If you are considering a wintertime vacation in Europe, Poland in the winter should be on your list! Poland’s location in Europe makes for what you would imagine winter should look like, with a good amount of snowfall, winter activities like ice skating amidst beautiful buildings in the centers of cities, and lots of good food and drinks available. Having spent an entire winter in Poland, I found the ambiance to be better than pretty much any other European country I have spent time in during the winter.
Polish winters promise lots of cheer, and even lower prices than the already budget-friendly country has during peak tourism times in the summer. Despite this, tourism in Poland in the winter is not super popular compared to the summer. I think this is a mistake, as you can get every winter experience you might want in Switzerland or Scandanavia just in the amazing city of Zakopane alone, for a much lower cost.
This guide will tell you everything you might want to know about Poland in the winter, starting from the weather to the special food and drink available in Poland in the winter. You will also find a list of 6 of the best Polish cities to visit in the winter. This list is based on activities, atmosphere, Christmas markets, and my own personal experiences in some of the cities. My conclusion for you before you read is to keep an open mind when considering traveling to Poland in the winter!
Poland in the Winter: Weather
The table above holds weather information for 5 key Polish cities in those months which are the true winter months in Poland, with these cities being Poland’s 4 most significant and Zakopane, the heart of Poland in the winter. As you can see, temperatures in Poland for this 5-month period are quite cold, but not as cold as in many neighboring countries. Poland in general does not usually experience extreme weather now-a-days. Thus, Poland in the winter is still a pleasant place to visit, as the cold temperatures are mostly manageable in my opinion.
Some other things to take into consideration are that the wind can get quite bad all year round, and in the winter, this makes it feel significantly colder than the actual temperatures. Thus, a windy day is a less pleasant Polish winter day. Additionally, the sun mostly stays hidden throughout Poland in the winter, with Warsaw being cloudier than my hometown of Seattle, which is famous for being cloudy during the winter. If you are staying long term, seasonal depression can come into play, but for a short trip that most of you reading will likely be taking, the clouds should not affect you! Just do not expect sun.
You might also wonder about snow. While it is hard to find concrete details online of exactly how much snow Polish cities get, from my experience, most Polish cities, even those on the Baltic Sea, will have snow on the ground consistently from the middle of December to the end of January, with snowfall also common in February and March. In Zakopane, you can expect constant snow on the ground from December until March.
Snowfall is typically not super deep year-round, as the above freezing temperatures during most days and the occasional sun allows the top layer to melt, and ice is also not usually a problem. Poland does a pretty good job of keeping sidewalks and roads clear, but the occasional extended cold snap can cause freezing which can delay both trains and planes, as I have had happen to me a few times. This is especially common at the first snowfall of the year in December, when all delays I have experienced have happened.
But, overall, if you do not expect Poland to be a tropical paradise when coming in the winter (which I imagine no one would), you should be fine. Later in this article you will find a list of what to pack, and this will include proper winter gear that I feel is necessary based on my everyday life navigating the sometimes-frigid Polish winters.
Poland in the Winter: Travel and Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit Poland in the extended depends on your motivations for traveling to Poland. If you are solely looking to travel in a time with less people and to save money, November and March would be great months, as very few foreign tourists go to Poland these months, and Poles themselves are also not traveling in large numbers in these months. If these are your motivations, the months to certainly avoid are December and February. In December, the Christmas holidays result in large number of Poles traveling home which can make traveling within Poland a drag, and in February school holidays can do the same.
However, if you are looking to visit Poland in the winter when you can experience snow, Christmas markets, and other magical winter moments, December and January are the best months. Of course, around Christmas, the cities will be busiest, but the beginning of December and after Christmas are great times to visit! There is likely to be snow on the ground, the Christmas lights will certainly be on (no guarantee earlier in December), and the Christmas markets will be fully open.
