A Christmas Fairytale in Krakow
Scores of wooden huts, in close-packed rows, replicate the feel of markets from the Middle Ages
If the idealised Christmas of your childhood imaginings is a joyous and romantic blend of ornate medieval buildings and crisp white snow, mingled with the sounds of traditional carols and the enticing aroma of warm spiced wine and outdoor grilled food, then come and experience its reality in beautiful Krakow!
Krakow is already well known as one of Europe’s great cities of outstanding architectural beauty at any time of the year, but as Christmas approaches a kind of magic enfolds the Old Town. Firstly, there is the near inevitability of Krakow weather turning snowy, blanketing the old buildings and muffling the sounds of the 21st century, and then, for approximately the whole of December, a traditional market is erected on the western side of the Main Market Square. This month-long event in Krakow draws visitors from far and wide.
Scores of wooden huts, arranged in close-packed rows that replicate the feel of markets from the Middle Ages, offer all kinds of arts and crafts – you can even see a blacksmith at work, complete with anvil and hand-bellows. Traditional Polish ceramics, wooden figures and simple toys, lacework, textiles, trinkets and handmade Christmas decorations interspersed with giant barrels that turn out to be stalls selling the famous Polish mulled wine (grzaniec galicyjski). Also to be tried is oscypek, grilled smoked cheese from the mountains, and maybe one of those freshly-grilled famous Polish sausages?
Polish children benefit from being caught in the collision between old and new: traditionally, gifts are exchanged on St Nicholas’ (Mikolaj) day, which is December 6th; however, modern Christmas rules also increasingly apply, so either way expect to pay! Don’t let the children have all the fun though – there are plenty of other shopping opportunities in Krakow, including state-of-the-art shopping malls, or you could even pamper yourself in one of the many wellness centres.
Nor should you forget to visit the newly-refurbished Cloth Hall (Sukiennice) either. The ground floor is a year-round arcade of gift stalls, in particular showcasing Baltic amber jewellery. Upstairs is the Gallery of 19th Century Polish Art, whilst down below is the interactive Underground Museum, showing a fascinating insight into life in a Medieval City.
Away from the market, don’t forget to take a turn in the famous Planty Gardens that ring the old town, where the combination of thick snow, trees and old-fashioned street-lanterns may fool you into thinking you took a wrong turn in that wardrobe earlier… Or walk the brightly-lit Royal Route , listen to the haunting Hejnal trumpet call from St Mary’s Church, or perhaps settle into one of Krakow’s many fine restaurants for a hearty meal and an opportunity to reflect on how fine Christmastime can be, before rounding off the day by sampling some of the legendary Krakow nightlife.