If you’re looking for a festive shopping experience that wouldn’t look out of place in a seasonal snow-globe, be sure to explore a seasonal cluster of Krakow Christmas markets. Set among the beautiful Baroque buildings and Gothic spires, Krakow has a distinctly ‘Olde Worlde’ feel to it, made all the more special by the almost-guaranteed blanket of snow that covers everything in the winter months.
While the Christmas markets in Krakow might be smaller than some you’ll find in other European cities, what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in spirit. The city’s laid-back pace makes this market a pleasure to explore and it’s an easy way to spend a day. Browse the stalls, sample the food, and even jingle your bells with a ride in a horse-drawn carriage. As good for families as it is for romantic couples, this is an ideal destination for a fabulously festive winter break.
A tree-mendous market
The Christmas markets are officially opened each year in late November, with the lighting of its gigantic Christmas tree. This tradition dates back for centuries, to the era when the city was a notable, international trading hub for many European countries. Today, it still has something of an international appeal and is attended by both locals and visitors alike.
With almost 1,000 Christmas trees covered in tinsel, baubles and lights and nearly 100 kiosks selling food, gifts and sweet-spiced mulled wine, it’s no wonder that the Krakow Christmas markets have been consistently voted as one of the top 10 in the world.
The market is a treasure-trove of traditional Polish gifts along with stunning creations from local artists and artisans. You’ll find everything from clothing and jewellery, to ceramics and items made from glass, all sold from little wooden chalet-style huts. While most of the stalls are outside, there are a few in the Cloth Hall, which tend to be the ones you can buy delicious food and drink from.
Anyone with even a passing interest in the local cuisine will find their nostrils twitching at any of the Krakow Christmas markets. Enter the Cloth Hall and you’ll find the air awash with a heady cocktail of scents, from sizzling sausages and handmade pastries. If you’re feeling the cold, warm yourself up with a portion of pierogi, Poland’s national dish. Dough wrapped around a variety of sweet fillings, pierogi is surprisingly rich so you’ll only need one or two to keep you fuelled up to hunt out some Christmas bargains.
Cheese and dumplings are a savoury speciality and you can wash yours down with some of the local cherry vodka or a warming cup of wine infused with spices. While you’re there, take a seat and enjoy the live choir music that echoes around the hall.
In addition to stalls, food and live entertainment, the Krakow Christmas markets have their own unique parades. Known as ‘Szopki’, this is a parade of Christmas cribs, which have been painstakingly made by locals of all ages. You’ll find astonishing re-creations of many of the city’s religious buildings, many of which are over six feet in height. If you miss the parade, don’t panic: the entire collection of Christmas cribs is exhibited in Market Square, before the winners are declared and the triumphant entries take pride of place in the city’s Historical Museum.
However, Szopki isn’t the only festive spectacle throughout December, there are various events to watch or take part in, such as the procession of carol singers, the age-old tradition of the breaking and sharing of holy wafers by the Archbishop of Krakow and Majchrowski, and an evening show inspired by the works of the city’s most famous poet and dramatist, Adam Mickiewicz.
Have you been to Krakow at Christmas before? Or can you recommend any other christmas market city breaks? Let us know in the comments below.