Overall, the only city where the time of winter to visit does not matter too much is Zakopane. Zakopane is popular year-round, and maybe even more so during the winter. There will always be tourists in Zakopane, and there will also likely always be the winter feel, with snowfall from December to March. But you might have better luck in March, as this falls more firmly into the shoulder season of Zakopane tourism. It will still be busy but should be less so.
Regardless of when you decide to travel, traveling to Poland in the winter is cheaper than during the summer. Ryanair runs plenty of flights to Warsaw Modlin Airport and other budget airports in Poland from main European cities, although their seasonal service to and from sunny destinations are long gun. But, in general, with a budget airline, you might be able to fly from around 400 PLN roundtrip from London, for example, or for around 2300 PLN from New York. Both these prices are significantly lower than during the summer, and lower than flying to many other places in Europe.
The only thing to mention otherwise about flights is that, as you might expect, costs of airfare do go up around Christmas time. This price hike might be to the extent that if you are coming from the US, you might be better off arriving a week before Christmas and leaving a week after, as the money you save on airfare will be more than what you spend on lodging, food, and everything else.
For train travel once you are in Poland, tickets will run around the same price as they always do. You can book tickets as far as a month in advance, online. The train is a great way to get around in the winter, as while delays can happen due to ice, it is safer than driving. Traveling by car can be tricky, as rapid snowfall may lead to traffic stoppages, or having to move slow, as snowplows can only be deployed so quickly. Additionally, gas prices will make you want to take the train around, or use public transportation, regardless. Public transportation stays stable throughout the winter, no matter the weather
What is Open During the Winter?
While most major activities in Poland are open year-round, the start of winter does bring some changes to what you can and cannot do. Major attractions, like the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw, or Malbork Castle, will still be open. All museums should also be open too unless they undergo changes like what happened recently to the Chopin Museum, one of Warsaw’s best museums.
What might be closed are outdoor attractions. For example, one of Warsaw’s top attractions, the Rooftop Gardens at the University of Warsaw are closed during the winter due to the weather. Other outdoor attractions are also likely to be closed in major cities, except public parks which are always open, albeit not as beautiful in the winter.
Overall, the largest change you will find in Poland in the winter is that the hours at many museums and attractions are significantly less. Typically, most museums close much earlier in the day than they would during the peak time of the summer. The closing time usually moves up with when the sun sets, so some attractions can even close as early as 3 PM during the winter. Always check the websites of all attractions before you visit, or else you will be in for an unpleasant surprise.
A final warning when it comes to opening times is related to Christmas markets. Last year, in Warsaw at least, the listed opening days for their Christmas market are very flexible. As in, the market was not open during the opening weekend, and neither was the ice-skating rink, and the Christmas lights were all turned on. So, you might be better off visiting after Christmas if you want a 100% guarantee everything in a Christmas market will be open, as it is impossible to predict the motivations of the people in charge of the market.
What Should I Pack?
As you would have read in the weather section, winters in Poland can get quite cold. Thus, the most important thing to bring to Poland in the winter is warm clothing, and lots of it. At the bare minimum, you should bring the following:
- A warm jacket or parka
- Sweatshirts and sweaters for a secondary layer
- Mittens or gloves
- A warm hat
- Thermal underwear
- Warm socks
- Earmuffs, scarfs, and other winter accessories
It really does feel cold throughout the winter and rarely gets warmer or sunny. So, if you will be outside a lot, or want to walk around the Christmas markets, all these clothes will help you stay warm and comfortable while you explore Poland in the winter.
Another important thing to bring is a good pair of waterproof shoes. You do not necessarily need to bring snow boots, unless you plan to go to Zakopane or the mountains elsewhere in Poland. But, with snow on the ground being consistent throughout Poland in the winter, and with this snow melting and creating puddles every now and again, waterproof shoes will help keep your feet warm and dry.
Additionally, consider bringing winter equipment with you depending on what you plan to do. If you are coming for a long-term stay, bringing ice skates could be convenient, as there are ice skating rinks everywhere in the winter. However, it would ultimately be cheaper to just rent them if you are coming for a short stay like I imagine most of you reading are planning to do. If you are a winter sports fan, bring your skiing and snowboarding gear, as the Tatra Mountains and other locations in Poland supply top notch opportunities to use this gear.
