Traveling to Croatia always means having the opportunity to know all the attractions that it treasures in its streets, from its old town to the Jewish quarter, without forgetting the Wawel castle or the excursions that can be made in its surroundings.
However, it is always considered that winter is not the best time to visit the city. Certainly, the low temperatures do not help to feel comfortable in the streets and the reduced daylight hours make it necessary to plan each day very well. However, Krakow acquires a special beauty and offers its visitors activities that they will never forget.
1. Dare to skate on ice
One of the most popular traditions among the inhabitants of Krakow during the winter is to go skating on one of the ice rinks that have been installed in the city since the beginning of December. If you like this activity or just want to have fun, do not hesitate to rent skates and join children and adults.
The best known rinks are the ones set up in the shopping malls. The most central one is located in the Krakowska Gallery, next to the train and bus stations that you will know if you have arrived from the airport by public transport or visited the salt mines on your own.
Its opening hours are the same as those of the shopping gallery and next to the runway you will find an area where you can have a glass of wine or a warm beer and a bite to eat. In the same area there is a changing room and a place to rent skates.
Another place where a skating rink is usually open is in the Jewish quarter, specifically in the Kazimierz Gallery.
Finally, you can go to the Park Ice located in the Błonia meadow, where the rink is open from December to March.
The price for skating is very cheap, although you will have to rent the material to enjoy the activity.
2. Feel like a child at the Christmas Market
If there is one winter activity in Krakow that you can't miss, it is the Christmas Market. Although you can find some small ones in various squares of the city, none can compare to the one in the Market Square, the Rynek Glówny.
The square, which already impresses with its beauty and monuments, takes on a unique dimension when the Christmas market is installed at the end of November and lasts until its dismantling at the end of December or early January.
The main attraction of the market are the numerous huts where artisans sell all kinds of products, from Christmas decorations (such as the popular balls for the trees) to wooden handicrafts.
On the other hand, the square becomes more than ever the meeting point for the citizens of Krakow. Its food stalls, really spectacular, are filled almost every hour and it becomes difficult to order something from them. Even so, I advise you to forget the cold and dare to have lunch or dinner one day in them.
In the market you can not miss the stalls selling the traditional hot drinks of the country, both wine and beer.
Around the stalls, near some of the best churches in Krakow, there are often stages where groups of children sing Christmas carols.
3. The search for cribs in Krakow
The beauty and uniqueness of the typical cribs of the city has made Unesco has named them Intangible Heritage. A fun activity while walking around Krakow is to look for the places where they are installed, often next to monuments.
These nativity scenes, called szopka, are very different from the Spanish ones. Instead of representing a nativity scene, the ones in Krakow are small buildings that reproduce some elements of the city's architecture.
One that particularly caught my attention was the one in front of St. Joseph's Catholic Church, next to the Jewish ghetto. If you are visiting the area, do not hesitate to go to the square where the church is located to see it.
Every year, in addition, a contest is held to choose the best nativity scene in the city. On the first Thursday of December they are exhibited in the Market Square and then placed in their places around the city. Some are also taken to the Ethnographic Museum.
4. Bid farewell to the new year as a Krakow resident.
If you are in Krakow on December 31, you can't miss celebrating the farewell of the year. There is a party in practically every pub and bar in the city, but the most traditional thing to do is to go to the Market Square.
Here, free concerts are organized by some of the most famous singers in the country. When the bells of the Basilica of Santa Maria mark the beginning of the new year, a fabulous fireworks display begins. Afterwards, the party continues all night long.
5. Visit Auschwitz in the harshness of winter
About 90 kilometers from Krakow is one of the most horrible historical places in Europe: the Auschwitz concentration camp (or, rather, concentration camps, as there are several in the area). If you go there in winter you can see how the already miserable living conditions of the prisoners were made even worse by the cold and snow.
Although it is possible to get to Auschwitz from Krakow on your own, it is best to do it with a guide. In winter, when the camp closes its gates much earlier (as you will see in this article about visiting hours) it is even more convenient to hire an excursion from Krakow.
In addition to being able to see the ravages of winter at the concentration camp, if you go to Auschwitz in late January you can witness the events taking place on the occasion of the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust.
On January 27 each year (the anniversary of the liberation of the camp by Soviet troops in 1945) an event takes place with the participation of some of those who survived Auschwitz. A wreath is also laid and a prayer is said in memory of the victims.
6. Join (albeit carefully) the Tlusty Czwartek
Although celebrated throughout Poland, Zapusty or Tłusty Czwartek (which could be translated as "Fatty Thursday") has a special following in Krakow. This holiday, which takes place on the last Thursday before Lent, basically consists of eating as much as you can. I encourage you to join in, but without having to lie down afterwards to recover from your intake.
One of the dishes that tends to be most popular on this day of gluttony is pączek, a kind of stuffed doughnut. If you are in Krakow you may be surprised to see large queues in front of the pastry shops, something that is due to this celebration.
The sweet, which may not appear in the best gastronomic tours, is really delicious and the most traditional ones are filled with jam. Nowadays, however, you will find some with other fillings.
The more restrained are content to eat just one, but it is not strange that some do not stop until they have consumed 4 or 5 of these sweets.
Another reason why you should join the celebration is the legend that exists about this type of candy. According to the legend, if someone does not eat at least one during that day, he/she will live a whole year of bad luck.
7. Forget the cold with wine and warm beer (not to mention chocolate)
Are you getting cold during your trip to Krakow? If the answer is yes, which would be normal, there are some drinks that can help you. As soon as the temperatures start to drop, as early as the end of September, the city's bars start offering mulled wine and beer to their customers.
