My favorite spring-time traditions in the Czech Republic
Ever since I survived my first Czech winter (more than 15 years ago), spring has become one of my favorite times to live in the Czech Republic. As the weather grows warmer and the days get longer, Czechs linger outdoors (perhaps to make up for time lost during the grey winter months). For parents, leaving the playground before dark can become a battle of wills.
The arrival of spring in the Czech Republic means open bonfires, castle tours, bicycle day trips, and lots of bare-shouldered (and bare-chested) Czechs sunning themselves in the city’s green spaces. And, for the musically inclined, an annual classical music festival called Prague Spring.
During the month of May, the Czech Republic also celebrates national holidays on May 1st (May Day) and May 8th (Victory Day in Europe), which often coincide with extra days off school and long weekends.
If you happen to be visiting the Czech Republic this spring, here are a few tips to enjoy the season both in (and beyond) Prague.
Visit a Castle – Spring castle season starts April 1 and is marked by crafts markets, historic reenactments, and extended visiting hours at the country’s castles, chateaus, and palaces. Castles are distinguished between hrad (a medieval fortress built to protect) and zámek (a chateau built for greater living comfort in the 16th century and later). Favorite castles close enough for a day trip from Prague include Konopiště, Křivoklát, and Karlštejn.
If you visit Karlštejn, take time to hike to the nearby limestone quarries called Little Amerika, Big Amerika, and Mexico. (The quarries are now impressive water reservoirs that are closed to the public but can be viewed from the rim.)
For an extensive list of Czech castles, check out this article on TravelTipy.
Sit on a Park Bench – One of the first times I really noticed spring in the Czech Republic, I was sitting on a park bench at Náměstí Míru (on a break between classes in April 2002). I remember thinking how good the sun felt on my face, then looking around and seeing other people with their faces lifted to the sun, too.
If you’d like to lounge on a bench in a large, lively square, visit Jiřího z Poděbrad. On Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, JZP hosts a farmers’ market with delicious take-away meals, fresh-baked goods, organic vegetables and fresh bouquets.
Hit the trails – The Czech Republic has an extensive network of marked trails and protected nature reserves, many within Prague’s city limits. Trails are marked by white strips with a color swatch in between (blue, green, yellow, red). The Klub českých turistu (Czech Tourist’s Club) has been marking trails since 1888, and the country has one of the densest trail networks in the world.
Although you can buy trail maps in most book stores and online, Mapy.cz has many hiking and biking trails marked. There are also billboards along many in-city trails, noting the history, flora, and fauna of the protected area.
Gather medvědí česnek (wild garlic) – In most parts of the country, it’s too early for prime mushroom season. However, it’s just the time to gather medvědí česnek, a green-leafed, white-flowered medicinal herb that grows wild in Czech woods and forests.
Medvědí česnek is typically found near streams and wet, shaded places. The herb grows rampantly on the trails along the creek in Prague 6’s Hvězda park. It is sometimes used to make a natural insect repellent, but more often used in fresh cream cheese types spreads. By the end of May the plant is usually gone.
Roast Sausages (or Veggie Dogs) on an Open Fire – This is hands-down one of my children’s favorite spring traditions because it brings our neighborhood together to socialize after a long winter. If you don’t have a neighborhood fire pit (or if you are visiting), Divoká Šárka (Prague 6) is a beautiful nature reserve within the city limits that feels like wilderness. In addition to trails for hiking and biking, rocks for climbing, and an outdoor pool, Divoká Šárka has fire pits and picnic grounds for group gatherings.
Tip: When roasting burty, make an X-slit on either end of the sausage before putting the meat on the skewer. When the tips curl up, the sausage is ready to eat.
Stop by a Beer Garden – Two of my long-time favorite spots to have a beer in the city are at Letna Park (P1 overlooking the Vltava) and Riegrovy Sady (Prague 3). These locations capture the flavor of a traditional Czech beer garden and bring back nostalgia for my early days in Prague when spring evenings were spent learning to speak “pub-Czech.” Plus, they both offer great views of the city.
Join a Witch Burning Party – April 30th is known in the Czech Republic as pálení čarodějnic (burning of the witches), a night when villages and city districts light large bonfires and host outdoor parties accompanied by music, food, and games for children. An effigy of a witch is burnt at the top of the pyre to ward off evil spirits. The tradition stems from the English St. Walpurga’s Eve.
In Prague, the largest Witch Burning Party is at Ladronka Park. Starting in the early afternoon and running through the evening, expect to see witches (of all ages), listen to concerts by Czech rock bands, and enjoy a laid-back evening outdoors.
Kiss Under a Cherry Tree (May 1st) – Only hours after you’ve finished warding off-evil spirits, there is another Czech tradition to be observed. According to Czech legend, young lovers should kiss under a blossoming cherry tree (for the woman to stay supple and fertile). In Prague’s Petřín Park, Czechs leave flowers and exchange kisses near the statue of the Czech romantic poet Karel Hynek Macha, who wrote an epic poem called Máj (May), about the tragic love between two young lovers. May 1st, which is a national Labor Day holiday is often jokingly referred to as Czech’s “Day of Love.”
Garden or Sunbathe (in your underwear) – As I have discovered, the Czech concept of “home” clothes (which means changing from work or school clothes into comfortable clothes not meant for leaving the house) also extends to gardening. I have seen Czechs gardening in their underwear or bathing suits (though as one Czech friend reminded me, “Not the same bathing suit I’d wear to the pool, of course.”) Sunbathing in Prague’s city parks also is a spontaneous activity that can be done by slipping off or unbuttoning your dress shirt. Over the years, I’ve come to see the benefits and practicality of the Czech-way, though modesty keeps me from fulling joining in.
Decorate with Sidewalk Chalk & Race Snails – Sidewalk chalk is another top-rated, low-budget kid-friendly spring activity. Drawing on the road has proven a great way to get various-aged children in our neighborhood to interact during evening barbeques or impromptu gatherings. As yes, they’ve been known to gather garden snails and prepare elaborate chalk-drawn race courses for them.
Attend Pražského jara (Prague Spring) – The 73th annual International Music Festival runs this spring from May 12 – June 3. With over 50 concerts (including an opening concert performed by Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and a closing concert by the Slovak Philharmonic, chamber music, contemporary offerings, and more), this year’s music festival highlights the 100th anniversary of the founding of Czechoslovakia. Prague-based American jazz singer, Tanya Graves is scheduled to perform in the Informal Festival Prologue. For the complete line-up of performances read here.
How do you celebrate spring in the Czech Republic? Are there any Czech spring traditions that have carried with you (if living abroad)?
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