While Christmas markets in Poland might not rival the long-standing traditions of Germany or Austria, they’ve seen a resurgence in recent years.
Cities like Krakow and Wroclaw have hosted these markets in various forms for centuries, though the modern versions no doubt differ from the past.
This revival comes at a time when visiting Poland offers quieter surroundings and more affordable options than many other European destinations in winter. The markets provide an added incentive to consider Poland for a winter break.
My top 4 recommendations:
I’ve visited each city listed here, and if you haven’t been to Poland before, I hope you’ll consider it.
The squares where the markets are held rank among Europe’s most beautiful. Add the delicious Polish food, and you have multiple reasons to visit.
Polish Christmas Markets 2023
When considering a visit to the Polish Christmas markets, you’ll find distinct qualities in each city.
Krakow stands out for its well-established market that continues until January, while Wroclaw is notable for its picturesque market square, a compelling setting for festive stalls.
Of course, you can’t discount the capital Warsaw, which offers so much more than the markets, like its Royal Castle and Cold War museums.
For size and liveliness, Krakow and Wroclaw should be your first choices. On the other hand, Gdansk provides a visually striking yet budget-friendly alternative.
Also, check out less-visited cities like Poznan, Lublin and Szczecin. I’m not sure I’d make a special trip to these cities just for the Christmas markets, but do visit them anyway; Poland is unique and unforgettable.
I’ve had a huge soft spot for Poland since spending a summer in Warsaw back when I was travelling full-time. I also spent a month in Gdansk.
Before then, I had an image of the country as grey and bleak, but it’s quite the opposite; the cities are colourful, fun and lively. I should know better than to judge before visiting.
Polish Specialities at the Markets
The Polish markets are big on food, but there’s a good variety of handmade wooden toys, Christmas decorations, cleaning brushes (not sure why these always pop up at the markets) and other little gifts and trinkets.
If you think Polish food would be meat and potato-dominated, which they wash down with vodka, you wouldn’t be entirely wrong. Well, maybe washed down with mulled wine instead of vodka.
For us vegetarians, you might be limited to eating pierogi, smoked cheeses and mushroom soup, which is not a bad thing at all.
Pierogi may or may not be vegan, so you might want to check first before ordering. I think plant-based are much more frequently available in the markets these days.
Don’t worry too much if you have dietary restrictions; you might not have many options at the markets, but Poland’s bigger cities and tourist areas have a lot of diversity regarding vegetarian, plant-based and gluten-free meals.
If you’re planning a visit in 2023, these are my recommendations for where to go and everything you need to know to book, including confirmed dates and locations.
In my experience, Krakow’s Christmas market is easily the best in Poland. Not only is the market filled with delicious food and interesting gifts, but the city itself is also one of the most beautiful and popular in Poland.
The Christmas market takes place in the smaller section of the central square, Rynek Glowny, right alongside the famous Cloth Hall. It’s compact and welcoming, focusing on traditional food and some unusual things too.
When you consider value for money, you can’t beat Krakow.
Krakow Christmas Market dates: 24th November 2023 to 1st January 2024 (the Epiphany Festival runs after Christmas Day).
Location: Rynek Glowny.
Reason to visit: It’s a cool city with a younger crowd than in Germany and Austria, it’s more affordable, there’s a good chance of a white Christmas and… vodka.
Specialities: Oscypek smoked cheese from Zakopane served with cranberry preserves. Pretty crystal baubles. Sweet vodka-based hot drinks.
Recommended tour: 4-hour Polish food tour.
Tips: If you have time, take a day trip to the Wieliczka Salt Mine, Auschwitz or the mountains at Zakopane.
Where to Stay: Vienna House – This is a lovely 4-star modern hotel, steps from the train station and a short walk to the main square. It’s one of the most sustainable hotels in Krakow, as they use renewable electricity.
Read my guide to boutique hotels in Krakow for more information on where to stay.
Krakow’s market is heavy on food, which is a great thing. There’s so much to try.
