CITY GUIDES | 23.12.2020
The centre of student and nightlife, a paradise for hipsters and a historical treasure. Krakow is one of the most popular tourist destinations of Poland. The aura of the past and the atmosphere of modernity are intrinsically intertwined here. The multifaceted and impressive city which has some of the lowest prices in Europe.
- Currency: Polish złoty, 1 euro = 4.42 złoty.
- Retail stores and shopping centres are closed on Sundays.
- Airport transfer: there are two buses that depart from the Balic airport (about 15km away from the city), the 208th and the 292nd. Choose the Strefa I+II Aglomeracja ticket (for 0.80€) that can be bought at the ticket vending machine on the bus.
- Major attractions: Wawel castle, Kraków Cloth Hall, churches (St. Mary’s Basilica, for instance), the National Museum with branches in different parts of the city (the Muzeum Narodowe in Polish), Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory, the Collegium Maius (the oldest building of the Jagiellonian University), the old synagogue, the Kazimierz (the former Jewish part of the city), the MOCAK museum of modern art, the Market Square in the old town (the Rynek Główny in Polish), the New Market Square (Plac Nowy in Polish), the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, the salt mines in Wieliczka.
- Local cuisine: zurek soup, bigos, pierogi (dumplings), naleśniki (pancakes) and other dishes.
The main square, Wawel castle and local bagels
The centre of Krakow is Rynek Główny, an ancient Market square with long shopping stalls and a town hall tower. There are many tourists here, as well as majestic architectural buildings and, of course, plenty of history. You’re surrounded by snippets of conversations, camera flashes and the clatter of horses’ hooves. You’ll find a few popular mass markets here, a great amount of souvenir shops and a small blue kiosk with tasty bagels made in Krakow (obwarzanek krakowski for 0.50€). Once you’ve walked around the heart of the city and tried the local pastries, venture a little further. There’s quite a bit to see besides! The popular Planty Park, for example, is five minutes away, as are two historical streets – the Bracka and Floriańska – and a large square with the marvellous Juliusz Słowacki Theatre.
The famous Wawel Royal Castle that sits on a hill is within walking distance from the centre. Along the way you’ll see the Saints Peter and Paul Church and a lot of interesting cafés and shops. There is a teeny green garden hidden near the church that is usually quite empty. You can walk around in silence there and take a break from the crowds. The Wawel castle consists of several architectural monuments, the most important of which is the Royal Castle and the cathedral. Entrance is free of charge, whereas tickets to the different sections of the castle can be bought at the ticket desk. The prices can be found on the official website. If you’re not that interested in history, you’ll probably want to stroll around the surrounding area and look at the castle from a distance. By the way, there is the beautiful riverside of the Wisla river nearby that is surrounded by a cool park. Here you can have a coffee and snack whilst sitting on a bench and overlooking the river.
Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, ghetto square and Schindler’s factory
In 1939-1945 Krakow was occupied by Nazi Germany. The Krakow ghetto was created in the city, which is where Jews were forcefully relocated. The so-called concentration and death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau were built only 60 km away. This camp was by far the largest Nazi concentration camp that existed for the longest period of time, which is why it became one of the main symbols of the Holocaust. According to official figures, 1.4 million people were killed there, of which about 1.1 million were Jews. Today it’s possible to take an excursion around Auschwitz-Birkenau with a prior registration. You can get tickets for an excursion either at the main square of the city next to the old synagogue in the Kazimierz district or on the website. It should cost 35€ on average. The locals told us that the place has been renovated and it no longer captures all of the terrors of the war. Nevertheless, we would not advise sensitive individuals to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau.
At this time there was a factory in Krakow that manufactured metal crockery, owned by the German industrialist Oskar Schindler. Schindler allowed Jews who figured on his list to work in the factory, thus saving them from the concentration camps. In order to find out more about this historical place, you can watch the film Schindler’s List or go on an excursion. Nothing of the factory has remained but the walls, however the museum personnel have tried to reflect the atmosphere of those years with the help of photographs, documents and exhibits from the Second World War, so that visitors can get a feeling for the tragic history of Krakow. There are different thematic exhibitions in the museum that require prior registration on the website. Tickets cost 5.60€.
The Ghetto Heroes Square is yet another popular monument that depicts the horrors of the Nazi occupation in Krakow. There are large bronze chairs dotted around the square that symbolise the anticipation of death. It is from this square that Jews were sent to the death camps.
