In spite of being a relatively large city, Krakow somehow manages to retain a small town charm. At a population of 800,000 it is not too tiny and not too large, it’s simply one of those places that feels just right (said Goldilocks).
The Old Town is probably one of the first places you’ll end up seeing. Much of the city’s original battlements still remain intact, wrapping the old town into a nice tight circle. However, the lush park called Planty that winds on the outer side of the city walls is presumably more welcoming than what awaited you here in medieval times.
Wandering the Old Town streets is best done without a final destination in mind – don’t worry, you’re unlikely to get lost, as most of the streets will ultimately lead you to the Main Square (Rynek Glowny in Polish).
Aside from St. Mary’s basilica, the biggest attraction on the Main Sqaure is the Cloth Hall, originally a trade centre dating back to the 14th century. It is still used as an indoor market space, although given the prominence of the place amongst tourists, you’re unlikely to find yourself a bargain here.
If you find yourself in the need of a light refreshment, don’t fall for one of the tourist traps on the Main Square. Instead, head to the rooftop cafe on the top floor of the Music Academy (43 Sw. Tomasza street) to enjoy the views of the centre along with the locals.
Should your stomach be prepared for a heftier treat and your heart desire a taste of proper Polish cuisine, I would recommend the restaurant U Babci Maliny (17 Sławkowska street). The eatery is located in the basement and you’ll have to walk through a maze of a building, but it’s well worth the effort; upon entry you’ll be transported to a land of childhood fairytales and traditional gourmet goodies.
The Wawel Hill is the home to the royal castle, which has been overlooking the city for millenia (the oldest parts of the castle date back to 970 AD). You can find a variety of exhibitions within the complex, including the crown treasury and armory, the royal private apartments, the cathedral and various temporary exhbitions.
But what’s perhaps an even better way of taking the castle and its powerful sense of history is simply doing what the locals do, coming to the bank of the Vistula river with a picnic on a sunny day, and simply enjoying the view of impressive fortress mirroring in the water. Who knows for how many centuries this would have been a favoured past time?
The Jewish Quarter, Kazimerz, is a part of the city that should not be missed, even if to only go for a stroll. While the atmosphere may be somewhat eerie, the history should not be ignored; almost every building here has a story to tell.
For a little taster, visit the Old Synagogue in Szeroka Street, which has now become the museum of Jewish history, and spend some time just wondering around.
If the historical significance behind the area seems a bit too heavy to you, there is one other reason to visit Kazimerz, the famed ice cream shop in Starowislna street, Lody. One of Krakow’s best kept secrets, the place always has a queue going well across the street, but you would not encounter a single tourist in it. The locals know why they come here though, so if you are an ice cream lover, this is the place to be.
One of the wonderful things about Krakow is that while you are in a bustling city, nature is only a mere 15 minute bus ride away. Wolski Forest is one of such areas, providing an opportunity for rejuvenating day out. To get to this area, simply hop on the bus number 134 in Kaluzy street, near hotel Cracovia.
If the natural beauty is not enough for you; Wolski Forest is also the home to Krawkow’s zoo, which you can explore for mere 18 Zlotys (approximately $5 USD or €4). Aside from that, there are two mounds which offer a grand view of the city and the landscape in the forest; Pilsudski’s Mound and Kosciuszki Mound.
However, do note that it is quite far out to really distinguish any landmarks. Tip: To get the most breathtaking view of the city centre, go to Krakus Mound, or Kopiec Krakusa which is just a 30 minute walk from the centre – you can judge whether the view is worth the journey for yourself: