advertisement

The rapid influx of visitors, wage growth, and a new consumer economy fueled by the shopping habits of the Czech nouveau riche have resulted in expensive boutiques and specialty shops burgeoning in Prague. Shopping malls now offer everything from designer baby clothes to Bruno Magli shoes. The selection of world-renowned labels is beginning to rival that of many western European cities, though shops tend to have a tiny inventory compared with the same outlets in Paris or London. Still, since labor and rent make operations cheaper here, you might find a bargain -- particularly at sale time -- for the same items offered at points farther west.

For those looking for a piece of Czech handiwork, you can find some of the world's best crystal and glass. Antiques shops and booksellers abound, and the selection of classical, trendy, and offbeat art is immense at the numerous private galleries. Throughout the city center you'll find quaint, obscure shops, some without phones or advertising.

Special Shopping Notes -- In an effort to keep precious pieces of Czech heritage in the country, the government now requires export permits for a large range of objects, including glass and graphics over 50 years old, miniature art objects valued at more than 3,000Kc, and paintings valued at more than 30,000Kc. Most antiques shops provide export permits; ask for one if necessary.

In many shops, including supermarkets, customers are expected to bring their own bags. If you don't have one, ask for a taska; it'll cost about 5Kc.

Health & Beauty -- Prague has several studios where you can buy the best names in cosmetics as well as schedule an appointment for a facial or pedicure. Estée Lauder, Zelezná 18, Prague 1 (tel. 224-232-023; metro: Mustek), is open Monday to Friday from 10am to 7pm and Saturday from 10am to 4pm. Yves Rocher, Václavské nám. 47, Prague 1 (tel. 221-625-570; www.yvesrocher.cz; metro: Muzeum), is open Monday to Friday from 8:30am to 8pm and Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 6pm. L'Institut Guerlain, at Dlouhá 16, Prague 1 (tel. 227-195-330; www.linstitut.cz; metro: Staromestská), is open Monday to Friday 9am to 9pm, Saturday noon to 7pm.

An Open-Air Market -- On the short, wide street perpendicular to Melantrichova, between Staromestské námestí and Václavské námestí, Havel's Market (Havelsky trh; no, not named after former president Václav Havel), Havelská ulice, Prague 1, features dozens of private vendors selling seasonal homegrown fruits and vegetables at decent prices for the city center. Other goods, including detergent, flowers, and cheap souvenirs, are also for sale. Open Monday to Friday from 8am to 6pm. Take metro line A or B to Mustek.

Prague's Best Buys

Blood-red garnets are the official Czech national gem, and the ones that you can buy here are among the world's finest, as well as one of the country's top exports. Most garnets are mined near Teplice, about 63km (39 miles) northwest of Prague. There are at least five specific kinds. Bohemian garnets are the Pyrope type, an amalgam of calcium and magnesium that's almost always deep red. You can get a small necklace for as little as 700Kc or densely packed brooches or bracelets for more than 30,000Kc, depending on whether they're set in silver or gold. Be warned that fake garnets are common, so purchase your stones from a reputable shop like the ones recommended below.

Fine crystal has been produced in the Bohemian countryside since the 14th century. In the 17th and 18th centuries, it became the preferred glass of the world's elite, drawing royals and the rich to Karlovy Vary to buy straight from the source. The king of Siam made a fabled trip to this western Czech spa town in the 1930s just to choose place settings for his palace. Bohemian factories are responsible for artistic advances in gilding, cutting, and coloring. Today, the quality remains high, and you can still purchase contemporary glass for prices that are much lower than those in the West.

Antiques and antiquarian books and prints are widely available and are distinctive souvenirs, sold by specialist antikvariáts. For non-Czech speakers, the books will hold little appeal, but the real treasures here are old postcards, lithographs, and maps. These antiques shops are located throughout the city, but you'll find many in Old Town and Malá Strana.

Since beer is a little heavy to carry home and the local wine isn't worth it, take home a bottle of Becherovka, the nation's popular herbal liqueur from Karlovy Vary. You'll find the distinctive green decanter in shops around the city; it costs about 400 Kc per liter, but smaller sizes are widely available.

Fashion -- Over the past few years, Prague has evolved into a decent place to buy clothing for both men and women. The area around Wenceslas Square and Na Príkope features high-end mass market retailers like popular Spanish brand Zara, Na Príkope 15, Prague 1 (tel. 224-239-860; www.zara.com; metro: Mustek) and the ubiquitous H&M at Václavské nám. 19 (tel. 234-656-051), among others. You'll find the more exclusive names along Parízská, including Cartier (no. 2), Hugo Boss (no. 6, no. 28), Hermes (no. 12), Louis Vuitton (no. 13), and Prada (no. 16). Most stores along this stretch are open Monday to Friday from 9am to 7pm and on Saturdays and Sundays from 10am to 6pm.

