Contrary to what some may think, I am not a huge shopper. I mean, I do go shopping, and at times even derive some fun from the experience depending on what I am shopping for and where (I’m looking at you, Target), but I would much prefer to have figured out in advance what I am going to purchase and run in and run out. Better yet, online is great. No fighting over a parking space and hopefully no kids ‘helping’ me with my purchases by adding many of their own ‘necessities.’ I do have a significant departure from this dread of shopping, however when on vacation. I actually enjoy shopping for souvenirs for my loved ones and myself. I am not sure if it’s the novelty of shopping in a more foreign setting, or if there’s less pressure to have to find the perfect thing because almost anything from our destination would be special since it’s from somewhere else. Either way, I love souvenir shopping.
This trip to Prague, while not exactly vacation in the typical sense- the purpose was to drop my daughter off for university- was pretty amazing, and there were some fun shopping opportunities to go along with it. I am not typically one for kitschy souvenirs or souvenir shops, though we did pick up a sweatshirt for Nate from one such touristy shop in London. That was what he wanted to bring home, so into the touristy shop we went. One exception to my ban on kitschy souvenirs is Starbucks. I am a sucker for the Starbucks place mugs, and have been growing my collection of Been There/You Are Here/City Mugs since our 2004 trip to Vancouver, Canada. But other than that, I typically steer clear from the kitsch.
So then, what to buy? I usually let the interest of the receiver and the location of the vacation to steer the direction of the shopping. Most places have some kind of specialty or delicacy that is unique to the culture or environment. Prague had many items that were special, affordable, and easy to find. So without further ado, I give you The Cranky Camper’s guide to souvenir shopping in Prague.
While on my walk around Prague 1, I passed by Manufaktura, a specialty bath and body shop close to Old Town Square. I had read about their unique beer soaps online prior to my trip, so I decided to head in. There I found a lovely selection of beer and red wine body washes and lotions, along with pretty selections derived from ingredients such as lavender, rose hips, and wildflowers that are local to the Czech Republic. Even better, because they were celebrating their 30th anniversary, their most popular items were 30% off.
I shopped from the collection of best sellers, opting for beer shower gel for the boys, wine lotions for my mother-in-law and sister, and a lavender anti-stress cream. After perusing the bath and body section, I headed to the back of the store. There I found a cute selection of home decor by local Czech artisans. I picked up some painted clay figurines to take home.
It is said that ‘beer is cheaper than water’ in Prague. I found that to be absolutely true on this trip, and kicked myself after one meal when I spent about 30 koruna more for a bottle of water than I would have for a half-liter of pilsner. For friends and family who appreciate their adult beverages, a sample of the local brews makes a great gift, in your checked bag of course. While grocery shopping, I picked up a bottle of the original pilsner, and Czech Republic favorite, Pilsner Urquell. I tried a half-liter at dinner one evening, and it was pretty good. I figured is was something the husband would appreciate. While in the drink area, I found the prettiest bottle of muscat, with a pretty butterfly design right in the glass. It will be a cute vase or water carafe long after the wine is consumed. At about 1.50 for the beer and 5 USD for the wine after conversion, these were also pretty economical gift ideas.
Other gift ideas include food items that are unique to the area. I picked up a selection of Czech candy for the kid and some Tic Tacs in Czech for my mom. Czech spa wafers are a popular gift to bring back. As the husband is a fan of filled cookies such as stroopwafels, I thought he might enjoy trying spa wafers, which are crispy filled wafer cookies commonly sold in spa towns. I did not make it over to Karlovy Vary; I stayed in Prague for the duration of this trip. Fortunately, Kolonada by Opavia is sold in most grocery stores so they were easy to find. And easy to take home.
These are just a few ideas for souvenirs from one of the prettiest cities in the world. Even a pair of socks from IKEA with a Swedish meatball design and Czech words that I couldn’t read made a fun gift for the boys. If you want a more sophisticated gift idea, Czech garnet is very popular, and there are styles ranging in price from $25 USD on up. Just be sure to go to a reputable jeweler to make sure that you’re getting genuine stones.
Some things to consider:
While in Prague, every merchant I visited, from the quiet local cafes to international retailers such as H&M and IKEA accepted credit cards. I used Apple Pay for the tap feature, which make payment quick and easy. As much as possible, I recommend using a credit card that does not charge foreign transaction fees. In addition to easy payments, you are also protected from fraud liability if anything were to happen.
When shopping overseas, be sure to chose to pay with the local currency rather than the US dollar conversion when given the choice. The fees for dynamic conversion are rather high- typically seven percent of the transaction- and are not worth it, even if you are using a card that charges a foreign transaction fee. Most of the retailers that had this option were those I would find in the United States: Starbucks, H&M, Zara, and a couple others.
While Prague is generally safe, be aware of your stuff and surroundings. There are signs on public busses warning riders to beware of pickpockets.
While on an international shopping adventure, be safe and have fun. Thanks to the conversion rate from Czech crowns to dollars as well as many souvenir options, I was able to stick close to my souvenir budget. With a bit of planning, its easy to find some special gifts while on your happy trails.