- Smoked cheese: A good option for vegetarians, although it’s sometimes wrapped and cooked in bacon, so watch out for that.
- Pierogi stalls: Savoury stuffed dumplings with cheese, sauerkraut or various meats and sweet pierogies stuffed with berries and sweetened cheese.
- Grilled meat stations: Meat lovers can choose from local sausages, roasted pork knuckle, chicken kebab and loads of other grilled meats.
- Soup: There are a few vegetarian soups at the Krakow market; mushroom, tomato and cabbage are some, or you can get traditional goulash soup if you eat meat.
- Mulled wine: Available from the huge barrels dotted around the market. Look out for signs saying grzane wino, hot wine in Polish.
- Matryoshka dolls: These seem to be popular at the markets.
- Wooden toys and kitchen gadgets.
Sightseeing in Krakow
While in Krakow, be sure to check out these things to do on a Christmas break in Krakow.
- Wawel Hill and Castle: Medieval royal castle and museum area.
- Cloth Hall: The huge building on the main square houses little shops.
- Kazimierz: The old Jewish Quarter is filled with cool cafes and bars.
- Zapiekanka: Eat a traditional Polish baguette/pizza topped with grilled mushrooms and cheese. Head to Plac Nowy in Kazimierz for the best.
- Pierogies: Don’t miss out on eating some of the best dumplings in Poland. Sweet or savoury, pierogies are a must-try.
- Sweet vodka: Poland is famous for all kinds of vodka (obviously), but in cafes around the main square, like Cafe Camelot, you can try some deliciously sweet, hot vodkas, perfect for warming up in winter.
- Brunch: You might want to recover from a night of vodka drinking with a delicious brunch at Bistro Charlotte.
- Auschwitz: If you have time, take a day trip to visit the former concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Take a tour or get the bus from central Krakow (going by train is more complicated).
This is the Auschwitz tour I took when I visited Krakow.
Krakow is a popular summer destination, but it’s becoming more well-known as a great weekend destination over Christmas and New Year. It’s a fun, young city with so much history, great nightlife and laid-back cafe culture.
Wroclaw is such a wonderful city and underrated as a destination, both at Christmas and otherwise.
The market is a decent size, but it’s far less crowded than Krakow. The atmosphere is considerably more intimate than some of the big European Christmas markets, which I feel can get a little overwhelming.
You’ll also find some of the friendliest people at the Polish markets and delicious international street food.
Wroclaw Christmas Market dates: 24th November to 31st December 2023.
Location: Market Square and Plac Solny.
Reason to visit: Wroclaw market is held in its stunning centre square, one of the most beautiful in Europe.
Tips: You could create a mini Christmas road trip including nearby Prague, Cesky Krumlov and Dresden.
Specialities: International specialities like Transylvanian kurtosh kalach (chimney cake), Lithuanian sausages, Swiss chocolate workshop (tools made of chocolate) and Dutch waffles.
Where to Stay: Puro Hotel Wroclaw, a boutique hotel in central Wroclaw that is very popular.
If you would like more ideas on where to stay, read my guide to boutique hotels in Wroclaw.
Wroclaw has traditional Polish food like pierogi and smoked cheese. Still, this market has more international stalls where you can get Hungarian langos, Dutch pancakes, Spanish paella-type dishes and many other delicious foods worth trying.
Of course, you can find mulled wine, hot apple cider and hot chocolate too.
Sightseeing in Wroclaw
Wroclaw is gorgeous; the main square is so colourful, and the buildings are beautifully designed. There’s plenty to see outside of the main square, of course, like Cathedral Island, but this is a good starting point.
- Rynek and the Gothic Town Hall: The Market Square is where you’ll find most of the action. Climb one of the church towers for great views over the square. The Town Hall is a good place to start and get your bearings.
- Cathedral Island: Just north of Market Square is one of the prettiest parts of the city with its huge Cathedral, parks and riverside location.
- Wroclaw University: Visit the assembly hall, Aula Leopoldina, to see the incredible baroque ceiling and frescoes.
