Christmas in Krakow is something truly unique: its Christmas Markets are famous for being among the prettiest in the world, everywhere there are decorations and a unique, relaxed and at the same time lively atmosphere.
Christmas in Krakow is also the best time to enjoy local specialties: dozens of kiosks of delicious traditional street food in the stunning setting of the breathtaking Main Market Square. Locals warm up with good local beers and vodkas, and in regional restaurants it’s time for mouth-watering stews and excellent grilled specialties.
In this post you will find all the best things to do at Christmas in Krakow and all the best tips for planning an unforgettable stay!
What you will find in this guide to Christmas in Krakow:
- Krakow Christmas Markets: Everything You Need to Know
- Best Things to Do at Christmas in Krakow
- The Best Christmas Eve Dinners in Krakow
- How to Get There and Around
Krakow Christmas Markets: Everything You Need to Know
Christmas in Krakow is a very special time: the locals love it, so they go to great lengths to decorate the city in the best possible way. In December, the streets of the historic center are filled with Christmas lights and decorations, creating a wonderful magical atmosphere that attracts thousands of tourists every year.
The most important event of the season are the famous Krakow Christmas Markets, known to be some of the most beautiful and authentic in the world.
The Krakow Christmas Markets are an ancient tradition for the city: it is said that the first markets were organized in 1310, always in the wonderful setting of the Main Market Square.
The Krakow Christmas Markets take place every year from the last week of November until December 26th, although they are usually extended until January 6th. They are housed in the wonderful Rynek Główny, the iconic Main Market Square, which for the occasion is enriched with splendid decorations and suggestive lighting.
CHRISTMAS MARKETS IN KRAKOW 2022/2023
Krakow Christmas Markets 2022 will be held from 25 November 2022 to 1 January 2023.
The most famous monuments on the square, such as Kraków Cloth Hall and St. Mary’s Basilica are beautifully illuminated and the square is filled with more than 80 log cabins, local street food kiosks and old-fashioned carousels for children.
In the Christmas markets you can find a wide variety of local handicrafts, items made of leather or wood, ceramics, embroidered tablecloths and handmade jewelry in amber or Bohemian crystal.
Locals love to come here to buy beautiful Christmas decorations: there are all kinds of them, but the most popular are certainly the hand-decorated glass Christmas tree balls. You will also find a wide selection of souvenirs, scented candles, paintings, postcards.
And then there’s my favorite part: dozens of wooden kiosks where succulent local specialties are cooked on huge grills in front of the customers’ gaze. As well as enjoying the best of local street food, including delicious hot soups and hot drinks, perfect for warming up on cold winter days.
Best Things to Do at Christmas in Krakow
Not just Christmas Markets, the winter months are undoubtedly one of the best times to visit Krakow. The city this season is particularly suggestive and lively, and there are many interesting things to go! Let’s find out!
Feast on delicious local specialties
Christmas in Krakow is the best time to discover delicious local specialties. Local cuisine is made up of simple and tasty ingredients, often prepared according to old family recipes.
The best way to get a deep insight into the local cuisine is to join one of the fun (and tasty) food tours: friendly English speaking local guides will lead you to discover the real local cuisine. You will start from the markets where the locals go, to continue in a long series of tastings of the best local products. Remember to book well in advance, as they are quite popular!
During Christmas in Krakow you can also find many kiosks scattered around the Old Town. Here the famous pierogi, the tasty hot soups, chestnuts and various cured meats are definitely worth trying.
For meat lovers there are kiosks that prepare sandwiches with meat, lard, cucumbers and onion, or skewers and sausages, with lots of side dishes such as potatoes, sauerkraut and various vegetables.
Don’t miss the famous smoked sheep cheese called Oscypek, traditionally heated on the grill and served with or without jam.
Finally, sweets and cakes cannot be missing, which fill the square with delicious smells. Among the desserts I recommend you to taste the gingerbread, typically served in heart-shaped biscuits, homemade cakes, the typical Hungarian pastry (kurtoskalacs), waffles, biscuits, and spiced nuts.
Also at the kiosks of the Christmas markets you can enjoy good hot drinks such as mulled wine (grzaniec), or the famous local hot beer.
The prices are quite cheap, especially when compared to Christmas markets in other European cities.
One of the experiences to do in Krakow, particularly popular during the Christmas holidays, is the tasting of the excellent local vodka. In fact these are the national drinks, and an interesting curiosity is that vodka was invented in Poland, and not in Russia as many believe! Vodka tastings can be booked online and include up to 6 different types of local vodka and liqueurs, accompanied by typical snacks.
Discover the Krakow Old Town
Obviously you cannot miss a walk through the streets of Krakow’s Old Town, the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in the world.
You will be delighted by the wonderful monuments and historic buildings in Gothic and Renaissance style, and you will certainly not be bored: the many shops and shopping centers (such as the famous Galeria Krakowska, located next to the train station) are open every day for Christmas shopping .
