Krakow can be seen as the cultural capital of Poland. By wondering around through its peaceful streets, you will realise that every corner tries to pay homage to music, poetry and theatre. Adding to the fact that it is currently one of the cheapest and most attractive cities to visit, the second largest Polish city invites you to dive in into its medieval towers, spiralling castles and legends of dragons.
Things to do and see
Being one of the cities that are hosting the Euro 2012, Krakow shows an uplifting sense of hope and joy that ends up being surprising. After facing years of suffering with two gory world wars, Poland is now enjoying its accession to the European Union in 2004. The Polish got rid of an oppressive, castrating regime and are now involved in a free, modern and optimistic vibe.
This is a city that history fans will crave for, mainly because it was one of the few that were relatively undamaged at the end of World War II. One of its main emblematic points is Wawel Hill where you can have a glimpse of the long Vistula River, together with a visit to one of the most beautiful royal houses in Europe, The Royal Castle and its cathedral.
Nevertheless, all old, mysterious castles have a tale to tell. Apparently, the bones of Smok Wawelski, the mythical dragon that once lived there, can be seen on the bank of the river – it’s like being a kid all over again.
After reminiscing childhood memories, you can head down to visit the Church of St. Adalbert. Dating from the 10th century, it’s one of the oldest in Europe.
You are now very close to the Main Market Square, located in the heart of the city, the Old Town. Take a break and enjoy not only the several medieval churches that are surrounding it, but also the very colourful, ancient townhouses and palaces. Or you can as easily go to the Sukiennice – you’re right, Polish can be a bit of a struggle – which is one of the city’s most iconic places.
With its sumptuous arcades, it’s a treat for the regular tourist – this is the place to get souvenirs for your mother, father, dog and cat. In between, you can also sit in one of the many fancy cafés or go to one of the galleries of the National Museum in the upper floor.
A curious fact about the museum is that it has various branches spread around the country, the one in Krakow being the most important. It’s a different, but still attention-grabbing take on art, since you will mainly see work from Polish painters.
It’s open every day of week, except for Mondays and the tickets can go from 10-18zl for adults (£2 to £4).
The Old Jewish Quarter in Kazimierz: As it was mentioned before, Poland was under the Nazi domain during the Second World War. It’s advised that you take some time to go to one of Krakow’s districts, located on the other side of river. Once you’re there, you might recognise it from one of Spielberg’s masterpieces, Schindler’s List.
Even though it became a lively, busy place to visit, it’s very different from the Old Town. Covered with empty synagogues and abandoned cemeteries it’s not attractive to the eye, but if go you to Plac Nowy – a trendy, full of bars, friendly restaurants and market stalls, square – you will see a different side of the city.
Nightlife: After a day of being cultured and visiting all these amazingly historic attractions, it’s time for you to enjoy what is now considered to be one of Europe’s best nightlife scenes. Just so you know, only around the Rynek Głowny (another name for the Main Market Square) there are meant to be 400 bars. Be ready to enter a very bohemian, underground world, where old cellars were turned into cavernous bars with cheap drinks.
Even though it’s not located in the centre of the city (about 10 minutes from the Old Town), Drukarnia is one of the quirkiest bars to go to if you feel like a chilled out night. With live jazz acts and DJs to entertain you for the rest of the night, this place gets crowded quickly with musicians and students. There is also a big plus – you get the most unbelievable view of the Vistula while drinking beer.
What to eat: Apparently with influences from Italy and France, Polish food is extremely flavourful and fortunately – or not – heavy. Give yourself a break because it’s worth it in the end!
Soup is one of their things, so don’t think it’s weird to have it as a starter. Zupa ogórkowa or soup of sour is surprisingly good. The name is far from being appealing, but it has salted cucumbers and pork. One of the most iconic dishes is Pierogi. It consists of dough filled with cheese, potatoes, onions, mushrooms and meat, served extremely hot boiled or fried and you have it with sour cream. You get a pleasant tingling feeling in your mouth that makes you crave for more.
Check staypoland.com/poland-food to find out more.
It is extremely easy to see Krakow and embrace yourself in its narrow streets, mostly because all of the Old Town area is pedestrianised. You can always take the trams that serve the city centre or buses if you wish to go to the outer areas. Both are low-priced – 2.50zl (0.47) – and easy to find.
Currently, the flights are very cheap, which is particularly positive if you’re a football fan and it means that you probably skipped the whole article. Nevertheless and hard feelings aside, Easyjet flies from Gatwick and Luton and Ryanair from Stansted.
Krakow’s Balice airport is very close to the city centre and you can get there from Dworzec Glówny train station with a 6zl ticket (£1).