Krakow is a beautiful city that has managed to keep much of its medieval charm, despite hundreds of years of foreign occupations, severe bombing during the second world war, and the drab conformity of the Communist Era. Here are five things you shouldn’t miss during your visit to Krakow!
Photo by Neil Boothman
Once upon a time, merchants came here to sell their wares to the people, be it cloth, food, flowers, or handicrafts. Now it’s still a buzzing center visited by both tourists and locals alike. In the day time, check out the Cloth Hall, which was once a center for textile merchants to trade their wares, and now contains several souvenir stands and St. Mary’s Basilica on the other side of the square. Don’t miss the square at night either; at night it becomes even more alive, with busy restaurants and nightclubs.
Wawel Castle is probably the #1 thing to see in Krakow. The hill overlooking the Old Town has been settled for thousands of years, but the castle itself started its history when Krakow became the capital in the 12th Century. King Kazimierz the Great made the largest contribution to the castle as we know it; however, a fire in 1499 destroyed much of it. Renaissance architecture replaced the damage and renovations over the years have made Wawel a hodge-podge of art and architecture. Walk around the hill and view the various exhibitions, including the Royal Apartments and Lost Wawel, an exhibit dedicated to some of the archaeological findings on the hill.
Kazimierz (Jewish Quarter)
Named after the famous King Kazimierz of Krakow, this district was once lively and tolerant before the invading Germans forcefully evacuated people in WWII. Today, some of its liveliness has returned. Since the fall of the Iron Curtain opened Krakow up to the world, Kazimierz has become a trendy, bohemian district, with a very fashionable café, restaurant, and club scene.
In the past few years, Krakow has received some attention from jazz fans for having some of the liveliest jazz clubs in Europe. Every corner you turn in the Old Town, you’ll see advertisements for bars with live jazz music, and most of these boast some serious talent. Admissions are cheap by international standards, concerts take place nightly in most places, and the music can vary from Dixie to free jazz. The “best” club can vary depending on who is playing where, so it’s best to check local schedules, or just walk around and see which one grabs your fancy!
It’s really difficult to pick just one, so I’ll say that while you’re in Krakow, visit as many of the amazing churches as you can. Poland is a very Catholic country and has been Christian for over a thousand years, so Krakow churches present a very wide variety of different architecture and artistic interiors. Even if you’re not religious, visitors are welcome in most cathedrals (a small donation is appreciated, if not required as an entrance fee), as long as a service is not taking place. As the Catholic Church has long been one of the biggest patrons of the arts throughout European history, there are some pretty amazing sights to see. I especially recommend the Art Nouveau paintings and stained glass windows in the Franciscan Basilica, designed by Stanislaw Wyspianski. This is widely considered to be the most beautiful of Krakow’s churches.
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