Whilst most people are welcoming the Christmas holidays as an opportunity for topping up that uni weight with mince pies, settling down with the relatives and dosing up on eggnog, there’s a whole world of opportunities out there that don’t involve mindless present purchasing and family arguments over a burnt turkey.
Europe is famous for its Christmas markets and if you’re going to head anywhere this holidays, Krakow, Poland, is the place to go!
Are you looking for culture? Unlike the British model of a consumerist Christmas, the Christmas calendar in Poland is full of customs and traditions that reveal a truly different attitude to the holidays. In Poland, Christmas Day is reserved for family and celebrations of Christ, instead everyone exchanges gifts on 6th December and the rest of advent is spent spiritually preparing for Christmas, rather than dashing into town to buy a last minute gift of socks for that cousin you haven’t seen in years.
The Christmas market boasts a huge range of foods, drinks, gifts and souvenirs and is open until the 8th of January, and if you’re after food then the traditional Christmas Eve feast tends to comprise of 12 courses! Then there’s Christmas itself, Three Kings Day on January 6th and the Christmas season doesn’t officially end until February 2nd, which leaves a lot of time for Christmas cheer.
What if you’re looking for the party? Krakow allegedly has the highest density of bars in the world, and if you’ve ever tried polish vodka you’ll know the hype is worthy. Top up your glasses with Żubrówka (Bison Grass) and Wódka Żołądkowa Gorzka (spiced with bitter orange and cloves) and sample Polish vodka as it’s meant to be.
Or if beer’s more your thing, then a large one won’t set you back more than £1.50. Krakow also boasts some of the best cocktail bars in Europe, every cellar seems to comprise a bar serving up Szarlotka. All this and no kick out time, if you’re still drinking they’re still pouring. I couldn’t think of a better place to be for New Years Eve.
Maybe you’re looking for history? Krakow is bursting at the seams with history. Wawel Castle and Cathedral are truly magnificent and date back to the 1300s, but it is Krakow’s recent history that is most compelling. You can visit the site of Płaszów Concentration Camp and take in the haunting memorial to its victims, stop by at Schindler’s factory, visit the former Jewish quarter or take a tour and visit the sites where the film Schindler’s List was filmed.
For a truly sobering experience Auschwitz is nearby and somewhere everyone should visit for a reminder of humanities true capacity for cruelty, nothing can prepare you for the reality of it; Auschwitz-Birkenau is so vast you can’t see from one end to the other. The thing about Krakow is that no matter how major or minor your interest in history you need only walk around the town to learn something, you’re surrounded by history from the cities conception to its development under communist rule, and even graffiti serves as a chilling reminder of the cities past.
Basically, go to Krakow. Krakow’s brilliance as a city lies in the fact that you can go there and do none of the above and still have an amazing time; there’s so much to see and explore and even if you go there and do nothing at all it’s such an engaging city to visit!
It’s beautiful year round, but go over Christmas and you can embrace the culture and immerse yourself in the traditions. The Amber Market, Lover’s Bridge and the Wawel Dragon all get better with the holiday atmosphere, the crispness of winter and draped in Christmas lights. All this and you can fly there for around £40. (Oh, and the Poles themselves are pretty friendly too!)