The heart of the Krakow Old Town is undoubtedly the Main Market Square. Here you will also find the Christmas Markets and a wide choice of restaurants and cafes where you can try the best dishes of Polish cuisine.
The marvelous Church of St. Mary, the symbol of the city, dominates the square. Its neo-Gothic interior is worth a visit, with the famous altarpiece by Veit Stoss and the richly frescoed vaults.
On the market square is the Kraków Cloth Hall or Sukiennice, which was once the textile market and now houses many souvenir shops, local handicrafts and even a 19th-century Polish art gallery, a branch of the National Museum in Krakow.
Inside the Kraków Cloth Hall, one of the oldest cafes in the city is worth a visit, Café Noworolski, once a meeting place for artists, intellectuals and writers. Take a seat in its elegant and old-fashioned rooms, where you can enjoy a good hot chocolate and a slice of cake on the beautiful red velvet sofas, enjoying the relaxed and soft atmosphere of this place.
Another historic Krakow café is Jama Michalika, once frequented by the city’s elites. In the evening, by reserving a table for the traditional dinner, you will be able to attend performances of folk songs and dances.
In the basement of the square you can visit the Rynek Underground Museum, where a permanent exhibition allows you to find out more about what Krakow looked like during the Middle Ages.
Wandering around the center, during the Christmas period, it is impossible not to attend free musical performances. In fact, in the city during this period many events are organized, such as concerts, choirs or musical performances of song and dance by local artists, children or street musicians.
The Market Square itself hosts a stage where local groups perform with Christmas carols.
Walking towards the Vistula River we find the Wawel Royal Castle, which was the royal residence of the Polish kings for centuries. After visiting the gardens, the interiors and its imposing Cathedral, be sure to stop and admire the wonderful panorama over the city and the Vistula River.
An excellent way to visit Krakow’s Old Town and discover many interesting things about its history and legends is to join the excellent Free Walking Tour which takes place every morning at 10.00. The tour is led by friendly and expert guides who speak English, Italian or Spanish. Remember to book in advance, as the tour operates in small groups and places are limited.
☞ Read our guide to the Best Free Tours in Krakow
Explore Krakow’s interesting museums
Continuing the walk through Krakow’s Old Town, you can visit several museums, such as the Czartoryski Museum, where you can see the famous painting “Lady with an Ermine” by Leonardo Da Vinci.
Also noteworthy is the National Museum of Krakow, with a huge exhibition of national and international works of art and the famous MOCAK Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow, dedicated to the best of Polish contemporary art.
The Manggha Museum is also very interesting, famous for being one of the most important permanent exhibitions in the world dedicated to oriental art, with costumes, objects and artifacts of Japanese culture. Here you can find the guide to the best museums in Krakow.
Overall, Krakow offers over 40 interesting museums, most of which can be visited in less than an hour. The most convenient solution is to buy the City Pass Krakow Card, which allows free admission to most of the city’s museums and unlimited rides on the city’s buses and trams.
Visit the picturesque Kazimierz district
Just outside the walls of Krakow’s Old Town is the Kazimierz district, the former Jewish Quarter of Krakow, now one of the liveliest and most pleasant areas of the city that is absolutely worth a visit both for its interesting history and for the wide choice of typical bars and restaurants.
In the neighborhood it is possible to visit several interesting synagogues, the most important of which is the Tempel Synagogue. Along the way there is also the Izaak Synagogue and the Kupa Synagogue, both from the 17th century and with really beautiful interior decorations.
Continuing the walk we arrive at Ulica Szeroka, the former market square which today represents the real heart of the neighborhood. There are many restaurants and pubs here serving the best of traditional Polish and Jewish dishes, and it is the ideal place to spend an evening.
The Old Synagogue, the oldest in the city, also overlooks the square. Crossing one of the bridges over the river leads to the former Krakow Ghetto in the Podgòrze district, where in the past the deportations of Jews to concentration camps took place.
Today it is possible to see a section of the wall that surrounded the ghetto, the main square which now houses a memorial to the victims of the holocaust and the famous Eagle Pharmacy of Doctor Tadeusz Pankiewicz, famous for his important help to the Jews of the Ghetto .
From here you can easily reach Schindler’s Factory, whose story is told in Steven Spielberg’s famous film “Schindler’s List” and which today is a very interesting museum that tells about life in the city during the years of the Nazi occupation.
A visit to these places is essential to fully understand the history and culture of Krakow. For this reason, I recommend that you visit the Jewish Quarter and the Krakow Ghetto with a local guide. Excellent free walking tours are held every morning, allowing you to better discover the history of the neighborhood. Remember that it is necessary to book in advance.
There are also some very interesting guided tours that offer an even more complete experience, allowing you to discover the history of the Ghetto, visit Schindler’s Factory and the nearby Plaszow Concentration Camp.
See the spectacular Krakow nativity scenes
Every year, during the Christmas period, the famous nativity scene contest called “Szopki” takes place in Krakow.
