Krakow (also written as Crakow) is a city that has grown from a Stone Age settlement to Poland's second most important city. It began as a hamlet on Wawel Hill and was already reported as a busy trading center of Slavonic Europe in 965. It became the capital of the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland from 1038 to 1569. With the establishment of new universities and cultural venues at the emergence of the Second Polish Republic in 1918 and throughout the 20th century, Kraków reaffirmed its role as a major national academic and artistic center.
The city infamously has associated its mid-20th century history with German concentration camps and nearby Auschwitz, which sadly enough is one of its most visited “attractions”. Krakow, in 1978, was designated as a UNESCO world heritage site, which helped the city to emerge as an important tourist destination of the 21st century. The same year, the city became known worldwide when Karol Wojtyła, archbishop of Kraków, was elevated to the papacy as Pope John Paul II — the first Slavic pope ever and the first non-Italian pope in 455 years.
St. Mary's Basilica (Bazylika Mariacka).
For years I was scorning Krakow as a tourist destination.I have always avoided mass tourist destinations, and Krakow, in my mind, was always associated with noisy tourists who, after visiting Auschwitz, gorge on pig knuckles in “traditional restaurants”.And yes… for most people, this is Krakow: a cheap, fairy-tale-like destination where salt mines can be attractive!
Saling ballons at Rynek Główny, Krakow's central square.
Getting around & tips
In August 2018, I decided to stay home and not travel outside Greece. Moreover, I needed all my days off work for my autumn holidays.
But Ι does not have control over my actions, and on a hot Athenian night, while wasting my time in bed browsing social media, an airline advertisement appeared: "Europe from only 19.95€, one-way"…. that triggered the wanderlust gene in me, and I started searching … and there it is: Krakow. This may not have been my dream destination, but Krakow's weather forecast looked attractive, which means cooler temperatures. What is better than escaping from the hot Mediterranean weather?
Needless to say that I loved Krakow, so this July 2023, I decided to go back and spend some more days. The tempearture in Athens was 40-42C, but it was less in 27C in Krakow...my ideal weather.
Krakow and the airport on the map.(Courtesy of Google maps).
❤ Krakow’s main gateway is its airport, officially named “John Paul II International Airport Kraków,” but widely known as Balice (named after the nearby town with the same name). It is located only 11 km west of the city.
Unless you’ve already arranged a Krakow airport transfer, you have four main options from the airport to the city center: Bus, Train, Taxi, and Ride Share(Uber/ Bolt/ Freenow).
I recommend using the train. Direct trains cover the route between Kraków Główny train station (Krakow’s Main Train Station) and the airport in 25 minutes. One-way tickets cost PLN 12,00 (that is less than €3). Follow the signs on the floor of the airport from the terminal. They lead you up to the 1st floor, where you cross the road bridge and head down the ramp to the train station platform. Tickets can be purchased from automated machines in the airport close to the train platform or from the ticket inspector on the train.
The Old Dworzec Glowny (Main Train Station), which is now used as an exhibition center, as since 2014, a new terminal and underground facilities have built just to the north of it.
The Krakow airport train travels directly between Krakow airport and Rynek Glowny (Kraków main station).
The Kraków Główny train station is located in the center of the city, and from there, one can walk to most places in the city center or take a tram/bus for a couple of stops. The station is part of the main shopping centre- Galeria Krakowska.
Taxi costs about PLN 100 from the airport to the city center. Uber costs about PLN 50, so its a good deal.
❤ Poland’s currency is called zloty (written as PLN), and at my visit, the official exchange rate was PLN 1 = € 4.5.
❤ The part of the city, which the tourists are likely to visit, is tiny and flat, so one can walk everywhere without taking a bus. Nevertheless, Krakow's public transport is based on a relatively dense network of tram (streetcar) and bus routes.
Built in 1882, Krakow's tramway has 22 daytime lines, 3 nighttime lines, and 2 fast lines covering 90km. It is the city's main means of transport.
The bulk of the city's historic area has been turned into a pedestrian zone with bicycle rickshaws, electric carts, and horse-drawn carriages; however, the tramlines run within a three-block radius. Tickets are available at almost every tram/bus station (one can also buy them from the driver while on board), and a single route ticket (40-minute ticket allowing for changing lines) costs 4 zloty (an equivalent of roughly 0.9 euro). There are also several other kinds of access (reduced fare, etc.) or unlimited travel passes for the tourist to choose from, but 4 zloty is such a small price to pay; it does not worth looking for better-priced tickets.
The part of the city where most of the tourist attractions are. (Courtesy of Google Maps).
Trams are easy to use, clean and always on time
Single route tickets for buses and trams.
❤ Krakow is cheap compared to other European cities. Food is roughly 25% cheaper than in Athens. Tips are welcome throughout the tourist service sector. Yet in Krakow, only servers rightly expect an extra payment, i.e., roughly one-tenth above the charged sum, in appreciation of satisfactory service. Leave cash on the table or round up the bill, saying “Raeshty nye chaeba” (“Keep the rest”). To be on the safe side, tip 10% in restaurants.
Almost everyone dealing with tourists speaks excellent English and generally is polite, and maybe they smile back at you, but do not expect what we are used to in Western Europe or America! Perhaps people in Eastern Europe are more preserved (?).
❤ The center of the city is built on the north of Vistula River, and it is all flat, except for Wawel Hill, a rocky hill by the river, which is elevated, but nothing really to bother even those with reduced mobility.
All streets in Old Town (Stare Miasto) are cobbled but in excellent condition, and the sidewalks are in excellent condition and hardly higher than 5cm from the road.
❤ Remember that Kraków’s churches are not museums.
Most Poles (over 75%) are Catholic. Very Catholic. If your experience of the Christian faith involves attending church twice a year (if that), Polish enthusiasm for Catholicism may come as a surprise. There is more to Polish Catholicism than the solemn, opulent processions commemorating holy relics and saints, some of which you may be lucky to witness. For many, Catholicism has long been a source of national and social unity and provided solace during Communist times, when religious practices were driven underground. So, if you visit one of Kraków’s many churches, remember that they are revered places of worship and treat them with the utmost respect.
❤ Poland is a hardcore Catholic country, with anti-LGBTIQ+ sentiment rife among a sizable chunk of the population. The government is also very conservative and promotres anti-LGBTIQ+ attitude. While it’s difficult to describe it as explicitly LGBTIQ-friendly, Kraków is the most liberal of Poland’s cities; in 2023, Kraków’s annual Pride parade celebrated its 19th anniversary.
Attitudes towards the LGBTIQ+ community in Kraków are slowly improving. However, public displays of affection (with the socially acceptable exception of handholding between young women) are likely to attract jeers and sometimes outright violence – particularly on the high nightlife streets of Floriańska and Szewska on the weekends. That said, numerous nightlife venues in Kraków are either LGBTIQ-tolerant or outright LGBTIQ-friendly.
❤ Do drink the tap water… or maybe not. Kraków’s tap water is officially deemed safe to drink, and many locals do, while others avoid it because the quality may be affected by the antique plumbing in many of the older buildings. So, if gastric Russian roulette is not your thing, you may wish to drink bottled water or at least purify the tap water first. Speaking of water: it’s not complimentary in Kraków’s restaurants and usually comes in tiny glasses unless you order a large bottle of gazowana (carbonated water) and niegazowana (still water).
❤ If you find yourself mystified by the symbols on the doors in Kraków’s public toilets, it’s a triangle for men and a circle for women. Bear in mind that many public facilities – even in bars and restaurants where you are part of the clientele – often charge a nominal fee for use, so have some loose change ready. Have some loose change ready for public toilets. Usually, it is PLN 5.
❤ A 2023 update:Avoid bar scams.