Old Town is also home to the best Czech designers. Try Boheme at Dusní 8 (tel. 224-813-840; www.boheme.cz) for stylish and well-made women's tops, dresses, and accessories. Boheme is open Monday to Friday from 11am to 7pm and Saturday from 11am to 5pm. Tatiana at Dusní 1 (tel. 224-813-723; www.tatiana.cz) is less sensible, more elegant, and much more expensive. It's open Monday to Friday from 10am to 7pm and Saturday from 11am to 4pm.

Wine & Beer -- Wine, beer, and Becherovka are sold in shops all over Prague, but one of the cheapest places to buy them is Tesco. Expect to pay about 300Kc for a medium bottle of Becherovka and 150Kc for six bottles of Budvar.

The Ungelt Wine Shop (tel. 224-895-449), Týnský dvur 5, Prague 1, offers a large and high-quality selection of domestic and foreign wines. It's open daily 11am to 10pm.

You can find beer everywhere, but locating specialty beers from smaller brewers around the country can be a problem. Galerie Piva at Lázenská 15, Prague 1, sells beer by the bottle from around the country, including Primátor's hard to find but worth the search 16-degree lager. Open daily 10am to 6pm.

Shopping Areas

The L-shaped half mile running from the middle of Wenceslas Square around the corner to the right on Na Príkope and to the Palladium Shopping Center on Námestí Republiky has become Prague's principal shopping hub. In this short distance you'll find several multilevel shopping gallerias, with foreign chains like H&M, Next, Kenvelo, Pierre Cardin, Adidas, and Zara. Between the centers is a wide array of boutiques and antiques shops.

The wide, tree-lined Parízská, from Old Town Square to the Hotel Inter-Continental, has become Prague's answer to L.A.'s Rodeo Drive, filled with top-end luxury names like Cartier, Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Hugo Boss, and Prada. Along the streets running off of Parízská, many of the best Czech designers have set up shop.

In the streets radiating off Old Town Square, particularly Celetná and Dlouhá, you'll find many of the city's best outlets for glass, porcelain, and jewelry. Indeed, Celetná has evolved into Prague's "glass alley."

Karlova, the street that connects the Old Town Square to Charles Bridge, is the place to go for cheap, throwaway souvenirs, like T-shirts, ball caps, and key chains. Many of the goods on offer here, such as faux "KGB" fur caps, Russian nesting dolls, and those ridiculously overpriced "Prague Drinking Team" sweatshirts, have little genuine relation to the city.

In Malá Strana, Nerudova street that climbs its way to the castle is filled with old book shops, art galleries, antique stores, and the usual gaggle of T-shirt and glass outlets.

Hours & Taxes

Prague's centrally located shops rely on tourist business and keep fairly long hours. Most are open Monday to Friday from about 9am to 7pm and Saturday from 9am to 3pm, and sometimes much later. Many open on Sunday as well, though usually for a shorter time.

Prices for goods include the government's 19% value-added tax (VAT). All tourists carrying passports from outside the E.U., including Americans, Canadians, and Australians, can recoup much of this tax through VAT refund schemes. To make use of this concession, buy from stores displaying a TAX FREE sign. To qualify, the purchase price must exceed 2,000Kc, including the VAT, in 1 day in one store.

How to Claim Your VAT Refund -- Recouping your tax money is easy; just follow these steps:

  • When paying for your goods, ask the store for a Global Refund Cheque.
  • Within 90 days of the date of purchase, present the voucher to a Czech Customs official to get a stamp. At the airport, the Customs Stamps official is located before Passport Control.
  • Hand the stamp in after Passport Control to one of the Cash Refund Offices. Their staff will then refund your VAT, free of charge. Alternatively, you can use a direct crediting of a chosen credit card, or have a bank check sent to a chosen address.
  • Be sure to give yourself plenty of time at the airport to handle all the formalities, including finding the offices and standing in line.

For more information, go to www.globalrefund.com.

Shipping

Don't trust the post office when it comes to shipping valuable goods. If your package is larger than a breadbox, contact the international company DHL (Prague Airport; tel. 220-300-111 or 840-103-000; www.dhl.cz). It charges around 1,960Kc for a 1-kilogram (2 1/4-lb.) parcel to the U.K. and 2,000Kc to the United States. You can use the DHL terminal at the Prague Airport, open Monday to Friday 8am to 6:45pm, or visit the Express Center at Václavské nám. 47 (the entrance is from Opletalova St.), open Monday to Friday 8am to 6:30pm and Saturday 9am to 3pm.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.