Experience New Yearʼs Eve in Prague
Winter is almost here and the inevitable question keeps popping up in your mind – what should I do for New Year’s Eve? Of course, you can spend it with your relatives, throw a party in your hometown, or go to the mountains like you always do… but why not experiencing something completely new?
I am often asked if Prague is a good place to celebrate New Year’s Eve? My answer: “One of the best.” A magical spot in the very heart of Europe full of wild colors, rivers of champagne, and a great vibe all around – that’s what it is like. If you are lucky enough, a thin layer of snow covers the streets, transforming the city into a Disney-like spectacle. Of course, just as any other major city during a celebration, even Prague has its perils that you should watch out for. But if you follow my tips on what to do and what to avoid, your New Year’s Eve in Prague will be an unforgettable experience.
A culture lesson: who is this Silvestr guy?
In the Czech Republic, we don’t say “New Year’s Eve”. Duh, we don’t speak English… but even in translation, we don’t use this term. We call the last day of the year “Silvestr”. Why?
You might have heard of the so-called “name days” – a somewhat weird tradition we keep here in Europe. What it means is that every single day in the calendar is assigned a name. When a baby is born, the parents usually choose a name from the calendar. That’s why there is little originality when it comes to personal names in this country, compared to America. Anyway, when your name is Anna, your name day is the 26th of July. You will probably get some small presents and a lot of greetings on that day. It is something like a small birthday, let’s say. If your name is Silvestr (which is not very typical, to be honest), your name day is on the 31st of December.
As it goes, there is often a story behind every name. However, not many people know the story of Silvestr. A priest who survived the prosecution of Christians under Emperor Diocletian, St. Silvestr became the Pope of Catholic Church in the year 314. Although not much is know of his life, Silvester remained a Pope for 21 years, which means he was probably quite a popular chap in his time. The Gregorian calendar was not stabilized until the 16th century, so Silvestr would probably be quite surprised to know that his name marks the end of the year nowadays. In any case, don’t get confused if you hear this name instead of “New Year’s Eve” around. Just acknowledge it and say “happy Silvestr”!
Tips for a great Silvestr in Prague
With Prague being an increasingly popular destination, the city might get quite crowded sometimes. New Year’s Eve is exactly one of these times when Prague simply swarms with people, locals and tourists alike. Although it might be quite difficult to escape the crowds in the city center, there are various options on how to enjoy this special occasion in peace and safety. It all depends on your personal taste and expectations, but I believe that Prague has something to offer for everyone. Important note: don’t forget to bring enough warm clothes, it might get chilly in here at this time of the year!
Fireworks are quite popular all over the world but in the Czech Republic…? Oh my, we LOVE fireworks. We love them so much that we sometimes forget how dangerous they can be. But don’t worry, we don’t set the city on fire. It’s just that if you enjoy watching fireworks (and who doesn’t, after all), make sure to do so from a safe distance. And by “safe distance” I mean DON’T stand directly at Wenceslas Square and DON’T go anywhere near the Charles Bridge. These are the places most of the fireworks are launched from, and you certainly don’t want one to hit you. They look better from some distance anyway.
Most of the fireworks go off around midnight, although you might hear or see a few at random times during the day. A good spot for watching them is either by the river or at some elevated point. Since Prague is quite hilly, there is plenty of options to choose from:
- You might climb to Vyšehrad and combine your New Year’s Eve experience with a walk around the walls of the historical fortification.
- You might use the funicular to the Petřín Hill and watch the fireworks from the romantic lookout tower.
- You might go to Letná Park and observe the fireworks with a beautiful view of the Old Town in the background.
- You might go to the Vítkov Hill and enjoy Silvestr together with the huge monument of Jan Žižka, our beloved one-eyed military leader.
- Or, speaking of Žižka, you might visit our TV tower, also called Žižkovská věž. At the height of 93 meters, you get an amazing view of the whole city. Just be ready for some entry fee.
If you don’t feel like leaving the city center, you can always stick to the river. A great spot for watching the fireworks is on the Kampa Island or Mánesův Bridge. While these places allow for a first-hand experience, they are remote enough to avoid any residues falling from the sky.
There is also an official firework on the 1st of January at 6 pm. Although this one is a bit robbed of the midnight excitement, it is very family friendly and professionally done. It is launched from the Letná Park and it offers a spectacular show for all of those who are not suffering from a hangover.
The Old Town Square
Both Wenceslas Square and the Old Town Square offer a rich program for the New Year’s Eve. As the night progresses, more and more people gather in the squares and you soon find yourself in the midst of a cheerful crowd.