Museums and galleries
There are many museums in Krakow, so you should carefully choose the ones you wish to spend your time on. For instance, we spent almost an entire day and travelled halfway across the city to see the tiny exhibition in the main building of the famous National museum. All the exhibitions are listed on the museum website. We would recommend popping into the gallery of 19th century Polish art and the MOCAK museum of modern art, which is located right next to Schindler’s factory. Besides, you can walk around the gardens of the archaeological museum (entrance to the garden costs 0.50€, whereas the museum entrance fee is 2€ for adults and 1.40€ for students).
Ancient university with a secret
The Krakow Jagiellonian University was founded in 1364. Take a walk around this university, have a coffee on the steps of the ancient building, sit in the university square or pop by one of the nearby coffee houses that are full of Polish youngsters. Apart from the main building, make sure to drop by the Collegium Maius. This is an ancient part of the Jagiellonian University with a secret Professors’ garden (Ogród Profesorski). Not many tourists know about this place with the secluded benches and red brick walls densely covered with perennial ivy. If you walk down the street from the main university building, you’ll find a student cafeteria with very affordable and delicious Polish cuisine.
Hipster Jewish district and the gastronomic square
Kazimierz, the Jewish part of the city, is a paradise for hipsters, those who enjoy nightlife and a morning speciality coffee. Nowadays anyone is welcome to reside here, but half of the Jewish population used to live in this district in the past. You can find anything your heart desires in Kazimierz – high-end Polish designer shops, cafés with instagrammable brunches, flea markets (Mon-Wed from 9:00 till 18:00 at the Plac Nowy), the most beautiful basilicas (Bazylika Bożego Ciała), the old synagogue and restaurants with absolutely delicious food (look at the gastronomic square Plac Nowy). The past and the present intertwine here. As in the case with all of Krakow, this district is a combination of seemingly incompatible aspects. And there are so many creative people working and living here! It’s an incredible place of inspiration. After an interesting day, once you’ve had your fill of walks and food for though, make sure to wander down the Kladka Ojca Bernatka pedestrian bridge. It’s like the cherry on top of the Kazimierz cake.
Shopping or the Ojcowski National park
First of all, we should remind you that stores and shopping centres are closed on Sundays. The rest of the time Krakow has a lot to offer. Galeria Kazimierz and Galeria Krakowska are the two main shopping centres. There are also several Polish clothes shops on the streets Grodzka and Rynek Główny 12 (Pasaż 13). If you’re hoping to find authentic brands and have a preference for young designers, stop by the Marka Concept Store, Butik Anna Gregory or Mapaya. Look for colourful socks, badges and postcards in the Kabak shop. Shops in the Forum Designu and two creative stores on the street Śpódmieście 11 will appeal to lovers of decorations and interior design. Vintage clothing items can be found on the street Augustiańska 5.
- Ojcowski National park
A park with cliffs, caves and a forest is only 20 km away from Krakow. If you feel like getting out into the wilds, order an excursion with a transfer, rent a car or just take the MPK bus number 210. It’ll take 30 minutes to get to the park. The entrance is free of charge.
Coffee, food and nightlife
When looking for some delicious breakfast that can be photographed, go to the cosy café Ranny Ptaszek or the elegant Charlotte bistro. The coffee in Knittted Coffee, 2 Okna Café and Kładka Café is excellent. In Karma Coffee Roastery and Kawa Lerka you can likewise get freshly roasted coffee beans to take home or as a gift. The Mostowa Stzuka Kava and Two drops Coffee and Wine offers the popular package of Krakow, which is coffee + wine or craft beer. Cappuccino cost an average of 2€.
There is a food truck district in Krakow (at Św. Wawrzyńca, 16). If you don’t like to try something new, you can find delicious pizza and milkshakes here. The following are vegetarian or vegan cafés – Massolit cooks, Momo bar (Dietla, 49) and the branch of unique vegetarian kebab stores called Vegab. National dishes can be found in any restaurant. There is a great pancake place in the city centre called Bar naleśnikowy. There are a lot of interesting venues at Plac Nowy in Kazimierz, and the local delicacy is served in the middle of the square – a sliced baguette with a variety of fillings and sauces. It tastes like a pizza at a school cafeteria. Speaking of, a great way to eat cheap is to visit the milk bar (Bary mleczne). This place is quite old and reminded us of a typical soviet buffet.
Those who enjoy nightlife should head over to the old city centre. It’s bustling with activity 24/7.
What to bring home from Poland?
- Coffee beans from local cafés
- Polish clothes brands
- Dry Krakow ham or thin Kabanos sausages
- Wawel chocolate
- Polish craft beer
TEXT: LIKBEZ MEDIA
TRANSLATION: DASHA EVSINA
PHOTOS: UNSPLASH, Freepik