Every year, together with my wife, we are planning to visit at least one or two new places from Europe or worldwide. One of the places visited at the end of October 2016 was Krakow. Before choosing it, we had several other options in Europe, but in the end we have decided to spend 4 days in Krakow and surroundings. We have traveled by car and we took with us our six months old son. I can tell you that it is one of the nicest cities that we have visited in the last few years.
From the moment we have entered in Krakow, we were surprised by the clean streets and boulevards with clear direction indicators. Like all the other cities with historical background, Krakow is a mixture of modern buildings describing the era we are living in and old buildings showing the history of the city. On our way to the hotel, we passed through different areas of the city and the streets were very clean even though we were not passing through the city center. The hotel was a three star hotel located in a very good area just 10 minutes by tram from city center. Everyday we have used the public transport, especially trams which were very clean and well maintained. Always in time, with facilities for prams and disabled people. If you are more the type of shopping person, I can tell you that you can find all the shops you would like in various shopping centers. The people are very friendly and helpful, not only the staff at the hotel but also the different people we have interacted in several occasions. Another plus for the inhabitants of this city is that almost everyone is speaking English, which is quite rare even in big cities from Europe.
Main touristic attractions
Before leaving to Krakow, I have created a must see list with the buildings and places which will show a bit of the history of the city, considered as well the main touristic attractions. I will describe the places that I have considered to be a must see in Krakow and surroundings. Most of the touristic spots are located at a walking distance one from another.
St. Florian’s Gate
In the first day, we took the tram and headed towards the city center. We have started the day by having a look at the St. Florian’s Gate, one of the last gates which remained from the old fortified gates, walls and towers. The name of the gate is coming as you would imagine from Saint Florian whose statue is on the gate facing Florianska street. On this street you can find several souvenir shops, pubs and bars.
Main Market Square and Cloth Hall
After a 10 minutes walk on Florianska street, we arrived in the famous Main Market Square. Here, you can enjoy the views either by walking around or by talking a tour with an elegant horse carriage. If you are hungry or you want to drink a coffee, you will find many restaurants and coffee shops on the sides of the market.
Inside the Main Market Square, you can enjoy vising the Cloth Hall. On the ground floor you can find different merchants selling a wide range of local products and different art objects. Upstairs you can visit the museum of the Cloth Hall.
St. Mary’s Basilica
On the left side how you enter the market from Florianska street, you will be surprised by St. Mary’s Basilica. The church is built in Gothic style, having two asymmetric towers and it’s interior being very well preserved. The altar was sculptured in wood by the famous Veit Stoss. Everything is beautiful inside, starting from the altar, arches, pulpits, pipe organ and the ceiling. This is one of the most beautiful churches I have entered in Europe.
Wawel Castle and Cathedral
Leaving the market on the Grodzka street, you will arrive after 15-20 minutes walk to the beautiful Wawel Castle and Cathedral situated on top of a hill. In order to enter inside the yard of the castle, you will have to climb the hill for few hundred meters. Inside the yard, you can visit the different parts of the castle and the cathedral. We chose to visit the 2 most important parts of the castle with audio guide, State Rooms and Crown Treasury and Armory. Everything inside is in a mint condition considering the age of the paintings, furniture and different objects displayed. Unfortunately, inside the castle you are not allowed to take pictures.
In the State Rooms, you can observe the astonishing ceilings in Renaissance style. The rooms are decorated with paintings in different sizes from portraits to huge paintings describing various battles, alongside with tapestries. In one of the rooms, on the ceiling you will observe something which you won’t see in many other castles, meaning the wood carvings of 30 human heads.
Inside the Crown Treasury you will find displayed several objects of the treasury alongside with ornamental vessels, diplomatic gifts, ceremonial weapons and the coronation sword. The Armory part is split in 7 rooms, 4 on the ground floor and the rest in the basement. In the first room on the ground floor are displayed halberds and two-handed swords. In the second room you can see different suits if armor, including tournament ones. Inside the third room from the ground floor you will find sabers, modern and medieval swords and also ceremonial artifacts. In the last room are displayed fire weapons like pistols, rifles and arquebuses. In the basement you can find several cannons and mortars.
Krakow surroundings: Auschwitz and Wieliczka
On the second and third day of our trip, we have visited 2 must see places outside Krakow: Auschwitz – Birkenau State Memorial Museum, a touching experience and I would say a page of history and the second one was the second deepest salt mine in the world (9 levels out of which only 3 are open for touristic purposes) – Wieliczka Salt Mine.
Kazimierz, the famous Jewish District
In the last day, we walked around the streets of Kazimierz, the famous Jewish District. Nowadays is one of the major touristic attractions consisting of different buildings from big ones to small and cozy ones with narrow streets and not only. Besides the mixture of building styles, you will find several synagogues out of which only one can be visited inside, namely Izaaka. All synagogues are modest from architectural point of view. Kazimierz is not so far from Wawel Castle, therefore close to the other touristic attractions.
All in all, it was an amazing experience in Krakow and we really recommend it if you are considering to plan a city break. Although is a medium size city, everything was above expectations from our point of view.