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A Festive Guide to the Christmas Market in Krakow

A Festive Guide to the Christmas Market in Krakow

If you are wondering whether to visit the Krakow Christmas Market this year, the answer is yes! If you want to get into the spirit of Christmas, sample traditional Polish delicacies, buy hand-made Christmas gifts and maybe even see a sprinkling of snow, the Christmas Market in Krakow is the place to be. In fact, visitors have voted it one of the best Christmas markets in Poland.

In this festive guide, you will find out precisely what it is like to be in Poland at Christmas and what there is to do, see, eat, buy and drink at the Krakow Christmas Market.

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people walking around the Christmas market in Krakow in the market square with a backdrop of the historic cloth hall.

Is Krakow worth visiting at Christmas?

Krakow is a wonderful city to visit at any time of the year, and it comes alive with festive cheer when the Krakow Christmas market arrives in Market Square. Wooden chalets offer delicious foods like pierogi (filled dumplings), warming soups, grilled cow’s cheese and mulled wine (grzaniec).

Stallholders welcome you to buy gifts such as Christmas baubles, wooden toys, hand-made gloves and scarves, jewellery, traditional gingerbread, and chocolate.

Horse-drawn carriages make their way around Krakow’s Old Town, delighting everyone who sees them, and restaurants around the Market Square deck their outdoor undercover seating areas with Christmas trees and heaters so guests can enjoy dining comfortably.

Time your visit carefully if you want to see the Krakow Christmas tree alight. We missed it as we left the day before switching on, which isn’t until the first Saturday in December.

Nevertheless, as dusk arrives and the lights of the wooden Christmas market huts illuminate the square, the atmosphere is enchanting.  So, yes, the Christmas market in Krakow is worth visiting.

horse and carriage in front of the Krakow Christmas Market.

Krakow Christmas Market Dates

Christmas in Krakow arrives with the opening of the festive market on 24 November 2023, which will be held until 1 January 2024, in the 13th-century Old Town Market Square (Rynek Główny).

The market reduces in size after Boxing Day, December 26th, so it is best to visit in the weeks leading up to Christmas. The mayor turns on the city’s Christmas tree on the first Saturday in December in Krakow, creating the perfect festive atmosphere.

The festive market stalls open around 10 am and close around 9 pm, depending on demand.

How to get from London to Krakow at Christmas

The Unesco-listed city of Krakow is located in southern Poland, close to the Slovakian border. With its beautifully preserved historic centre, it’s one of the most visited destinations in the country.

Visiting Krakow at Christmas is easy with a London to Krakow 2-hour flight from Gatwick. In fact, you could visit Krakow in one day if you were short on time and just wanted to see the markets without visiting any of the historic sites and fly home again the same day.

Regular flights out of Gatwick with Easyjet (2 hours) or from Stanstead with Ryanair (2 hours 20 minutes) or Jet2 from northern cities like Birmingham and Manchester (2 hours 40 minutes) make visiting the Krakow Christmas markets a great option for a weekend getaway or, as I did, a 3-night Krakow city break.

Getting from Krakow airport to the city centre

Once you have landed at John Paul II International Airport, the journey by private taxi to your hotel takes approximately 30 minutes. I use Welcome Pickups for all my airport transfers.

If you’re heading from Kraków Airport to Kraków Głowny railway station, the train service operates from 5 am to 10:30 pm. Trains usually run every 30 to 60 minutes, but they can be a bit less frequent in winter. The journey itself is quick, taking around 20 minutes. 

Three bus routes (208, 252 and 902 – a night bus) also run from Kraków Airport to the city centre.

christmas market stalls with tinsel and fairy lights in Krakow.

Hotels near Krakow Christmas Market

Krakow is full of beautiful places to stay, and during my 3-nights in Krakow, I chose to stay in a new hotel called The Grand that had only opened in August 2023.

The Crown is a 10-15 minute walk from the market square, which was perfect for us as it was quieter than hotels around the main Christmas hub. It was opposite a tram stop, perfect for getting to other parts of Krakow, such as the Jewish Quarter.

The tastefully renovated hotel was in an Art Deco style. The rooms were beautiful, with sumptuous linens, a comfortable bed and a stylish bathroom.

You can find booking details here for The Crown, Krakow.

