The rankings are no surprise, as Prague typically appears on similar lists at this time of year.
U.S. News & World Report also ranked Prague highly in other areas. It is third for a winter vacation in Europe and fourth for an affordable vacation in Europe, fifth for both an affordable European honeymoon and a European family vacation, sixth-best place to visit in Europe and the eighth-best place to visit in the world.
“For the month of December, the capital of the Czech Republic turns into a winter wonderland you've got to see to believe. Its medieval architecture is blanketed in twinkling lights and the Christmas markets are some of the best in the world. Plus, many of Prague's attractions are free, so you won't have to spend a fortune to sightsee,” U.S. News & World Report stated.
It did not list what it considered free attractions, but places such as the courtyards of Prague Castle, Charles Bridge, some churches and the streets of Old Town and Malá Strana can be seen for free. The interiors of buildings in Prague Castle, viewing towers, and most museums and galleries have an admission.
As for the city in general, the magazine described it as “a prosperous and bustling city.”
“Prague now attracts more tourists than ever. But its picturesque downtown veils both a dark legacy and a resilient past. Dating back to about A.D. 870, Prague has withstood numerous overthrows, invasions, fires and floods. It's this reputation for survival and perseverance that has made the Czech capital so fascinating. Today, its storied churches, narrow streets, daunting hilltop castle and statue-lined bridges create the scene of an urban fairy tale. Even the most jaded traveler would have trouble resisting this city's charms.”
Other cities on the U.S. News & World Report list for Christmas vacations were Vienna, Taos, London, New York, Zurich, Munich, Quebec, Edinburgh and Amsterdam.
Most of the choices aside from third-placed Taos seem to be obvious picks. Regarding Taos, the magazine said: “For a twist on the traditional Christmas, consider spending the holidays in this small town 70 miles north of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Snow-covered adobe buildings dot the historic downtown and handmade gifts are available at the Taos Folk pop-up store. The roster of unique events includes bonfires on Bent Street, which features traditional Aztec dancers.”
The U.S. News & World Report travel rankings are based on analysis of expert and user opinions. Destination rankings are updated once per year on a rolling basis.
CNN did not provide an explanation of the criteria for choosing the best Christmas markets. Prague appears fifth on the list, though it is not clear if that means fifth place or it is just random as the list is not numbered. CNN recommends the markets as an alternative to “joylessly battling through department store crowds or trawling the Internet for bargains.”
Gendarmenmarkt in Berlin, Germany, was first on the CNN list, followed markets in by Strasbourg, Vienna, and Montreal. The cities coming in after Prague are Florence, Krakow, Birmingham, Copenhagen, and Brussels.
Prague won high praise from CNN: “No city lends itself to Christmas better than Prague. The city's two main Christmas markets, in Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square, are only five minutes' walk from each other, so can both easily be explored in one day,” CNN said.
“Each one has the usual wooden huts found in similar markets across Europe, but the Czech treats are what really set them apart. Visitors can grab a klobása (Czech sausage) and wash it down with a Pilsner Urquell in the afternoon, then hang around for the main tree to be lit up on Old Town Square,” CNN stated.
The two Christmas markets start relatively late this year, on Dec. 2, due to the late start of Advent, and run until Jan. 6, when Christmas is celebrated on the Orthodox calendar. The start of Advent changes every year and is the fourth Sunday before Christmas. The markets traditionally open the day before.
For the past few years, there has been no single tree lighting ceremony for security and safety concerns. The crowds had been reaching such a size that there was the potential for accidents. The details of this year's opening day have not been disclosed yet but most likely will follow the same pattern, with the tree going dark and relighting several times during the first day.
There should also be a program of daily entertainment on the square for the duration of the market. Carp soup should be served for free Dec. 24 during the day.