Sure, it’s chilly, but winter in Krakow can actually be quite pleasant. The streets and squares, covered with a white blanket of snow, are magical and unforgettable. And there are local experiences that are simply best enjoyed when it’s cold outside. So if you’ve resisted visiting Poland because of low temperatures, and even if you just really, really dislike cold weather, then this article is for you. As a local, I’ve happily survived more than one winter in Krakow, and I know how to warm up in our city so you don’t even notice the chill anymore.
Every year for the whole of December, there is a huge Christmas Market at the city’s Rynek Gówny, or Main Square. It is a place for admiring and buying handmade Krakow gifts, listening to the Christmas carols, and seeing beautiful winter decorations. It’s also a great place to eat and drink. Look for big brown barrels with the yellow sign reading “grzaniec galicyjski” (mulled wine) and grab a drink with the locals. This special winter wine is served hot, and is very aromatic due to the addition of honey and a mix of spices like cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom.
Winter is so chilly here that we’ve been forced to add to the regular hot wine already known in many other countries — and that something is hot beer. It is sold all over Krakow, but probably the best time to try it is while wandering around the Kazimierz district. In the very middle of this quarter you will find a relatively small market called the New Square (Plac Nowy), which is literally surrounded by pubs, clubs, and restaurants. My favourite one is Kolory (Colours), but you will find equally tasty hot beer at Alchemia or Singer.
Seems that we are quite devoted drinkers! (We do drink non-alcoholic beverages, too, but it seems when it’s time to warm up, there are a lot of boozy selections.) In many restaurants, you can order a strong honey drink or some vodka, which is often served at the end of the meal to aid digestion (plus stomach-warming). If you would rather drink than eat, the best place to step into is a liquor shop called Szambelan (Chamberlain) located at 9 Bracka Street, just a stone’s throw from the Main Square of Krakow. They have a huge selection of alcoholic tinctures made according to old Polish recipes. Also, you’ll be surprised by the number of different flavours and range of alcohol content (from 20% up to 50% spirit).
For abstainers and gourmands we have another great proposal: hot chocolate. The best hot choccolate in the heart of Krakow is at the Wedel chocolate fountain at 46 Main Square, or in the small café at Wawel Hill. There is also a great option in the Kazimierz quarter, where Satori Café at 25 Jozefa Street invites you to chill out and try some very thick and very tasty chocolate served with chili.
Soup is something Polish people always miss when they’re travelling abroad. In Poland, it’s an obligatory first course at lunch or dinner, and is always present on the local table. We eat soup everyday, the whole year round, but in the wintertime it is more appreciated that ever. You can order soup in every single Polish restaurant, but if you want to make it a local experience, go to Polakowski restaurant, located at All Saints Square (Plac Wszystkich Świętych), or jump into the small bar Zamieszanie (Confusion) at 20 Rajska Street.
If eating and drinking is not enough for you to warm up or you have already eaten too much, then move your body and come along with locals to the ice rink. There are many of them in the city, but the easiest to find are located in front of the big shopping mall Krakow’s Gallery (Galeria Krakowska) and at Blonia Park, both about a 10- to 15-minute walk from the Main Square. You can bring your skates with you or rent on-site for about 10 zlotys per hour (EUR 3). Being there in the evening is magical — just picture it, skating happily in the darkness while listening to Christmas carols or pop songs in the background.
There are a lot of fascinating places in Krakow, but among them the most mysterious ones are, without a doubt, the four mounds. These are symbolic graves of famous Polish personalities, and there are at least two reasons to visit them in winter. First of all, you’ll need to climb a bit (which means warming up!), and secondly, there is always a beautiful panoramic view from the top — and that view is lovely when there’s snow blanketing everything. The oldest mound was made around the 7th century to commemorate a legendary founder of the city, Prince Krak. The second, also quite historic, belongs to his daughter, Wanda. The others are much younger, but also worth visiting. They are connected with Polish historical heroes Kościuszko and Pilsudski, who were fighting for our independence in 18th and 20th centuries. Their mounds are both located in the middle of a beautiful forest (Las Wolski), which you can reach from the city centre by public transport.
Wake up early (like 5am early) and join some locals for a run along the banks of the Vistula River. You’ll be rewarded with the most spectacular view of a Krakow sunrise while working up a sweat at the same time.
There are thousand of sport clubs and facilities in the city, so you won’t have any problems finding your favourite activity while you’re in town. I personally love the Contact sports club (Kontakt), located at 4 Szpitalna Street. It offerrs a huge variety of (not only sport) activities and has an amazing international team of people working together to create the unique atmosphere of the place.
Not in the mood for sport? Don’t worry, you can still warm up with less effort — just go to the sauna! There is a nice one, which belong to Krakow’s Mining and Metallurgy Academy at 4 Buszka Street, about a 15-minute walk from the city centre. The sauna there is open daily from 10am to 11pm, but it is always best to call ahead to reserve a time (+48 12 617 48 41) — that’s because, since Polish people aren’t so fond of sitting in such hot places for long periods, it happens quite often that there is nobody to open the facility if there are no reservations. Of course there are plenty of other saunas in the city, but as they are situated usually in hotels and are therefore much less local than this one.