10 Things to Do in Krakow in Winter

If the cold of winter makes you doubt whether it is worth visiting Krakow at that time of the year, keep in mind that it is always a good idea to travel to this city and, in addition, its winter offers a series of activities that will make you forget the low temperatures.

Joaquín Montaño

Joaquín Montaño

9 min read

10 Things to Do in Krakow in Winter

Winter landscape in Krakow | ©Arek Olek

Traveling to Croatia always means having the opportunity to get to know all the attractions it treasures in its streets, even in winter. Although the low temperatures do not help to feel comfortable in the streets and the reduced daylight hours force to plan very well each day, Krakow acquires a special beauty at this time of the year and offers its visitors activities that they will never forget.

1. Feel like a kid at the Christmas Market

Wroclaw Market Square| ©Hrs Poland
Wroclaw Market Square| ©Hrs Poland

If there is one winter activity in Krakow that you cannot miss, it is a visit to the Christmas Market on the Rynek Glówny or Market Square. The square impresses with its beauty and monuments (not in vain is one of the places you will visit if you book a tour of the old part of the city) and takes on a unique dimension when the Christmas market is installed there.

The main attractions of the market, which is held from late November to early January, are the following:

  • Its numerous huts where artisans sell products of all kinds, from Christmas decorations (such as the popular balls for the trees), to wooden crafts.
  • Its food stalls, really spectacular, which are filled almost every hour. I advise you to forget the cold and dare to have lunch or dinner one day.
  • The stalls selling the traditional hot drinks of the country, both wine and beer.
  • The Market Square itself, which becomes more than ever the meeting point for the citizens of Krakow.
  • The groups of children singing Christmas carols, around the stalls and near some of the best churches in Krakow.

Book a tour of the Old Town

2. Say goodbye to the year like a Krakow resident and go pub crawling

Market Square in Winter| ©Tomasz Bobrzynski
Market Square in Winter| ©Tomasz Bobrzynski

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 is to go to the Market Square.

This place organizes free concerts offered 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.

Book a pub crawl in Krakow

3. Take part in the search for Krakow's nativity scenes.

Krakow Nativity Scenes| ©Rafael Wagner
Krakow Nativity Scenes| ©Rafael Wagner

The beauty and uniqueness of the typical cribs of the city has made Unesco named them Intangible Heritage. A fun activity while taking a tour of the old town of Krakow is to go looking for the places where they are installed.

On the first Thursday of December they are exhibited in the Market Square and then placed around the city, often next to monuments. For example, the one in front of the Catholic church of St. Joseph, 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. Some of them are also taken to the Ethnographic Museum.

These nativity scenes, called szopka, will catch your attention because they 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.

Book a tour of the old town

4. Visit Auschwitz in the harshness of winter

The barbed wire fences surround the entire concentration camp.| ©Tomas Forgac
The barbed wire fences surround the entire concentration camp.| ©Tomas Forgac

About 90 kilometers from Krakow lies one of the most horrific historical sites in Europe: the Auschwitz concentration camp. If you book an excursion to Auschwitz from Krakow in winter, you can see how the prisoners' already miserable living conditions were made even worse by the cold and snow.

Besides being able to see the ravages of winter in the concentration camp, if you go to Auschwitz on January 27 you can witness the events that take place on the occasion of the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust, in which some of the survivors of Auschwitz participate, a wreath is laid and a prayer is said in memory of the victims.

If you want more information, I recommend you to read the following posts:

Book a tour to Auschwitz

5. Go ice skating

Ice skating| ©RichardBH
Ice skating| ©RichardBH

One of the most popular wintertime traditions among the inhabitants of Krakow is to go skating on one of the ice rinks that are installed in the city. If you like this activity or just want to have fun, don't hesitate to rent some skates and join children and adults.

During the winter you will find ice skating rinks located in:

The price for skating is very cheap, although you will have to rent the material to enjoy the activity and, in some locations, you will find areas where you can have a glass of wine or a warm beer and a bite to eat.

