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.
Rynek or the Draper’s Square in the Old Town is Europe’s largest square at roughly 40,000 m2 . Made famous as a silk and textile centre in the 12th century, the impressive monuments and superb architecture of the Sukiennice museum in the centre of it was once a medieval luxury hotel for important visiting dignitaries and merchants. The square is surrounded with cafes, restaurants, pubs and hotels. You can also take a city tour on the many horse & carriages that line the square. The market square is host to a feast of entertainment throughout the year with the Dragon Parade, Easter Fayre, Summer time Music & Theatre productions and the Christmas market being the most popular. Underneath the main square is the Rynek Underground Museum orPodziemia Rynku Museum which depicts the daily life of Cracovians through its long history with a number of fascinating exhibitions on display. One unusual artefact on display is the huge lead ball in this 6,000m2 interactive museum, not to be missed. Also on the square is the splendid Kosciol Mariacki or St. Mary’s Basilica with its two towers and clock. You will hear a trumpeter from the tallest tower signal every hour of the day by playing Heynal Mariacki. The square is part of the Royal route through the city leading to the Wawel Royal Castle, the medieval castle is listed as a Unesco World Heritage site and all of Poland’s Kings, Queens and Heroes are buried in the adjoining Wawel Cathedral.
Wawel Castle was considered a powerful state in the past built on top of Wawel Hill near the Vistula River this foreboding monument will certainly intrigue you especially the Legend of the Wawel dragon. The legendary tale will lead you on a mini tour of the city beginning with the castle as over the main door to the Wawel Cathedral hangs a dragon bone. Further following the story you will visit the Wawel Dragon lair at the foot of Wawel Hill below the castle. Enter at your own peril! There is also a fire breathing dragon statue close to the cave’s entrance in honour of the Wawel Dragon defeated by a humble apprentice shoe-maker called Dratewska. He fooled the dragon with a sulphur filled dead sheep, when the dragon ate it he had to drink from the nearby river and consequently exploded. You can also visit the shoe-makers dwelling in the centre, Mr. Vavelski Cellar Pub & Beer Garden which is dragon themed naturally.
Apart from the Old Town 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.
Everyone should be visit and witness the horrors of these Nazi concentration camps. No need to say much more except that organised visits are available to pay your respects to the souls that lost their lives there. On a lighter note the excellent Wieliczka Salt Mineis a must see attraction, an insight to how salt was an important commodity especially in the past.
You get the chance wander the many kilometres of tunnels & caverns as a real Salt Miner for a while. When you meet a fellow miner you must say ‘God Be With you’, it’s a traditional custom. You can also hire a cavern for a dinner party if you wish or just take in the sights of all the salt carved monuments and statues, truly, a fascinating place to spend some time.
Returning to Krakow after a day’s tour I recommend an organised Krakow Pub Crawl to experience the city’s unique themed pub culture with many having beer gardens to relax in. There are dedicated companies (e.g: https://partykrakow.co.uk/krakow-stag-do-activities ) that will show you the best taverns, cellar bars and live music venues. These specialised companies also offer a wide range of sightseeing tours and activities for groups visiting including Stag & Hen Parties. One such event that many will never have had the pleasure to try is Krakow Shooting Range, this activity is a must, a high octane, adrenalin pumping 2hrs of firing live ammunition from an assortment of weapons, one of which is the famous Russian AK 47, exhilarating! However, if you prefer a more relaxed activity then a Vistula River Cruise is definitely for you. During the day take a trip up river to Tyniec Castle but during the night full blown boat parties. There are also a number of stationery boats moored along the river bank which have been converted in to bars, dance clubs and restaurants.
When you come to Krakow expect that little surprising extra in this charming and historic city that has a buzzing atmosphere, great food and choice locally brewed beers and, of course, vodka.