I was disappointed that the city's center is full of decoy men and women who try to lure you to bars or other shops offering free drinks or hot girls. These promoters mainly distribute leaflets with discounts to bars and clubs. Most of them are harmless, although their pushiness can be irritating. They are very persistent, and the best thing you have to do is avoid them without even looking at them. Refrain from conversing with them; they are just trying to lure you into establishments and either rip you off or serve you bad-quality liquor. In 50 meters, you may meet 5-6 of them! The authorities must do something about that, as this behavior sends tourists away.
If you’re a foreign man, be wary of attractive women taking a massive interest in you and convincing you to take them to a bar (where, unbeknown to you, they are employed) and buy them a drink, whereby you’ll be charged stratospheric prices for the drinks and intimidated by thuggish bouncers into paying up. Also, be aware that when you order drinks in bars and clubs, it’s important to specify your preferred brand of alcohol; otherwise, the bar staff will automatically reach for the most expensive top-shelf brands, as they make a commission on the drinks they sell. There’s no shame in asking for the cheapest option on the menu.
Why are there so many geese in Krakow?
What is up with everyone buying and selling stuffed geese toys in Krakow? Is the city known for a famous goose? The answer is no. Krakow is not known for geese. Krakow does not have a renowned goose living here. Sure, Krakow has Smok the Dragon, omnipresent in the souvenir shops. But this time I visited the city, the animal of choice in the souvenir stands has little to do with Krakow itself. All kids, little or big, and all tourists walk around with white geese in their arms. Some have reasonable size (what is the reasonable size?), but others are huge. It looks bizarre. Did the Chinese factories decide to fill the world's souvenir shops with geese this year? Did they run out of other animals? A friend told me it is not only in Krakow but in the whole of Poland... it seems Europe has been flooded by stuffed geese toys.
Exploring the city
The areas the visitor will visit during his/her short stay and will pleasantly wander around are the following three.All of them are very close (attached) to each other and easy to explore.
1. The Old Town
2. The Wawel Hill
3. The Kazimierz and the Ghetto
Medieval Krakow (right), Wawel Hill (top), and Kazimierz island (left) from the Nuremberg chronicles - by Hartmann Schedel.
There are so many monuments, churches, museums, sculptures, and palaces in the city that I believe there’s no reason to try to visit all of them. Besides, no matter how hard you try, there is no way not to miss something! Unless you want to visit something particular, my idea of visiting the city is to wander around its clean streets and try to absorb all this architectural beauty without any anxiety of missing something.
The Old Town
Kraków Old Town is the historic central district of Kraków. It was the center of Poland's political life from 1038 until King Sigismund III Vasa relocated his court to Warsaw in 1596.
The Old Town is known in Polish as Stare Miasto.
Medieval Kraków was surrounded by a 3 km defensive wall with 46 towers and seven main entrances. The fortifications around the Old Town were erected over two centuries. The current architectural plan of Stare Miasto – the 13th-century merchants' town – was drawn up in 1257 after the destruction of the city during the Tatar invasions of 1241, followed by raids of 1259 and repelled in 1287.
In the 19th century, most of the Old Town fortifications were demolished. The moat encircling the walls was filled and turned into a green belt called Planty Park.
Sukiennice in the center of Rynek Główny.
Rynek Główny. Sukiennice on the left and St. Mary's Basilica on the right.
Sukiennice is flanked by the 13th-century Town Hall Tower (Wieża ratuszowa). The 70m high Tower is the only remaining part of the old Town Hall (Ratusz), demolished in 1820 as part of the city plan to open the Main Square. Its cellars once housed a city prison with a medieval torture chamber. Today, the Tower is one of many branches of the Historical Museum of the City of Krakow, featuring a permanent display of photographs of the Market Square Exhibition.
Detail of a building on the Market Square.
Old Town and Wawel Hill. (Courtesy of Google maps).
The main feature of the district is the centrally located Rynek Główny, or Main Market Square, the largest medieval town square of any European city. There are several historic landmarks in Main Square's vicinity, such as St. Mary's Basilica (Church of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven - Kościół Mariacki), home of the oldest and the largest Gothic altarpiece in the world, the Romanesque Church of St. Wojciech (St. Adalbert's), Church of St. Barbara, as well as other national treasures. At the center of the square, surrounded by kamienice (row houses) and noble residences, stands the Renaissance cloth hall Sukiennice (currently housing gift shops, restaurants, and merchant stalls) with the National Gallery of Art upstairs. Sukiennice has been the city's center of commercial life since the 15th century and is the most recognizable building in Krakow. The building took its current appearance after a thorough restoration in the 19th century.
St. Mary's Basilica.
The Town Hall and its Tower at a 1797 painting by Franciszek Smuglewicz.
The Town Hall Tower
Inside St. Mary's Basilica.
Kościół Świętego Wojciecha (Church of St. Wojciech) on Market square.
The Royal Road
The Gothic-style Barbakan, built in 1499, is one of only three fortified outposts still surviving in Europe and the best preserved. The Road passes the old fortifications through Floriańska Gate under a defensive tower. It is the original entrance to the city and the only gate of the eight city gates built in the Middle Ages, not dismantled during the 19th-century modernization of Kraków. Inside the Old Town, the Road continues along Floriańska Street and enters the Main Square. St. Mary's Basilica stands on the left-hand side, at the northeast corner of the square. The Road passes the Church of St. Wojciech in the south-eastern corner of the square and leads down Grodzka Street along several historic landmarks and two smaller squares featured on both sides. The baroque 16th-century Church of Saints Peter and Paul fascinates the visitor with its size and the raised sculptures of the apostles in the foreground. Grodzka ends at the foot of the Wawel Hill.
The Royal Road bisects the whole district, the coronation route traversed by the Kings of Poland. The Royal Road passes some of Poland's royal capital's most prominent historical landmarks. It provides a suitable background for coronation processions and parades, kings' and princes' receptions, foreign envoys, and guests of distinction traveling from a far country to their destination at Wawel.
The Royal Road starts outside the northern flank of the old city walls in the medieval suburb of Kleparz. It begins at St. Florian's Church (Kościół św. Floriana), containing the relics of St. Florian – the Patron Saint of Poland – miraculously saved numerous times. St. Florian's Church was also the starting point for royal funeral processions, concluding at Wawel Cathedral.
The Royal Road crosses Matejko Square (pl. Matejki) and the Grunwald Monument (which was unveiled in 1910 to mark the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Grunwald, one of the most critical battles in the history of Poland, when the Polish army defeated Teutonic Knights' army, the monument is topped by a massive sculpture of Wladyslaw Jagiello, the Polish king and chief commander of the army during the victorious battle), passes the Academy of Fine Arts (Akademia Sztuk Pięknych) on the right-hand side and crosses Basztowa Street – to the medieval barbican (Barbakan).
The Royal Road in pictures – Part 1. From top to bottom and from left to right: Matejko Square and the Grunwald Monument (St. Florian's Church can be seen at the back), the Barbakan, the Floriańska Gate, the Floriańska Street, and the Main Market Square.
The Royal Road in pictures – Part 2. From top to bottom and from left to right: St. Mary's Basilica, Sukiennice, the Church of St. Wojciech, the Church of Saints Peter and Paul, Grodzka Street, and the square at the foothills of Wawel Hill.
Throughout the year, the Old Town is lively and crowded. Today the Old Town attracts visitors from all over the world. According to recent official statistics, in 2016, Krakow was visited by over 12 million tourists, including 2.9 million foreign travelers. There are many tourists, indefatigable florists, and lined up horse-drawn carriages waiting to give a ride. The place is always vibrant, especially in and around Main Market Square. No surprise that the square is packed with visitors and not the best place for agoraphobia! The first time you see the place is impressive, but then you try to avoid it as it is impossible to walk for 2 meters without stumbling on other tourists.
Something is always going on in and around the square, like folk music or food festivals. You can buy souvenirs or taste traditional delicacies like oscypek cheese, sausages, and pierogi.
