Kraków is probably one of the most fascinating cities in Europe. We visited the second city and the cultural capital of Poland in September 2013. I do have a soft spot for Poland and considering the fact that I actually lived in the country for many months in 2003-04, it’s quite a surprise that it took me ten years to visit Kraków. It’s a medieval city that breathes a mix of modern breezes on the one hand and nostalgia and history on the other.
Kraków in Early Morning
We visited Kraków in September 2013. Back then we lived in Bratislava and the easiest way was to catch the night train. For once there were more of us, as Jesper’s siblings joined us on this trip. Traveling by train in Europe is so simple, and it is something we can recommend to anyone. Another option is to fly, and there are many cheap flights to the city from several places around Europe.
We arrived early in Kraków and started discovering the city immediately. At around 7 a.m. we found ourselves at the foot of Wavel Hill. The Wavel Royal Castle stood there, very silently, looking over the city – as it has done for centuries. The hill and castle together form the most historically and culturally important site in Poland. Before reaching the impressive hill, we had actually managed to cross most of historical Kraków. Between the train station and the castle lies the Stare Miasto (Old Town). We really enjoyed our stroll where we could take in the Kraków Barbican, Brama Florianska, as well as the Main Square (Rynek Glówny). As we would find out later, the old town is always crammed with people. In other words, we were lucky to be outside at this early hour as we could enjoy all the sights without all the crowds.
The entire Old Town is on UNESCO’s World Heritage List and from 1038 to 1596 it was the political center of Poland. There used to be a 3 km defensive wall surrounding the Old Town. This wall was complete with 46 towers and seven main entrances leading through them. Most of the fortifications have been demolished. In the Old Town, you can explore old churches and museums, art galleries, and the shops in the Kraków Cloth Hall (Sukiennice). The Main Square is the largest medieval town square in Europe.
Enjoying the Good Life in Kraków: the Things You Shouldn’t Miss
I dare to use a headline like this one because I decided not to visit Auschwitz with the others. I have been to another camp in Poland before, and I think it’s enough to experience all that horror once. So, in my book Kraków is a place to enjoy the good things in life. These good things include tasty Polish food (such as pierogi or bigos), bookshops and cozy cafés. It is obvious that the city is popular among students and young people. We did not explore the nightlife but there were many bars, pubs, and restaurants. Being an important cultural center, the city also has a lot to offer in terms of concerts, exhibitions, and shows.
There are about 40 parks and gardens in Kraków. One of the biggest parks is called Planty Park and it surrounds all of the Old Town. This seemed to be a particularly popular spot, and we also bumped into a former colleague there. The world is so small sometimes!
As we only stayed in the city for two days, I feel that I would really like to return someday. Fall is a good time to visit – the country is famous for its golden fall. But I’d like to go there in the summer, to enjoy picnics and long walks in the sunshine.
Have you ever been to Kraków? How did you like it?
We have written about Poland before, click on the links below to find out more: