Imagine a cold and snowy light, illuminated by sparkling snowflakes strung across hundred year old buildings. The clopping and clanking of horse hooves, striking cobblestone streets as they transport pedestrians across the city. Church bells ringing in the distance as a trumpeter plays his song every hour, only to be cut short by history. The fragrances and aromas of hot wine, caramelized sugar and local delicacies dancing through the dense winter air. A landscape of castles, historic architecture and a market square dating back to the 13th century. Krakow already has that old town and medieval feel to it while Christmas only adds to the glamour.
Few places in Europe are better known for their Christmas Markets as Krakow is annually dubbed one of the most popular destinations each holiday season. Christmas Market aside, this Polish city is one of the best in all of Europe. Its Market Square is the biggest medieval square across the continent as the city sits at the foot of a gigantic castle. The cobble stone streets are decorated with various illuminations to portray those Christmas movie vibes. Shopping isn’t difficult as the famous dragon, Smok Wawelski , can be found just about anywhere as a souvenir.
If the scenery doesn’t do it for you, then the Polish traditions will. It is easy to indulge in the abundant food stalls and gain a little extra weight to keep you warm for the upcoming winter months. Christmas Day is not the only time to celebrate as Krakow plays host to multiple events through out December. There is a good reason that this town is continuously named one of the best places to visit in Europe as its culture scene is unforgettable.
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Nov 28 2020 – Dec 31 2020
(CANCELLED DUE TO COVID)
10:00 am – 10:00 pm
The famous and massive Market Square, Rynek Główny, is the annual home to Krakow’s incredible Christmas display. The impressive square dates back to the 13th century and is known as Europe’s largest medieval town square. On one side of the square is the Renaissance styled Cloth Hall (Sukiennice) and Town Hall Tower (Wieża ratuszowa), both dating back to the 16th century. On the opposite side, you will find the Church of St. Aldabert from the 11th century and the Gothic towers of St. Mary’s Basicilica from the 14th century. If you didn’t catch it from all those different centuries just mentioned, this square is older than most.
This history is amazing, but we are here for Christmas, right? With Krakow, the history truly plays into its Christmas Markets. The medieval square is named “Market Square” for a reason. Historically, this was the major venue where traders and travelers would meet for business and trading purposes. Naturally, during the winter months and especially in December, the merchandise would transition into holiday themed items such as traditional holiday Polish foods or decorations. If you didn’t already know, the Polish celebrate Christmas with a 12 course dinner including fish, pierogi, soups, desserts and more. It is a bit overwhelming to find everything needed, therefore Market Square was one of the best places to visit each year.
In today’s world, Krakow isn’t as much of trade center anymore, but different vendors live on, providing visitors with traditional items for this special time of year. Market stalls are lined up down the center of the basilica side of the square while the opposite side of Cloth Hall plays host to concerts and different events. You can find just about anything needed for the holidays from various vendors and the food stalls are some of the biggest you will find anywhere, which makes it impossible to go hungry.
Krakow has a great selection of food, mostly of the Polish variety. You can find Polish sausages, soups, meats, specialty dishes and of course, Pierogi. It is all delicious, but I highly suggest the Gołabki and Bigos.
Gołabki is one of my favorite specialties in Poland, and the Christmas Markets do it best. The recipe is quite simple as it is nothing more than stuffed cabbage, but the Polish do it right.
Bigos, also known as “Hunters Stew”, is a very popular dish served through out Poland consisting of cabbage, sauerkraut, kielbasa, pork, tomato paste, garlic, onion and sometimes more. All of these ingredients are thrown into a large pot and cook slowly until all the flavors merge together into a delicious dish. It is the perfect accompaniment, along with your hot wine, for a cold day exploring a Polish Market.
Pierogi. Do I really need to get into detail? Isn’t the word alone enough to explain what these are? These boiled, fried or sautéed dumplings are filled with meats, cheeses, vegetables, sauces, sweets and just about anything else you can think of. Pierogi SCREAMS Polish as they are not only the most famous food from Poland, but one of the more popular from the entire continent. You’re going to find them in any Polish restaurant, but there is something special about eating them in the cold streets of Poland during the holiday season.