The event attracts many local artisans and represents one of the most important traditions of the city. Its origins date back to the 19th century, when the city’s artisans decided to start creating these representations to sell them and thus increase their earnings during the Christmas period.
The custom quickly became very popular, to the point that people were willing to pay even just to admire these works. So the municipal authorities decided to institute the first competition in 1937.
Since then, except in the period of the Second World War, the competition takes place every year, becoming more and more famous in the world. Since 2018, this tradition has been recognized as a UNESCO Intangible Heritage Site.
The peculiarity of these nativity scenes is in the miniatures of the historical buildings in Krakow that form the background to the representations of the nativity of Jesus.
They are handcrafted using only wood and tinfoil and are real works of art, with attention to the smallest detail. The best nativity scenes then remain on display in the Historical Museum of the City of Kraków, which is also located in the Main Market Square.
The event takes place on the first Thursday of December at the Main Market Square with the exhibition of the Krakow Nativity Scenes, under the statue of Adam Mickiewicz.
Ice skating with the locals
In winter in Krakow, locals love to ice-skate, which is why there is never a shortage of ice skating rinks. Several are installed in the city, but the most famous is Dworzec Glowny, near the Central Railway Station, right in front of the Galeria Krakowska.
The rink is open from the end of November to March and it is possible to rent skates on the spot. After skating, you can relax in Galeria Krakowska, a huge shopping center full of shops and cafes, where you can have a drink and where free concerts and events are often organized during the Christmas period.
Take a day trip to Auschwitz and the Salt Mines
Around Krakow there are many interesting places to see, but no visit to the city is complete without visiting Auschwitz and the Wieliczka Salt Mines.
The Wieliczka Salt Mines are a must when visiting Krakow, and are easily visited on a guided day tour.
These are among the oldest salt mines in the world: more than 300 km of tunnels (only a small part can be visited) located at over 320 meters underground. The tour allows you to safely explore, accompanied by a guide, the huge rooms of the mine richly decorated with salt sculptures. You will see incredible underground lakes, and even an underground cathedral made of salt!
Another unmissable day trip from Krakow is the one to Auschwitz Birkenau Concentration Camp, a very interesting visit to learn more about what happened here during the Second World War. There are convenient guided day tours from Krakow, which include round-trip transport, admission ticket, and an official guide speaking your language of choice. It is necessary to book in advance.
The Auschwitz Birkenau Concentration Camp is closed on Christmas Day, and the Wieliczka Salt Mines are closed on 24 and 25 December.
The Best Christmas Eve Dinners in Krakow
My first choice to eat something typical, tasty and cheap is to go to the Christmas Markets. Even if you eat outside (there are many benches near the kiosks where you can sit and eat) and it could be quite cold, this is definitely the most characteristic place to taste some typical dishes and enjoy the Christmas atmosphere.
If you are looking for something more sophisticated, then you might want to book a table at one of the restaurants that remain open for Christmas. In fact, not all restaurants are open for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and for those that are open it is really recommended to book in advance. It is also pretty easy to get caught in a tourist trap, so I thought I’d leave you with some addresses recommended by the locals.
Some places generally offer set menus for Christmas Eve dinner, with dishes typical of the Polish Christmas tradition. I recommend you try one of these traditional restaurants:
Restauracja Pod Baranem: a good, modern and cozy restaurant located near the Wawel Hill offering a good à la carte menu with Polish cuisine specialties.
Restauracja Szeroka 12: This restaurant located in the heart of the former Jewish district of Kazimierz is a true institution of the gastronomic scene of Krakow. It is located on the ground floor of the Rubinstein Hotel and offers a set tasting menu with six courses for Christmas Eve and Christmas. It also offers a wide choice of drinks.
Restauracja Pod Aniołami: Located in the heart of Krakow Old Town, this atmospheric restaurant feels like an old inn from the Middle Ages. The menu boasts excellent traditional Polish dishes, and is famous for marinated and grilled meats and other old Polish dishes.
How to Get There and Around
Krakow has recently become one of Europe’s top Christmas holiday destinations. This is because it is a pleasant and lively city, which offers many things to see, good food, quality hospitality and affordable prices.
Krakow is well connected with all major European cities, making it a perfect destination for a weekend trip or short break. Krakow Airport is modern and is connected by train to the Central Railway Station. Alternatively, it is possible to book in advance the private transfer service from the airport to the hotel (and vice versa) at very affordable prices.
Krakow Old Town is easily explored on foot, and there are many good quality hotels at very affordable prices in the area. Public transport (bus and tram) is efficient and also works during holidays. Furthermore, if you have the City Pass Krakow Card you can travel for free on public transport and enter the city’s museums for free.
Useful Tips for Your Trip to Krakow
Here you will also find ALL the advice you need about the Best Things to Do and See in Krakow and unmissable day trips, such as the one to Auschwitz and the one to the Wieliczka Salt Mines.
Planning your trip to Krakow? These are our in-depth guides with everything you need to know to plan an amazing trip to Krakow: