Krakow has become a popular European city to visit and recently voted for the third time in a row Europe’s Best City Break destination and twice as Best City for Quality Culinary & Cuisine Choices. Krakow is a city full of surprises for all visitors no matter your reasons for choosing to come here, as the once capital of Poland you can see by the almost regal demeanour displayed at times by local Cracovians that they are very proud indeed and carry that air of knowing that Krakow is still, for them, the original capital city of Poland. The city has a history and culture going back ten centuries but today’s modern Krakow can also offer you a fantastic welcome with plenty to do and see on every street corner surrounding the main square Rynek which is where we first encounter some of Krakow’s charming and wonderful delights.
Krakow also has that little extra you were not expecting. Whether you are a couple or looking for a romantic weekend, a family or a group of friends looking for fun, this city caters for all as it’s both cosmopolitan yet full of ancient myths, legends and romantic places.
Today Krakow enjoys over 14 million tourist visits a year from all over the world – the blend of old and new on every street and in every quarter of Krakow will enchant you no end.
The very first place of interest and beauty is Rynek, also known as the Draper’s Square as in the past Europe’s largest square in existence was an important textile and cloth trading centre. In fact, the world’s silk trading centre back in the 13th century. This medieval era piazza has hardly changed since those early times and only had to be rebuilt after the Mongol invasion of 1241. The Cloth Hall or Sukiennice which houses restaurants and souvenir shops today and the branch of the Polish National Museum on the 1st floor, as well as Krakow Underground Museum downstairs
On Rynek there is also the St. Mary’s Basilica or Kościół Mariacki with its twin towers and bugler sounding every hour of the day from the tallest turret is a marvellous 14th century Gothic church, however, all the interior and its 26 altars were refurbished in the 18th century Baroque style although the neo-Gothic design was brought back in the late 1800s which visible especially in the stained glass windows.
Apart from the Rynek area there is Krakow’s other popular zone- Kazimierz or Jewish Quarter. As the name suggests you discover the Jewish culture and pre-WWII architecture along with synagogues and museums celebrating the Jewish heritage. The area is full of pubs, clubs & restaurants and featured in Steven Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List. The area was given the name by King Kazimierz III The Great in 1335. Today Kazimierz is a vibrant and bustling hive of activity day and night with its markets, festivals and attractions. This is also a of the start point to follow Krakow’s Nazi occupation period and the plight of the Jewish community in WW2.
The area known as Podgorze or Krakow Ghetto has Schindler’s original factory now a museum open to the public and a memorial on Plac Bohaterow Ghettow which where many departed for
Auschwitz/Birkenau Nazi Concentration Camps,
It’s best to arrange a visit via an agency or dedicated company with a morning departure too. Oświęcim which is the Polish name for this city was originally a concentration camp to hold Russian POWs. Approximately 10,000 soldiers were interned there and not very many survived. Later, the camps were used for holding Jewish, Roma and anyone else not to the liking of the Nazi regime. Today, the Auschwitz/Birkenau Memorial is a World Heritage Site and is a stark reminder of the horrific crimes committed there for all humanity to reflect upon.
Visit famous Unesco listed Wieliczka Salt mine
Salt deposits mined in Wieliczka are even 15 million years old! The oldest traces of their exploitation by man comes from 3 thousand years BC. Initially, local people extract the salt by evaporating water from brine naturally flowing out of the ground. In the early Middle Ages (XII/XIII century) the first mineshafts were hollowed. Salt was one of the main riches of the Krakow region and Polish monarch surrounded the mines in Wieliczka and Bochnia with their special care. Salt played a huge part in history from preserving food, health and used in place of real money at times this natural commodity was used by civilisations from over a million years ago as a Wieliczka visit will show you. You are taken on a tour of the mine and its complete workings throughout the centuries until modern day. Apart from the informative tour a special 5D interactive hall allows all age groups to experience what it was like to mine salt and all the dangers you might incur using high tech simulators. The main outstanding feature is St. Kinga’s Chapel, everything you see, touch or stand on is or was carved from rock salt, even Da Vinci’s Last Supper is reproduced but completely carved in rock salt. Although salt is still mined today Wieliczka concentrates on keeping the mine open for millions of visitors every year and even hire out the underground grottos for social and corporate events.
Explore Tatra mountains and visit Zakopane
Poland’s highest city in altitude, at just over 11,000m has its origins with the highlander settlers from as far back as the 15th century with mining for copper, silver and gold and, of course, farming, one of the oldest ironworks established in the 19th century. Nestled in the Tatra Mountains close to the Dunajec River the city offers a wide variety of activities for visitors in all four seasons of the year. The journey from Krakow takes 90 minutes but will be reduced when the new highway is opened or you can take train from Krakow with a very scenic route requiring 2 to 3 hours.
Enjoy Krakow Nigtlife !
As vodka is Poland’s national tippleand the rumours say that vodka was invented in Poland, a vodka tasting tour is a must when in Krakow. There are plenty of bars where you can try Polish vodka, but few which will offer a true “fine drinking experience”. So, one of the best places to get acquainted with vodka, its quirks and origins is the dragon themed pub Mr. Vavelsky Cellar & GardenBar just off Rynek the main square. Here you can also organise a vodka tasting session and the upgraded version combined with an expert magician gives you a short lecture on different Polish craft vodkas you try and entertains you with his illusion skills (btw- after 6 shots of vodka you try his spells on you work true magic !). Have a look here if you’d like to book this tour: https://partykrakow.co.uk/krakow-stag-do-activities/magic-of-polish-vodka-premium-tasting-experience – it’s also a great Krakow stag do activity).
Also when it comes to nightlife, Krakow urban legend also says there are well over 400 bars and clubs only within the city centre area, so taking a guided pub crawl is definitely a good idea here.
The above is just a fraction of places worth visiting and things to do when in Krakow. I hope it gives you a decent foretaste of what a weekend in Krakow may look like.