Christmas in Krakow


By Harriet Cooper for High Life magazine

A bright Christmas morning in Krakow © Getty Images

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September 2016

From its stunning architecture and likely sprinkling of snow, Poland’s second city somehow manages to make Christmas last from November right through to February. Harriet Cooper reveals Krakow’s Christmas calendar.

End of November - Ice-skating

The end of November sees seasonal ice rinks pop up around the Old Town. One of the best places to don skates is in front of the Galeria Krakowska mall. The rink is open until the end of March.

End of November - Christmas Market

The market in Rynek Glowny fills the Old Town’s main square with wooden stalls selling traditional handicraft, decorations and edible delicacies – plus lashings of mulled wine.

The market fills the square with wooden stalls selling traditional handicraft, decorations and edible delicacies – plus lashings of mulled wine

1 December - Krakow Christmas cribs

The annual Christmas cribs competition is a sight to behold. The colourful and ornate szopki can reach two metres, and are displayed around the main square.

6 December - Dzień Świętego Mikołaja

Saint Nicholas visits Krakow three weeks early on ‘Santa Claus Day’. Banish thoughts of white beards and red suits; here he is resplendent in purple robes and a gold crown. Having left letters to him on their windowsills, children wake to discover whether he has left gifts.

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  • The majestic interior of St Mary’s Basilica © Juergen Ritterbach/Getty Images

    The night before Christmas

    Midnight mass at Saint Mary’s Basilica starts at 23:40 on 24 December.

    Things to do
  • Not to be missed: Colourful handmade gingerbread gifts © Frederic Cerez / 123RF

    Join the celebrations

    The Yuletide festivities in Krakow start in late November and stretch all the way to early February – making the city a contender for the longest Christmas celebrations in the world.

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  • The Christmas tree in Rynek Glowny, Krakow’s main square © Tomeyk / Getty Images

    To market

    Make your Christmas tree shine back home by picking up hand-painted glass decorations – as well as other traditional handicrafts – from the Christmas market in Krakow’s Old Town. Fly from London to Krakow from:£58 one-way

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24 December - Wigilia

The feast of Wigilia is the crux of the festivities. First, the opłatek wafer is passed around friends and family, with good wishes for the year ahead. Then, as the first star appears in the sky, a 12-course meal begins. As the clock strikes 12, churches are filled for midnight mass.

24 December – Folk tales

Local legend says when the clock strikes 12 on Christmas Eve, two knights ride to Wawel Castle. Knocking at the door, they awaken Boleslas the Brave, one of the castle’s regal residents of old. Stand by the castle at midnight and perhaps you’ll see them…

25 December – Christmas day

In the afternoon, head to St Francis’s Basilica on All Saints Square. At the church, known for its awe-inspiring Art Nouveau stained glass, a live Nativity scene is enacted, complete with animals, carollers and a bonfire.

31 December - New Year’s Day

Known as Sylwester, 31 December sees the Old Town turn into a giant party as celebrations are held in the streets, bars, clubs, restaurants and hotels.

1 January - New Year’s Day

How better to soothe a sore head than with a concert by the Kraków Philharmonic Orchestra? Performances at 3pm and 7pm will feature favourites by the likes of Gershwin and Dvorák.

6 January – Epiphany

Epiphany (Trzech Króli) is a national holiday to mark the three wise men visiting Jesus. In Krakow, carollers parade the streets, then convene in the Old Town square for hearty singing.

January - Sing a song

Many churches in Krakow host carol concerts throughout January. You’ll hear traditional versions of the songs and Polish folk music.

2 February – A festive finish

While other European nations tidy tinsel and toss trees in early January, in Poland, festive decorations can stay up until the Christmas season officially ends on 2 February, Matki Boskiej Gromnicznej (Candlemas).

  • New Year’s Eve celebrations in Krakow’s main square © Alamy

    Bubbling up

    Toasting with something fizzy at midnight might be a global tradition, but in Poland, locals believe that the drink’s bubbles can predict your future. If they move slowly, you’ll supposedly have a calm year. But if they move fast, it could mean that important changes lie ahead. Book flights from London to Krakow, plus a three-night hotel stay from:£119 pp

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Stay

The five-star Radisson Blu Hotel in Krakow is located only a few minutes from the Old Town, so you’ll be a mere stroll away from the festivities.

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Eat

Sample hearty bowls of sour rye soup and homemade ginger vodkas at cosy, candlelit restaurant Starka.

Don’t miss

Visit the Unesco-listed Wieliczka Salt Mine, 8.5 miles south of Krakow. A labyrinth of tunnels, chambers, and underground lakes, there are four chapels carved out of rock salt.

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