With its historic old town, huge festive market in the main square, and horse-drawn carriages, Kraków was tailor-made for Christmas. And it doesn’t disappoint, putting on a fantastic show that rivals other European cities at this time of year. Here is our guide to getting the most out of Christmas in Kraków.
Along with Easter, Christmas is the most important festival of the Polish calendar, and a time of deep religious significance. Kraków is a must-see at any time of year but, as a Christmas destination, the city is up there with the best European cities. The short days and cold nights are the perfect excuse to warm up with mulled wine and indulge in some hearty Polish food, which you can find in abundance at the cosy Christmas market. With its castle skyline and beautiful cobbled streets, the old town becomes a living Christmas card, especially with a sprinkling of snow. And, unlike in many countries, Poland does not shut down over Christmas, so it makes a great escape from sitting at home in front of the TV.
Christmas In Kraków
More than 90% of Polish people self-identify as Catholic, so it’s no surprise that the birth of Christ is welcomed as a time of great joy. Christ’s Mass is taken as seriously in Kraków as it is in the rest of the country, and with it come all the traditional trappings of the season, including Christmas trees and lights, nativity scenes, and carols. But, for Poles, these symbols have a deep spiritual significance that is easily lost in more secular countries.
The whole city gets involved, with illuminations, decorations, and a huge tree in the main square. It looks stunning at night. In the traditional nativity contest, known as Szopki, local artisans create elaborate miniatures of historical Kraków buildings to illustrate scenes from the birth of Jesus. These inventive works of art are on display in shop windows.
There is music and carol singing around the old town and, just away from the Christmas market on Rynek Główny, there’s usually a stage with live performances throughout the season. You can take a coach and horse ride around the square for that full Cinderella treatment.
From the end of November, an ice rink is set up on the square adjacent to the main train station and Galeria Krakowska shopping mall.
Polish people celebrate Christmas on December 24, so shops and services tend to close for the day from 2pm. It’s a beautiful time to wander through the old town and enjoy the peace. However, the city centre will be buzzing again on Christmas Day – with even public transport up and running, so you can enjoy all the other usual Kraków attractions. The castle complex on Wawel Hill takes on a special magic with a sprinkling of snow.
Boże Narodzenie w Krakowie / Christmas in Krakow – image © Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland / CC BY-NC 2.0
Kraków Christmas Market
When it comes to Christmas markets, Kraków is an old master. There is reckoned to have been a festive market on the main square since the early 14th century.
Kraków’s Christmas market covers a large section of Rynek Główny, the huge square around the Renaissance Cloth Hall. Similar to other European Christmas markets, you’ll find a cheery village of around 80 timber huts, selling all manner of festive gifts and trinkets. Polish craftsmanship is very fine, and you’ll find Christmas presents that are just not available in the shops at home. Poland is famous for amber jewellery, but you can pick up handicrafts in every imaginable material, including beautiful hand-painted glass Christmas decorations and carved wooden toys, as well as delicious sweets. There’s also plenty of cheap novelty items but it’s all part of the fun.
For many, the biggest draw is the dazzling range of food and drink. You’ll smell the market before you can see it. Come hungry. You won’t be disappointed. You can stock up on hearty food for very little money. In addition to pierogi dumplings and traditional Polish soups, there are kiosks selling skewers of meat and grilled sheeps’ cheese, known as oscypek. You can wash these down with mulled wine or heated beer. Vodkas, liqueurs, and spirits really take the edge off a winter’s night. For pudding, there are waffles, gingerbread biscuits, and Eastern European pastries.
Kraków is also a great city for vegans – actually, Polish Christmas is a largely vegetarian affair, so there’s something for everyone on offer.
Entry is free and the market is open throughout December until Boxing Day (December 26). Some years this is extended into early January, depending on circumstances. The market is officially open from 10am until 8pm, but stall owners come and go as they please and food stalls continue to serve until at least 10pm.
- Wrap up warm, especially at night! Despite the cheery effects of mulled wine on your internal thermostat, Kraków is pretty chilly in December. Gloves, scarf, and hat are recommended, and also waterproof outerwear and boots.
- Bring lots of cash! Poland is ahead of the game when it comes to contactless payment but there may be times when you need to pay with good old fashioned złoty.
- Watch out for pickpockets! Kraków is very safe but a crowded market with lots to dazzle and distract is the perfect hunting ground for thieves. So keep your valuables in a safe place and keep your wits about you!
Christmas Shopping In Kraków
Kraków is a great place for shopping at any time of the year and the old town is riddled with shops full of imaginative gifts. Poland is famous for its honey-coloured amber, but you can also find excellent handmade chocolates, arty Polish film posters, and vodka in a dizzying array of flavours. See the section on shopping in our four-day Kraków itinerary for suggestions.
Although Kraków shops tend to close from 2pm on Christmas Eve (December 24), many reopen on Boxing Day (December 26).
If things get nippy on the outside, Kraków’s indoor mall Galeria Krakowska has has everything you could want from a more modern shopping experience, including fashion and the latest tech, and is just next to the main train station, barely 10 minutes away from the old town.
Christmas Food And Drink In Kraków
If you’re ever celebrated Christmas with a Pole, you’ll know that Wigilia – the meal on Christmas Eve – is a real experience, loaded with spiritual significance. Amongst other customs, an empty place is set at the table and 12 different dishes are served over the course of the meal, which are largely vegetarian. Celebrations are supposed to start after the first star has been spotted in the night sky.
If you can find a restaurant serving food on December 24, you may be lucky enough to be included in this tradition. Pod Baranem Restauracja, close to the castle, and Pod Aniołami, on Ul. Grodzka, are both worth trying.
However, you should be prepared for many establishments to be shut and make sure you plan ahead for where you will eat. Lots of restaurants and bars open again on Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
Where To Stay For Christmas In Kraków
Through Kraków is a reasonably-priced city, with accommodation to suit every budget, the costs will rise around Christmas. Our list of Kraków hotels is broken down into every price bracket, and our Where To Stay In Kraków guide describes each of the city’s main districts with hotel recommendations for each.
There are many fantastic romantic hotels in Kraków. For a truly memorable Christmas vacation, we recommend the following:
- Hotel Copernicus: Gorgeous 5-star rooms and a unique rooftop view of the castle – view on Booking.com
- Hotel Wentzl: Plush rooms and possibly the best location in Kraków, directly on the main square – view on Booking.com
- Hotel Polski Pod Bialym Orlem: Tucked just inside St Florian’s Gate, Polski Pod Bialym Orlem’s atmospheric decoration is highly recommended – view on Booking.com
- The Bonerowski Palace: Befitting its name, The Bonerowski Palace is a regal establishment overlooking the main square – view on Booking.com
- Hotel Stary: A luxury boutique hotel in the Old Town, Stary has a lot of class and character – view on Booking.com
Christmas Weather In Kraków
It’s possible you’ll see some snow if you visit Kraków in December. With a night time temperature of -4°C, it’s certainly cold enough. But it’s equally likely you’ll get rain instead.
Either way, you should wrap up warm, with gloves, hat, and scarf, and make sure your boots and outer garments are waterproof. Our packing guide to Kraków has plenty of tips for what to take for a winter trip.
Visit our New Year’s In Kraków page for details on year-end festivities in the city.