Krakow, Poland, with its mysterious folklore of kings and dragons, miraculous healing waters, and a rich history from the medieval ages through to today. Krakow is captivating to visit at any time of the year, but in winter the city takes its charm and charisma to a whole new level.
If we could only visit one place every winter, I think Krakow would be it. We love it there! There is so much to see and do. We were there for a week and barely left the Old Town!
There is something that is quintessentially winter about Krakow. It’s the ice rinks, and the snow, and the people wrapped up in big scarves and warm coats, breathing in the steam from a hot chocolate held close to their red noses. And then there is all the things you can do there – even in winter.
Wintery Activities In Krakow
Christmas Markets (Last week in November to the first week in January): Krakow (in fact most of Poland) has somehow managed to escape the distinct Westernisation of Christmas. There is a local charm to the Christmas Markets held in the Old Town Market Square next to the famous Cloth Hall. Here you will find artisan businesses have small wooden stalls selling their wares (and very little of the cheap modern tourist tatt). With everything from handmade clay bird callers, and replica armourers, to smoked meat, and mulled wine, you could quite easily go into sensory shock walking the market path, especially at night when the sights, sounds and smells take on a whole new level of beauty.
Cracovian Christmas Crib Contest (Winter): These szopka are intricately designed, created and decorated houses (about the size of a traditional doll’s house) that are meant to hold a traditional nativity puppet play. Krakow holds a contest on the first Thursday of December, with the winners displayed in the city’s History Museum over winter.
Winter Food and Drink in Krakow
The Best Hot Chocolate in the World: When I first asked my daughter what I should mention when talking about going to Krakow in the winter, she immediately said “THE HOT CHOCOLATE” and she’s not wrong. Any stands in the market square, and most restaurants, will serve you delicious, thick, hot chocolate. Not overly sweet, nor creamy. A spoonful (because it is more like food than a drink) will make you feel like getting a hug from the sun on a snowy day.
Jama Michalika: The first time I ate at Jama Michalika I was in my mid-twenties on a tour with some university friends from Australia. We walked it and it was like we were immersed in the history of the place. The birthplace of Poland’s Art Nouveau movement, you walk in and are immediately transported back in time to when the young thinkers, composers, politicians, artists and actors would descend there and pay for their food and drink with art works to adorn the walls.
Hot Smoked Meats, Mulled Wine, Polish Donuts & Warm Cinnamon Almonds: There is not many foods that fundamentally define a European winter like warm smoked meats, and mulled wine served with warm cinnamon almonds, especially when they are bought from a wooden market stand in the old market square. The Polish donuts are melt in the mouth, traditionally eaten in the lead up to lent, you will find them at the winter markets as well.
Pierogi: Speaking of warm foods on a winters day, Pierogi, eaten year-round in Poland, becomes a great comfort food once the snow hits. Especially with a cheesy potato filling. Our favourite place to eat Pierogi is the teeny tiny Pierogowy Raj. There aren’t many seats in this restaurant, and even less room for those seats, but the little parcels of warm peppery goodness will take away any unease about the squishiness of your surroundings.
Anytime of the year is fantastic, but winter in Krakow is incredible
Although in winter the Dragon’s Den and Sandomierska Tower are closed, Wawel Castle is beautiful to visit in winter. If you are lucky enough to see it in a covering of snow it looks like something out of an ancient fairytale, which of course, it is. It is said that a dragon lived in the cave under the castle and demanded the sacrifice of humans twice a week. Visit the castle and find how the two princes defeated the dragon and then fought over the glory of the kill. Not only does the castle celebrate the folklore of Krakow, but you can also see State Rooms, Royal Apartments, and the Armoury.
St Mary’s Basilica:
Located on the corner of the market square St Mary’s Basillica is, like many other buildings in Krakow, filled with fantastic stories and ornate beauty to hold the attention of its visitors. The Basillica is open most days when Mass is not being conducted. You can even do tours of the tower (tours do not operate in January and February), and after the hustle and bustle of the Cloth Hall and the market square, you can step inside and immediately feel a sense of calm and quiet. A stark difference to the outside.
Golf Cart Tour:
Strewn throughout the streets of the Old Town in Krakow, you will find vendors wanting to take you on a tour of Krakow in a little (and sometimes not so little) golf cart. We have done these tours a few times and never been disappointed. Yes, in winter, you need to rug up, but they are so much fun it would be a shame to miss it. The carts have a clear cover so you are protected from the worst of the elements, and they have a recorded commentary that guides you around various parts of the city as your driver takes you to various locations. The kids absolutely LOVED this tour and would do it again in a heartbeat!
The Uncomfortable winters of History
Auschwitz: You really shouldn’t go to Krakow without exploring something of the region’s 20th century history. Yes, it is shocking, humbling, devastating… there aren’t enough adjectives in the world to explain the depth of emotion you can feel visiting here – but everyone should visit, just once. Home to one of the most devastating concentration camps of World War 2, Auschwitz-Birkenau brings a whole new level of devastating amazement in winter. It is cold, freezing most of the time, and us with our warm coats and thick hiking boots were safe and comfortable. It doesn’t take much imagination to feel what it would have been like to be a prisoner here in the winter.
BIO: Sarah (aka ArgeyMum) is the head-honcho and mother of the Lots of Planets Have a North family. She, with her husband and two children, decided one day to spend twelve months traveling the northern hemisphere. Five weeks later they had moved out of their home in South Australia, put all of their belongings in storage, and were on a plane bound for the UK. That was two years ago. Now, they base themselves in the UK, while spending most of their time traveling, discovering, blogging and sharing their amazing adventure. They hope to encourage other families to get over the fear of travel with children, particularly to unknown and unplanned places.
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