Krakow in December is simply wonderful. Seriously, there are few cities in Europe that can match sheer moodiness of this Gothic town in the depths of the midwinter. Throw in the Christmas markets and the festive decorations and you begin to see why we think a winter weekend break to the Polish city of kings is almost just as good as one in the peak of the summer months.
This guide to Krakow in December will take a close look at exactly what it means to travel to the city in this cold, snow-doused month at the end of the year. We’ll list some of the top things to do in Krakow in December, talk a little bit about what the weather is likely to be, and reveal just a few reasons why this icy part of the calendar is one of our favorite times to be in south Poland. Let’s begin…
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What will you find in this guide to Krakow in December?
The weather in Krakow in December
Cold. December is second to only January when it comes to the chilliest months in Krakow. Record lows have been set at -29.5 C (-21.1 F) in the final month of the year, while average lows are closer to the -4 C (24.8 F) mark, and the daily mean hovers just a smidgen above zero. Basically, you’re going to get chilly. Bring the thermal underlayers for your long walks around the Old Town. Pack the bobble hat – you’ll need both.
December also happens to be the first month of the year that usually starts seeing significant snowfall hit Krakow, although that’s not really been the case over the last couple of winters (true as of 2022). A normal month would see about 10 snowy days in total, largely weighted towards Christmas and New Year. There is, however, plenty of sleet and rain, but also a good chance you’ll have those crisp, icy days.
What to wear in Krakow in December
We’ve already given a hint about what you’ll need to wear in Krakow in December. This is snow season and that means thermals and woolies are certainly recommended. Good shoes – preferably boots – are a must, too, particularly if you plan on joining walking tours and being outside for any long periods. Also important is some form of waterproof. Recent years have seen Krakow’s December snowfall gradually change to rain and sludge. The weather can change fast, too, so have something you can easily pack away and carry with you.
Top things to do in Krakow in December
Okay, so you might not find the same buzz of life on the streets in Krakow in the cool month of December. People won’t be sunning themselves by the riverside and glugging cold beers in open-air bars. But there are some things that this winter peak can do that the summer can’t, and some attractions that are better when the snow’s a-falling.
Krakow Christmas market
Krakow’s now-legendary Christmas market begins to set up around the end of November but it’s in full swing by the start of December, so this is the top time to come a-shopping for your novelty baubles and whatnot. The whole thing takes over the Main Square, the anchor point of the Old Town area. We can’t overstate just how atmospheric it is. There are stalls bursting with traditional Polish clothing, whittled wooden goods, decorations, and jewelry. Alongside those, rows and rows of food sellers issue the scents of smoked sheep’s cheeses (a Zakopane delicacy served with cranberry sauce) and blood sausage (a south Poland mainstay in the winter months). It gets dark early but that’s better for wandering this festive mishmash of stalls.
Wieliczka Salt Mines
A visit to the Wieliczka Salt Mines should be close to the top of your to-do list no matter the month you’re visiting Krakow. But they do offer a bit of an escape from the extreme cold in the depths of the winter months, since the temperature inside the mines themselves remains a steady 17-18 C throughout the year. What awaits is a truly enthralling UNESCO World Heritage Site that showcases underground caverns carved over the course of centuries. There’s even a whole cathedral whittled out of salt rock beneath the ground!
We recommend this highly rated half-day tour of the Salt Mines. It includes a hotel pickup, perfect for cold winter morning starts.
There’s a skating rink that opens to the public right in front of the Galeria Krakowska mall, right next to the main train station. It’s around $3 per person and a further $2 for rental of the skating gear. You’ll usually find a mini Christmas market next door to sate those mulled wine and pierogi needs. The only downside is the music. Who the hell wants to skate to pumping techno?
The Las Wolski forest spreads out on the southwestern side of Krakow. It’s a great escape from the urban sprawl of the town, offering a wild dash of pine and beech woods that goes on for about five miles. In the winter, it’s usually totally deserted and very eerie. With a good snow dump, a series of cross-country trails will open to Nordic skiers, but you’ll need your own gear. The walking paths are more accessible. Get on them by hopping on the 134 bus to Krakow Zoo via Blonia fields.
December is the very start of the Polish ski season, which is a touch shorter than what it is in other European destinations. To be honest, we wouldn’t plan to come skiing in Krakow until at least the second half of the month. There have been winters when the pistes simply didn’t have enough snow to open as planned and have had to hold off until around Christmas time. If you are lucky with the snowpack and there’s low enough temperatures to turn the snowmaking on, we can recommend a day or two in nearby Białka Tatrzańska. That’s the premier resort in Poland and will get busy in January but is nice and quiet in December. Stay at the Hotel Bania to be right at the base of the slopes and next door to a hot spring spa that offers views of the Tatras from it’s al fresco pools.
Where to stay in Krakow in December?
We think that there are a couple of hotels that really come into their own in December in Krakow. They’re cozy and quaint, historic and atmospheric places, offering prime locations by the Christmas Market or roaring fireplaces where you can warm up after a walking tour in the snow. Here’s our pick…
- Hotel Pod Różą – What the Hotel Pod Różą lacks in country coziness it more than makes up for in sheer style. Plus, you get what’d we’d say is perhaps the coolest darn sauna in the city. It’s tucked deep into a centuries-old hall with Turkish-style hammams on one side and unique marble water baths on the other. Rooms are slick but also meld seamlessly with the 17th-century features of the original building, which once hosted the Russian emperor, no less.
- Hotel Grodek – There aren’t actually all that many hotels in Krakow with their own fireplaces, but the Hotel Grodek will welcome check-ins with its own flickering hearth. That breathes real warmth into the lobby area, which soon gives way to quaint rooms done out with a mix of traditional mountain styles and boutique furnishings. The location is great – far enough from the Old Town to be quiet but near enough for easy access to the Christmas market.
- Aparthotel Best Views – If you’ve got the moolah to fork out for one of the grand penthouses in this well-rated aparthotel, then look forward to a hot tub on the roof. Yep – on the roof. Bathe there while watching the winter mists swirl around the spires of the Wawel Castle, which rises just one block away. Some suites also come with self-catering and large lounges. (Just make sure you book the right one if you want that aforementioned hot tub!)
Downsides to traveling to Krakow in December
The most obvious downside to traveling to Krakow in December is the cold. And it really is cold here at this time of the year – you’re looking at potential lows of -25 C. Some people may love that. We do, especially if said cold also happens to dovetail with a nice bit of snow, giving the Old Town its characteristic festive look.
The other thing to think about on the negative end of the scale is the pollution. It’s getting better in Krakow, but winter is peak pollution season, as more and more people burn coal to stay warm and the chilly air keeps the bad particles stuck at a low altitude in the surrounding valley. You can mitigate that a little by planning on staying indoors and wearing a facemask (you’ll notice lots of the locals do).
What are the top things to do in Krakow in December?
December in Krakow is all about soaking up the unique atmosphere of the festive period, which you can do thanks to the wonderful Christmas market on the Main Square. Aside from that, we’d also recommend trying a bit of skiing in the nearby Tatras or Białka Tatrzańska. The slopes usually open the second or third week of December and stay less busy than in January and February.
Does it snow in Krakow in December?
An estimated 10-12 days of the month will see snow in Krakow in December. That can change year on year, and recent years have actually seen much less. You’ll also notice that most of the snowfall in Krakow at this time is bunched towards the end of December in the run up to January, the coldest month of the year.