the Palladium Praha Shopping Centre – at its northeast end, opposite Municipal House.
In Staré Město the elegant avenue of Pařížská is lined with international designer houses including Dior, Boss, Armani and Louis Vuitton. In contrast, the winding lanes between the Old Town Square and Charles Bridge are full of tacky souvenir shops flaunting puppets, Russian dolls and ‘Czech This Out’ T-shirts. However, other parts of Staré Město – notably Dlouhá, Dušní and Karoliny Světlé – are known for their concentration of designer fashion boutiques, art galleries and quirky independent shops.
As Prague’s ritziest residential district, it's not surprising that Vinohrady is also home to the greatest number of furniture and home-decor shops in the city. If you are a fan of design or decoration, you should definitely hike the miracle mile along Vinohradská between the Muzeum and Jiřího z Poděbrad metro stations to see the latest in couches, kitchens and carpets.
Need to Know
Prague shops usually open anywhere between 8am and 10am, and close between 5pm and 7pm Monday to Friday. They open from 8.30am to noon or 1pm on Saturday. Major shops, department stores and tourist businesses also open on weekends (usually from 9am to 6pm), but local shops may be closed on Saturday afternoon and Sunday.
Value-added tax (VAT, or DPH in Czech) is applied at 10% on baby food, some medicines and books; 15% on other foodstuffs (including restaurant meals), newspapers and magazines; and 21% on the sale of most goods and services. This tax is included in the marked price and not added at the cash register.
It is possible to claim VAT refunds for purchases totalling more than 2000Kč that are made in shops displaying the ‘Tax Free Shopping’ sticker. They will give you a Tax Free Shopping voucher, which you then need to present to customs for validation when you leave the country (which must be within three months of the date of purchase). You can then claim your refund either at a duty-free shop in the airport (after passing through passport control) or from a cash-refund office back home (within six weeks of the purchase date). For more information, see www.globalblue.com.