If you prefer to be at the centre of the Christmas action, one of the best places to stay in Krakow Old Town is the Venetian House Apartment in the market square.

PURO is a popular hotel chain in Poland, and they have one in Krakow – Puro Kraków Stare Miasto. I have stayed in the Puro in Gdansk and can say it was lovely, so I imagine this one will live up to the brand’s reputation.

For a five-star luxury stay, book into the Sheraton Grand at the foot of Wawel Castle, a short walk away from the Christmas market.

What to wear in December in Krakow

Krakow in winter is cold so be sure to wrap up well with multiple layers and a good hat, scarf and gloves. I had a superb pair of Arctic gloves that I had actually bought when I visited Tromso in the summer. It seemed mad buying them with the sun shining, but I am glad I did, as they served their purpose in Krakow.

On our visit to Poland at Christmas, the temperature got down to -8 at the beginning of December, and it snowed. In fact, when we were on the plane heading home from Krakow, we were delayed because the aircraft had to be de-iced with anti-freeze. Winter in Krakow can get even colder – in December 2022, the temperature dipped to -15!

Krakow is a walkable city, but please make sure to wear footwear with good grip as it is very slippery underfoot if it has been snowing and the low temperatures have produced black ice. You might end up walking along like a penguin to ensure you don’t slip over (and yes, I am speaking from experience!).

Is there a Christmas ice skating rink in Krakow?

There is an ice skating rink in Krakow, but it is not by the Christmas market. It will be at Park Jordana opening on 1st December.

Is Krakow expensive?

Compared to prices in the United Kingdom, Poland is a cheap place to visit. You may be paying slightly over the odds to buy souvenirs and food at the Christmas markets than if you wandered away from the main square, but hey, you are on holiday, and it’s Christmas!

Krakow hotels are reasonably priced, and so is public transport. I paid the equivalent of 75p for a 15-minute tram journey to the Jewish Quarter. We also stumbled across a Michelin-star restaurant, Zakladka Bistro, and had a fabulous meal with drinks for a total of £60 – I would expect to pay that for one dish at a Michelin restaurant in the UK!

Christmas lights and tinsel drapped on the outdoor covered restaurant areas in Krakow.

Krakow Christmas Market Food

If you have never eaten Polish food, trying different dishes at a Polish Christmas market is a good place to start. There is something to suit all palates, from savoury to sweet dishes alongside wines and beers.

Pierogi

I have previously visited the Gdansk Christmas market and had pierogi there, so I knew what to expect. These homemade dumplings have mainly savoury fillings like lamb, spinach, and cheese and can sometimes also be filled with fruit like blueberries.

To be honest, I am not the greatest fan of pierogi. If they are cooked well, they are delicious, but I have had them when they are swimming in grease and quite soggy, so have a look at what you are buying before you order them. There are a few pierogi vendors at the Christmas market, and one of them sold lovely blueberry-filled dumplings.

You can buy either 3, 6, or 12 pierogi and mix them, which is a great way to try a few different ones. Between us, we tried the lamb, spinach and cheese, cheese and potato and blueberry pierogi. Winning favourites were the lamb and blueberry.

plate of pierogi with backdrop of Krakow Christmas Market.

Hot Soup

It was not until I visited the Krakow Xmas market that I realised soup was such a big thing in Poland. I guess it’s a staple food in the cold winter weather, and as it was snowing when we arrived, I decided to try a mug of soup.

Many flavours are available, including tomato, onion, beetroot, mushroom, and borscht soup made with meat stock, vegetables, and seasonings. I chose the slow-cooked Bigos (hunter’s soup), with pork, kielbasa (sausage), and sauerkraut (fermented cabbage), which had a subtle taste, not overpowering and very filling. A cupful cost 30 zloty (£6).

Meat Stalls

As Poland is a country of meat lovers, stalls serve Polish Kielbasa (chunky sausages with herbs and spices), pork knuckles and kebabs with side dishes like mushrooms, onions and chips.

meat stall in Krakow.

Pajda (open grilled sandwich)

An open grilled sandwich might not seem a particularly exciting food to eat at the Christmas market; however, top it with smalec (lard and spices – yes, lard!) or garlic butter, then add onions, mushrooms, meat and pickles, and you suddenly have a tasty snack.