- Gnomes: What began as a subversive political protest is now a fun pastime for children and tourists. Pay attention as you walk around the city, and you’ll notice hundreds of little gnomes.
- Ksiaz Castle: Seventy kilometres from Wroclaw, the spectacular clifftop castle set deep in the forest deserves an afternoon trip.
- Leubus Abbey: More amazing baroque interiors an hour from Wroclaw.
Warsaw is like a mini version of Berlin. It has the cool lifestyle, great vodka and craft beer concentrated nightlife, a delicious foodie scene and an entrepreneurial spirit.
Warsaw’s market in Market Square starts a little later than other markets around the city. It’s worth waiting for that, as the season starts with a huge light show.
Warsaw Christmas Market dates: Likely dates: 26th November 2023 to 6th January 2024.
Location: Old Town Market Square and Praga
Reason to visit: Poland’s capital is fun with great nightlife, a fantastic foodie scene and fascinating WWII and Cold War history.
Tips: The markets start late in Warsaw; book your trip for mid-December to have the most festive experience.
Where to Stay: The H15 Boutique boutique apartment complex in the former Soviet Embassy is a great place to stay due to its central location and quality design.
For a full list of where to stay, read my list of boutique hotels in Warsaw. The city has some great value for money places to stay.
Warsaw’s markets have a bit of everything. There’s traditional Polish food like pierogi, sweets, hearty soups and grilled meat, plus international food like langos, goulash, dried fruit and chocolate. You can’t go wrong with a cup of hot wine or a shot of sweet fruit vodka.
Warsaw has a few markets, one in the main market square, another closer to the Royal Castle and a more modern event in the Praga district towards the east of the Vistula River, at the foot of the stadium.
Sightseeing in Warsaw
- Old Town: Restored after the destruction of WWII, the Old Town and New Town (also old and rebuilt) are pretty areas to walk around and home to the Royal Castle.
- St Anne’s Church: Visit the viewing platform for the best views of Warsaw’s historic centre.
- The Soviet-era Palace of Culture and Science: An art deco-inspired skyscraper and the tallest building in Poland.
- Warsaw Uprising Museum: One of the most fascinating yet sombre museums in Central Europe depicting life in the Warsaw Ghetto, the resistance, and the aftermath of the uprising in 1944.
- Remains of the Jewish Ghetto walls: Honestly, there isn’t much left of the walls. Only take the time to visit this if you’re genuinely interested in seeing it or happen to be walking that way anyway.
- Lazienki Park: The largest park in Warsaw and home to Lazienki Palace on the water and the Chopin monument. The park is part of the Royal Route linking the Royal Palace and Wilanow Palace.
- Tomb of the Unknown Soldier: The last remaining part of the Saxon Palace that was destroyed during WWII and never rebuilt.
- Wilanow Palace: One of the few buildings in Warsaw in its original state, the renovated baroque palace is now an art gallery, museum and pretty garden.
- Lublin: If you have time, take a day trip to Lublin, an adorable small city with pastel-coloured buildings and pretty facades.
Traipsing through snow and slush as the bitterly cold arctic wind whips through the streets from the Baltic Sea: wind, snow, ice and negative temperatures.
Gdansk sounds like a fun place for a winter weekend trip. But no, really, a weekend in Gdansk is lovely; I adore everything about this city.
Seriously though, if you want to see an old Hanseatic seaport and Royal Way with a fresh cover of snow, Gdansk in December is your destination.
There’s a very good chance of a white Christmas and snow in December, and you’re bound to enjoy the grzane wino (you might need a few) even more with the chilly temps.
Gdansk Christmas Market dates: 17th November to 23rd December 2023.
Location: Coal Market.
Reason to visit: Gorgeous Baltic Sea location and historic Hanseatic architecture. Plus, it’s an interesting alternative destination to the usual markets.
Specialities: Hot chocolate, Polish cakes and Baltic jewellery.