These drinks, which you won't be able to try in summer, are tremendously popular among Krakow's inhabitants. If you see a sign reading grzane wino, it is a sign that they have wine, while if the sign reads grzane piwo, it is beer that is the star of the recipe.
The preparation is quite similar in both cases. Just add to the drink ingredients such as sugar, orange peel, cloves and cinnamon and then heat it on the fire without boiling.
Although these varieties may seem strange in Spain, I assure you that just by holding the glass in your hands you start to feel a pleasant warmth and, in addition, the result is delicious.
If you prefer something more common to warm you should try the Krakow hot chocolate. Like the previous drinks, this one is very easy to find in any bar, café or flea market. One of the best places to taste a good chocolate is the Wawel café, inside the castle of the same name. If you are visiting the complex I recommend that you make a small stop to order one.
8. Start Lent with Herring Night or Śledzik
Another winter celebration related to gastronomy is the Śledzik or Herring Night. In case your stay coincides with the beginning of Lent (usually at the beginning of March) and with the end of the winter vacations you can't miss to participate in this feast.
According to the Catholic mandate, the period of Lent should be marked by abstinence from alcohol and certain foods. For that reason, in Krakow they have decided to enjoy all those foods just the day before the prohibition begins.
Although the meals on that day are all copious, there is one ingredient that cannot be missed and that gives its name to the celebration: herring.
If you want to follow the tradition to the letter you should have a slice of herring accompanied by a glass of vodka. Curiously, the most popular place to follow the custom is not in restaurants, but in the large number of pubs in the city.
9. Say goodbye to winter with the Marzanna drowning
It is curious that in a country where the Catholic church retains a great influence, the ritual of farewell to winter and welcome to spring is eminently pagan. In any case, if you are fortunate enough to be in Krakow in the third week of March you have to be part of this tradition.
To bid farewell to winter, the inhabitants of Krakow carry a female figure, the Marzanna, to the river. She is the representation of the goddess of winter and her destiny is to be thrown into the water after being burned.
The reason for the ritual is none other than to leave behind the evils of the cold season and allow spring and good weather to return.
Normally, it is the youngest and the school children who enjoy this celebration the most. Along with them usually march local folklore groups and, finally, all those who want to participate in the party.
The procession goes through the streets on its way to the river while the participants sing traditional songs. The colorful and joyful celebration of spring makes this festival one of the most lively of the season.
10. Get closer to Zakopane, the winter capital of Poland
Just a couple of hours from Krakow (depending on traffic) is Zakopane, a small town nicknamed the "winter capital of Poland". This excursion is perfect for winter sports enthusiasts, especially skiing, but also worthwhile for those who want to see a smaller town surrounded by big mountains.
Zakopane is located at the foot of the Tatra Mountain s and within the national park of the same name that Poland shares with Slovakia.
The town is a regular visit for many inhabitants of Krakow. In winter they go to enjoy the ski slopes of the nearby resort of Zakopane, while in summer they come to enjoy some interesting nature trails.
In addition to the ski slopes, the town offers a number of other attractions that make it really interesting. In winter, for example, a huge labyrinth made of solid ice is installed.
On the other hand, its main street always presents a great atmosphere, with people strolling, eating in its restaurants or shopping in the stores. For those who prefer something more cultural, the village is home to an interesting wooden church, houses with sloping roofs built in the so-called "Zakopane style" and a beautiful cemetery worth visiting.
How to get to Zakopane from Krakow
There are basically two options to get to Zakopane: by public transport or on an organized tour. Choosing one will depend on the type of visit you want to make.
If you plan to spend a night in this mountain village, the most practical way is to go by public transport. Many bus lines depart from the Krakow bus station to this destination, starting around 6:30 in the morning. You can also go by train, although the frequency is lower.
On the other hand, if you only want to make a one-day visit, organized tours are the most appropriate option. With them you will not have to worry about transportation schedules and, in addition, the guide will take you directly to the most interesting points.
Weather in Krakow in winter
The quick summary is very simple: winter in Krakow is characterized by cold, both during the day and at night. The differences in the different months are not appreciable, as the maximum temperatures in December and February are the same, around 3°C, while the minimum temperatures are -4°C and -5°C respectively.
January is not a big change either, with an average maximum of 1º C and -6º C when talking about the minimums.
However, these are not overly rainy months, something that is appreciated when visiting a city. Of course, on many occasions precipitation comes in the form of snow.
What you should take into account are the daylight hours. Throughout the winter it gets dark very early, to the point that at the end of December darkness begins to fall before 16:00 hours.
What to bring in your luggage to go to Krakow in winter
The winter weather in Krakow makes it necessary to bring some essential items to avoid being uncomfortable and to withstand any possible snowfall:
- Footwear: look for good boots with soles that do not slip in case of snowfall. Keep in mind that the danger arises when ice sheets form on the ground. Do not forget to wear thick wool socks.
- Underwear: the best option is to buy some thermal clothing to insulate you as much as possible from the cold. Don't just wear T-shirts, but also leggings for your legs.
- Coat: opt for a good fleece if you can. Of course, it is worth looking for a quality one, as it can make all the difference.
- Pants: personally, I managed in the winter in Krakow with jeans, but many people consider them inappropriate. It may be more effective to get a pair of winter mountain pants to be on the safe side.
- Gloves, hat and scarf: don't forget to buy these items to complete your luggage.