What Polish Food Should I Try?
Polish food is very delicious. No matter what time of year you visit, you will be able to try such delicious foods as pierogi and more at many restaurants. Below you will find 5 foods and drinks that you should try, especially during the holiday season.
- Grilled oscypek: This salty sheep’s cheese is a specialty from the Zakopane region. It is regionally protected, and it is especially delicious. You will be able to buy this in Zakopane from shepherd’s huts. In other cities, you might be able to buy some at Christmas markets, or at least something similar. Unfortunately, much of what is sold is not technically oscypek by law, but it is close enough to still be a delicious snack. Grilled oscypek with cranberry sauce is especially good in the winter.
- Grzane Wino: This is just the classic mulled wine that you will find in many Christmas markets throughout winter. If Poland is your introduction to the winter spirit in Europe, you should certainly try mulled wine. It will be sold in many restaurants as a seasonal special, and have many stalls dedicated to it at market stalls. It is delicious, and on an especially cold day, it really warms the soul. If you do not drink alcohol, or need a kid-friendly alternative, try hot chocolate instead.
- Pierniki: Pierniki is Polish gingerbread. Gingerbread has a long history in Poland, especially in the medieval city of Toruń, which was perhaps the first modern European city to produce gingerbread in mass. Thus, for a classic Polish tradition, and a delicious treat, eat some pierniki. It is also easy to store and bring home for family and friends as a souvenir.
- Karp: Karp is carp in English. Karp is a fish commonly eaten as a main meal during the Christmas season in Poland, especially on Christmas Eve, when red meats are traditionally forgone in this highly Catholic country. Get some at a restaurant if you can.
- Pączki: Technically still in the winter season, Tłusty Czwartek, or Fat Thursday, is a Polish tradition that you also should enjoy! On this day, next coming on February 8th, 2024, Polish people eat pączki, Polish donuts, by the box. In fact, you might find long lines of people waiting for their donuts! They are delicious and come in many flavors to try. So, if you find yourself in Poland for this special holiday, make sure to participate!
Best Winter Destinations in Poland
The rest of this article will be dedicated to 6 locations in Poland, all among Poland’s best places to visit. I will supply basic information about the cities, and what extra surprises and treats you should expect when visiting in the winter. You cannot go wrong with either of these 6 cities in my opinion!
Zakopane is easily the best winter destination in all of Poland. This also means it gets exceptionally busy during the winter, but this makes sense. Zakopane has amazing winter weather, amazing winter sports facilities, luxurious lodging, delicious food, and just everything you might want from a winter resort-style time. And while Zakopane is much more expensive than the typical Polish city, you will still find yourself saving money compared to a location like Switzerland!
Some of the best entertainment provided by Zakopane in the winter is in Tatra National Park. Covered in snow throughout the winter, you can try your hand at any number of winter sports. At Kasprowy Wierch, you can ski or snowboard on the difficult routes, or just take the scenic cable car for the views. You can try snowshoeing on any of the summer trails. Or you can take a hike to Morskie Oko, Poland’s most popular hike, and one of the most beautiful sights in Poland. If you feel especially adventurous, you can also try riding a snowmobile or dog sled.
If this is too much for you, the city itself has lots to offer, with the main street of Krupówki hosting many shops and restaurants to explore. Additionally, while Zakopane does not have a Christmas market, here you will find all of the pretty lights, and much of the winter-themed food, such as oscypek and mulled wine. You can also find some good museums, such as the Tatra Museum if you need to warm up for a few and learn about local history.
Overall, Zakopane is a fantastic place to visit in the winter. Getting there is as simple as arriving in Kraków and renting a car or taking a bus or train to Zakopane. If you would like more information on Zakopane in the winter, I have written an entire article dedicated to it.