Book a tour of the old town

6. Come to Zakopane, the winter capital of Poland.

Zakopane| ©Maksym Kozlenko
Zakopane| ©Maksym Kozlenko

Just a couple of hours from Krakow, at the foot of the Tatra Mountains and within the national park of the same name that Poland shares with Slovakia, lies Zakopane, a small town nicknamed the "winter capital of Poland".

This excursion to Zakopane and the Tatra Mountain s is perfect for lovers of winter sports, especially skiing, and for those who want to see a smaller town surrounded by large mountains. In winter, there is also a huge labyrinth made of solid ice.

How to get to Zakopane from Krakow

There are basically two options for getting to Zakopane:

  • If you plan to spend a night in this mountain village, the most practical way is by public transport. From the bus station in Krakow there are many bus lines with 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, the excursions to Zakopane are the most appropriate option. With them you will not have to worry about transport schedules and, in addition, the guide will take you directly to the most interesting places. You can also book an excursion to Zakopane with tickets to the thermal pool.

Book your tour to Zakopane

7. Join (albeit carefully) the Tlusty Czwartek

Eating Pączek| ©freestocks.org
Eating Pączek| ©freestocks.org

Although celebrated throughout Poland, Zapusty or Tłusty Czwartek (which could be translated as "Fat Thursday") has a special following in Krakow. This holiday, which takes place on the last Thursday before Lent**, is basically all-you-can-eat.

One of the dishes that tends to be most popular on this gluttonous day is pączek, a kind of stuffed doughnut. If you are in Krakow you may be surprised to see long lines in front of the pastry shops, something that is due to this celebration. According to legend, if someone does not eat at least one during that day, he will live a whole year of bad luck.

The sweet, which should definitely be on the best gastronomic tours, is really delicious and the most traditional ones are filled with jam. Nowadays, however, you are going to find some with other types of fillings.

Book a gastronomic tour of the Jewish Quarter

8. Forget the cold with wine and warm beer (without leaving the chocolate)

Drinking wine in Krakow| ©MIRO!
Drinking wine in Krakow| ©MIRO!

As soon as the temperatures start to drop, the city's bars start offering mulled wine and beer to their customers. These drinks, which you won't be able to taste in summer, are extremely popular among Krakow's inhabitants:

  • If you see a sign that says grzane wino, it's a sign that they have wine.
  • If the sign reads grzane piwo, it will be beer that stars in 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.

If you prefer something more common to warm you should try Krakow's hot chocolate. One of the best places to taste a good chocolate is the Wawel café, inside the castle. If you are taking a guided tour of the Wawel Castle I recommend that you make a small stop to order one.

Book the beer tour in Krakow

9. Start Lent with herring night and typical vodka

Herring.| ©ambasada_sledzia
Herring.| ©ambasada_sledzia

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 cannot miss this feast.

According to the Catholic mandate, the period of Lent should be marked by abstinence from alcohol and some 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 in one of the pubs in the city.

Book a vodka tour of Krakow

10. Say goodbye to winter with the Marzanna drowning

Farewell to Winter, the Marzanna| ©Emily
Farewell to Winter, the Marzanna| ©Emily

It is curious that in a country where the Catholic Church retains a strong influence, the ritual of saying goodbye to winter and welcoming 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. It 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. The procession goes through the streets on its way to the river while the participants sing traditional songs. The colorfulness and joy of welcoming spring make this festival one of the liveliest of the season.

Weather in Krakow in winter

Winter in Krakow| ©Roman Boyko
Winter in Krakow| ©Roman Boyko

Winter in Krakow is characterized by cold, both day and night. The differences in the different months are not appreciable, since the maximum temperatures in December, January and February are the same, around 3º C, while the minimum temperatures are between -4º C and -6º C.

However, they are not too 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

Preparing Luggage| ©Ketut Subiyanto
Preparing Luggage| ©Ketut Subiyanto

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 will 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.