Krakow is Poland’s second largest city that is epitomised by its medieval castles, Jewish quarter and disturbing past. Today, it makes for a fascinating travel destination, visited by any type of traveller – from couples to stag parties, birthdays to backpackers; Krakow exudes interest across the city.
For many Europeans, Krakow isn’t a secret. This popular Eastern Europe city won’t be a stranger to visitors, but for many outsiders, Krakow is a place yet to be explored. Put it this way, you won’t get the crowds that flock Rome and Paris in Krakow just yet.
Throw in some affordable prices, quirky communist-themed bars, burgeoning local cuisine and the trenches of its rich heritage, Krakow is a buzzing spot that never fails to disappoint.
History and Heritage
Everyone starts in the Old Town, Krakow’s Main Square and where you’ll no doubt base yourself whilst experiencing this historical city. Surrounded by medieval buildings, dozens of cafes, florists, horse and carriages and pop-up markets, all what is happening in Krakow derives from here. The towering feature of the Main Square is the iconic, gothic brick built church that is St Mary’s Basilica.
Underneath all the footsteps all locals and visitors take is the newly open Krakow Underground Museum. A new attraction all designed with high-tech hologram technology to showcase the old, this museum is an interactive look into the history of the city. The museum exhibits remnants of old settlings, medieval merchant stalls and historic trading routes of the city as well as other traditional museum items such as clothing and historic tools and materials.
Medieval Castles in Krakow
No you won’t be dreaming. No this isn’t some sort of cartoon fairytale. Krakow has castles, and Wawel Royal Castle fits the bill of the medieval castle you’ve always wanted to visit. A UNESCO World Heritage Site for 50 years, Wawel is equally as stunning during the day as it is in view at night. Built between the 13th and 14th centuries it’s estimated over 1 million visitors roam these historic walls per year that is now known as the Historic Centre of Krakow, where you can find the Royal Castle and Krakow Cathedral. Also, used as a premium art museum, filled with paintings, sculptures, tapestries, art, furniture and more.
The famous cuisine, which comes in Asian-like dumplings form, is a real treat to have in Krakow. With Pierogi with all types of flavours from vegetarian to meat, no one gets to miss out on this Polish goodness. One restaurant to check in the Jewish Quarter is Pierozki u Vincente. This small but delicious restaurant has tons of Polish Pierogi on offer so it’s fill your boots!
I am hungry. And you?
Cool Bar Scene in Krakow
One thing that Krakow can brag about is its unusual yet alternative bar scene sprawled across the city. For all bar lovers, if dim, characteristic and cosy bars are your thing, you’re in bar heaven in Krakow. Then again, if you want to drink yourself straight into controversy, head over to Propaganda, a communist themed bar in the Kazimierz Jewish Corner. Alchemia is another you definitely need to check out, almost decorated like a haunted house but with great local Polish ale options and candle’s to light the rooms, it’s quite an experience.
What about making Krakow your new vacation experience this summer?
Auschwitz & War Landmarks
Krakow isn’t a place without a disturbing past, especially when it comes to war. Auschwitz, which is a trip just outside of Krakow, is arguably Poland’s most historical attraction. These concentration camps are incredibly eerie, so prepare yourself for a sombre experience. They now exhibit remnants, photos and reconstructions of what life was like here for the 1.1 million Jews that were taking here during Nazi Germany time, when Poland was occupied during World War II. Auschwitz-Birkenau will take a day of wandering in itself, so make sure you put aside some time.
Adding to Auschwitz, there are also a number of other important war sites to visit. Schindler’s Factory, made Hollywood famous from Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, is now a museum that showcased Nazi occupation for five years during WW2. Also, make sure you visit Ghetto Heroes Square, laid with 70 metal chairs that commemorate the over 15,000 Jews who were packed into this part of the city and killed.
Wieliczka Salt Mines
One of Poland’s largest attractions is the Wieliczka Salt Mines, another captivating UNESCO World Heritage Site deep underground. Filled with ghostly chambers, chapels and statues carved out by the former miners this place take you way back. It was opened in the 13th century yet it only recently officially closed for business eleven years ago. During that time these mines have gone to depths of over 300metres and stretching out to nearly 200 miles long. From Hungarian princess legends to Nazi occupation, Wieliczka has many stories to tell.
Visit Magnificent Markets
For antiques, hocus pocus souvenirs and bargain buys, the Jewish Quarter is the best place to peruse, especially at its flea markets. Plac Targowy Unitard is the best flea market in Krakow. During the week it’s a bustling food market but on Sundays this popular flea market becomes a little more than that. From Russian-themed watches, cameras, old-fashioned clothing and war gadgets there is much to gauge at whilst you inspect relentlessly. Another flea markets on Sunday is the Hala Targowa Flea Market, full of adventure-worn artefacts. Make sure to visit early for this one as market sellers won’t hang around come mid afternoon! On Saturdays, the Plac Nowy Flea Market is also home to a hoard of old memorabilia from Soviet times to vintage goods, but during the week it’s home to fresh produce and goes old school, with rabbits and pigeons on the menu!
For a typically Cracovian authentic market mall, there’s no more suited than Suikkenice, the Cloth Hall situated in the Old Town. Open for trading since the 1300’s, this place has all sorts of material based items from animal skin to shiny jewellery to wood ornaments and woven rugs.
A Seasonless Destination
The great thing about Krakow is that it’s as good during the winter as it is in the summer. Due to its frosty WW2 landmarks and its cosy bars, winter is equally as enjoyable here. Whilst when it does get dark, the magical lights give the main square and surrounding castles and buildings so much personality and life, it’s almost like a mini fairy-tale. Look at that Kosciuszko Mound erected by Cracovians in commemoration of the Polish national leader Tadeusz Kosciuszko.
During the summer that is upon us now, the weather is glorious at times so there’s no loss if you decide to go sooner rather than later. Visiting Krakow’s famed cultural attractions during the day and sitting outside in one of the cities many main square cafes is what it’s all about.
You are curious now? Go ahead.