You might think that as far as Poland in the winter goes, a seaside city would not be the best city to visit. However, Gdańsk’s colorful and narrow buildings make for an environment that feels like the inside of a snow globe. Additionally, the Baltic Seas are beautiful even in the winter. The cold waves crash onto the sandy beaches of the Baltic, and on a less windy day, the beaches of Gdańsk are a great place for a walk. In some especially cold winters, you might even be able to see ice.
The main place to explore in Gdańsk in the winter is certainly the historic, rebuilt Old Town. Here you will find the Gdańsk Christmas Market, amidst the beautiful buildings. Here you can buy souvenirs, get a drink, and enjoy the beautiful ambiance. As you leave the Old Town, you will find even more stalls with food and drink, and eventually a massive Christmas tree. If you are lucky, there will even be snow on the ground to make the environment even more romantic.
If you need to heat up, consider heading to nearby Sopot to relax and enjoy a spa, and enjoy the Sopot Pier. Or take a 30-minute train ride to nearby Malbork Castle, the largest gothic castle in the world. With snow on the ground, the massive castle appears like it is out of a fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm, and in general, this castle is one of the most impressive places in all of Poland to visit.
According to the information I could find, the Gdańsk Christmas Market will be happening this year from Friday November 17th until Saturday December 23rd. It was recently voted as the second-best Christmas Market in all of Europe, so you certainly do not want to miss it! For some more info about getting to Gdańsk if you are arriving in Warsaw, read this article.
Kraków is Poland’s most visited city, mostly due to its history and nearby attractions. But it is also an amazing place to visit in the winter. The UNESCO World Heritage site of the Kraków Market Square. Here already is the Cloth Hall, which sells many souvenirs year-round. For Poland in the winter, the Kraków Christmas Market adds some stalls to the areas, where you can get all the winter season specials as you walk through the cold, but colorful, streets of Kraków. This year, it is open from Friday November 24th until Tuesday December 26th.
If you need a chance to warm up, consider taking a trip to Wieliczka Salt Mines. A UNESCO heritage site found far below the ground, the temperature stays around 17-18 C (63-64 F) no matter the season, meaning on a cold winter day, you can get a nice almost sauna-like experience in the mines. You can also enjoy the health benefits of breathing the air full of salt. This site is amazing year-round, but it is extra special in the winter.
Otherwise, just enjoy the beautiful architecture and history of Kraków when visiting! Wawel Castle is always a great place to visit, and adding snow to the equation makes this area even more beautiful! If you need to heat up, it is just a short walk to Smok Wawelski, the fire-breathing dragon and symbol of Poland. Let his live flames warm you up! If you want a stellar view on a snowy day, consider taking a short trip out to Kopiec Kościuszki, a synthetic mound that supplies amazing views of the snowy scenes below once you climb to the top.
Finally, Kraków is worth visiting because it is the closest city to Zakopane and the Tatra Mountains, making Kraków your gateway to winter entertainment in Poland. Given that many airlines fly there year-round from around the world, it is also easy, and relatively cheap, to arrive in. Keep an eye out for more articles about Kraków in the future.
Warsaw offers a lot to do in the wintertime. Being the largest city, most activities will be happening in Warsaw throughout the winter. The lights and Christmas display are the most extensive in Poland, and with many night hours, there is a lot of time to enjoy it. Starting in Warsaw Old Town is where the romance starts. With snow on the ground, and the pretty lights in the Old Town Market Square, this is the perfect place to relax with your loved ones while sipping on some mulled wine or hot chocolate.
Within the Old Town you will find the Warsaw Christmas Market. While not the most impressive in my opinion, the environment makes it worthwhile. The market stalls are where the city walls used to be, creating a tight-knit environment that can get crowded. But you will find all the best Poland in the winter has to offer here. When you finish, you can rent some ice skates and skate in the Market Square around the statue of a mermaid, the symbol of Warsaw.