While here in the primary market square, one can listen to the heynal, played each hour from the highest tower of St. Mary's Church. The church is familiar to many English-speaking readers from the 1929 book "The Trumpeter of Krakow" by Eric P. Kelly.
Krakow is always vibrant with life, especially in and around the Main Market Square. No surprise that the square is packed with visitors and not the best place for agoraphobics!
Oscypek is a smoked cheese made exclusively in the Tatra Mountains region, south of Krakow. It must be made from at least 60% sheep's milk and can only be produced between late April and early October when the sheep feed on fresh mountain grass. Before that, any milk they have is needed for the lambs. Since 2007 Oscypek has been a protected trade name under the EU's Protected Designation of Origin geographical indication. Any cheese that doesn't fit the criteria must be sold as serki góralskie (Highland cheese).
An old lady sells Oscypek at "Stary Kleparz" (Farmer's Market) a few blocks north of the Barbikan.
A similar cheese is made in the Slovak Tatra Mountains under the name oštiepok. In Poland, a more diminutive form is called redykołka, the 'younger sister' of oscypek.
Oscypek is made using salted sheep's milk, with the addition of cow's milk strictly regulated by the protected recipe.
Unpasteurized salted sheep's milk is turned into cottage cheese, then repeatedly rinsed with boiling water and squeezed. After this, the mass is pressed into wooden, spindle-shaped forms, called oscypiorka, in decorative shapes. The forms are then placed in a brine-filled barrel for a night or two, after which they are placed close to the roof in a special wooden hut and cured in hot smoke for up to 14 days. This golden-hued, spindle-shaped cheese also has particular criteria concerning shape: it must weigh between 600 and 800g and measure between 17 and 23cm. Oscypek can come in other sizes and shapes, but the EU does not protect those.
Oscypek-like street vendor. All these kinds of smoked cheese taste like oscypek, but it is not oscypek, as it does not follow all the criteria set by the EU.
Oscypek-like street vendor. All these kinds of smoked cheese tastes like oscypek, but it is not oscypek, as it does not follow all the criteria set by the EU.
The cheese’s history can be traced back to the Vlachs, a tribe that arrived in Poland from the Balkans around the 12th and 13th Centuries and brought the tradition of shepherding and cheesemaking to the region. The name oscypek comes from the word ‘scypać’, which means ‘to split’ in the local dialect. This is related to the molds, which are split into two parts. Other sources state that ‘scypać’ refers to pinching or kneading – another essential part of the cheesemaking process to make it more elastic and pliable. The first mention of cheese production in the Tatra Mountains dates back to the 15th century, in a document from the village of Ochotnica in 1416. The first recorded recipe for oscypek was issued in 1748 in the Żywiec area.
Oscypek is as delicious as it is beautiful. It almost feels like a “firm mozzarella”. But while the texture is comparable, the taste is anything but. Oscypek is much sharper, brinier and smokier. There are many ways to prepare oscypek.
Traditionally, it’s eaten raw, grilled, or fried, but it’s also delicious when added to salads or pasta dishes. It goes very well with Lingonberry preserve.
Souvenir brought back home.
The recent years the cheese has enjoyed an increase in popularity. Instead of parzenice (characteristic decorative motif embroidered on traditional clothing) or wooden carves, food-loving tourists now bring home oscypek:I did the same exactly. I tried it in my salad back home and also toasted it between two slices of bread. While in Krakow, you can find it anywhere in shops and in markets, but also in the streets sold off small vending carts.In its most “touristic” version, the cheese is sliced, heated and served with some lingonberry or cranberry preserve: very tasty but very chewy!
The real thing!!!! Real Oscypek.
Street vendor serving oscypek topped with cranberry preserve.
St. Mary's Trumpet Call
St. Mary's Trumpet Call (Hejnał mariacki) is a traditional, five-note Polish anthem closely bound to the history and traditions of Kraków. It is played every hour on the hour, four times in succession in the four cardinal directions, by a trumpeter on the highest tower of the city's Saint Mary's Church. The noon performance is broadcast via radio to Poland and the world. The real origin and author of the hejnał are unknown. The earliest written mention of it appears in civic pay records of 1392. Hejnał comes from Hajnal, the Hungarian word for "dawn". The weird characteristic of the hejnał performances is that they end abruptly before completion.
The cover of the 1929 book "The Trumpeter of Krakow" by Eric P. Kelly.
The earliest written version of this legend is from the prologue to American Eric P. Kelly’s 1928 children’s book The Trumpeter of Krakow. Part of the current legend may come from a more recent historical incident when a trumpeter died of natural causes while on duty at midnight on 7 July 1901. A 1926 tourist guide vaguely states that the death of a trumpeter was the reason for the premature ending of the anthem but does not mention the siege or arrows.
According to a famous 20th-century legend, during a Mongol invasion of Poland, Mongol troops led by General Subutai approached Kraków. A sentry on a St Mary's Church tower sounded the alarm by playing the Hejnał, and the city gates were closed before the Tatars could ambush the city. The trumpeter, however, was shot in the throat and did not complete the anthem, which is the legendary reason why performances end abruptly before completion.
Around the Main Market Square, there are many cafes, pubs, and clubs located in medieval basements and cellars with vaulted ceilings, and during summer months, they spread hundreds of tables on the square itself. Numerous events, concerts, and exhibitions are also organized there.
Sit back at one of the cafes or restaurants and watch people pass by.
Wedel is one of the most recognizable Polish brand names. Founded in 1851 by Karl Ernst Wedel (1813-1902), the company and its products became known in most Central and Eastern Europe. The logo of the company is based on Wedel's signature. His son Emil Albert Fryderyk Wedel (1841-1919) apprenticed in candy and chocolate factories in Western Europe before inheriting and expanding his father's business. His descendant Jan Wedel (d. 1960), the last member of the Wedel family to own the company, was considered "the Willy Wonka" of pre-war Poland. 1934 during the Great Depression, Jan Wedel opened a second factory in Praga, one of the most modern in the Second Polish Republic. The company was also known for its very generous social welfare policies. As one of the first in Europe, it had its creche, kindergarten, hospital, and cafeteria and rewarded its best employees with no-interest housing loans; the Polish Socialist Party highly acclaimed its model. Hence before World War II, Wedel became a successful private company with shops in London and Paris.
My favorite: chocolate crepes filled with sweet ricotta cheese and wine-cherry topping (top). One of the most famous products is the "Torcik Wedlowski" - a large, circular, chocolate-covered wafer with hand-made decorations (a perfect gift to bring back home) (middle left). Chocolate cream with raspberry ice cream (middle right). Pancakes (the Polish size) with maple syrup and fresh strawberries (bottom).
Me devouring "Torcik Wedlowski" chocolate with walnut icecream!!!
This lounge is undoubtedly the shrine of chocolate lovers in Krakow, and you have to visit it several times to taste an adequate amount of the hundreds of dessert delights they offer. The shop is located on the ground floor of a beautiful building and has a large room inside and several tables on the square to serve as many customers with a sweet tooth as possible. Nothing is better than enjoying your ice cream or a chocolate dessert while watching the crowds come and go in the square, so it is worth waiting some minutes to get a table in the square when the place is crowded. Nevertheless, do not worry if you do not get a table outside; the big room inside is equally attractive. Besides, it is the desserts that matter!
Wedel Chocolate Lounge
There are so many attractions around the Main Market Square, which makes you feel dizzy.One attraction, though, has not to do with architecture or history but with more humble feelings, and that is a chocolate craving!Do not miss the "Pijalnie Czekolady E. Wedel" located in the square's northern part (46, Rynek Główny St).This is one of the lounges the Wedel Chocolate brand has all around Poland and the only one in Krakow.
