Krakow is beautiful to visit anytime of the year, but it’s especially magical during the winter, where you can experience a more subdued side to the city. The cold weather allows for plenty of opportunities to slow down, drink hot chocolate in candlelit cafes, and warm up with steaming bowls of borszcz. Another advantage of visiting during winter is that you don’t have to deal with summer crowds and high season prices. Here’s how to take advantage of Krakow winter travel and the best things to do during this season.
An ideal time to go to Krakow is during the winter in December, when the streets are illuminated with Christmas lights and there is a holiday market in the Main Square. Christmas is a huge deal here in Poland, and the transformation that the city goes through for the holidays is definitely something you don’t want to miss.
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This megamall is great for getting out of the cold and spending an hour or two shopping. If you go during Christmastime, this mall is decked out in holiday decorations, including a huge tree right outside of the main entrance to get you into the seasonal spirit. This mall is conveniently connected to the main train station, has an Orange store where you can get a reasonably-priced Polish SIM card, and a large Carrefour supermarket on the upper level if you need to pick up some snacks en-route.
It’s a bit touristy (ok a lot), but the Krakow Christmas market held in the Main Square has its own charm. There’s plenty of good food and drink in the form of grilled meat, roasted nuts, spiced warm wine, decorated gingerbread, and piles of pierogi. There are also non-edible items that make great presents and include painted pottery, handcrafted ornaments, and wooden trinkets.
Make sure to check out the Kraków szopka, which are impressive homemade nativity scenes that feature historical buildings throughout Krakow as the backdrops. The Christmas market starts on November 26th and typically goes until right after Christmas.
Traditional Polish Food
Polish food is the perfect winter food with its hearty carb and meat-heavy dishes. Duck into restaurants like Szalone Widelce, which has cozy underground seating (one of my favorite things about Krakow is all the subterranean restaurants, cafes and bars), where you can indulge in dishes like pork knuckles or pierogi. If you want something a bit more casual, opt for some comfort food at a milk bar like Bar Mleczny Pod Temidą, where you order cafeteria-style from an extensive menu and pay budget prices.
Here’s a few traditional Polish dishes that are ideal for winter:
- barszcz czerwony (red borscht)
- bigos (hunter’s stew)
- golabki (cabbage rolls with meat and rice)
- pierogi z miesem (dumplings with meat)
- pierogi Ruskie (dumplings with potato, onion and cheese)
- pierogi z kapusta i grzybami (dumplings with cabbage and mushrooms)
Krakow is known for its cafe culture and wintertime is a great time to spend a few hours sipping on a hot drink, whether it’s rich hot chocolate or a fruit tea. Cafes also serve alcohol, especially at night. In Poland, people like to linger in cafes, and the best thing is that you will not feel rushed by the servers. Most cafes that serve food are sit-down service, where you order at your table and the food will be brought out to you. Here’s a few cafes in and around the Main Square:
- Café Camelot has excellent food (go for their brunch), along with a funky interior, and some of the best fruit tea made with real fruit.
- Cafe Botanica – true to its name there are plants a plenty including a tree in the middle of the interior. Great for grabbing a drink, or a panini.
- Nowa Prowincja – this spot is known for its excellent hot chocolate and you can easily spend a few hours in their cozy upstairs space.
Krakow has no shortage of spots to get a drink, from cozy pubs where you can order hot beer to tiny vodka bars that have vodka of every flavor imaginable. In and around the Main Square is where you’ll find plenty of great bars, though a lot of them cater to tourist. If you want a more local atmosphere, head to Kazimierz, a 15-minute walk from the city center where you can find plenty of bars and cafes to get a drink or two around New Square (Plac Nowy).
Whatever you do, make sure to try a szarlotka (apple pie), which is Zubrowka (bison grass vodka) and apple juice mixed together and taste like dessert.
Here’s a few spots to grab a drink around town:
- Wodka Cafe Bar – a tiny spot that boasts an impressive selection of flavored-vodkas and where you can sample vodka with shot flights.
- Buddha Drink and Garden Bar – has a relaxing outdoor area with couches and strong cocktails.
- Singer – a cozy bar that has a Singer sewing machine at every table and a fire to warm you up on cold winter nights.
- Alchemia – a long-time local favorite with quirk decor, good drinks, live music, and a full menu.
Massolit Books and Cafe
On a cold winter day, this bookstore is a great spot to spend an afternoon browsing the floor-to-ceiling shelves. There is a spacious back room behind the register where you can enjoy a cup of coffee and a pastry, or you can wander through the rooms and check out the impressive collection of English-language books on a wide range of subjects, including Eastern European authors.
Kino Pod Baranami
Located behind a large unassuming wooden door right on the Main Square, this independent theater shows a handful of movies each night, some of them in English. It’s mostly Polish and International independent films, but there is also the odd blockbuster as well. The theaters are small and intimate, and are perfect for a cold winter’s night.
How cold will it be in Krakow during the winter?
Very cold. Maybe it’s because I’m coming from a sunny, mild California winter, but it feels like that cold that goes right to your bones. It starts to really cool down in the beginning of November, and will probably start snowing in mid/late November- December. January and February is when it will snow the most, although prices will be good, it’s definitely not good travel weather.
Here are the temperature averages for winter and winter-adjacent months:
- November 32-45 degrees F
- December 36-26 degrees F
- January 24-35 degrees F
- February 38-25 degrees F
- March 36-40 degrees F
Getting Around Krakow
Krakow’s city center is easy to navigate, and has the Main Square, train station, bus station, and airport shuttle all within walking distance of each other. Public transportation is convenient with a network of trams, and buses if you want to travel outside of the city center. The trams and buses run on a regular schedule between 5:00am-11:00pm, with night buses running less frequently. Tickets with English instructions can be bought at major stops, and not all of them take bills so keep some change on hand.
Use this helpful website to help get from point A to point B on Krakow’s public transportation.
Where To Stay In Krakow During The Winter
Krakow is a walking city, but during the wintertime one of the most important things to plan for your trip is to find centrally located lodging. The closer you are to the Main Square, the better.
Holiday Inn Krakow City Centre
Right in the heart of the city center, this luxury hotel is in a great location being right across the street from the Old Town, and a short distance to popular sights like Wawel Castle. There are two restaurants available on-site, which offers breakfast for an additional fee. Rooms are modern and have all the creature comforts of home.
Radission Blu Hotel
This five-star hotel is conveniently located steps from the Old Town, and the Planty, the city park that surrounds the Main Square. An airport shuttle is available, that brings guests to their departure gates with a quick 20-minute ride. Friendly staff, a well-stocked restaurant/bar, and spotless rooms make a memorable stay.
A quick walk from the Main Square and Wawel Castle, this beautiful luxury 5-star hotel blends historical and modern decor effortlessly, and provides amenities like an indoor pool located in an underground vault. On property there’s a restaurant/bar, a full-service spa, and rooftop terrace for guest to enjoy.
Are you a fan of Krakow winter travel?