Discover why you should consider spending Christmas in Krakow
Are you looking for the perfect city in which to spend Christmas? This may not be an easy choice, especially if you are travelling alone.
Solo travel can be lonely at the best of times, but with its focus on sharing festive cheer with family and friends, Christmas can be a particularly tough time to travel alone. To keep loneliness at bay, you need to make sure that your Christmas break destination has plenty to occupy you.
Many cities in Europe, including my hometown of London, shut down on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and beyond. Trust me; the last thing that you want to greet you is a city that has no public transport over the festive period and firmly shut museum and restaurant doors.
Therefore, it pays to do your homework before you book that flight or train ticket.
Hot on the heels of a successful festive break in Vienna, the following year I took the plunge again by spending Christmas in Krakow.
With its enchanting city centre, rich history and dining places galore, Krakow is a superb destination at any time of year. But at Christmas, it is transformed into a sparkling, festive wonderland and one that is well and truly open for business.
To convince you, here are six reasons for spending Christmas in Krakow. To help you make the most of your time there, at the end of the article I’ve recommended some great places to stay and eat in Kraków and tips on how to get around and away from the city.
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Why You Should Spend Christmas in Krakow, Poland
Krakow is open for business on Christmas Day and Boxing Day
To me, this is the most important reason for spending Christmas in Krakow. Even if there are other compelling reasons to visit a city over Christmas, if its transport isn’t running or its restaurants are closed you could be stuck.
This is not the case with Krakow. Its historic city centre is lively on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, its transport system is running and many of its restaurants open.
That said that, don’t expect much to be happening on Christmas Eve from 2 pm as this is when Polish people celebrate Christmas. However, I arrived in Krakow late on Christmas Eve and managed to grab a bite to eat in the hotel restaurant. There are a handful of other restaurants open on Christmas Eve, although some close early to allow staff to enjoy their Christmas meal with family and friends.
Whilst not all restaurants will be open on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, I didn’t struggle to find somewhere to eat, and you can always refuel at one of the city’s Christmas markets. And that’s not a hardship!
Krakow is a beautiful city
Let’s face it. You want your Christmas break to be something a little bit special, and Krakow’s fairy-tale town quality will tick that box.
As the capital of the General Government during the German occupation, unlike many Polish cities, Kraków made it through World War II with barely a scratch.
Picture a perfectly preserved historic centre featuring majestic squares lined with Gothic and Renaissance buildings. Add to this horses pulling carriages, clip-clopping across its cobblestones, and you’ll have the measure of the place.
Exploring Krakow at Christmas: Bonus tips
To get your bearings, I suggest you start off by taking a free walking tour of Krakow’s historic heart. I did this on Christmas Day!
Although there is plenty to keep you occupied within the city itself, it is easy to take day trips from Krakow over the festive period. I visited the Wieliczka Salt Mine on Boxing Day and visited Auschwitz a few days later.
I used Get Your Guide to identify day trips to Auschwitz. In my experience, they are reliable, offer a good selection of tours and you can cancel up to 24 hours before your excursion for a full refund.
To shop and dine at Krakow’s Christmas markets
One of the very best reasons to spend Christmas in Krakow is to visit its lively Christmas market, amongst Europe’s best and the jewel in the city’s festive crown.
This temporary village is a riot of colour, with its traditional wooden stalls offering brightly coloured local crafts. Hand-crafted ceramics, sparkly jewellery, delicately painted baubles or local gingerbread … the choice is yours.
When you are feeling peckish – and the aromas filling the crisp air will make it hard to stop your tummy from rumbling – stop by one of the stalls for a bite to eat.
Traditional Cracovian Christmas Market food includes grilled oscypek (local mountain cheese), grilled Polish sausages and, my favourite, pierogi (Polish dumplings). Finish off your market meal with hot waffles dripping in chocolate, washed down with mulled wine.
For seasonal snowfall
To me, few things spell Christmas than breathing in icy-crisp air and feeling snowflakes graze against your cheek.
What could be more magical than a light dusting of snow cloaking Wawel Castle?
Krakow is a relatively cheap destination
Krakow’s charms don’t come at inflated prices. Far from it. For me, one of the best things about Kraków is that it hasn’t sold its soul to tourism.
Thanks to its large student population – 200,000 at the last count – things are kept real. Away from the more touristy bars and restaurants, you can tuck into a meal for 15 PLN (under £3) washed down with a glass of craft beer for 5 PLN.
To feast on winter-warming food
If you like winter-warming, inexpensive food in cosy restaurants and cafes, you’ve come to the right city.
Here are a few places that I can recommend (all prices as of December 2018):
Pierogarnia Krakowiacy (Szewska 23)
For cheap and delicious pierogi, this cosy, old-fashioned cafe has deservedly garnered plaudits from foodies.
Take a seat, check out the small menu and order at the counter. You will be given a ticket and, when your number is called, you collect your dish.
I paid 25 PLN for a plate of Ruskie Pierogi and a beer.
Klimaty Poludniul (Św. Gertrudy 5)
I visited this friendly restaurant on the outskirts of the old town on Boxing day. A more upmarket experience than Pierogarnia Krakowiacy, it serves food with an Italian emphasis and I savoured the best glass of Primitivo I have ever tasted (and I have sampled quite a few!).
Cafe Camelot (Świętego Tomasza 17)
This cafe tucked in a side street behind Market Square serves great coffee and food from breakfast through to dinner. I recommend their hot honey vodka!
Cukiernia Cichowsky (Starowiślna 21)
If you are walking between the old town and Kazimierz, stop off here for deliciously sinful cake and coffee.
Planning your Christmas Trip to Krakow
Getting your hands on a good guidebook to help you to plan your trip to Krakow and to explore the city and its surroundings whilst you are there, is a smart move. I recommend this Lonely Planet Pocket Krakow guide.
Best Places To Stay in Krakow for the Christmas Market
There is no shortage of places to stay in Kraków, accommodating all budgets. Here are a few options.
Mercure Stare Miasto – I stayed at this comfortable 4-star chain hotel, conveniently located opposite the train station and 10 minutes’ walk from the Market Square. Highly recommended.
Here are some alternatives that I have found that may suit other budgets:
Balthazar Design Hotel – In the heart of the old town, close to Wawel Castle, this boutique has garnered rave reviews.
EWM Kopernika 8.3 – Market Square & Old Town – This centrally-located apartment looks like a fantastic budget choice. It has the bonus of a garden area for outdoor dining.
How to Get to Krakow
Getting from Krakow airport to the centre of the city is easy, thanks to a great rail connection.
Frequent trains run from the train station at the airport to its central station (Główny). A one-way ticket will set you back 12 PLN (as of August 2021) and the 16km journey takes just over 15 minutes.
You can buy your ticket from the machines on the platform or from one of the conductors on board.
There are also rail connections to other major European cities.
Getting Around Krakow
Due to its compact size, the old city is walkable.
If you need to go further afield or your accommodation is not centrally located, take a tram.
Krakow’s tram network is modern and efficient. Ticket machines are at tram stops.
Why You Should Spending Christmas in Krakow
Krakow is a perfect destination to visit at Christmas, particularly as a solo traveller. It is inexpensive by European standards, a joy to walk around, many of its restaurants are open for business and public transport is operational on both Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
Krakow is home to one of the best Christmas markets in Europe and there is more than enough to keep you occupied. Cosy restaurants and cafes are easy places to hang out whilst savouring traditional Polish cuisine.
If you are nervous about taking a Christmas break as a solo traveller, I completely understand. I too was uncertain about spending Christmas away from family and friends. But having now taken a solo festive break twice I would do so again without hesitation.