Krakow’s cultural and historical references to past and present honour tributes to the arts, sport and traditions are celebrated all year round. The summer months, especially, you are truly spoilt for choice as the high accumulation of tourists makes Krakow one of Europe’s most popular holiday and weekend break destinations. Krakow’s tourism board reported that 14 million visitors came to this enchanting medieval city in 2019 voted Best European City Destination and European Capital of Catering Culture. Krakow is a metaphorical potpourri of past history blended with modernity and some of its festivals are centuries old, so, to begin the popular festivals in Krakow it has to be the Dragon Parade which takes place annually at the beginning of June. The legend and folklore myth of the Wawel Dragon dates back to the 13th century and has always been celebrated since, every year the Great Dragon Parade Weekend involves schoolchildren, fireworks and a picnic by the Vistula River. The Wawel Dragon lived in a cave beneath the Wawel Castle and terrorised the local inhabitants, King Krakus offered many rich rewards to anyone who would kill this fiery dragon. A humble apprentice shoemaker called Skuba Dratewka came up with a cunning plan and destroyed the notorious dragon with a dead sheep stuffed full of sulphur. When the dragon ate the sheep it had to drink and the reaction water and sulphur caused the dragon to explode. He was hailed a hero and rewarded as promised by the king. Dratewka took residence in an Old Town residence married the king’s daughter and became a wine producer. The festival weekend has a fantastic light and sound display and boats with huge inflatable dragon figures floating down the Vistula with a fireworks finale on the Saturday night. The following day hundreds of brightly dressed schoolchildren walk along Planty, the pedestrian walkway circling the Old Town, with their handcrafted dragon figures on trolleys to eventually finish in the main square, Rynek. Prizes are given to the best judged dragons then it is off to the Dragon Family Picnic on the Vistula riverbanks. All visitors can attend and usually 1000s of people watch this magnificent spectacle and visit all the landmarks of the Wawel Dragon Legend including the supposed Wawel Dragon bone hanging above the Wawel Castle cathedral door. Naturally, there are a lot of side shows and one of great interest is the re-enaction of the Wawel Dragon story by the actors of the famous Groteska Theatre performed on the main square.
The Wianki Festival which is portrayed as a modern day music festival celebrating the summer solstice in mid-June every year, the word wianki means wreath in English and flower decorations are floated on the river by young maidens and the eligible young men would attempt to catch them and hope for a reunion with the girl that made it along with leaping over open fires and burning incense to celebrate the summer. This particular festival was originally a Pagan ritual adopted by Polish Christians, so it has a long history. Over time the Wianki Festival has been used in different aspects of Polish culture mainly to signify a patriotic manifestation due to world events such as WWII and the Soviet occupation period. In the 90s Wianki resumed in all its colourful splendour and attracts 1000s of participants every year to the city of Krakow. In today’s modern times top music artists put on performances during the weekend and prizes being awarded for the best Wianki wreath and once again a huge firework display on the river to end the modern version of this Pagan tradition celebrating the summer solstice. Although the performing artists are mainly Polish there has also been some big international artists on the gig list such as Jamiroquai, Lou Bega, Marillion and Lenny Kravitz. The headliner artists perform on stage in the main square, Rynek with plenty of side-shows dotted around the city with the incorporated St. John’s Day celebration with lots of attractions at the base of Wawel Hill during the weekend. All the music concerts are free.
On the culinary theme the fantastic Krakow Pierogi Festival held over 5 days from 15th August. The main market square is filled with stalls preparing and cooking one of Poland’s favourite traditional dishes the pierogi. In translation the dough pierogi is referred to in English as a dumpling but it resembles more the Italian pasta ravioli as it is moon-shaped with a crimped edge and filled with all kinds of different ingredients whereas a British dough dumpling has no filling and is a ball shape. Pierogi dishes can be boiled or fried. The fillings are numerous and include meat, dairy, vegetables and fruits. It can be a main dish served with fried onions or sauces or a dessert dish served with cream or ice-cream. There are many folklore stories on the pierogi’s origins and the earliest recorded reference is in 1238 telling the story of St. Hyacinth’s miracle of feeding a village after the crops were destroyed by the Tartar invasion, however, others say that the pierogi came via the Silk Trade route from China by Marco Polo as Krakow and it’s medieval square, Rynek was once Europe’s silk trade capital. All the pierogi stalls which are attended by Poland’s top chefs compete for the coveted St. Jacek statuette for best pierogi recipe and you as a visitor can vote for the best pierogi recipe after sampling them in choosing the people’s choice winner of the Casimir The Great pierogi award. The most popular pierogi recipes are with potatoes and cream, minced meat, cabbage, various cheeses, mushrooms and spinach while the dessert version includes raspberries, strawberries, plums, blueberries and apples. The pierogi is predominantly a Slavic delicatessen as many countries such as Russia, Ukraine and Hungary among others all have their own version of the pierogi dishes and in America there are places like Chicago, New York and Pittsburgh that hold a Pierogi Fest every year. In Krakow a Pierogarnia (dedicated pierogi bar) is as common as well known fast food chains and locals often take a quick lunch with a wholesome plate of pierogi. In conjunction with the Pierogi Festival local florists put on displays of bouquets and novelty seasonal flower arrangements on the square and later in the day there are music performers on stage for your entertainment. Eat, drink the local beer brews and be merry at the Krakow Pierogi Festival.
