In 2010, I set foot in Poland for the first time and loved every minute of my trip. Krakow, in particular, left a lasting impression. The city’s main square is Rynek Glowny. It’s a focal point of activity and impressive energy.
I remember sharing hot raspberry vodka with friends with the warm drink, making the winter chill more bearable.
I never imagined drinking sweet, hot vodka would be something I loved, but it’s a surprisingly delicious drink that’s commonplace in Krakow’s cafe scene.
Eating out was another adventure altogether. I attempted to order food in Polish at a traditional Milk Bar but quickly realised I was out of my depth language-wise.
A Polish Milk Bar, known as “Bar Mleczny” in Polish, is a type of cafeteria that originated in the communist era.
These places are known for serving simple, home-style Polish meals at affordable prices. They gained the name ‘milk bar’ because they initially focused on dairy-based dishes to support the dairy industry.
Over time, the menu has expanded to include a variety of Polish classics like pierogi, soups and potato-based dishes.
While the decor is often basic and unpretentious, the emphasis is on hearty, good-quality, budget-friendly food.
What I didn’t know then is that they generally have a set or very limited menu, and you more or less get whatever is available that day.
Anyway, I couldn’t figure it out and was too shy to keep asking in English. But I went back another time, and eating out at a Milk Bar eventually became one of my favourite things to do in Poland.
Christmas Break in Krakow
On this visit, the circumstances were different. This stop in Krakow was the beginning of a broader 21 days in Europe itinerary.
Travelling primarily by train around Poland before exploring elsewhere, I had a few days to unwind in Krakow.
It gave me the opportunity to revisit some iconic sites, such as Wawel Castle, that I had fond memories of from my first trip.
Krakow Christmas Market
During my stay, the Krakow Christmas Market was in full swing. Despite the cold, the atmosphere was buzzing with activity.
Food stalls were a highlight, featuring traditional Polish snacks like Oscypek, a type of fried cheese, alongside pierogi and vegetarian soups.
Many sweet treats were available for those with a sweet tooth like me, and mulled wine was the perfect companion.
In addition to food, the market was also a good spot to pick up locally made gifts such as wooden toys. Not that I bought anything, but it’s always nice to have a look.
Overall, the market added a lively dimension to Krakow that I hadn’t expected.
Read my guide to the Polish Christmas Markets if that’s something you’d like to add to your itinerary.
While in Krakow, I sipped craft Polish cider, brunched on French food and happily remained in awe of Rynek Glowny, the main square and location of the Cloth Hall.
This Renaissance-era building once served as a bustling centre for international trade. Merchants from various countries would gather to sell fabrics, spices and other products.
Today, it houses a market where you can buy souvenirs and Polish specialties. The upper floor features the Gallery of 19th-Century Polish Art, part of the National Museum in Krakow.
In Krakow, the culinary scene is both diverse and satisfying. Starting the day with brunch at Bistro Charlotte, a French bakery, gives you a touch of a Parisian vibe. The place is known for its fresh pastries, setting the right tone for a day of exploration.
Charlotte is a great spot if you’re on a longer stay in Krakow, as they sell delicious sourdough bread and other treats you can take back to your hotel or apartment.
For a casual but quintessential Krakow experience, head to Plac Nowy in the Kazimierz district. This square is the home of zapiekanki, considered by many (ie. me) as the ultimate toastie.
It’s a long, open-faced sandwich topped with various ingredients like mushrooms and cheese, then toasted until crispy. You can find these all around Poland.
For those who enjoy a drink, Regionalne Alcohole is quite something. This spot in Kazimierz has a diverse selection of drinks, covering everything from vodka and beer to cider. The choices are displayed in a floor-to-ceiling arrangement, making the selection process an experience in itself.
It’s right near the Remuh Synagogue, a 16th-century synagogue and one of the oldest in Krakow.
Where to Stay
When it comes to selecting a place to stay in Krakow, you have a couple of solid options.
The Old Town is a central location that places you close to key sights like Wawel Castle and Rynek Glowny, the main square.
This area provides easy access to many of the city’s attractions and is ideal if you want to be at the centre of the action.
On the other hand, the Kazimierz district offers a different but equally appealing experience. Once the Jewish quarter, it’s now a lively neighbourhood filled with trendy cafes, bars and shops.
There are also plenty of historical landmarks and museums in Kazimierz.
Both areas have unique characteristics and advantages, making either a good choice depending on what you’re looking to get out of your stay in Krakow.
Read my guide to the best boutique hotels in Krakow for specific ideas on where to stay.
Getting to Krakow
Taking the train to Krakow as part of a larger rail trip is a practical and eco-friendly way to travel. My trip from Bratislava took roughly 8 hours, including layovers at Breclav in Czechia and Katowice in Poland.
The stop at Breclav offered an opportunity to stretch my legs and grab some snacks, while the layover in Katowice allowed for a quick exploration of the station area and its shopping centre.
Travelling by train not only reduces your carbon footprint, but it also offers the chance to see more of the landscape and enjoy a more relaxed pace of travel.
This particular route gives you a taste of three different countries in one trip. So, if you’re in for a scenic and somewhat leisurely trip, rail travel to Krakow is a good option.
Next on the Itinerary
Next destination on the Mystery Tour itinerary: Back to Warsaw
Video of Krakow Christmas Market
Back when I took this trip, I was daily vlogging. It seems like a lifetime ago now, but it’s nice for me to reminisce.
You might like to watch the video from Krakow if you’re interested in seeing the Christmas markets in the beautiful main square.
I think it was a much smaller event then, but it was a lot of fun, and the food was delicious.
Sustainable Travel Tips
Here are some suggestions on how you can travel more responsibly in Krakow, particularly at Christmas.
Green Hotels: To make your stay sustainable, choose a hotel committed to using renewable energy. In Krakow, various hotels adhere to eco-friendly policies.
Minimise Food Waste at Markets: When you visit Krakow’s Christmas markets, be mindful of how much food you purchase. Plan your meals and aim for portions you can comfortably finish. Many vendors also allow you to bring your containers and bags, reducing single-use plastics.
Ethical Consumption: In the mood for some Christmas shopping? Think twice before purchasing items from the markets. Focus on items you genuinely need or can use long-term. Krakow’s markets feature handmade crafts and local produce that make meaningful gifts without contributing to waste.
Eat Sustainably: The Christmas markets in Krakow offer various local and seasonal foods. Order dishes like pierogi, which use local ingredients, over imported products. This helps to reduce your carbon footprint and supports local farmers.
Sustainable Transport Choices: While the city’s festive charm may make you want to explore every corner, consider using public transport instead of taxis. Krakow has a reliable and eco-friendly tram system. Alternatively, the city is quite walkable, and you can easily cover most key attractions on foot, even in winter.
By incorporating these practices into your trip, you contribute to Krakow’s sustainability efforts, especially crucial during the high-impact Christmas season. But really, these points apply at any time of the year.