Inside the Wedel Chocolate lounge. The zebra logo on the chair backs and the original logo (bottom right).
I am standing outside Wedel Lounge (top). Ptasie Mleczko - chocolate-covered marshmallow (bottom left). The big room inside the Wedel lounge (bottom right).
The company was reprivatized in 1989 after the fall of communism in Poland. In 1991 it was bought by PepsiCo, then Cadbury, Kraft, and today it belongs to Lotte.
Capitalism and globalization stripped any “Polishness” from the brand, not communism!
The company managed to continue production during the first few years of the World War II. It also started producing basic foodstuffs such as bread for starving Warsaw. Despite the family's German ancestry Wedel refused to collaborate with the Germans, and did not sign the Volksliste; increasingly this led to him and his employees being persecuted by the Nazis. The war devastated Poland and the company; the buildings at Warsaw were destroyed during the Warsaw Uprising. After the war, Wedel rebuilt the factory, only to have the communist government nationalize the company. The Wedel plant itself was renamed '22 Lipca' (22 July) after the Communist 'Independence Day', although even the communists chose to retain the Wedel brand name, with products bearing both the new and old logos (particularly as after 10 years of not using the logo, all attempts at exporting proved futile).
Wedel Lounge on the map. (Courtesy of Google maps).
A 2023 update: the "Pijalnie Czekolady E. Wedel" is not what it used to be! Its quality has deteriorated a lot. All those tasty cakes and icecreams I used to love have been replaced by lesser quality products. Some of them are a shame to be served. If you desire a cake or chocolate, you better visit one of the "Nakielny Cafe" branches around the city. On the main square, there are two of them.
Besides the Main Market Square, which you will visit or cross many times every single day you spend in the city, there are two smaller and much more pleasant and relaxing squares in Old Town: the Mały Rynek (Small Market) just behind the Church of St. Barbara (Kościół św. Barbary) and Plac Szczepański, a couple of blocks northwest from the Main Market Square.
Planty Park, the park around the Old Town, which used to be the moat encircling the walls, is also a charming place to relax and enjoy ice cream. Several restaurants and cafes overlook the park, making you feel like being in the countryside. Try the tastiest chocolate cakes in the city at the garden patio of Nakielny Cafe, where Szewska Street meets Planty Park.
The walk around Planty Park is so refreshing and rewarding. The park has tall shady trees and benches for people to rest or chat. One can walk along the entire park around the old town in just an hour. In some places of the park, one can still see the remains of the old wall. There are commemorative placks at the points where the bastions were.
Eating sernik (cheesecake), a readitional cake, at Mały Rynek.
Walking around Planty Park. On the left picture: the Brama Rzeźnicza (Carpenter's Gate) is a former gate to the Old Town and can be seen on the east part of the Park. On the right picture: the main building of the Uniwersytet Jagielloński (Jagielloński University on the west part of the Park.
Delicious cakes at Nakielny Cafe.
Wawel (pronounced Va’vel) is a fortified architectural complex erected over many centuries atop a limestone outcrop (Wawel Hill) on the left bank of the Vistula River at an altitude of 228 m above sea level.This is the only natural elevation around Krakow and provides excellent views over the river.
The complex consists of many buildings and fortifications; the largest and best known of these are the Royal Castle and the Wawel Cathedral (which is the Basilica of St Stanisław and St Wacław).
Wewel Hill. Red line shows the trail to the entrance. (Courtesy of Google maps)
People on the Hill.
The hill fortifications seen from the Vistula banks.
Did I say dragons? Yes, there is a dragon and a dragon cave in Krakow. The early period of the Wawel's history originates from the widespread and enduring Polish myth of the Wawel Dragon (Smok Wawelski). Today, it is commemorated on the lower slopes of Wawel Hill, where there is a modern statue of the dragon by the river. The statue is in front of Smocza Jama, one of the limestone caves scattered over the hill. The metal sculpture was designed in 1969 by Bronisław Chromy and placed in front of the dragon's den in 1972. The dragon sculpture has seven heads, but people frequently think it has one head and six forelegs. To the amusement of onlookers, it noisily breathes fire every few minutes, thanks to a natural gas nozzle installed in the sculpture's mouth.
The Wawel dragon, in Sebastian Münster's Cosmographie Universalis (1544).
The street along the banks of the river leading towards the castle is ulica Smocza, which translates as "Dragon Street".
Today all souvenir shops sell green-tacky-made China dragons of all sizes and shapes.
Wawel Dragons (Gold, Silver, Bronze Grand Prix Dragons and Dragon of Dragons Special Prize) are awards, usually presented at Kraków Film Festival.
There are two entrances to Wawel Hill. The main entrance is from the south: follow the ascending road starting at the end of Grodzka Street on the east of the hill till you reach the gate-arcade. The other is on the north.
Some of Wawel's oldest stone buildings, such as the Rotunda of the Virgin Mary, are dated back to 970AD, while wooden parts of the complex date to the 9th century. The castle itself has been described as "one of the most fascinating of all European castles."And this is true. The castle is like coming out of a fairy tale, and you expect anytime to see nights on white galloping horses, beautiful princesses with long fair hair, and dragons spitting fire.
Wawel Hill seen from Vistula river. The Wawel Dragon (top left).
The dragon was a mystical beast that supposedly terrorized the local community, eating their sheep and local virgins, before (according to one version) being heroically slain by Krakus, a Polish prince who founded the city of Kraków and built his palace above the slain dragon's lair. The oldest known literary reference to the Wawel dragon comes from the 12th century, in a work attributed to the Bishop of Kraków and historian of Poland, Wincenty Kadłubek.
'Krakus', by Walery Eljasz-Radzikowski.
The dragon sculpture noisily breathes fire every few minutes, thanks to a natural gas nozzle installed in the sculpture's mouth.
The Hill seen from the north. The monument of Tadeusza Kościuszki is seen in the center.
Horse cart near the Wawel Hill.
The Royal Archcathedral Basilica of Saints Stanislaus and Wenceslaus, also known as the Wawel Cathedral (Katedra wawelska), is a Roman Catholic church in the northern part of Wawel Hill. More than 900 years old, it is the Polish national sanctuary. It traditionally has served as the coronation site of the Polish monarchs and the Cathedral of the Archdiocese of Krakow. Wawel Cathedral is also the burial place of Polish monarchs.
Karol Wojtyla, this controversial (for many) people of 20th century ecclesiastical and political history, the day after his ordination to the priesthood, offered his first Mass as a priest in the Crypt of the Cathedral on 2 November 1946 and was ordained Kraków's auxiliary bishop in the Cathedral on 28 September 1958.
Monarchs who resided at Wawel participated in Holy Masses and other religious services at Wawel Cathedral. A particular passage from the castle to the cathedral was accessible only to the king and his family.
Once, the royal throne stood on the right of the altar, but when Poland lost her independence in the 18th century, it was replaced by a 17th-century throne of the bishops of Cracow. Over the throne hangs a canopy placed here on the occasion of the coronation of King August III, the Elector of Saxony, in 1734.
The current, Gothic cathedral is the third edifice on this site: the first was constructed and destroyed in the 11th century; the second one, constructed in the 12th century, was destroyed by a fire in 1305. The construction of the current one began in the 14th century on the orders of bishop Nanker.
Admission to the Cathedral used to be free, but not any more! There is an Admission fee of 22 zł to enter Sigismund Bell, Royal Tombs, and the Cathedral Museum.
Inside the Wawel Cathedral (pictures are not allowd inside the Cathedral).
“Here, everything is Poland, every stone and every little thing. Whoever enters it becomes himself part of Poland, part of its construction. Here we add a measure to this body – and only now, within these walls, are we Poland ourselves”.
Stanisław Wyspiański, 1902 (polish patriotic writer, considered the creator of the modern Polish drama).
Self-portrait of Stanisław Wyspiański and his wife (1904).
