Poland’s second largest city is the most popular tourist destination in the country. In 2012 the city recorded a record-breaking total of almost nine million visitors. The bulk of these visitors were tourists and the British topped the list of foreign travellers to the city.
Krakow certainly represents superb value as a city break destination for British tourists and getting to this charming and historic city from the UK has never been easier – a number of low cost airlines fly to Krakow from a whole range of UK regional airports.
Krakow emerged from World War II as the only major Polish city that wasn’t reduced to rubble and as a result was spared the enormous concrete apartment blocks that were built during the communist era in so many other cities. The historic centre of Krakow is the area lying at the foot of the Royal Wawel Castle. In this area lies the Main Market Square, the largest in Europe and arguably the most beautiful, extending over 200 square metres right in the middle of the OldTown. Gracing the centre of the square is the elegant Sukiennice (Cloth Hall), packed with colourful booths displaying Polish specialties such as amber jewellery, painted wooden eggs, embroidered blouses and crystal glasses. Here cafés are plentiful, and in the summer months tourists can relax over a coffee and admire the beautiful medieval buildings which surround the square.
The Krakow skyline is dominated by Wawel Hill with the Castle which represents a glorious assortment of styles including Romanesque, Renaissance and Gothic architecture dating from around the 14th century. Also on Wawel Hill is the Cathedral which was consecrated in 1364 and is considered by many to be the most important single building in the whole of Poland.
Visitors to Krakow should also make a point of visiting Kazimierz, Krakow’s former Jewish settlement. The whole district is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Steven Spielberg’s film, Schindler’s List, was shot in 1993 almost entirely in Kazimierz.
This area is today Kraków’s most exciting district – a bustling, bohemian neighbourhood packed with historical sites, atmospheric cafés and art galleries. Traces of Kazimierz’s Jewish history abound in the form of the district’s numerous synagogues and Jewish cemeteries. Each summer the popular Jewish Culture Festival fills Kazimierz’s streets and cafes with music and cultural events.
Krakow is well known for its profusion of eateries. There are restaurants catering for all tastes, typically merging local culinary traditions with foreign influences, mainly Italian. Although haute cuisine can be pricey, you can eat out in Krakow fairly cheaply and steer clear of fast foods at the same time. A visit to a cake shop is a must – look out for the local delicacies of szarlotka apple cake and sernik cheesecake
There’s certainly plenty to see and do within the city to keep most tourists happy for a few days. Krakow also serves as a perfect base for excursions a bit further afield, and I’ll take a look at those possibilities in another blog.