Several Christmas food stalls were selling this, and by the length of the queues, it is a popular dish, just a bit difficult to eat when you are walking around the market.

Bread and smoked meat, in general, seem to be popular foods at Christmas markets in Poland.

bread on shelves on a market stall in Krakow.

Smoked Cheese

Much like the Polish ‘oscypek’ sheep’s cheese, made high in the Tatra mountains and sold only until October each year, smoked cow’s cheese is a favourite of locals at the Christmas market in Krakow.

Eaten cold or grilled to perfection on an elaborate antique grill, the cheese can be eaten on its own or wrapped in ham or bacon.

Fruit Crumble

One of my favourite winter desserts at home is apple crumble and custard, so I couldn’t resist trying Krakow’s cherry crumble with custard, and it was delicious!

Nalesnicki (Polish crepes)

Nalesnicki are crepes filled with jam or chocolate Nutella, and they are delicious. Sugared churros are also available.

Polish Pastries

Poland certainly knows how to make delicious pastries, from filled doughnuts and croissants to sweet pies, and I tasted quite a few, so I can back up my claim!

From pistachio cream-filled croissants to rose-flavoured jam doughnuts and sweet apple and cinnamon pies, it’s hard to choose which ones to try!

pastries laid out on a tray.
Angie holding up an iced donut covered with rose petals.

Grzaniec (Polish spiced mulled wine)

Whether you are at a Copenhagen Christmas Market or one of Germany’s many festive towns, you will smell the fruity aroma of mulled wine lingering in the air, and Krakow is no exception.

Heated red wine, sugar and spices make grzaniec a must-have winter warmer at Krakow’s Christmas market.

If you have been to other European Christmas markets, you may have bought a souvenir cup for your mulled wine. I didn’t see any of these in Krakow, so be prepared to be served your grzaniec in a simple paper cup.

The ingredients to make Grzaniec at home are:

  • One bottle of red wine (Cabernet or Merlot)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • Five teaspoons cloves, partially crushed
  • One cinnamon stick
  • One leaf bay leaf, cracked in half
Angie holding a cup of mulled wine in Krakow Christmas Market.

Polish Souvenirs to buy at the Krakow Christmas Market

Krakow’s Christmas market is the perfect place to stock up on souvenirs and Christmas gifts. Market stalls and shops in the market square and nearby have some lovely items you may not have seen elsewhere on your travels.

Polish Sweets

You can’t go home without picking up some Polish goodies. Gingerbread shapes, candy sticks, artisan chocolates, nougat and marzipan sweets are mouthwatering and well worth buying as a Christmas souvenir or to enjoy while you are on your Christmas market break.

baskets of sweets.
sweets on a christmas stall in Krakow.

Christmas Decorations and Ornaments

I am a sucker for a ceramic Santa or tree bauble and found plenty to choose from in Krakow. In addition to the Christmas stalls, there are a few ceramic shops just off the market square if you don’t mind paying a little bit more for a quality item.

Wooden Rolling Pins and Spoons

I love these Polish wooden rolling pins and spoons as I haven’t seen them at any other market I have visited. Intricate embossed designs make them a joy to use when making homemade biscuits. These are the perfect stocking fillers to take home with you.

wooden embossed rolling pins and wooden spoons.

Traditional Clothing and Gifts

From traditionally embroidered blouses, flower head garlands, men’s ties and hand-crafted jewellery, there are plenty of traditional gifts to take home as souvenirs.

traditional clothing and gifts on a market stall in Krakow.

Amber Jewellery

Amber jewellery is everywhere in Krakow, and while several Christmas market stalls sell amber, there are quite a few more sellers inside the Cloth Hall.

No matter which one of the Polish cities you visit, you will see amber on sale. This is because the Baltics were covered with pine forests, and amber resin is a product of pine trees.

Polish Christmas ornaments

Christmas market stalls are a treasure trove of festive trinkets; one thing is for sure: you won’t be leaving empty-handed. Matryoshka stacking dolls, knitted and ceramic gnomes and glass Christmas tree baubles are popular to buy as souvenirs.

