10 Things to Do in Krakow in Winter

If the winter cold makes you doubt whether it's worth visiting Kraków at this time of year, you should know that it's always a good idea to travel to Kraków, and its winter offers a range of activities that will make you forget about the cold weather.

Joaquín Montaño

Joaquín Montaño

9 min read

10 Things to Do in Krakow in Winter

Winter landscape in Krakow | ©Arek Olek

Travelling to Croatia always means having the opportunity to discover all the attractions that are to be found in its streets, even in winter. Although the low temperatures make it difficult to feel comfortable in the streets and the short daylight hours make it necessary to plan each day very well, Kraków takes on a special beauty at this time of year and offers its visitors activities that they will never forget.

1. Feel like a child at the Christmas Market

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

If there is one winter activity in Kraków that you should not miss, it is the Christmas Market on the Rynek Glówny or Market Square. The square is impressive for its beauty and monuments (not for nothing is it one of the places you will visit if you book a tour of the old town) and takes on a unique dimension when the Christmas market is held here.

The main attractions of the market, which is held from the end of November to the beginning of January, are as follows:

  • Its numerous huts where artisans sell all kinds of products, from Christmas decorations (such as the popular balls for the trees) to wooden handicrafts.
  • Its truly spectacular food stalls, which fill up almost hourly. I advise you to forget the cold and dare to have lunch or dinner there one day.
  • The stalls selling the country's traditional hot drinks, both wine and beer.
  • The Market Square itself, which becomes more than ever the meeting point of Krakow's citizens.
  • Groups of children singing Christmas carols, around the stalls and near some of Krakow's finest churches.

Book a tour of the Old Town

2. Bid farewell to the year like a Kraków resident and go pub crawling

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

If you're in Krakow on 31 December, you can't miss out on celebrating the end 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 is the venue for free concerts by some of the country's most famous singers. When the bells of St. Mary's Basilica ring in the New Year, a fabulous fireworks display begins. Afterwards, the party continues all night long.

Book a pub crawl in Kraków

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 city's nativity scenes have earned them the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage designation. A fun activity while touring Krakow's Old Town is to look for the places where they are set up.

On the first Thursday in December they are displayed on the Market Square and then placed around the city, often next to monuments. For example, the one in front of St. Joseph's Catholic Church, next to the Jewish ghetto. If you are visiting the area, don't 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 attract your attention because they are very different from the Spanish ones: instead of representing a nativity scene, the ones in Kraków 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

Barbed wire surrounds the entire concentration camp.| ©Tomas Forgac
Barbed wire surrounds the entire concentration camp.| ©Tomas Forgac

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

As well as being able to see the ravages of winter at the concentration camp, if you go to Auschwitz on 27 January you can witness the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust, when some of the Auschwitz survivors take part, a wreath is laid and a prayer is said in memory of the victims.

For more information, I recommend you 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 Kraków's inhabitants is skating on one of the ice rinks around the city. If you enjoy this activity or just want to have fun, don't hesitate to rent some skates and join children and adults alike.

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

The price for skating is very cheap, although you will have to rent equipment 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 Kraków, at the foot of the Tatra Mountains and within the Tatra National Park, which Poland shares with Slovakia, lies Zakopane, a small town nicknamed the "winter capital of Poland".

This trip to Zakopane and the Tatra Mountains is perfect for winter sports enthusiasts, especially skiing, and for those who want to see a smaller town surrounded by big 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're planning to spend a night in the mountain village, the most practical way is by public transport. There are many bus lines leaving from the Krakow bus station to this destination, starting at around 6:30 in the morning. You can also travel by train, although the frequency is less frequent.
  • On the other hand, if you only want a day trip, excursions to Zakopane are the most appropriate option. You don't have to worry about transport schedules and 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 all over Poland, Zapusty or Tłusty Czwartek (which could be translated as 'Fat Thursday') has a special following in Kraków. This festival, which takes place on the last Thursday before Lent**, is basically all-you-can-eat.

One of the most popular dishes on this gluttonous day is pączek, a kind of stuffed doughnut. If you happen to be in Kraków, you may be surprised to see long queues in front of the pastry shops, which is due to this celebration. According to legend, if you don't eat at least one on this day, you 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 will find some with other fillings.

Book a food tour of the Jewish Quarter

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

Sipping wine in Kraków| ©MIRO!
Sipping wine in Kraków| ©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 try in summer, are extremely popular with Kraków's inhabitants:

  • If you see a sign reading grzane wino, it's a sign that they have wine.
  • 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 ingredients such as sugar, orange peel, cloves and cinnamon to the drink and then heat it on the fire without boiling.

If you prefer something more common to warm you up, you should try Kraków's hot chocolate. One of the best places for a good hot chocolate is the Wawel café inside the castle. If you are on a guided tour of the Wawel Castle, I recommend you take a short break to order one.

Book a beer tour in Kraków

9. Start Lent with herring night and vodka

Herring.| ©ambasada_sledzia
Herring.| ©ambasada_sledzia

Another winter celebration related to gastronomy is Śledzik or Herring Night. If your stay coincides with the beginning of Lent (usually at the beginning of March) and the end of the winter holidays, you cannot miss this festival.

According to the Catholic mandate, the period of Lent should be marked by abstinence from alcohol and certain foods. For this reason, in Krakow they have decided to enjoy all these foods just the day before the prohibition begins.

Although the meals on this day are all copious, there is one ingredient that cannot be missed and which 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 city's pubs.

Book a vodka tour of Kraków

10. Say goodbye to winter with the Marzanna drowning

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

It's curious that in a country where the Catholic Church retains a strong influence, the ritual of bidding farewell to winter and welcoming spring is eminently pagan. In any case, if you are lucky enough to be in Kraków in the third week of March, you must take part in this tradition.

To bid farewell to winter, the inhabitants of Kraków carry a female figure, the Marzanna, down to the river. She is a representation of the goddess of winter and her fate is to be thrown into the water after being burned.

The reason for the ritual is to leave behind the evils of the cold season and to 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 colourful and joyful welcome of spring makes this one of the liveliest celebrations of the season.

Weather in Krakow in winter

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

Winter in Kraków is characterised by cold weather, both day and night. The differences between the months are not noticeable, as the highs in December, January and February are the same, around 3°C, while the lows are between -4°C and -6°C.

However, these are not overly rainy months, which is a welcome sight when visiting a city. Of course, precipitation often comes in the form of snow.

What you should keep in mind is the hours of daylight. Throughout the winter it gets dark very early, to the point that at the end of December darkness begins to fall before 16:00.

What to pack for a trip to Krakow in winter

Preparing your luggage| ©Ketut Subiyanto
Preparing your luggage| ©Ketut Subiyanto

The winter weather in Kraków means you'll need to pack a few essentials to avoid being uncomfortable and to withstand any possible snowfall:

  • Footwear: look for good boots with soles that won't slip in the event of snowfall. Bear in mind that the danger arises when ice patches form on the ground. Don't forget to wear thick wool socks either.
  • 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. It's worth looking for a good quality one, as it can make all the difference.
  • Trousers: Personally, I managed in the Kraków winter with jeans, but many people find them unsuitable. It might be more effective to get a pair of winter hiking trousers to be on the safe side.
  • Gloves, hat and scarf: don't forget to buy these items to complete your luggage either.