While the party in Wenceslas Square often gets quite wild (with an occasional firework bursting out all over the place), the atmosphere in the Old Town Square seems to be a bit more family-friendly. If you are not afraid of the crowds, head in for the latter, which is both safe and spectacular. I’m sure that the collective sharing of the moments is what makes it even more special. Plus there are still the Christmas markets in the square, where you can hunt for some nice handmade souvenirs. You might also visit these during the day or on our Merry Markets Christmas Tour.
A somewhat special way to celebrate the New Year’s Eve in Prague is on a boat. This will be a bit more expensive and not something the locals would do. Nevertheless, it might be an experience you will never forget. The atmosphere around the Vltava River is simply magical!
There are several companies operating the cruises, but the offers are usually quite similar. The cruises are generally 3–5 hours long and they include a welcome drink, dinner, and some entertainment. This is also a good way to get to know the city itself. The boat takes you around most of the scenic spots on the river and it stops around midnight in order to allow the guests to see the fireworks. Although the price might get quite high, there is one huge advantage to these cruises – you get a first-hand experience of the festivity while remaining in the warmth of the cabin.
Since a lot of champagne is often involved in celebrating the New Year’s Eve, you will probably want to go for a good dinner. It is also a nice way of escaping the cold outside. While some restaurants don’t alter their menu for Silvestr, many places offer special menus or even an all-inclusive night of fine food, drink, and dancing. These, of course, come with a higher price and need to be booked in advance. Some restaurants will be taking bookings already from early November, so it’s the highest time now!
If you opt for either of the whole-evening events, make sure you check the program carefully. The venues vary according to the kind of entertainment they offer and you certainly don’t want to end up in a jazz bar if you are not fond of jazz, etc. When it comes to being fancy, there are really no limits. With enough money, you might even spend the evening in the Municipal House or the Boccaccio Ballroom of the Grand Hotel Bohemia. But you might also spend a weekend in the Bahamas for all that money…
Another option is to learn about local cuisine through the New Year’s Eve dinner. While generally a lot more affordable than most of the all-inclusive nights, our food tours allow you to fill your stomach with local delights while visiting several different venues. On top of that, the Old Town Traditional Czech Food Tour takes you through the most scenic places of the old city center.
Theatres, clubs, and bars
Prague is truly spectacular on the New Year’s Eve, but, as I have already indicated, it can also get quite cold. That means you will probably not want to stay outside all-day-and-night-long. Fortunately, there is plenty of options where to hide from the cold. A restaurant is one option, theatre is another. We have a strong tradition of theatre here and most performances on the last day of the year will be fully booked. If you consider yourself a theatre person, I suggest you check the websites of the following venues and make a reservation as soon as possible: Nová Scéna Nárdoního Divadla, Divadlo Kalich, Studio Dva, or Divadlo Hybernia. Make sure you have chosen a performance in English or with English subtitles!
A little party never killed nobody? Then don’t hesitate to visit any of our renown bars or clubs. For the New Year’s party, I would suggest Rock Café, Roxy, or James Dean. For an even wilder party, we have Chapeau Rogue, Sasazu, and Cross Club. Either of these should be safe enough, although I recommend that you don’t leave your drink unattended and stay away from any potential skirmish – after all, Silvestr gets people emotional.
What to avoid
I think I have already emphasized how crowded the city can be. But I will say it again, nevertheless. PRAGUE WILL BE CROWDED! If crowds make you anxious, don’t even enter the city center. And even if you love to move around tons of people, choose a better spot than Wenceslas Square. Safety first.
There is one point about the Czech Republic that might seem like a great thing but is actually not that great. Everything is so cheap! Especially if you are a tourist coming from the western countries, Czech prices will seem like a joke to you. What this means is that the whole of Europe gathers in Prague in order to get drunk. And New Year’s Eve is a great opportunity to do so. Don’t be surprised if you encounter gangs of drunken tourists in the streets, especially in front of bars. This is one huge drawback of Silvestr in Prague that you should be aware of and watch out for.
You might also come across people offering you entrance to a club on the street. Don’t trust them! If they need to attract people to the venue with these methods, it means the place is probably not that popular. If you want to go to a club, choose either of the verified and recommended ones.
The last thing you should avoid is taxis. First of all, they will be very busy after midnight, so you should make preparations for some more convenient way of getting back to the hotel. If you do find an available taxi in the city center, it will be crazily expensive. And if they see you are a tourist and maybe even a bit drunk, they will make it even more expensive. A taxi ride might thus cost you even more than a nice dinner. There is public transportation even during the night, so you should be able to get almost anywhere. But it might happen that, for whatever reason, you will need to take a taxi anyway. In that case, order one by phone instead of hailing it on the street.
November 5, 2018