If you believe the legends, Poland’s cultural capital Krakow was founded on the defeat of a dragon, and it’s true a mythical atmosphere permeates its attractive streets and squares.
Here’s how to make the most of your time in this picturesque city:
Early to bed early to rise
If you rise early and are up and about, then the first thing to do is take a walk around the beautiful square in the Old Town. The Rynek Głowny (Main Market Square) in Krakow is the oldest medieval square in Europe. It can get pretty crowded but being there early in the morning means you get to see it in a completely different light, literally and figuratively.
The sweet smell of summer bloom as the florists set up their stalls, the sound of horse-drawn carriages trotting down the cobbled streets and the whiff of coffee as cafés prepare for the busy day ahead all make for an unforgettable sensory experience. There’s a beautiful balance between the early morning calm and a slowly escalating air of activity. And if you needed things to get a little more perfect, look up at the awe-inspiring gothic towers of St Mary’s Basilica.
Having built up an appetite with all that walking, there are several cafés around Rynek Głowny offering traditional Polish breakfast. This normally includes a lot of side dishes, and can be quite a spread that’s typically served with chleb (bread), ser (cheese), ogórki (pickles), kielbasa (traditional Polish sausage), powidła (a special kind of Polish jam or preserve), tomatoes and eggs amongst other things.
About a 20-minute walk or a short bus ride away from the Rynek Głowny is the magnificent Gothic Zamek Krolewski na Wawelu (Wawel Castle). Located by the picturesque Wisła River on the Wawel Hill, if there is one sight you need to see before you leave Kracow then this is it. On display are the Polish Crown Jewels, impressive State Rooms and interesting exhibitions such as ‘The Lost Wawel’ and ‘Oriental Art’.
Lunch on the run
A Polish speciality is pierogi, little dumplings filled with meat, vegetables or cheese that are a cross between ravioli and dim sum. Several Krakow cafés specialise in pierogi, such as Zapiecek (17), a small, rustic establishment at Ulica Slawkowska, where you will get a quick but very tasty lunch.
After a leisurely stroll along the river, make your way towards Kazimierz, the Jewish district of Krakow. There is a lot to see and do in Kazimierz and walking is the best way to discover the area. Stumble into the synagogues which document the horrors of a recent past, and explore Oscar Schindler’s renowned factory. There is also a Ghetto Heroes square with an interesting installation. Walking around what was once a Jewish ghetto under the Nazi occupation is a particularly sombre experience. The vibe is as solemn as the architecture. Parts of it even appear run down, a stark contrast to the Krakow you would’ve experienced earlier in the day.
Come evening, if you’re still in Kazimierz head to the legendary Alchemia, located just across the Plac Nowy. Very popular with Poland’s arty crowd, Alchemia is the boho centre of the nightlife scene in Krakow. Enjoy a glass of the local Okocim or Zywiec beer, or a shot of Polish vodka, at Alchemia (20), at Ulica Estery 5 (www.alchemia.com.pl). or one of the many bars on Plac Nowa.
An alternative for those who prefer something less crowded, quieter or more cultural is to make their way to one of the city’s many theatres. The Krakow Operetta, The National Old Theatre, The Ludowy Theatre and The Groteska Theatre of Puppetry are just some of the several well-known theatres here.
Dine like the locals
Look out for Polish specialities such as oscypek, a smoked cheese that is fried and eaten with cranberry sauce, and bigos, a spicy mixture of pickled cabbage and chunks of sausage. CK Deserter (21), at Ulica Bracka, is a relaxed place with a rustic decor and a warm atmosphere, serving a tasty range of meat and fish dishes as well as a good selection of vegetarian fare.
Did you know: Krakow is a city of many mounds. For panoramic views, the best of these hilly knolls is Kosci Uszko (www.kopieckosciuszki.pl), with vistas of the fort, the city and surrounding countryside.
For further information: http://www.poland.travel