Tips: Stay close to the market so you don’t have to walk much in the cold weather.
Where to Stay: Read my full neighbourhood guide explaining where to stay in Gdansk and for tips on visiting.
The Gdansk market isn’t huge, but you can expect to see a Venetian carousel, ice skating rink, Christmas trees from around the world, handmade ornaments, toys, scarves, candles and festive gourmet food.
Food to try includes Polish festive cakes, pretzels, chocolate-covered fruit, chocolate ‘tools’, roasted nuts, smoked cheese, grilled sausages and, of course, hot chocolate and spiced mulled wine.
Sightseeing in Gdansk
Gdansk is such a fantastic city worth visiting any time of the year. I spent a month there one summer and loved every second. It’s one of the most relaxing places I’ve ever stayed.
Here’s a quick roundup of things to see.
- Long Street (the Royal Way) and the Old Town.
- The medieval harbour crane.
- Gorgeous Mariacka ulica (Mary’s Street), is the city’s most picturesque street.
- City views from St Mary’s Church. It’s only 400 steps up. It’s not too bad if you can manage it.
- Snow on the beach and the Baltic dunes at Rowokol.
- The European Solidarity Centre – a tribute to Poland’s Solidarity Movement, which helped put an end to communist rule in Poland.
- Go for lunch in the elegant resort town of Sopot.
- Visit Malbork Castle, a medieval red-bricked castle one hour south of Gdansk.
More Christmas Markets in Poland
Each of these four cities, Krakow, Wroclaw, Warsaw and Gdansk, are excellent weekend city break destinations in winter, but if you have time, there are a few other Polish cities worth checking out.
5. Poznan – Halfway between Berlin and Warsaw, Poznan has a beautiful, historic main square and cute little side streets packed with cafes and boutiques to keep you busy on a day trip.
6. Lublin – Not far from Warsaw, Lublin has a more rustic look than the other cities mentioned here, but the old town buildings have some of the most gorgeous decorative facades you’ll find in Poland. The castle on the hill is a must-visit.
7. Szczecin – A small Christmas Fair is held at the Castle of Pomeranian Dukes in Szczecin, a mid-size city on the border with Germany. It’s a fun Berlin to Szczecin day trip.
This list of where to eat Szczecin has some great cafes, vegan options and where to get good coffee.
Sustainable Travel Tips
Consider these tips for a more responsible travel experience in Poland:
Stay in eco-friendly hotels: Poland is seeing a rise in hotels prioritising sustainability. Focus on places that use renewable energy sources like solar or wind power. Energy-efficient lighting and low-flow fixtures are also signs of a hotel’s commitment to lessening its environmental impact.
Minimise food waste: Many Polish eateries, especially in tourist-heavy cities like Krakow and Warsaw, serve hearty portions. Rather than leave half your plate, consider sharing meals or asking for a takeaway box. Takeaway is common in Poland, so you’re not breaking any social norms.
Practice ethical consumption: Poland offers a range of handcrafted goods, particularly in tourist markets. Think before you buy. Purchase items you’ll use regularly or that hold significant value for you, like hand-embroidered linens from the Zakopane region or locally-made products.
Adopt a sustainable diet: Traditional Polish cuisine relies heavily on meat and dairy, but most cities also offer vegetarian and vegan options. Plant-based diets are kinder to the environment; you can find vegan versions of Polish classics like pierogi in many restaurants.
Take sustainable transport: While this article talks about driving holidays, you can adapt it to train travel. The Polish Rail system is efficient and connects most major cities. I took the train from Warsaw to Krakow, which was comfortable and reliable. Alternatively, electric vehicle rentals are becoming increasingly available in Poland for those who prefer to drive but want to minimise their carbon footprint.
These tips are just a starting point, but they can make a difference in how you experience Poland and the impact you leave behind.
Recommendations are independently chosen based on personal travel experiences and extensive research. This post contains affiliate links to hotels and tours in Poland. This means I get a small commission from any bookings at no extra cost to you.