“We are all well aware that to enter this Cathedral cannot be without emotion. More I say, you cannot enter it without the internal tremor, without fear because it contains in it – as in almost no Cathedral of the world – the enormous size, which speaks to us in all our history, our entire past”. Kardynał Karol Wojtyła, 8 marca 1964.
Inside the Wawel Hill complex.
The square on the Wawel Hill and the Cathedral.
The Wawel Castle
The Wawel Castle is a castle residency located in the eastern part of Wawel Hill. Built at the behest of King Casimir III the Great, several structures are situated around the Italian-styled central courtyard. The castle, one of the largest in Poland, represents nearly all European architectural styles of medieval, renaissance, and baroque architectural styles. The Wawel Royal Castle and the Wawel Hill constitute Poland's most historically and culturally significant sites.
Wawel Castle from the south. The tower is Baszta Senatorska. In the foreground is the road leading to the hill complex's entrance.
The courtyard of Wawel Castle.
Wawel Castle seen from the east (Grodzka str).
For centuries the residence of the kings of Poland and the symbol of Polish statehood, the Castle is now one of the country’s premier art museums. Established in 1930, the museum encompasses ten curatorial departments responsible for collections of paintings, including an essential collection of Italian Renaissance paintings, prints, sculpture, and textiles, among them the Sigismund II Augustus tapestry collection, goldsmith’s work, arms and armor, ceramics, Meissen porcelain, and period furniture. The museum’s holdings in oriental art include the most extensive collection of Ottoman tents in Europe. With seven specialized conservation studios, the museum is also an important center for conserving works of art.
The Crown Treasury, situated in the historic Gothic rooms which were used from the 15th century on for storing the Polish coronation insignia and Crown Jewels, features on display priceless objects from the former Treasury that survived take, among them the memorabilia of Polish monarchs, including members of their families and eminent personages, like the hat and sword given to John III Sobieski by the pope after the Battle of Vienna, as well as the coronation sword Szczerbiec.
If there is one thing I love most in Krakow, this is Pączki (singular: pączek). Pączki are filled doughnuts which are typical for Polish cuisine. Pączki is deep-fried pieces of dough shaped into flattened spheres and filled with confiture or another sweet filling. A small amount of grain alcohol (traditionally, Spiritus) is added to the dough before cooking; as it evaporates, it prevents oil absorption deep into the dough. The common opinion is that the ideal pączek is fluffy and, simultaneously, a bit collapsed, with a bright stripe around – it is supposed to guarantee that the dough was fried in fresh oil.
Although they look like German Berliners, North American bismarcks, or jelly doughnuts, pączki are made from especially rich dough containing eggs, butter, sugar, yeast, and sometimes milk. They feature a variety of fruit and creme fillings and are usually covered with powdered sugar, icing, glaze, or bits of dried orange or lemon zest. Powidła (stewed plum jam) and wild rose hip jam are traditional fillings, but many others are used, including strawberry, Bavarian cream, blueberry, custard, raspberry, and apple.
Pączki have been known in Poland at least since the Middle Ages. The Polish historian and diarist, Jędrzej Kitowicz, wrote that during the reign of August III, under the influence of French cooks who came to Poland, pączki dough was improved, so that pączki became lighter, spongier, and more resilient.
In Poland, pączki are eaten especially on Fat Thursday (Tłusty Czwartek), the last Thursday before Ash Wednesday, and the beginning of Lent. The traditional reason for making pączki was to use up all the lard, sugar, eggs, and fruit in the house because Christian fasting practices forbade their consumption during the season of Lent.
Pączki is also very popular in the United States due to the significant Polish communities. Urban centers with large Polish and Polish-American populations, like Detroit and Chicago, have been bracing themselves for Fat Thursday, aka Paczki Day, a celebration of the delectable fried treat in preparation for the coming Lenten traditions.
There is no Polish restaurant that does not serve pierogi. But most of them cater to tourists and the food is not fulfilling. Nevertheless, one shop makes really delicious and super fresh pierogi. It is called “Pierogarnia Krakowiacy,” just two blocks west of Main Market Square (23 Szewska St). It is a small shop, nicely decorated, that serves mainly pierogi and a couple of other traditional Polish dishes. The shop gets crowded, and you may have to wait till a table is available. Do not wait to find a table of your own…you can share the table with other pierogi fans. The restaurant is self-serviced: you order, pay at the cash desk, take a number, and when your order is ready, they call your number. Weather permitted, you can be sited outside at one of the 3-4 tables on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant. There is another “Pierogarnia Krakowiacy”, much bigger than the first one, located just outside the western perimeter of the Old Town (15 Westerplatte St).
“Pierogarnia Krakowiacy”. Savory pierogi (top left). The store at Westerplatte St (top right). A kiosk at a street fair (middle left). Inside the shop in Szewska St (middle right/bottom right). Outside the Szewska store (bottom left).
In Krakow you will find this sweet treat almost everywhere.I had the best pączki at “Gorące Pączki” in Old Town (in Szewska str, just between other two of must visit places: the 'Nakielny Café' and 'Pierogarnia Krakowiacy') and at “Stara Pączkarnia” in Stradomska street, which is the street that connects Wawel Hill with Kazimierz.
“Gorące Pączki” in Old Town (middle left) and “Stara Pączkarnia” in Stradomska str (Middle and bottom) are two of the best places to have your paczki.
Read more about doughnuts, in my NYC page by following this link:
How do you pronounce "paczki" so you don't sound like a total "amerykanski" when ordering one at a bakery? Try pronouncing it like this "POONCH-key" or "POUNCH-key,"… but chances are, unless you speak the language, you'll be butchering it. Who cares? I always tend to point with my finger toward what I want.
Pierogi (singular: pieróg) are filled dumplings found everywhere in central and eastern European countries. This tasty delicacy is made by wrapping unleavened dough around a savory or sweet filling and cooking it in boiling water. Pierogi are associated mainly with the Polish and Slova ian kitchen, where they are considered national dishes. The variant called varenyky is popular in Ukrainian and Russian cuisine. In recent years, fried pierogi are getting very popular and served mainly as street food. There is no way to be in Krakow and not taste Pierogi.
The origins of pierogi are disputed. Some legends say that pierogi came from China through Italy from Marco Polo's expeditions.
Pierogi are popular street food.
This legend is based on the fact that similar dishes exist in China and the rest of the Far East till today. Others contend that pierogi were brought to Poland by Saint Hyacinth of Poland, who brought them back from Kyiv (the center of "Kievan Rus"). On July 13, 1238, Saint Hyacinth visited Kościelec, and on his visit, a storm destroyed all crops; Hyacinth told everyone to pray, and by the next day, crops rose back up. People made pierogi from those crops for Saint Hyacinth as a sign of gratitude. Another legend states that Saint Hyacinth fed the people with pierogi during a famine caused by an invasion by the Tatars in 1241. Yet another legend says that pierogi were brought to Poland by the Tatars to the West from the former Russian Empire in the 13th century. None of these legends is supported by the etymological origin of the root pirŭ- from the proto-Slavic for "feast".
Traditionally considered peasant food, pierogi eventually gained popularity and spread throughout all social classes, including nobles.
Kazimierz (wellow line) used to be a Vistula River island south easte of Wawel Hill (blue line).
Besides the Old Town and Wawel Hill, Kazimierz is the only other district of interest to tourists. (Podgorze district - the Ghetto, is also worth visiting if you have time). Kazimierz is the district south of the Old Town between Vistula River and Dietla Str.Since its inception in the 14th century to the early 19th century, Kazimierz has been an independent city, a royal city of the Crown of the Polish Kingdom. An old island in the Vistula defines the boundaries of Kazimierz. The northern branch of the river (Stara Wisła–Old Vistula) was filled-in at the end of the 19th century and became Dietla Str. At the same time, Stradomska Str extended to become Krakowska Str connecting Kazimierz district with Old Town.
