At first glance, the idea of a Christmas market looks like madness – why would anyone do their shopping outdoors in frigid December when Krakow is stuffed with cosy shops and bustling shopping malls? The answer: atmosphere.
Dominating the city’s breathtaking, Medieval Market Square in the month leading up to the holiday, Krakow’s Christmas market revels in one of Europe’s handsomest and most romantic settings. Add snow perched prettily on the surrounding Baroque and Renaissance buildings, and the scene is enough to move Ebenezer Scrooge to festive tears.
Hunks of roasting meat, local sheep’s cheese (oscypek) and barrels of hot, spiced wine provide the necessary fuel for shoppers to browse the dozens of stalls fortified against the seasonal chill. And if the cold does get too much, you’re just a few steps from the famous Cloth Hall (Sukiennice) – an indoor shopping arcade that has been in operation for at least 500 years.
While many of the goods for sale at the Christmas market owe more to China than Poland for their cultural origins, there are examples of genuine, local handicrafts on offer (particularly jewellery) and you can be sure the food is authentically Cracovian.
Krakow’s Christmas market is not all about shopping. Usually setting up in the last week of November and continuing until December 26th, the market is also a month-long festival of all things Yule.
Regular events include children writing letters to Santa on November 27th, celebrations for St Andrew’s Day (Andrzejki) on November 30th, a procession and display of ornate, handmade nativity scenes (szopki) on December 1st and a Santa parade on December 6th. Nativity plays, concerts and sing-a-long carol sessions are also held at various dates and the square becomes the heart of the city’s communal Christmas celebrations on the 24th.