One of Poland’s most beautiful (if not the most beautiful!) cities with one-of-a-kind charm and with one of the oldest Medieval city centres. Kraków is a large city (second after Warsaw – the capital) with a population nearly 1 million. The capital of Małopolska (Lesser Poland – Poland’s southern administrative subdivision) where summers are hot and winters are cold.
Marvellous old buildings, over 130 churches, picturesque Old Town, clubs, bars, restaurants, and cafés always crowded, Crakow is mostly visited Polish city among tourist from all around the world. The city is well-known for its difficult past. The earliest information concerning the second biggest city of Poland is traced back to the 7th century when it was a huge trade centre. During the Second World War the Old Town miraculously managed to remain untouched. Jonathan Carroll, an American writer, after visiting the city said: “Kraków is one of my favourite places on earth. It is a medieval city full of young people. A wonderful, striking combination”. Yet, before you decide to experience this unbelievable combination, here is my Cracow’s need to know guide:
- The Main Square – 10-acre square built in the mid-13th century was the biggest market in medieval Europe. The restaurants, cafés, bars and clubs in Cracow are always crowded. It is a place where you can taste local cuisine, listen to local bands, see exhibition and find your own favourite Cracow spot.
- Brave trumpeter – Bazylika Mariacka (St. Mary’s Church), a 13th century Gothic church which is situated in the heart of the city centre is a place from which a trumpeter saved Cracow. The legend says that when the First Mongol invasion was approaching Poland, a brave trumpeter sounded the alarm from the highest tower of the church and therefore the city’s gates were closed just in time. The city was saved but the brave man was shot in his throat and died. Now, to honur the fearless trumpeter, every hour Hejnał Mariacki is played from the highest tower of St. Mary’s Church breaking off mid-tune to recall the fall of Cracow’s saviour.
- The Painting and the Alter – One out of four portraits of women painted by Leonardo da Vinci “Lady with an Ermine” and the largest Gothic altarpiece in the world and a national treasure of Poland The Altar by Veit Stoss are in Cracow. Yes, two widely known and popular all around the world pieces of art are in Poland.
- Rynek Underground – Four metres under the Market Square is a treasure hidden which was discovered accidentally in 2005 by builders. The ruins of Old Cracow which are the most extraordinary town’s attraction. Over 43000 square metres area has been called Rynek Underground. In summer season (from April till October) open for visitors from 10am till 10pm.
- Wawel Castle, Wawel dragon and his den – Wawel Royal Castle is a beautiful reminder of the time when Cracow was Poland’s capital (to be more precise since 940, Poland had 5 capitals) and a fort in the city centre which just cannot be missed. And there, under the Wawel hill in the cave the legendary beast lives – the Wawel dragon – whose legend is one of the most significant to the history of the city.
- Oświęcim (Auschwitz) and Wieliczka – Cracow is beautiful, there is no doubt about it. Yet, there are two spots close to the city, which are often visited by tourists from all over the world. First, Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum (the biggest former German Nazi concentration camp and extermination camp) which is situated about 70km from Cracow. Info about organised trips there can be found here. Second, Wieliczka Salt Mine situated 15km from the city of Cracow; info about the tickets here.
- Kazimierz – in the past an independent city, now a historical district of Cracow and Cracow Old Town. A place where two cultures – the Jewish and Polish – coexisted for centuries. Today Kazimierz is one of the most outstanding parts of the city and the major tourist attractions also because of being an important centre of cultural life.
- Delicious Polish cuisine and vodka – While being in Cracow you should definitely visit one of milk bars (for example Bar Mleczny) which offer tasty Polish dishes such as: pierogi, zupa pomidorowa, barszcz, żurek, kluski, gołąbki, or sernik. And for sure check what obwarzanek is! Vodka in Kraków (and actually generally in Poland) is wonderfully cheap and wonderfully good. What’s more, you can experience vodka tour in Cracow.
- The colourful steps in Podgórze – ArtBoom Festival which presents art in public space painted the steps in iridescent colours and put quotations from the masters of literature. Being one of those charming yet unfortunatelly little-known places in Cracow, the colourful steps by Tatrzańska Street are really worth seeing before they disappear forever.
- Krakow Street Band – A group of eight professional musicians who meet on sunny days on Cracow’s main square to share positive enegry that comes from music. And even though each musician is a member of different bands and projects, Krakow Street Band’s performances give joy and happines to the people. The formation has already become Cracow’s musical highlight for tourists from abroad and Poland.
People make a place – it’s 100% sure. And if you believe in a common misconception that Poles are cold, you can’t be wrong more. Whichever Polish city you visit, you can be sure of a friendly and warm welcome. Additionally, Poles will love you if you show that you know Polish language; here are some basic phrases:
Excuse me / Sorry: przepraszam (sher-prash-am)
Thank You: dziękuję (djen-kyoo-yeh)
So, lose yourself in Kraków and suprise yourself by experiencing how hearty and chatty Polish people are.