Krakow (and Poland) was on my bucket list since many years. The city was worth the long waiting : I LOVED its beautiful architecture and good vibe. Being Krakow also a university city very requested by international students, means that you are never far from cool places for cheap prices.
Krakow is the perfect destination for a weekend: the city is small plus the airport is located at only 17 minutes by train. For those who can stay longer than a weekend, Auschwitz concentration camp and Wieliczka Salt Mines are two good side trips around. So what to do if you only have 1 day or 2? Here is my 5+1 things to do list:
1-CITY FREE TOURS
Different companies propose different free tours which are an excellent introduction to the city, especially if you don’t have any guidebook with you. I did the Old City tour and Krakow’s Legends night tour, both organized by Cracow Free Tours and I enjoyed every minute of them.
2- WAVEL CASTLE
This is one of Krakow’s main sights and a kind of national symbol. The castle, home of the Polish kings, exists since the XIVth century when Casimir III the Great established here his HQ. His successors’ later additions make of this castle a nice melting pot of different architectural styles. Wavel’s main parts are the cathedral and the royal rooms, located around a beautiful Renaissance courtyard. Don’t miss the views over Wisla river from here.
3- STROLL ALONG KRAKOW’S STREETS
Krakow, with its beautiful pastel architecture, impressive churches of different styles and winding streets is an open air museum best enjoyed during a sunny day. I especially liked the architectural arrangement of Maly Rynek square and also Kanonikza Street, the oldest street in Krakow which leads directly to the castle. The city’s 100 or so churches can keep you busy for a while. If you are short of time, my favourite ones are S. Mary’s Church on the Marquet Square and Corpus Christi Church on Plac Wolnica. Both churches are in Gothic style and have their blue ceilings covered by stars. In the second church I found especially beautiful the wooden choir topped with angels, all different.
End the stroll in the afternoon (best light) at the Main Market Square. This medieval square is the biggest square in all Europe (200x200m) and was used as a market place. Because clothes were expensive items and easily stolen in an open air market they decided to keep them inside the beautiful covered market built for this purpose, also on this square, which could be closed at night. Saint Mary’s Church, Adama Mickiewicz Monument, the town hall’s tower and other beautiful architecture are located on this square.
4- HIKE AROUND THE OLD CITY
If you look at the map, you will see that the old city is surrounded by a ring of green. This narrow park isolates the city centre from the rest of the city plus it protects it from the cars, noise and pollution. It is very charming to circumnavigate the old town following this park, which is very beautiful by itself, plus some sights like the National Theatre are visible from it.
5- LIVE THE JEWISH QUARTER’S COOL ATMOSPHERE OF THE
I did not like the Jewish quarter much in terms of sights but I enjoyed its young atmosphere with plenty of bars, terraces and restaurants for every taste. If you are looking for some nightlife in Krakow, this is the place to go.
Amongst the quarter’s proposals I found very cool its alternative spots, occupying some empty plots between buildings with colorful mobile stalls selling food & drinks plus chairs and hammocks scattered here and there. The perfect place to chill out on a sunny day.
5+1 (The Bonus!): ENJOY POLISH FOOD & DRINKS
Poland is still a cheap country so forget Mc Donald’s and kebabs and enjoy their local food & drinks. I was not enthusiastic when reading about the traditional cuisine (unfortunately I am not the one who eats anything) but in the end I always found something something on the menu that I liked, the dishes were huge and tasty and I always left the restaurant as happy as a fat kid. During the morning the obwarzanki (kind of Polish bread) was the perfect staple to recover some calories burnt from all those walks. At lunch I loved the Polish wursts prepared at the Marquet Square in the Jewish Quarter. My recommendation for a good lunch or dinner: Goscinna Chatta, a traditional restaurant not far from the Main Market Square proposing a super menu with affordable prices. With the servants dressed in traditional costumes one could think it is a touristy place but there was always a good mix of locals and visitors (yes, I went there three times in four days!).
Polish are not known for their wine but who cares, Polish beer is so good that you won’t miss anything else. The best beer in Krakow is in CK Bowar, a traditional brewery producing their own beer. The atmosphere was very cool plus I enjoyed watching the waiters serving their popular 3.5 or 5.5 liters beer-tubes, it was the first time I saw something like that!
Before going to bed try their traditional vodkas, I especially liked the ones made with herbs (Zubrowka Tradyzyjna or Zoladkowa gorzka). Apparently Bols is the perfect one for a perfect hungover and Chopin vodka is their first class. So many things one can learn during a vodka night! 😉
- Buy your obwarzanki in the morning, before starting your visit. You will find it along the Old City’s main streets for a few cents. Sellers start selling their stock early in the morning and they leave when it is finished. Usually there is no obwarzanki stalls left in the afternoon;
- Goscinna Chatta is on Sławkowska 10, 30-962 Kraków and it is opened daily from 12pm to 11pm;
- CK Bowar is on Podwale 6, 30-962 Kraków and it is opened from 9am to 12am;
- I enjoyed my stay in Hostel Cinamon (Teofila Lenartowicza 7/2, Old Town, 31-138 Kraków) which had clean, colorful rooms, a decent breakfast included and was at only 10min walk from the Old Town’s gate.