Kazimierz has, since then, rebounded and is today Krakow’s most exciting district – a bustling, bohemian neighborhood packed with historical sites, atmospheric cafes, and art galleries. Well-known for its associations with Schindler, traces of Kazimierz’s Jewish history have survived and abound in the district’s numerous synagogues and Jewish cemeteries.
The fact that it’s one of the year’s biggest parties proves there’s more to Kazimierz than sepia photographs and old synagogues. Here you’ll find the heart of Kraków’s artistic, bohemian character behind the wooden shutters of dozens of antique shops and art galleries. Peeling façades and obscure courtyards hide dozens of bars and cafes, many affecting an air of pre-war timelessness. Centered on Plac Nowy (New Square), Kazimierz has emerged as the city’s best destination for cafe culture and nightlife. Alternative, edgy, and packed with oddities, Kazimierz is an essential point of interest to any visitor.
Kazimierz was the center of Jewish life in Krakow for over 500 years before being systematically destroyed during World War II.
In the communist era, it became one of Krakow’s dodgiest districts while gradually falling into disrepair.
Rediscovered in the 1990s, thanks to worldwide exposure through the lens of Steven Spielberg and his movie "Schindler's List", which used many filming locations in the area.
No other place in Europe conveys a sense of pre-war Jewish culture on the continent better than Kazimierz. As a result, the district has become a significant tourist draw and pilgrimage site for Jews, which has led to the return of contemporary Jewish culture in the area. Each summer since 1988, the massively popular Jewish Culture Festival has filled Kazimierz’s streets and cafes with music while educating Krakow’s residents and guests about the city’s pre-war Jewish history and celebrating modern Jewish culture.
Today, there are 5 synagogues in the area, of which the Old Synagogue (Stara Synagoga) is the most important of them and can be visited as it currently operates as a museum. It is a Division of the Historical Museum of Krakow, focusing on Krakow's Jews. The exhibits are divided into themes dealing with birth, prayer rituals, diet, divorce, and death. The Synagogue was built in the 15th century and rebuilt in 1570 under the watchful eye of Italian architect Mateo Gucci. The Old Synagogue is a rare, surviving example of a Polish Fortress synagogue. The Germans wholly devastated and ransacked the Synagogue during World War II.
North of the Old Synagogue starts a short but wide street, ulica Szeroka (Szeroka Street). More a square than an actual street, Szeroka conveys the sense of a medieval marketplace; indeed, it was here that Kazimierz’s first Jewish merchants settled, and the square is bookended by two of the city’s most essential synagogues - the Old Synagogue and the Remuh Synagogue, whose historic cemetery covers almost all the area on the west of Szeroka. Szeroka originally served as the center of a tiny 12th-century village known as Bawół, which was absorbed into Kazimierz in 1340, a few years after the latter was awarded its charter. In the late 15th century, Jews banished from Kraków started settling in the area, giving it a permanent place in local Jewish history.
Restaurant Ariel. The main entrance (top left), the patio (top right), one of the rooms (2nd row left), Stuffed cabbage leaves with buckwheat served with tomato sauce (2nd row, right), statue souvenir made of wood (3rd row left), Breast of chicken sauteed in plum and mushroom sauce, served with latkes (3rd row right), Grilled chicken fillets served with cheese and spinach sauce served with latkes (bottom left) and Turkey fillet with almonds and raisins sauce served with latkes (bottom right).
Next to Ariel stands “Synagoga Poperra”, an old synagogue turned into a beautiful bookshop.
At the north end of Szeroka, the visitor will find "Dawno Temu Na Kazimierzu" ('Once Upon a Time in Kazimierz') restaurant, with its row of faux Jewish shop fronts, and next door, you'll find "Hamsa" restaurant.
Next to the entrance of Remuh Synagogue stands the monument of Jan Karski - 'Righteous Among the Nations' for his efforts to alert the Western Allies of the Nazi genocide during WWII. Today Szeroka's picturesque cobbled lanes are primarily lined with businesses and restaurants aimed at tourists, including "Rubinstein" – so named because the 'Queen of Cosmetics' was born next door, and "Ariel", probably the most famous Jewish restaurant in Krakow.
You'll hear mixed reports about Ariel; while our visit was underwhelming, many extol the virtues of this veteran restaurant's varied Jewish cuisine. It is supposed that Steven Spielberg spoke highly of it when he ate here during his stay for the filming of Schindler's List… I very much doubt it! The setting is typical of the district, with antiques and heirlooms alluding to the Kazimierz of yesteryear and a set of rooms decorated in a charmingly cluttered style. There is also a souvenir shop on site.
Hamsa is more than just a restaurant; it is a venue to taste modern Israeli cuisine and connect with Eastern Mediterranean culture! In a district whose dining establishments still treat Jewishness as a faded sepia part of the past, here's a restaurant free of nostalgic pre-war décor and wooden roof fiddlers, where 'Jewish cuisine' doesn't mean traditional East European fare. Making a bold impression simply by being bright, modern, and free of clutter, Hamsa offers a range of authentic Middle Eastern specialties in a casual environment. The mezze sets are perfect for sharing and allow you to sample delicious starters like humus, babaganoush, labnah, and muhammarah. Still, they are also beautifully presented in hand-painted dishware. There's plenty of room, and in spring/summer, this restaurant expands to ul. Miodowa in a beautiful garden. Here I had a not-that-special piece of kunefe pastry.
The motto of the restaurant is “Make Humus not war”. The name of this venue was derived from a good luck amulet, which is well-known throughout the Middle East. It brings you luck and protects your household from evil curses like the evil eye. Hamsa is also called the Hand of Fatima, the symbol commonly known in both Jewish and Islamic cultures.
On the other side of the cemetery starts Warszauera Street with its 17th-century Kupa Synagogue, whose northern wall was flush with the medieval Kazimierz defensive walls, which can still be seen from the other side on Miodowa Street. It's a short walk down Warszauera Street from there to Plac Nowy (New Square), formerly known as 'Plac Żydowski' (Jewish Square) and still today the district's bustling epicenter, lined with bars, cafes, and street food stalls.
Quench your thirst with a cold "Oranzada" at one of Plac Nowy bars.
An odd legend is tied to the small patch of green at the northern end of Szeroka, which was walled off sometime during the ages for no reason apparent to early-20th-century locals. According to a story perpetuated before WWII, an insubordinate wedding party took place there late one Friday, with revelers ignoring the rabbi’s requests to part as the Sabbath approached; feeling scorned, the rabbi cast a curse plunging the wedding venue underground and wiping out the newlyweds and all their guests. Ask a historian, however, and they’re more likely to tell you that the plot of land was probably a tiny cemetery used to bury those who perished from the plague. Today it has been fashioned into a memorial and “Place of meditation upon the martyrdom of 65,000 Polish citizens of Jewish nationality from Cracow,” as a large stone monument explains.
Plac Nowy scene.
The square has a very relaxed atmosphere, and people look different than those frequenting other Krakow neighborhoods: more relaxed. Plac Nowy has established itself as the spiritual center of the Kracowian subculture. Lacking the splendor of the Old Town, Plac Nowy is an eyesore – a concrete square lined with cars and filled with food hatches, metal market stalls, and rat-like pigeons. However, if you want something completely different from the Old Town, here it is. Incorporated into the Jewish quarter in the late 17th century, Plac Nowy didn't begin assuming its shape until the early 19th century, with its central landmark, the Okrąglak (rotunda), added as late as 1900.