Poland has an emerging rugby football scene and Krakow with its top flight league team Juvenia Krakow RFC in collaboration with PartyKrakow (Krakow expert party organiser and a stag do company) hold the annual event of the Krakow Rugby Festival. This exciting tournament has been running since 2016 and brings hundreds of rugby enthusiasts to compete for the KRF Champions Cup. The tournament is always held on the 3rd weekend in June but what makes this rugby festival a spectacular event is the Unlimited Beer & Cider on offer for the entire weekend in the true spirit of rugby endures from the Friday night induction meet and greet party with the qualifying matches played on the Saturday and all the finals on the Sunday and to finish the weekend of rugby and entertainment the Grand Gala Dinner. The organisers provide the teams and support staff with all the services required the moment they arrive in Krakow with airport transfers, pitch transfers, accommodation, meals pitch-side, paramedics in attendance, massage tent, drinking and skill games, team dressing rooms and pitch-side covered areas to relax in between games. As rugby players enjoy and end of season tour so do referees and the KRF invites out of season referee bodies to attend this fun tournament that is based on exhibition rugby and rugby values and spirit. A nifty little incentive whilst playing is the trademark Slider under the posts, a tarpaulin kept wet and slippery to encourage a slider try which is then rewarded with a pint to drink on the spot. The KRF is open to men and women official team tours or the popular summer teams of rugby friends that meet up and non-players are encouraged to accompany the teams as the weekend involves 3 nights of partying apart from the game days. The awards ceremony after all the finals of the varying level winners and special awards such as Best KRF Drinkers with a live music concert pitch-side. Later in the evening the Grand Gala Dinner where the unlimited beer and cider continues to flow until midnight while the teams sing their club songs and initiate 1st time on tour players. Many European teams flock to Krakow and the KRF with other international teams from Venezuela, S. Korea, UAE and USA in the past. This is a full on, high action rugby weekend both on and off the pitch, the KRF motto is ‘Do you have the ovals to finish it’, knowing the rugby lads and how important the 3rd half is the Krakow Rugby Festival is a true but fun test to have a go at.
Krakow’s connections with Jewish culture has very deep roots, in fact, the area known as Kazimierz was declared by royal seal a new and independent city for Jewish inhabitants by King Casimir (Kazimierz in Polish) III in 1335. The Jewish community contributed greatly to Krakow’s community and Kazimierz city became a significant and integral part of the Krakow region. Today with further expansion of Krakow itself Kazimierz has been absorbed in its boundaries. The area reflects centuries of Jewish culture and architecture with museums, synagogues and places of interest depicting the historical events of the area. The Jewish Culture Festival which began in 1988 is one of the oldest and biggest in the world and brings to the forefront the influences and cultural aspects of Jewish heritage, life and history throughout past and modern eras. The festival usually commences the last weekend of June to come to a conclusion on the first weekend in July. The main venue area is in Ul. Szeroka or Broad St. in English, here you can taste, touch and see the traditions and lifestyles of the Jewish community. Many locales and venues in the Jewish quarter hold events and happenings during the festival, there are lectures to attend every day in the Kupa Synagogue, films and documentaries screened in local venues, music, especially Klezmer or Israeli folk both traditional and contemporary genres from world famous artists. Art and photography exhibitions along with religious knowledge tours of the synagogues and the Krakow Ghetto history during the Holocaust inflicted by Nazi occupation times. Oskar Schindler’s original factory in the neighbouring Podgorze zoe in Kazimierz with the symbolic chairs of Plac Bohaterow Getta honouring the memory of all Jews transported to the Auschwitz/Birkenau camps. One place you have to visit is the Cheder Café in Jozefa St. where they serve coffee in the original finjin brass pot. Cheder Café is also the cultural heart of the festival, the building opened as a house of prayers in 1890 and somehow survived almost intact through the wars and occupation then to be renovated by the Jewish Festival organisers this bet hamidrash or house of prayers opened its doors again with a coffee & hummas shop and cheder meaning Jewish education. The festival attracts 1000s of visitors every year and the festival atmosphere remains high from dawn til dusk and beyond with cultural, culinary, artistic and entertainment events in Kazimierz, the Jewish Quarter of Krakow.
The above mentioned festivals are spectacular for different motives and different people but it is right to say that Krakow is a vibrant city, alive with cultural and traditional festivals of every genre. Whatever your reason to visit Krakow you will find this enchanting city friendly, surprising and full of splendid sights to see and experience. Theatre, film, folk music, literature, sport and the best cuisine all have festivals at some point in the year. Check out the Easter and Christmas markets if you are thinking of a holiday break these too fall into the category of spectacular.