Jewish Culture Festival, June
Malta Festival, June
Wratislavia Cantans, September
Warsaw International Film Festival, October
Kraków Christmas Cribs, December
January normally starts with a bang at midnight and a week-long whimper as the country sleeps off its New Year’s Eve fun. Don’t expect services to be fully restored until after the first week of the year.
Head for the Hills
Poland’s festival pulse is barely beating. A better idea is to head south for a bit of skiing, such as to the country's main winter resort of Zakopane.
Kraków New Year
New Year’s Eve celebrations are held around the country with fireworks and drinking. In Kraków there’s that and also a classier alternative: a New Year’s concert at the Teatr im Słowackiego.
The winter ski season reaches its peak this month at resorts in the southern mountains. The crowds on slopes worsen about mid-month during winter break, when schoolkids get the week off.
Shanties in Kraków
In case you were wondering, a ‘shanty’ is a traditional sailor’s song. Kraków’s held this international shanty fest (www.shanties.pl) since 1981 and it’s still going strong – in spite of Kraków’s landlocked locale!
After a slow month in March, April begins to pick up with ever-lengthening days, budding trees, and warm, sunny afternoons that promise better days ahead. Easter is a big travel weekend.
Kraków’s marathon (www.zis.krakow.pl) has become an increasingly popular running event and now draws more than a thousand runners to its scenic course, which heads out from the Old Town.
Easter & Beethoven
Easter weekend is celebrated around the country, usually with a big dinner and lots of drinking. The annual Beethoven Easter festival (www.beethoven.org.pl) in Warsaw brings two weeks of concerts over the holiday season.
May finally brings the return of reliably decent weather, flowers in bloom, and the sound of happy students about to be freed from school. In Kraków, during Juvenalia, the students actually take over the city.
The Probaltica Music & Art Festival (www.probaltica.art.pl) in Toruń brings together traditional musicians from across the Baltic region.
Częstochowa is known as a Catholic pilgrimage site, but each May it shows off its ecumenical side with the ‘Gaude Mater’ Festival (www.gaudemater.pl), highlighting religious music from Christian, Jewish and Islamic faiths.
Summer starts to get rolling as the weather warms up and the kids get out of school. Festivals marking Corpus Christi (usually June, but sometimes May) can be raucous. The biggest is in Łowicz.
Jewish Culture Festival
Kraków’s Jewish Culture Festival (www.jewishfestival.pl), at the end of June and start of July, is one of the leading events of the year and ends with a grand open-air klezmer concert on ul Szeroka in Kazimierz.
Theatre in Poznań
Poznań’s Malta Festival (www.malta-festival.pl) is the country’s biggest theatre and dramatic arts event. Expect a week of entertaining street theatre – and thousands of people competing for hotel rooms.
July can be hot and sunny or cold and rainy, depending on your luck. Resorts are crowded, but not as bad as they will be in August. The festival season kicks into high gear.
Klezmer on the River
Gdynia's Open'er Festival (www.opener.pl) of pop and indie rock is the summer event everyone in the Tri-City talks about. It's held the first week of July at the city's Kosakowo Airport.
Warsaw Street Art
Warsaw’s annual street arts festival (www.sztukaulicy.pl) brings five days of theatre, open-air art installations and ‘happenings’, staged in public places.
It’s the height of summer. Expect big crowds at the seashore as well as lake and mountain resorts, which only worsen at weekends. As compensation, you’ll get sunshine, lots of festivals – and a pierogi (dumpling) fair in Kraków.
Gdańsk’s biggest bash (www.jarmarkdominika.pl) of the year has been held since 1260. Launched by Dominican monks as a feast day, the fun has spread to streets all around the Main Town.
Getting Down With Highlanders
Zakopane’s International Festival of Mountain Folklore (www.zakopane.pl) draws highlanders (mountain folk) from around Europe and the world for a week of music, dance and traditional costume.
The first nip of autumn arrives early in the month as kids return to school and life returns to normal. There’s usually a long patch of sunshine in September, perfect to enjoy the crowd-free resorts.
Each year, Łódź celebrates its historic role as a meeting place of Polish, Jewish, Russian and German cultures with this suitably named festival (www.4kultury.pl). There’s theatre, music, film and dialogue.
The unforgettably named Wratislavia Cantans (www.wratislaviacantans.pl) is Wrocław’s top music and fine-arts confab. The focus is on sacral music but given a high-brow twist.
Poznań's Old Jazz Festival (www.oldjazzfestival.pl), in late September, features a range of local and international jazz performers, both old and young, strutting their stuff at venues around town.
The tourist season is officially over, and castles and museums revert to winter hours or fall into a deep slumber. City dwellers turn to jazz festivals to forget the coming winter.
The Warsaw Film Festival (www.wff.pl) highlights the world’s best films over 10 days in October. There are screenings of the best Polish films and plenty of retrospectives.
The first significant snowfalls begin in the mountains, though the ski season doesn’t begin in earnest until December. Elsewhere around the country, brisk temps and darkening afternoons herald the coming of winter.
All Souls’ Jazz
Cracovians fight the onset of the winter blues with the week-long Zaduszki Jazz Festival, which commences every year around All Souls’ Day (2 November). Look for performances all over town, in clubs, bars and even churches.
Hot Cross Buns
Polish Independence Day falls on 11 November, but in Poznań it’s also St Martin’s Day, a day of parades and general merriment. The real treat, though, is the baking and eating of special St Martin’s Day croissants.
The air turns frosty and ski season in the south begins around the middle of the month. The only thing keeping people going, amid the grey skies, is the coming Christmas and New Year holidays.
Capital Christmas Market
Christmas markets are found around the country, but arguably the most evocative is in Warsaw’s Old Town. A Christmas tree brightens Castle Sq (Plac Zamkowy) and market stalls, filled with mostly tat, spring up all around.
Kraków Christmas Cribs
December kicks off an unusual contest to see who can build the most amazing Christmas crèche. The szopki (Nativity scenes) are elaborate compositions in astonishing detail fashioned from cardboard, wood and tinfoil.