For generations, this square was referred to by locals as Plac Żydowski, not only because it was the primary bucher marketplace (kosher) of the Jewish quarter but the rotunda served as a ritual slaughterhouse for poultry right up until Nazi occupation. Today butcher shops still occupy the interior, but the actual activity is outside, where hungry locals line up in front of the dozen or so hole-in-the-wall food hatches that operate around the rotunda, eager to taste arguably the best 'zapiekanki' in Poland. Essentially a French bread pizza with the toppings of your choice, you'll find everyone from police blokes ignoring emergency calls on their walkie-talkies to stick-thin party girls getting their week's worth of calories waiting outside the rotunda for this legendary Krakowian street food. Visiting Krakow without eating a Plac Nowy zapiekanka would be like visiting Dublin without having a Guinness.
Plac Nowy is Krakow’s premier pub crawl circuit. Full of shambolic charm, veteran boozers Singer (took its name from the old Singer saw machines, which are used as serving tables) and Alchemia put Plac Nowy on the map for punters and remain two of the square's best bets for candlelit, pre-war mystique.
While in the square, we only visited the impressive Alchemia club, a distinctively decorated music venue where you can enjoy your coffee or drink (order and pay for your drink at the bar).
In recent years the area has begun to diversify with glammy pre-club places. Still, the fact remains that this bohemian outpost is one of Krakow's most interesting and exciting nightlife destinations.
The Polish word zapiekanka comes from the verb zapiekać, which means "to bake a dish so that its ingredients combine, and a crispy, browned crust forms on top".
Queue for a zapinkanka at Plac Nowy.
Zapiekanki first appeared in the streets of Polish towns in the 1970s. Under Edward Gierek's leadership of the Polish United Workers' Party, Poland's Communist authorities allowed a degree of private enterprise in the catering industry. This move led to a quick proliferation of small family-owned food service establishments, known in Polish as mała gastronomia, or "small gastronomy". They usually took the form of stands or travel trailers turned food trucks serving zapiekanki along with simple dishes of Polish cuisine, such as kiełbasa sausage, boiled ham hock, or tripe soup, and American fast food staples, like hot dogs, hamburgers and French fries. Their spread continued during the food shortages of the following decade. The American journalist Anne Applebaum, who first came to Poland in 1988, described the zapiekanka of that time as "a pizzalike substance" and "a poor relative of its distant Italian cousin", "a mushy white sandwich roll" with "a few overcooked mushrooms" beneath "melted cheese and a squeeze of ketchup", which she ate nonetheless because little else was available.
This is zapiekanka!
Demand for zapiekanki fell with the reintroduction of the market economy in the 1990s. Still, it remained on the menus of some of those "small gastronomy" outlets that survived the competition with large fast food chains. Some zapiekanka stands even attained cult following, such as those in Plac Nowy.
Me enjoying a zapiekanka at Plac Nowy.
A zapiekanka is best served hot. A typical zapiekanka is made from one half of a baguette, or any other long roll of white bread, cut lengthwise for a submarine sandwich. It may be up to 50 cm long. The bread is topped with sliced, sautéed white mushrooms and grated cheese to form an open-face sandwich, which is then toasted until the bread becomes crisp and the cheese melts. Hard, mature yellow cheese with a high-fat content that melts well in heat, such as Gouda, Edam, Emmental, Tilsit, or Cheddar, is best for this purpose; Polish smoked sheep milk cheese, such as oscypek, is also a popular choice. The typical garnish is tomato ketchup, usually splattered on the cheese in a generous amount.
The entrance to Meiselsa street (top). Inside Meiselsa street (bottom).
To continue your tour, head west out of the square down Meiselsa Street to find what many regards as Krakow's most picturesque passageway on your left, which should be immediately recognizable to many as the backdrop of dramatic scenes from Spielberg's "Schindler's List".It seemed neglected, and I did not find much charm in it.But, again, we are all willing to visit places we see in films: colorless, bland, even ugly places, which become tourist attractions after appearing in a famous film.
Just next to the passageway is arguably the neighborhood’s best beer garden (Mleczarnia) if you’re here during the summer season.
Bar Mleczarnia ogródek (Mlekowóz). The most beautiful garden in the city.
The only museum I visited in Krakow was the "Ethnographic Museum". I am very fond of this kind of museum (together with history museums), because they give you a realistic view of local people's life, unlike most museums which narrate the life of the Kings, the nobles, the priesthood, and the rich ones. Furthermore, people who travel a lot, like me, lose interest in art museums as they all seem the same after some point. If, for example, you are in Europe, you have seen so much Western art that, eventually, it gets very dull. How many Da Vinci, Picasso, Van Gogh, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, or Renoir paintings can you digest in your life, and how many Greco-Roman sculptures can you admire?!
Krakowska Street and the Ethnographic Museum entrance (top). The Wolnica square side of the museum (bottom).
Ethnological Museum exhibition artifacts.
Inside the Ethnographic Museum.
The Wolnica Plac (Wolnica Square), on one side of which stands the museum, is a charming open space surrounded by beautiful buildings, cafés, and restaurants. On the opposite side of the museum is a small ice cream shop, which is supposed to make the best ice cream in town. It is called “GoodLood” (lody means ice cream in Polish). When I visited, there was a long queue in front of the shop with many young ice cream fans, so I decided not to wait. Most probably, the long lines and the large numbers of young couples sitting around the square slurping on ice cream cones mean something…but again, we know how these things work: good advertisement, good PR, and here comes the best of the best!
The next day, I realized that there is not only one “GoodLood”, but many… actually, GoodLood is the fastest-growing food start-up in Kracow, they told me. They produce ice cream using only local dairy products, fresh fruit, and the best quality herbs and nuts (but aren’t they all saying so?).
GoodLood Logo and a "classic flavor": Pistachio.
This beautiful museum was founded in 1911 by the teacher and folklore enthusiast Seweryn Udziela and is located inside Kazimierz's former Town Hall (on Wolnica Square). This cultural highlight often gets overlooked by tourists. Still, it offers an excellent and charming insight into Polish folk culture and rural traditions. It includes beautiful recreations of 19th-century peasant interiors, folk costumes and instruments, and extraordinary examples of local nativity cribs ('szopki').
The permanent exhibition is currently being modernized, with new exhibits called 'Od-nowa' (Anew) - focussed on rural rituals of spring in Poland (painted Easter eggs and palms), and 'Unattainable Earth' - which guides visitors through hundreds of works of folk art via the words of Czeslaw Milosz's anthology of poems and thoughts called "Unattainable Earth". With exhibits sufficiently explained in English, those that visit here will be happily rewarded.
Admission fee is PLN 13 (Discounted admission PLN 7). On Sundays, the admission is free.
The Wolnica Square. People queue outside GoodLood ice-cream shop and then enjoy it outside under the sun.
Besides their classic offer, GoodLood introduces 2 “flavors of the day” daily. These flavors are announced on their Facebook page each day at 8:00 pm of the previous day. So, people know what they will have tomorrow, and usually, each new flavor quickly becomes a must-eat, a real blockbuster of the ice cream world. Now you understand what I said earlier about PR and clever marketing ideas and why everyone I saw queuing was very young.
Polish people are very fond of ice cream, so there are hundreds of this kind of shops in the city.
Polish people love ice cream (Lody). There are ice cream shops everywhere.
Bar mleczny (milk bar)
A bar mleczny—literally "milk bar" in Polish—is a form of cafeteria. The first typical milk bar, "Mleczarnia Nadświdrzańska," was established in 1896 in Warsaw by Stanisław Dłużewski, a member of the Polish landed gentry. Although the typical bar mleczny had a menu based on dairy items, these establishments generally also served other, non-dairy traditional Polish dishes.
Inside Tomasza Milkbar. You place your order here and you take a seat. When your order is ready, they bring it to you.
The commercial success of the first milk bars encouraged other business people to copy this type of restaurant. As Poland regained independence after World War I, milk bars appeared in most of the country. They offered relatively cheap but nourishing food and, as such, achieved even more prominence during the economic depression in the 1930s.
