Across the northern hemisphere, 1st May heralds the start of long summer days and gardens in full bloom. It might have outgrown its colourful historic roots as Floralia, a festival for the Roman goddess of flowers, and the fiery pagan Beltane, but most countries at least nod to the occasion with a national holiday. In Prague, however, May Day is celebrated with as much purpose as in historic times. The focus is less on blooms and bonfires, though – here, it’s a day to honour love and romance. Celebrate May Day in Prague with our guide to the city’s favourite traditions.
Head to Petřín Park for a scenic stroll beneath the pale pink puffs of its cherry blossoms. The wealth of fruit trees that crown the hill are in full bloom at the start of May, making this one of the most beautiful places in Prague for a May Day walk. Tradition dictates that a kiss beneath the blooms on 1st May guarantees romance, beauty and harmony for the year ahead.
While couples flock to Petřín Park to steal that all-important kiss, it’s the flower-scattered bronze statue of Karel Hynek Mácha that’s the star attraction for many locals. The Romantic poet died at the tender age of 25, shortly after he wrote his epic Byronic poem Máj (May) about doomed young lovers Vilém and Jarmila. The lyrical poem’s opening lines: ‘Late evening, on the first of May / The twilit May – the time of love,’ perhaps popularised the custom of visiting his statue on May Day. Do as countless locals do and offer a flower to the ill-fated poet, before turning to gaze out at Petřín Park’s panoramic views across Prague’s rooftops.
While the májka, or maypole, is a custom that’s dying out as dating apps nudge historic courting rituals into the history books, many villages around Prague still honour the tradition. On the day before 1st May, a tree trunk is stripped of its bark and branches, and erected in the village square. It’s then decorated with ribbons, scarves and flowers. Tradition has it that the men sneak into neighbouring villages during the night to pull down their májkas. If a májka is still standing in the morning, its protectors are rewarded with gifts from the village girls. Nowadays, those gifts usually take the form of beer and plum brandy, with colourful processions, dancing and plenty of raucous street parties marking the occasion.
Not everyone is coupled up in Prague, and May Day remains the ideal time to head out solo to explore, or to indulge in some ‘me’ time. The 1st May is a public holiday, but the city’s many boutiques, restaurants and attractions stay open. Discover Prague’s coolest, quirky corners, marvel at the architectural love affair between Fred and Ginger or duck out for a sumptuous treatment at the Apollo Day Spa, its spectacular views across the city a beautiful backdrop.