Of course, Krakow's offer is not limited to its establishments. The capital of the Lesser Poland Voivodeship will surprise you with its gems, including the splendid Market Square and the amazing salt mine located a few kilometers from the Old Town.
1. Take a break from traditional coffee shops
Visiting Northern Europe in winter is an excellent way to understand local customs and traditions. In Poland, for example, people like to spend their afternoons in cafes drinking hot chocolate or a cup of tea, perhaps with a slice of cake on the side.
In Krakow, the café culture dates back to the 19th century when the city was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Viennese-style establishments were frequented by the intellectual elite. This custom survived communism and is still alive today. If you are interested in gastronomy, I recommend you to read the post about the best restaurants in Krakow.
In Krakow there are dozens of bars where you can warm up after a walk through the center. Read on, we have prepared a small list with the best options available:
Opened in 1910, Café Noworolski has witnessed Krakow's most important historical landmarks. The young Lenin used to read newspapers in its art nouveau salons and during World War II it was used as headquarters by German troops. If you close your eyes you can imagine a picture of the Polish city during the Belle Époque.
- Address: ul. Rynek Glowny 1 Sukiennice,
- Recommended for a slice of cake overlooking the Main Square and St. Mary's Basilica.
The favorite place of poets and composers. It is worth a stop at Nowa Prowincja for its thick hot chocolate. You can also opt for a glass of spiced wine.
- Address: Bracka 3, do 5
- Recommended for dessert lovers. Besides chocolate, Nowa Prowincja is known for its lemon meringue pie, szarlotka (apple pie) and cheesecake.
The oldest café in Krakow. The Jama Michalika was founded in 1895, its cafe still offers a traditional menu covering all meals of the day, from breakfast to dinner. Although it is frequented by many tourists, it remains a must stop.
- Address: ul. Florianska 45, Krakow
- Recommended for lovers of Modernism. It was in this very establishment that the Młoda Polska, the Art Nouveau movement in Poland, was born. Leading artists of the time placed their creations on the walls.
2. Celebrate the New Year at the Market Square
New Year's Eve is one of the most important party nights in Krakow. On this date, the heart of the celebrations is the Market Square (Rynek Glowny) which for the occasion hosts a laser screen and a free music festival with both national and international artists. The concert usually starts at 20:30 and ends at midnight.
If you don't want to get cold, you can wait for the New Year in a restaurant. Most establishments have a New Year's Eve menu that concludes at midnight with a glass of champagne. Among the outstanding options, we can mention the Wierzyneky Restaurant (which offers dishes prepared by the Polish royal court) and the elegant Miod Malina.
If you feel like letting off steam on the slopes, you have nothing to worry about - the center of Krakow is full of nightlife! Some of the most coveted options are the Cuban Theater, the Alchemia and the Propaganda Pub. Please note that most bars and clubs operate on a reservation basis. On New Year's Eve you will need to book in advance. Tickets usually go on sale in early November.
3. Explore the depths of the earth in the Wieliczka Mine
About 14 km southeast of Krakow is the Wieliczka salt mines, one of the most popular attractions in the country. It is a subway labyrinth of tunnels and chambers distributed over nine levels that has attracted tourists since the mid-19th century. Nicolaus Copernicus, Fryderyk Chopin and Goethe succumbed to its charms, but they were not the only ones.
According to a recent survey, the inhabitants of Krakow indicated that their favorite attraction is the Wieliczka salt mine itself. In the belly of the earth, the temperature is almost always constant, so a visit in January is a good idea.
In the belly of the earth you will see landscapes that cannot be found on the surface: salt lakes and beautiful subway chambers, including the unique St. Kinga's Chapel. The world's largest church built underground is 101 meters deep and is made exclusively of rock salt.
This place of worship is dedicated to St. Kinga, the patron saint of miners. Tomasz Markowski sculpted the main altar whose panels show the figures of St. Joseph, St. Clement and St. Kinga. The Polish artist also sculpted the side altars depicting Herod's decree, the massacre of the innocents and a statue of the Virgin of Lourdes.
The site is located about twenty minutes from Krakow and can be easily reached by bus or train. However, if you would like to explore the Wieliczka mine , it is preferable to book an organized tour. In this way, an expert guide will accompany you all the way, explaining the most important historical anecdotes. For more information, please refer to the article How to get to the Wieliczka Salt Mines from Krakow.
4. Head to Krzysztofory Palace and enjoy the szopki
One of the most typical Christmas traditions in Krakow is the creation of szopki, unique Christmas cribs. Instead of representing a typical picture with a grotto, the ox, the donkey and the family of Jesus, these constructions are inspired by the local palaces and churches and often contain the figures of important Polish personalities. Usually wood or plywood is used to build the szopki, while the smaller parts are usually made of cardboard.
The szopki first appeared in the 13th century and initially served as portable decorations for the jaselka, a medieval puppet theater. Over time, these plays began to be used for political satire so much so that in the 18th century they were banned. Fortunately, after a century they were brought out of oblivion.
Today, Cracovians compete with each other to create the most beautiful szopki. If you feel like seeing their creations, the Krzysztofory Palace hosts the best of them. The exhibition starts at the beginning of December and ends at the end of February.
5. Admire Krakow from a different perspective
When temperatures drop, there is a good alternative to see the city's monuments in the cold. Naturally we are talking about a boat ride that will give you the opportunity to see the skyline of Krakow from comfortable seats. The cruises depart from the river port of bulwar Czerwieński and after an hour on the waters of the Vistula, they return to the starting point. On the way you will be able to see the following attractions:
- Skalka, a Baroque church in the vicinity of the Kazimierz district.
- Wawel Hill with its castle and cathedral.