If you need further inspiration, there are many romantic lights displays to go to. You can try the lights display at Wilanów Palace, one of the icons of Warsaw, and a very beautiful building in the first place. Or you can go to a display at the University of Warsaw Botanical Gardens. Another sight of interest in the winter is Park Szczęśliwicki, home to an artificial ski slope full of artificial snow, and sometimes real snow, throughout the winter.
The Warsaw Christmas Market is likely to start on Sunday November 24th and continue until January 5th, 2024. However, from my experience, most market stalls will be closed at least until the middle of December, and the lights also might not turn on until then. Thus, the best time for the Warsaw Christmas Market is directly around Christmas. You can find more at the official tourism website of Warsaw when it gets closer to the time.
Wrocław is a charming Polish city found in the southwest of Poland closer to Czechia and Germany. It is a city of students, but also for tourists. The beautiful Old Town Square is the crown jewel, with beautiful buildings, including the Wrocław Town Hall. It is in this area you will find the Wrocław Christmas Market. Here you will find most of the colorful Christmas lights in the country and small stalls offering everything you would want at a Christmas market.
Additionally, as far as Poland in the winter goes, Wrocław does have slightly warmer daytime temperatures. So, consider spending a bit more time outside. Explore the massive Szczytnicki Park, full of beautiful gardens and green spaces that will be covered in snow, making it a perfect place to build a snowman, sled, or make some snow angels. Consider also visiting ZOO Wrocław, perhaps the best zoo in all of Poland.
If you want to be even more adventurous, take a day trip to the beautiful Książ Castle, found about an hour away from Wrocław by train. For Poland in the winter, this becomes a magical place, with the massive towers of the castle covered in snow looming over the surrounding picture-perfect forest. During the winter, this forest becomes a “garden of light” with beautiful Christmas lights adorning this romantic area.
The amazing Christmas market is supposedly to be open from Friday November 23rd to Sunday December 31st. Other attractions will be open depending on their updated hours. Overall, if you have more time to spend in Poland, Wrocław is a great place to spend some of your time in Poland in the winter.
Toruń is a small medieval town found about halfway between Warsaw and Gdańsk. As with many other cities on this list, it is the beautiful Medieval Old Town of Toruń that makes it a worthwhile destination in Poland in the winter. Toruń is one of the best-preserved cities in all of Europe, and here you can admire the beautiful brick buildings and city walls amongst other architectural wonders. You can also enjoy some wonderful museums and learn about the history of Toruń’s most famous resident, Nicolaus Copernicus.
The Christmas market adds to the naturally festive environment into the Old Town Square, home to the old town hall, a few churches, and the statue of Copernicus. You can also try the specialty from Toruń, gingerbread, mentioned earlier in this article! There are places to buy gingerbread everywhere in Toruń, and you should certainly not skip it if you are in town.
According to what I could find, the Christmas Market will be open from Saturday November 25th until Friday December 22nd. If you would like some more information about what to do in Toruń, or maybe where to dine or stay the night, consider reading this piece I wrote about Toruń.
BONUS NOTE: Another beautiful city to visit in the winter would normally be Poznan. However, half of Poznan is dug up right now due to renovations, including the beautiful Old Town Square. Thus, Poznan is not nearly as beautiful to visit right now. But, if you are planning to visit Poland in a few years (given the snail’s pace of most Polish construction projects), Poznan will quickly shoot to the top of this list!
Conclusions about Poland in the Winter
So, overall, Poland in the winter is an underrated destination in Europe, and you should consider it. Many Polish cities become even prettier when snow and winter cheer is added, and the Christmas markets in Poland are some of the best ones in Europe, without the crowds of those in other more popular winter destinations. Additionally, with lower costs, your money will go farther, and you can spend your entire Christmas break here without breaking the bank!
Keep an eye out for more feature articles in the future about Polish destinations in the winter, and other important things to know about Poland in the winter and around Christmas! These will be featured soon to help prepare you for your winter travels. Until then, safe travels!