You will notice green dragons around town in the form of ornaments, cuddly toys and featured on clothing. Krakow legend tells of a fire-breathing dragon that lived beneath Wawel Castle. If you have ever visited Ljubljana in Slovenia, you will be familiar with stories of Balkan city dragons!

stall with toys and gifts in Krakow.

How long should I spend in Krakow at Christmas?

There is only one market in Krakow, unlike other European Christmas market destinations, which have numerous stalls set up in different areas of the city. It isn’t overly big, so you can see it all in an hour or so. This means you could actually visit Krakow in a day if you aren’t interested in seeing the historic sights.

If you want to combine your trip to the Christmas market with seeing the city’s historic landmarks, I would recommend spending three days in Krakow.

It is best to visit during the week as weekends get extremely busy. We arrived on Tuesday and left on Friday. We noticed that the market and surrounding streets got very busy on Friday with tourists arriving for the weekend. During the week, it was quieter and great for sightseeing without queues.

Nevertheless, Krakow at Christmas is a destination that is worth visiting. I would suggest staying for a few days, allowing you to visit Krakow’s historic landmarks. These include Wawel Castle and Cathedral, the Jewish Quarter and Ghetto, Wieliczka Salt Mine, Auschwitz concentration camp, and Krakow’s beautiful churches.

What else can I see close to the Christmas Market?

Rynek Glowny is one of the largest medieval squares in Europe and is home to several of Poland’s historic buildings.

St Mary’s Basilica

The twin-towered basilica of St Mary’s is the centrepiece of Krakow’s main square. Illuminated after dusk, the main feature lies inside the church. The high altar is a feast for the eyes, and if you get there at 6 pm, you will see the altar being closed up for the night. It’s impressive and worth paying the small entrance fee of 15 zloty for adults / 8 zloty for children to get up close to the altar.

You’re not hearing things if the sound of a bugle from on high suddenly rings through the air. The bugle tower comes alive to the sound of a trumpeter on the hour, every hour, four times in succession in each of the four cardinal directions. Catch it if you can from below, or tour the bugle tower when it is open in the warmer months.

Eros Bendato Sculpture

See the hollow bronze sculpture known simply as “The Head”, depicting the Greek God of Love, Eros, in bandages. He lays horizontally in the shadow of Krakow’s town hall tower.

Steel sculpture of a horizontal Eros head.

Town Hall Clock Tower

You can’t miss the 14th-century Gothic town hall tower, which stands 70 metres tall. If you want a birds-eye view across the market square, you can buy tickets to climb to the tower’s top floor, where you will find an observation deck.

Clock tower in Krakow main square.

Church of St. Wojciech

The 11th-century church of St. Wojciech is Krakow’s oldest church and one of the oldest stone churches in Poland. It sits to the side of the market square and looks almost lost against the other buildings around it.

small church with a green roof.

Cloth Hall

cloth hall in Krakow with a brown brick building with Gothic entrance arches and ornate roof.

Stroll through the cloth hall to enjoy even more stalls selling Polish souvenirs. Under the Gothic arches, you will find restaurants and shops. Here, you will also be able to enter the Rynek Underground Museum, housing artefacts and displays telling the story of Krakow in the Middle Ages.

During Christmas, look out for the decorative Szopka Krakowska / Nativity Scenes that are placed in shopfront windows.

These brightly coloured foil creations are part of an annual Christmas competition in Krakow. The models vary in size and are really very good. I spotted about five during my trip to Krakow, so keep your eyes peeled.

Final Thoughts on Visiting the Krakow Christmas Market

There is nothing better to get you into the Christmas spirit than visiting a festive market, and I thoroughly enjoyed visiting Krakow in December.

While this Christmas market is nice and sells some lovely pieces, it is not as big as I expected, and we saw everything quickly. That said, I had wanted to visit Krakow for a long time to learn more about the city’s history and see its landmark attractions, and I did just that.

If you were only coming to Krakow for the Christmas market, I would probably say visiting one in Germany or Scandinavia would be better, as they tend to have several Christmas markets spread around the city. However, it soon becomes apparent that most stalls sell the same thing, so consider that.

I would give Krakow a thumbs up for pricing, both to get here and to eat out in the city. I also like the friendly Polish people and the different cultural attractions on offer in the city. I will definitely consider returning to Poland next year to visit the Wroclaw Christmas market.

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