One of the biggest Polish delicacies, especially this time of year, is Smalec. Not the prettiest or most appealing of dishes, but I promise you, it’s worth trying. The bread alone probably makes the quirky snack as it comes fresh and homemade out of the oven, fluffy on the inside with a crunchy crust. The next ingredient is what typically scares people away: Lard. That’s right, this delicious country bread is SMOTHERED in lard, otherwise known as 100% pig fat. The spread that is made for smalec contains a lot of lard, spices and I guess, love…? After the lard covers up that once beautiful piece of bread, it is then covered in some meat and pickles. Does this sound appetizing? No, probably not, but it is EXCELLENT! There is something about that salty and creamy fat flavor, accompanied by the crunch of bread, that really helps that hot wine go down.
Speaking of meat and fat, if you know anything about the Polish then you know that they adore their meats. Walk into any market and you’re guaranteed to see a pig hanging somewhere. If there is any specific meat Poland is known for, it’s Kielbasa. There are many different kinds of these massive sausages such as white, red, garlic and even cheese. They might leave your breath smelling like garbage, but hey, they go well with beer. Cheers to anyone sleeping in bed with you that night 😉
Just like every other Polish market, you will find a lot of Oscypek, a smoked cheese from the Polish mountains. The cheese is served straight from the grill, topped with some cranberry jam. It melts in your mouth and has a very smokey taste. It is more of an acquired taste, but the Poles absolutely love it.
For those with a sweet tooth, make sure to try a Rogal świętomarciński Poznan. This pastry is traditionally from Poznan, but you will find them at just about any market in Poland. A Rogal shaped as a croissant and filled with nuts, raisins, poppyseeds, heavy cream and a lot of sugar. The overwhelming treat feels as if it weighs a few pounds in your hands and will quickly add a few pounds to your butt if you’re not careful. It comes fresh out of the oven weighing in at about 1300 calories per pastry. It may be delicious, but you have been warned.
I always love a massive tree with a view and the one at the foot of St. Mary’s Basilica doesn’t disappoint at all! The most picturesque thing about the tree isn’t the tree itself, but what surrounds it. Krakow is very popular for its horse drawn carriages that ride throughout the Old Town. Coincidentally, the tree stands in the exact spot where the carriages line up. The gorgeous horses wait patiently for new riders while each is dressed to the nines in their own special Christmas costume. Graceful horses, holiday carriages, cobble stone streets, Gothic towers and a glowing star upon a tree. Makes for an enchanting holiday scene.
Among every Polish market, you can find traditional tree decorations or some extremely warm winter essentials like scarves and hats. Other gift options include santas, nutcrackers, reindeer, Polish pottery, ornaments, you name it! Market Square serves as the perfect outdoor mall every December.
I always love the Polish pottery and ornaments, but Krakow offers one of the better souvenirs throughout Poland, Smok Wawelski. Long story short… As the legend goes, the Wawel Castle was once endangered by a fierce and ferocious dragon. During the reign of King Krakus some time in 700 AD, Smok Wawelski, or Dragon of Wawel Hill, lived in a lair beneath the castle on the bank of the Vistula River. There, the dragon demanded weekly offerings of cattle or else it would devour humans. Noble men traveled from far across the land to try and defeat the dragon, but none succeeded. Until one day, a poor shoemaker told the king that he could defeat the dragon by tricking it into eating a fake sheep with tinder, tar and sulfur inside. The dragon excitedly took the sheep as his weekly offering and immediately felt heat swelling in his stomach. He went to the river to quench his thirst and put out the flame, but he exploded and never returned.
The legend lives on today and Smok is EVERYWHERE. You can find Smok in just about any form across town, but there is something awesome about him wearing a Santa hat this time of year. Grab one and take it home for your own tree since it’s doubtful you won’t find a Christmas dragon the rest of the year.
This is exactly how I picture the Christmas season during medieval times. Well, maybe without the smart phones, LED lights, selfies, speaker systems, etc. but the scenery at least paints the picture! Krakow is one of those special places that is always a wonderful destination, but the winter scene is something to truly behold. If you’re looking for tradition, scenery, cold air and delicious foods, Krakow should be at the top of your list!
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