Krakow is beautiful to visit any time 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 borscht. 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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Top Winter Activities in Krakow
This megamall is great for getting out of the cold and spending an hour or two shopping. If you go during Christmastime, the interior is decked out in holiday decorations, including a huge tree right outside of the main entrance to get you into the seasonal spirit. Take a break at Costa Coffee on the first level that serves up warm drinks and a variety of small bites.
Additional notes: the mall is conveniently connected to the main train station Kraków Główny, 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.
Krakow Christmas Market
It’s a bit touristy (ok a lot), but the Krakow Christmas Market held in the Main Square has its own charm and is a must if you’re visiting during December. 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.
The Krakow Christmas Market starts on November 26th and typically goes until right after Christmas.
Make sure to check out the Christmas Cribs Exhibition (Szopki Krakowskie) located in the Celestat (Museum of Krakow) from December to February following the annual competition. These impressive homemade nativity scenes are housed in historical Krakow buildings.
Go Ice Skating
There are a few notable ice skating rinks around town, including the conveniently located one right outside of Galeria Krakowska that appears in mid-December and stays around until the end of February. Another option is the Ice Rink in Jordan Park, just west of Old Town. It features three separate areas: the spacious main rink, an ice alley, and a separate area for children. A bit further from the center of town in Nowa Huta, there’s NCK Ice Rink that’s located right outside of Nowa Huta’s cultural center.
Visit a Museum
During the colder months, spending a few hours in a museum is always a good idea. The National Museum in Krakow is the largest museum in Poland featuring Polish artwork, including modern Polish art. The Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow (MOCAK) is a great place to take in some contemporary Polish art.
Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory is an interesting place to visit and learn about the bravery of one man during World War II. One of my favorite museums is the Galicia Jewish Museum in the historic Jewish district of Kazimierz, where you witness powerful photos of Jewish culture in an area of the city that has seen so much heartbreak.
Eat Traditional Polish Food
Polish food is the perfect winter food with its hearty carb and meat 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 Pod Temidą, where you order cafeteria-style from an extensive menu and pay budget prices.
Here are a few traditional Polish dishes that are ideal for winter:
- barszcz czerwony (red borscht)
- zupa grzybowa (mushroom soup)
- 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)
Warm Up in Cozy Cafes
One of my favorite things about traveling during a Krakow winter is the cafe culture, where you can 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.
Check out this post for more places to eat in Krakow.
Linger in Lively Bars
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.
Pop Into a Bookstore
On a cold winter day, Massolit Books and Cafe 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.
Jarden is a small bookstore located in Kazimierz and has English-language books on Jewish culture as well as Klezmer music for sale. An added bonus is the knowledgable and helpful staff.
Watch a Movie
Located behind a large unassuming wooden door right on the Main Square, Kino Pod Baranami 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, perfect for a cold Krakow winter’s night.
Ars Cinema is also a great place to catch a film in Old Town. It’s the oldest working cinema house in the city and showcases its films in five different rooms that ooze history and charm. Some films are shown in English with Polish subtitles.
Make a Trip to the Tatra Mountains
For prime skiing, take a bus to popular winter ski areas like Zakopane and Białka Tatrzańska. The trip itself takes around 2 hours in the winter due to weather conditions and traffic (especially on the weekends). Most of the ski resorts in Zakopane have smaller slopes, but Kasprowy Wierch, has black diamonds for advanced skiers. The winter season starts around late November. There are frequent buses that leave from Krakow’s Main Bus Station to the mountains.
Krakow Winter Temperatures
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 at the beginning of November, and will probably start snowing in mid/late November- December. January and February are when it will snow the most, although prices will be good, it’s the heart of winter.
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
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 5:00 am-11:00 pm, 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
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.
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 offer breakfast for an additional fee. Rooms are modern and have all the creature comforts of home.
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?
Photo source: Ars Cinema