Here’s a rundown of the most important yearly festivals; keep in mind that some spill over into the next month.
FebruaryShanties - For 30+ years Kraków has hosted this salty sea shanty festival with so much success that it has spawned an astounding 20 other shanty festivals across Poland and risen to become not only the most important celebration of maritime music in Poland, but the largest in all of Europe - quite an accomplishment for a non-port city in Central Europe.
March or April (Easter)Misteria Paschalia - This popular festival presents “early” music - as in, early classical and sacral. The repertoire is carefully crafted to thematically coincide with Easter, arguably the most important religious holiday on the Polish calendar.
MayOff Plus Camera - A week or so of new independent movies and cult masterpieces at Kino Pod Baranami - need we say more?
Photomonth - The month-long event (one of the largest photography festivals in Europe) begins in mid-May, bringing dozens of individual and collective photo exhibitions to the city's galleries, cafes, museums, cultural centres, and more unique locations like public parks, private flats, and post-industrial spaces.
Miłosz Festival - This biennial festival takes place in odd-numbered years and celebrates the national treasure that was poet and writer Czesław Miłosz. Events include literary conferences, film screenings, translation workshops, poetry evenings, and concerts; the crowd will not be as homogeneously Polish as you might expect, as the hosts invite a score of international poets, writers, and scholars to join in on the action.
JuneDragon Parade - If you know anything about Kraków, you know the legend of the Wawel dragon; though similar tales abound in Europe, Poles are very attached to their smok wawelski, which is why this festival caught on so well. The main attraction is an evening river pageant, complete with fantastic dragon floats, fireworks, lasers and music, followed by a parade around the market square the following morning.
Jewish Culture Festival - Though the number of Jews in Kraków had plummeted from 60,000 to almost nothing over the course of WWII and the subsequent years, Jewish culture is being carefully kept alive in the Kazimierz district and officially on the rebound. This festival gives participants the opportunity to learn, grow, and experience what Judaism and Semitic culture is all about, both traditionally and contemporarily. Many of the guests are from Israel or the United States, so quite a few of the events are hosted in English. www.jewishfestival.pl
Cracovia Cantans - This festival/competition draws choirs from all over Europe (and occasionally from more faraway places) to perform at various Kraków churches. Admission is free.
Lajkonik Parade - Kraków's iconic Lajkonik character celebrates the city's deliverance from Tatar invaders by marching with a band and sergeant from the Sisters of Norbertanki's Monastery Courtyard (ul. Kościuszki 88, H-3) to the city's Market Square (Rynek Główny, I-2), hitting passers-by on the arm, just to bring them luck.
Life Festival Oświęcim - The music festival was created to demonstrate that there is more to the small city of Oświęcim than just the Auschwitz concentration camp, and to form more positive connections in the minds of visiting tourists. The festival's message is peace, tolerance, and diversity, and its goal is combating racism and anti-semitism.
Wianki - A modern Midsummer / St. John’s Night celebration of life and love, which draws big crowds yearly. It features concerts of both contemporary and medieval music, a Renaissance fair, and plenty of gorgeous flower crowns called wianki, which maidens traditionally floated down the river at midnight.
Wieliczka Salt Festival - The Wieliczka Salt Mine celebrates Salt Day with a full day of attractions including craft presentations, workshops, exhibitions, historical reenactments, and concerts.
JulyArs Cameralis - This is a month-long chamber opera festival, with the performances including whatever’s in the Kraków Chamber Opera’s current programme - which is often the Chatskele, Chatskele! Yiddish music concert, and the religious hymn Stabat Mater.
Summer Jazz Festival - Kraków spoils its jazz fans in July with an entire month of fantastic daily concerts at the city’s legendary cult venue Piwnica Pod Baranami - part of a festival that’s been organised yearly since 1996.
Wawel at Dusk - As far as concert venues go, the Wawel Castle might be as fancy and atmospheric as you can get in Kraków - and what better time than a warm summer dusk to enjoy beautiful classical music?
ULICA Street Theatre Festival - Started by Teatr KTO in 1988 (believe it or not, that makes it one of the oldest events of this type in Central Europe), ULICA Festival has become a yearly tradition in Kraków. International troupes will be performing on and around the Main Square.
AugustLive Festival - One of Poland’s biggest summer bashes, and the festival that draws some of the brightest stars. Past guests have included Rihanna, 30 Seconds to Mars, Muse, The Chemical Brothers, 50 Cent, and Snoop Dogg/Lion.
Pierogi Festival - Eat yourself into a coma with the help of Poland's best culinary staple (or, as some would argue, achievement). And yes, there's even a competition for the tastiest dumpling, so go and sample.
Music in Old Cracow - Music in Old Cracow dates back to 1976, long enough to qualify it as one of the oldest festivals in Poland. The main goal is to commemorate prominent composers who worked and/or gave concerts here (sadly, not many of these are homegrown).
SeptemberDachshund March - Perhaps a bit more inane than the Lajkonik Parade, the Dachshund March has carved out a niche for itself in Kraków's array of special events: indeed, with twenty editions and counting, the parade of wiener dogs has become a pretty serious tradition.
Music Film Festival - Some of the best symphonic music today is composed for film, and it often goes without due recognition outside the world of cinematography. Luckily, since it can and does stand alone, film music concerts and festivals are beginning to grow in popularity - here’s one example.
Sfogato Festival - This may not be Warsaw, but there's no reason Kraków should not have its own Chopin festival - and indeed it does. The programme usually includes not only Chopin's compositions, but also works by his contemporaries and friends, such as Franz Liszt and Robert Schumann.
Sacrum Profanum - A highlight on the European festival calendar, this ambitious contemporary music event combines classical with various modern genres, drawing big names to Kraków each September.
October7xGospel - This festival began in 1999 with a successful inaugural meeting, and the Gospel Workshop hasn't looked back since. In 2006 the name was changed to 7xGospel Festival to reflect the diverse nature of the events, which include lectures, seminars, jam sessions, films, concerts, and workshops.
Conrad Festival - An international literary event celebrating the diversity of world literature and introducing Polish readers to new voices by hosting renowned authors, literary critics and translators from a variety of countries and cultures, working in a variety of different languages.
Grechuta Festival - With his catchy spoken lyrics, roaring drinking habit and rumoured schizophrenia, Marek Grechuta was the embodiment of tortured genius. His place in Polish music history is cast in stone – think of this guy as the Polish Bob Dylan - and so it's of little surprise that a festival dedicated exclusively to the sung poetry musician has sprung up in Kraków.
Jazz Autumn - Two or three months of delicious jazz at Alchemia Club and the Manggha Museum.
Unsound - Unsound is an underground-ish music festival with an intellectual air. The names won't be too famous and the festival won't be transmitted over the internet, but the organisers deliver on their promise of a unique atmosphere and an unforgettable listening experience, and this hip festival has spawned sister editions in New York, London and Adelaide.
Theatrical Reminiscences - Dating back to the mid-seventies, this long-standing, still-evolving festival offers contemporary dance shows, film screenings, international workshops, panel discussions, artist meetings, and art walks through urban residential space.
NovemberJazz All Souls’ Day - Well into its fifties, this is unsurprisingly one of the oldest jazz festivals in Poland; concerts take place in cool locations like the Wieliczka Salt Mine and Piwnica Pod Baranami.