- The Monastery of the Norbertine Sisters, the largest religious complex in Krakow. If you are interested in religious architecture, I recommend the post about the 10 churches in Krakow that you have to visit.
- The Cricoteka Museum, an art documentation center founded by Tadeusz Kantor in 1980.
- Dębniki, a peaceful neighborhood on the banks of the Vistula.
- The futuristic Manggha Museum housing an immense collection of Japanese art.
- Kosciuszko Mound, an artificial hill commemorating the national hero Tadeusz Koszciuszko.
6. Test yourself on the slopes of Zakopane
In recent years, Poland has become a popular destination for lovers of the discipline. Resorts and slopes have improved a lot and the price of a day pass is not even half of what you would pay in Austria or France. Forget the long alpine and Pyrenean slopes, here they tend to be shorter but this weakness can become a strength, especially if you are learning to ski.
If you are staying in Krakow, the nearest destination is Zakopane, a town in the foothills of the Tatra Mountains. The first travelers began arriving in the late 18th century, and the construction of a railroad in 1898 accelerated the conversion of this small mountain town into a renowned tourist destination.
Today, Zakopane is the winter capital of Poland and has three ski areas: Kasprowy Wierch (high alpine skiing 3 km from the center), Nosal (with a slope for Special Slalom and Giant Slalom) and Gubalowka Hill. After a day in the snow, you can go shopping on Krupowki street or try a typical grzaniec, mulled wine with spices and honey.
Zakopane is about 85 km from Krakow, so it is possible to arrive in the morning and return in the afternoon. If you feel like spending a day in the mountains, it is preferable to choose an organized excursion. For more details, I advise you to read the article The best tours and excursions from Krakow.
7. Treat yourself to a night at the theater
The Juliusz Słowacki Theater was opened in 1893 and is located in the central Świętego Ducha Square. Designed by Jan Zawiejski, it is one of the most valuable examples of theater architecture in Europe. On the exteriors, you will appreciate its eclectic style that fuses neo-Renaissance and neo-Baroque elements while the interiors are decorated with frescoes by Viennese artist Anton Tuch. Not for nothing has it been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1978.
Tours inside are only available in the summer months but, if you travel to the Polish city in January, you can discover it by buying a ticket to the site. The program is very varied and ranges from traditional to avant-garde shows. If you are interested, you can find all the performances on their official website. I recommend you to buy your tickets well in advance. Spending a night at the theater is the ideal way to take shelter from the January cold.
8. Mingle with the locals at the ice rinks
Krakow's ice rinks open in mid-December and close at the end of February. The main one is erected every year in Blonia Park, a vast 48-hectare meadow between the Old Town and the Park dedicated to the Polish philanthropist Henryk Jordan. The best ice rink in Krakow has a large 1,200-meter rink, a 360-meter ice path and a space for children to learn how to skate.
Outside the center, you can opt for the skating rink located right in front of the Nowa Huta Cultural Center. It has an area of 23 x 35 meters and is open from December 1 until the end of February. At both rinks, you can rent skates and helmets on site. You will also find bars and food trucks with food and hot drinks.
9. Enjoy a carriage ride
When snow covers trees and meadows, nature acquires a magical touch. In the surroundings of Krakow, the forests turn white every winter and a good way to enjoy these landscapes is with a ride in a horse-drawn carriage. An interesting option is the Ojców National Park, the smallest natural area in the country and yet one of the best.
This territory is characterized by steep slopes, rock formations and, above all, 400 caves. The horseback riding excursions start from a rural house and touch the most beautiful spots of the National Park, such as the ruins of the Kazimierz castle. At the end of the ride, most experiences end with a bonfire where kielbasa, Polish sausages flavored with garlic, juniper and marjoram, are roasted.
The walks last about an hour and prices depend on the number of people in the group. These tours are very popular with tourists and locals, so the organizers speak English and, in some cases, other languages as well. Some tours also organize transfers between Krakow and Ojców National Park.
These tours are also available in other seasons: just change the carriage skates for wheels! If you are interested in excursions in the warmer months, I advise you to read the post 10 things to do in Krakow in summer.
10. Warm up like a real lumberjack
Are you familiar with axe throwing? Axe throwing is a sport in which the competitor throws an axe at a target. The discipline was born across the pond and the first to be cemented were the Canadians. Today, the practice has crossed the ocean and Poland is one of the European countries with the longest tradition.
In Krakow, the place where axe throwing is practiced is called Axe Nation and was born from the intuition of three enthusiasts: Kacper Jurasz, Karolina Pach and Tomek Pietraszko. The establishment is located at 46 Grodzka Street, a five-minute walk from the central Market Square.
Axe Nation was born in 2016 and since then hosts a league that follows the original Canadian rules. The establishment is housed in a 13th century basement and has three halls and five courts. Upon entering, a coach will explain the basic rules of the sport and give you some helpful tips on how to properly throw the weapons.
What to pack for a visit to Krakow in January
January is usually the coldest month of the year. During the day, the temperature is around 0º while at night it can easily reach -7º/-10º. So what should you pack? First of all, it is best to dress in layers. Since you will have to walk a bit, take a warm sweater, a heavy jacket and a winter hat. Keep in mind that it could snow, so it is advisable to wear waterproof clothing. For more info, I recommend you to read the post 10 things to do in Krakow in winter.
Alternative plans to protect yourself from the cold in January
Visiting a museum is always a recommended option. If you like airplanes, on the outskirts of Krakow is the Museum of Polish Aviation (Al. Jana Pawła II 39), a must stop for any enthusiast. Closer to the center, another recommended option is MOCAK, Krakow's museum of contemporary art. Founded in 2011 in the post-industrial district of Zablocie, it has become the city's main center of contemporary culture and is visited by more than 120,000 people every year.