Krakow in winter time is becoming very popular for tourists looking for that little extra besides the usual winter sports opportunities. Snow laden Krakow presents a fairy tale image of white topped buildings and glistening trees reflecting the sunlight. It looks fantastic but what can you do during your break? Here are some suggestions on sights, activities and places to visit.
Krakow’s Christmas market is held on Rynek Square in the Old Town or city centre, the whole square is filled with quaint wooden stalls offering everything you can imagine. This tradition of the Christmas market first started before the 2nd World War then ceased under USSR rule to be re-instated in 1989 after the fall of communism. It commences in early December and continues until early January.
Apart from the usual souvenir sellers many artisans from the surrounding towns and cities bring their local specialities and wares to sell to the abundant amount of visitors during the Festive Season. Some of the more unusual artefacts on are sheepskin and cattle leather products, honey and gingerbread, intricate lace products and handmade carpentry utensils.
There are also food stalls serving regional winter recipes to combat the minus temperatures and another Polish speciality of mulled wine and beer served piping hot to keep out the winter chill while listening to Christmas carols being sung by groups of people dressed in traditional period clothing with candle lamps and chestnuts roasting.
The well-known carol of Away in a Manger comes to mind when you hear Szopki as they are nativity creations of Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus in his crib but in Polish style with bright colourful scenes of turrets and arches resembling the central building on Rynek called Sukiennice. They come in all different sizes and are displayed around the various monuments in Krakow. This tradition stems back to the Middle ages and the main exhibition is held in Celestat Exhibition Hall. Many of the interpretations of the traditional nativity scene as you may know it are absolutely amazing and adds to the spirit of Yuletide festive greetings.
Every winter ice skating rinks are set up, the main one being in Jordan Park, you can hire out the skates and spend an hour of fun trying stay on your feet. In recent times other seasonal ice rinks have appeared and Galleria Krakowska Shopping Mall has one on the square next to the train station and a little further from the city centre in the Nowa Huta area of Krakow which is an attraction in itself as Nowa Huta was created as a live, play, work project under the Russian regime after WWII with the workers accommodation separated by a green area the factory zone, a concept at that time proved successful and today a charming sightseeing tour.
Rynek the main square is lined with the Horse & Carriage operators ready to give you a tour of the city but in winter a visit to the nearby Ojców National Park and you can have a fantastic or even romantic sleigh ride in the snow filled countryside with the elegantly decorated horses and jingle bell your way through the forest.
Although nightlife in Krakow is vibrant all year round, winter time is a great time to explore the abundance of Krakow cellar bars and clubs. From cozy places to huge nightclubs for 2000 people Krakow has it all. If you are into craft beer, there are 2 microbreweries just around the Market Square, plus plenty of craft beer pubs. If wine is your thing, then you will surely enjoy mulled wine which you can try at one of many “barrel-kiosk” at the Main Market.
And last but not least- great Polish vodka. Specialist companies provide well organised vodka tasting activities tours plus cocktail making events (you might want to check Party Krakow if you’re planning a stag do in Krakow) . The arranged events include Guides and platters of drinking snacks to complete the experience.
Visitors to Krakow often take advantage the day trips to the nearby picturesque country-side and the breath-taking views of the Tatra and Pieniny Mountain ranges along with their respective national parks. The Tatra Mountains are home to Zakopane and a little further south the Pieniny Mountain range which is shared between Poland and Slovakia. Zakopane is the most well-known, popular and all year destination in Poland that Polish families flock to visit during the seasonal festivities and holidays. Poland’s highest city in altitude, at just over 11,000m has its origins with the highlander settlers from as far back as the 15th century with mining for copper, silver and gold and, of course, farming, one of the oldest ironworks established in the 19th century.
Nestled in the Tatra Mountains close to the Zakopianka River the city offers a wide variety of activities for visitors in the winter season. The journey from Krakow takes 90 minutes. After The Great War Zakopane became popular with artists, writers and poets who wished to find inspiration in the peace and quiet this mountain location provided. They resided in many of the Dom Kultury which are still there today and made available for tourist lodging although there are plenty of quality hotels that have been built to accommodate the ever increasing visitors.
Zakopane is abundant with museums and galleries populating the area, the Tatra Mountain Museum exhibiting the history and lives of the highland families, Zakopane has its own thermal spas and well-being centres to relax in after a full day’s skiing or snowboarding. Horse and olde worlde wooden sleigh carriages with a driver in highlander dress will be happy to take you on a tour If you are really adventurous there are some highlander dishes to try but not found in the more mainstream restaurants.
Zakopane is the Poland’s winter capital and the activities available go from downhill skiing or skiing tours, snowboarding, cross country ski trekking, snowmobiling, horse and husky sleigh tours, quad biking, snow shoe walking tours and the nation’s cherished sport of ski jumping.
All of these activities except ski jumping can be taken for short or longer periods according to your length of stay with all the equipment necessary if you don’t have your own. Let’s say that you could go skiing for the day even if your accommodation is in Krakow with the many companies offering package deals to suit.