Krakow is one of the most traditional yet vibrant Christmas Markets; a wonderful place to buy handmade festive decorations or unique gifts for family and friends.
Set within a beautiful historical city, the market has lots to offer visitors young and old, and offers the perfect escape from the commercialism of the modern Christmas. With mulled wine, songs and nativity plays, it’s almost impossible to leave Krakow without feeling a warm Yuletide glow. Here’s a guide to what’s on offer in both the market and the surrounding area.
Guide to the Christmas Market, Krakow
Set within the main square – the Rynek – and stretching into the covered Cloth Hall, Krakow Christmas Market has a quaint and old-fashioned appearance, almost reminiscent of medieval days. With all the stalls housed in wooden booths and enormous barrels dotted around where visitors can enjoy a drink of warming mulled wine, the market seems to transport you back in time to when life was simpler and strangers were considered as friends you hadn’t yet met.
The goods on sale range from Christmas decorations to handmade glass ornaments and everything in between. Jewellery, wooden toys (no iPods here!), leatherwork and sheepskin slippers are just some of the delights which can be found. Ornate Christmas wreaths, delicate tree decorations and one of a kind souvenirs can all be snapped up at the market.
One of the most striking features of the market is the wonderful aromas which waft around every corner and it would be a crime not to enjoy some of the authentic Christmas Polish food which is on offer. Sausages are very popular but these are no ordinary banger. An unexpected culinary delight there’s also a myriad of other dishes such as the unusual fried oscypek cheese, sauerkraut and the national dish, pierogi (dumplings stuffed with either sweet of savoury fillings including smoked cheese, black pudding, meat, cherry or cranberry).
Poland has lots of Christmas traditions – such as angels bringing the gifts rather than Santa Claus and animals being able to speak their mind after midnight on Christmas Eve. The market is no exception and there are a number of annual traditions which help to create the magical fairytale atmosphere Krakow is known for. The market opens with the presentation of a medieval coin but the real highlight takes place on the first Thursday of December when the crib competition takes place.
Locals create stunning replicas of local baroque and gothic churches and palaces from card and foil, some as tall as two metres in height, which are placed by the Mickewicz status in the morning for all to see. At lunchtime a trumpeter atop the tower on Mariacki Church signals the beginning of the procession and the nativity cribs are paraded around the square before heading to Krakow History Museum where the final judging takes place.
Other attractions in Krakow
Whilst the Christmas Market is an almost unrivalled draw, there are also many other things to do and places to see while you are in the area.
If you have some energy to burn off, climbing up to the top of Wawel Hill will provide you with the chance to look around Wawel Castle, which was the seat of Polish monarchy between the 11th and 16th century. With sarcophagi of past Polish kings, the castle has real national significance.
If you can squeeze a bit more out of your legs, you can climb up the narrow and winding stairs to the top of Cathedral Tower where the most famous bell in Poland lives. Legend says that if you touch it and make a wish it will come true! There are also clear panoramic views of the whole of Krakow from the tower, sweeping across Krakow and the Old Town as well as the Vistula River.
The Jagiellonian University in Krakow is another place worth including on any itinerary. One of the oldest universities in the world, the famous astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus studied there in 1491 and the actual instruments he used are still on display today. Pope John Paul II was another famous student who attended the university to study Polish literature.
For the more adventurous, it is possible to take an underground trip to Wieliczka salt mine, the oldest in Europe. A stunning and ethereal excursion, visitors can experience the sights of the salt caves….and even a salt ballroom! Finally, as a reward for braving the depths, there is a spa offering an array of relaxing and beauty treatments.
Hotels and Accommodation when visiting Krakow Christmas Market
The Old Town is by far the prettiest part of the city and also provides the best access to bars, restaurants and shops so is the most popular place to stay.
Hotel Monopol has a quirky appeal with a retro decor, but with a park which surrounds the building on all sides, wonderful service and great food with generous portions; it’s hardly surprising that it’s one of the area’s top choices.
Krakow is popular with visitors all year round which means that it caters for all tastes including backpackers looking for hostels to those looking for a more exclusive and upmarket experience. Therefore, anyone visiting the market can opt to make their stay cheap and cheerful or a truly luxurious experience.
Hotel Stary is undoubtedly one which falls into the latter category. A sumptuous 18th century mansion lying next to Market Square, it fuses old and new seamlessly. Guests can enjoy a swimming pool suite in the basement as well as a rooftop terrace, with suites that have every possible luxury.
For those on a tight budget (or simply wanting to save their cash to spend at the market!), Nathan’s Villa Hostel is a great choice. With private rooms as well as dormitories, it lies at the foot of Wawel Castle, putting it in a great location. And despite its low costs, it was nominated in the Lonely Planet guide for its wonderful facilities which have been described as comparable to a four star hotel!
Transport connections and getting to Krakow
Krakow is almost ridiculously easy to access, with the town centre just 45 minutes from Krakow Airport. Alternatively, visitors flying in to Katowice Airport can still reach Krakow in just 90 minutes. A number of airlines service both airports including Ryanair, Easyjet and Lufthansa.
From the airport, visitors can either take the train, taxi, private rental car or hop on either the number 192 or 208 buses that go directly to Krakow city centre.
If you decide to venture further afield, the train is a good way to explore but it is usually worth purchasing a first class ticket especially during busy times in order to avoid spending the journey in a draughty hallway!
No-one does Christmas quite like Poland and for a wonderful winter wonderland experience – snow is a real possibility! – take a trip to Krakow Christmas Market. With beautiful and unique gifts, glorious food and festive entertainment, you will be immersed in a whole world of Yuletide celebrations like you have never experienced before!