Short Breaks to Krakow
Krakow is the country’s second city, most visited tourist destination, and for many centuries was the royal capital of Poland. It has a wide appeal: the city offers history and architecture, traditional food and drink, and varied entertainment – perfect for a short break.
Krakow is the most intact of Poland’s medieval cities, and has managed to retain its character while incorporating modern buildings and international shops and restaurants. It is dominated by the Wawel Castle, formerly the seat of Polish kings, and the adjacent cathedral. The Renaissance castle is sumptuously furnished, and packed with art and royal treasures.
In the Old Town you can walk around the Market Square, the largest medieval square in Europe, and admire the Gothic churches. The Cloth Hall is perhaps the world’s oldest shopping mall, having been in use for over 700 years. Today you can buy souvenirs from shops and stalls inside the Hall, and visit the museum upstairs. You can also visit the fortifications and the remains of the city walls, and walk through the Planty garden that forms a green ring round the outside of the city.
For entertainment, the town is full of music: classical, rock, and traditional Polish folk music. Many festivals take place during the year, including the Jewish Culture Festival and the Krakow Film Festival. One of the most popular times to visit Krakow is in December, when the Christmas Market fills the Market Square with music and dancing, food and drink.
Things to Do and See
The Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau museums are only 30 miles outside of Krakow and can be visited either by taking an organised tour from Krakow, or by going independently by train to Oswiecim station and walking. Visiting Auschwitz is a powerful, poignant experience that serves to tell the stories of those that died there, in the hope that this shameful and tragic period of human history is never replicated. At http://en.auschwitz.org/m/ you can find out more about Auschwitz in addition to visiting the museums.
Home to the , the Krakow Philharmonic concert hall provides city visitors the opportunity to experience a live musical performance. The grand main hall integrates a huge pipe organ which towers over the orchestra section below. For details about current and upcoming performances please see the official website at http://www.filharmonia.krakow.pl.
Main Market Square
Krakow’s Main Market Square is the largest medieval square in Europe, but its popularity is derived from other reasons in addition to that of sheer size. The square’s centrepiece is the Sukiennice, which today includes a museum and a number of shops, while the Town Hall Tower and Adam Mickiewicz Monument are additional features of the square that are difficult to miss. There are always things going on in, and around the square, with it being not uncommon to seeing people clad in traditional Polish attire.
Only a couple of minutes’ walk from the main square, the Muzeum Czartoryskich is home to a number of items and works or art with a local significance as well as those from other parts of the world. Pieces from the Wawel Cathedral and Royal Castle can be seen alongside creations from a list of significant artists that includes: Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and Rembrandt.
As one of the largest consumers and producers of beer in Europe, the Poles know a thing or two about making excellent beer, with a large variety of both pale and dark beers readily available. The main square of Krakow is the perfect place to unwind with a jar, taking in Cloth Hall (Sukiennice) and the surrounding scenery.
If you’ve ever had the urge to experience firing a machine gun at a paper target, Krakow can accommodate. Firing ranges have sprung up at destinations all over Europe in an attempt to entice stag-parties with an unusual activity at which friends can compete. Other popular activities that serve a similar purpose and are easily found include go-karting and paintballing.
Facing out over the Vistula River, the Wawel complex – which includes the impressive Wawel cathedral, castle and courtyard – is one of Krakow’s must-see attractions. Constructed over a number of centuries, different sections of Wawel were built during Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque times. To find out more about opening hours and guided tours, please visit http://www.wawel.krakow.pl/en/.
Wieliczka Salt Mine
Situated just outside of Krakow, the Wieliczka Salt Mine is a surreal place to visit, and a true testament to the ingenuity of those that constructed it. There is an underground lake, a 3.5km tour route, intricate works of art carved directly into the rock salt and even a large chapel. Over 1 million people visit the mines every year, which were producing salt from the 13th century up to only a few years ago.
Where to Go
- Spend the afternoon soaking up the atmosphere in the Main Square
- Explore the huge underground salt mines of Wieliczka
- Visit the Auschwitz museums 30 miles outside of Krakow
- Take in the Muzeum Czartoryskich with paintings by da Vinci
- Eat a traditional meal at one of Krakow’s excellent restaurants