The role of cheap restaurants carried through World War II. After the fall of the German Nazi regime, most of the population was poor and expensive restaurants were out of reach. Most restaurants were nationalized and then closed down by the communist authorities. In the mid-1960s, milk bars were typical to offer cheap meals to people working in companies with no official canteen. They still mainly served dairy-based and vegetarian meals, especially during martial law in the early 1980s, when meat was rationed.
The prevalent idea at that time was to provide all people with cheap meals at the place of their work. The meals served in the workplace canteens were free. However, a large number of people working in smaller firms had no canteen at their disposal. Because of this, during the tenure of Władysław Gomułka, the authorities created a network of small self-service eateries. The meals, subsidized by the state, were cheap and readily available.
Yummy Irish breakfast at Tomasza Milkbar.
Inside Tomasza Milkbar.
Besides raw or processed dairy products, milk bars serve eggs, cereal, or pierogi. After the fall of the communist system and the end of the closed economy, most milk bars went bankrupt as regular restaurants superseded them. However, some of them were preserved as part of the relics of the welfare state to support the poorer members of Polish society.
In early 2010 milk bars were seen to make a comeback. They became small, inexpensive restaurants that took advantage of welfare state nostalgia while providing good quality food and customer service.
Some people prefer milk bars over fast-food restaurants because of the homemade-style food and low prices. Currently, every city neighborhood has at least one "milk bar". They are popular among older people, students, tourists, and the working class. Besides, capitalism has not favored the working class much. Other social classes generally look down upon them, but more "posh" milk bars appear as they become fashionable.
While in Krakow, we were lucky to have a milk bar, “Milkbar Tomasza”, next to our hotel, and we had breakfast there quite often. The place is trendy among locals and tourists, and if you want to find a seat (rather than a table), you better go there early. A couple of times, we did not find a table for breakfast. This self-service place serves the best “Irish breakfast” (English breakfast?). Coffee is also good, as well as the omelets.
Krakow Ghetto limits as in May 1942(red line) in Podgorze district. Oskar Schindler's Enamel Factory is in the far east of the Ghetto (painted yellow on the map). The painted yellow areas in the limits of the Ghetto are the "Plac Bohaterów Getta" (Ghetto Heroes Square) and the remains of the Ghetto wall (southeast).
Father Bernatek’s foot Bridge (Kładka Ojca Bernatka) conects Podgorze district with Kazimierz.
Krakow Ghetto was established in 1941 in the Podgorze district. It was one of five major metropolitan Jewish ghettos created by Nazi Germany in the territories of occupied Poland.
Before 1939, Krakow was inhabited by around 70.000 Jews, with the vast majority living in the district of Kazimierz. On September 6, 1939, Nazis entered Krakow and began the occupation. Persecution of the Jews began almost immediately. Jews were required to participate in forced work and wear dedicated armbands; all of Krakow's Synagogues were closed. Nazis were confiscating Jewish property and belongings.
On the orders of the Nazi authorities, Krakow was to be cleared of Jewish people by May 1940. Massive deportations of Jews from the city were ordered. Many Jews were deported mainly to neighboring towns and villages and distant parts of Poland. Some Jewish families managed to emigrate. Around 15.000 Jews were permitted to remain in Krakow, mostly workers employed on services considered necessary by the Germans. However, further persecution of the Jewish people occurred, and the decision to create a ghetto was made.
The Krakow ghetto was formally established on March 3, 1941. It was located in the Podgorze district, an area of Krakow on the southern side of the Vistula River. It consisted of 30 streets and 320 one- and two-story buildings and, before 1941, was occupied by little over 3.000 people. All Jews remaining in Krakow were forced to relocate from Kazimierz. Poles living in Podgorze were also ordered to leave their homes. As a result, the district was suddenly occupied by five times more people. One apartment was allocated by up to four families, and many less fortunate lived on the street.
The Ghetto was surrounded by the newly built walls that separated it from the rest of the city. They were made in close resemblance to Jewish tombstones, matzevahs. All windows in the buildings that opened onto the "Aryan" side were bricked up. Because several companies were located on the "Aryan" side of Podgorze, two tram lines were left in the Ghetto but ran through without stopping. To the Ghetto led four gates, each heavily guarded by German military police and members of the Polish police (the so-called Blue Police, an auxiliary police organization under German leadership, formed by Nazi Germany by reinstating Polish state police that existed before the war).
All Jewish organizations in the Ghetto were operating on the orders and under the control of the Gestapo. However, resistance groups existed, such as Jewish Combat Organisation, supported by the Polish Home Army and the Polish Underground State.
At the end of May 1942, Nazis began systematic deportations from the Ghetto to surrounding concentration camps, such as Krakow-Plaszow or Auschwitz Birkenau. The leading site for assembling Jews before deportations was Zgody Square, and then they were escorted to the railway station.
On 13-14 March 1943, the liquidation of the Ghetto was carried out. Jews considered fit for work, approximately 8.000, were transported to Krakow-Plaszow. Around 2.000 were killed in the streets during the liquidation of the Ghetto. The remaining inhabitants were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau and there also murdered.
Of the Jewish community of nearly 70.000 in Krakow, only about a thousand people survived the war.
Today, the starting point of deportations to death camps, Zgody Square, is known as the Ghetto Heroes Square (Plac Bohaterow Getta) and is a place of art installation commemorating victims of the Holocaust. Inspired by descriptions of lots of abandoned furniture and personal belongings strewn around the square after the liquidation of the Ghetto, the installation comprises dozens of oversized iron chairs.
Zgody Square, is known as the Ghetto Heroes Square (Plac Bohaterow Getta).
The only remaining piece of the once Ghetto walls at Lwowska Streer is adorned with a plaque that reads, "Here they lived, suffered and perished at the hands of Hitler's executioners. From here they began their final journey to the death camps".
The only remaining piece of the once Ghetto walls at Lwowska Streer.
Oskar Schindler's Enamel Factory.
Podgorze district is becoming very tredy with bars and restaurants. St. Joseph's Church (Sanktuarium Świętego Józefa) is the main church in the area.
The Wieliczka Salt Mine.
Outside and inside the mine.
When you tell people that you have visited Krakow, they all ask you, have you been to the Salt Mine? They refer to the Wieliczka Salt Mine (Kopalnia soli Wieliczka), a salt mine in the town of Wieliczka, just 30 minutes by bus to the southeast of Krakow.
The first time I visited Krakow I did not visit the place, but this time I said OK I’ll give it a try. When I travel, I try to avoid all the tourist traps, but sometimes I do fall into one of these. And believe me the mines are one big tourist trap. It is expensive to visit, tiring and does not worth the visit. Unless you want to tell people back home “yes, I have been there, too”. Altogether only a couple of places are interesting here. The statues placed here and there are rather tacky and childish. At the beginning of the tour, one must go down about 55 sets of seven steps each in a narrow and low staircase. The tour lasts about two hours, and the visitor goes up and down, climbing stairs in a claustrophobic environment. All together I believe the tour should last only an hour: who wants to see every stupid statue placed here and there?
St. Kinga's Chapel, deep in the Wieliczka salt mine. The most interesting place in the mine.
Anyway. From Neolithic times, sodium chloride (table salt) was produced there from the upwelling brine. The Wieliczka salt mine, excavated from the 13th century, produced table salt continuously until 2007, as one of the world's oldest operating salt mines. Throughout its history, the royal salt mine was operated by the Żupy Krakowskie (Kraków Salt Mines) company. Due to falling salt prices and mine flooding, commercial salt mining was discontinued.
The Wieliczka Salt Mine is now an official Polish Historic Monument and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its attractions include the shafts and labyrinthine passageways, displays of historic salt-mining technology, an underground lake, four chapels and numerous statues carved by miners out of the rock salt, and more recent sculptures by contemporary artists.