Krakow Poland, the former capital of Poland, is a culturally-rich city that offers many great sights to explore over a long weekend. Here are your must-see items to experience while visiting Krakow.
1. Main Market Square, Rynek Glowny
Krakow's Market Square is one of the largest medieval town squares in Europe. Our guide called it the largest at 10 acres, but I'm not sure all would agree. It is beautiful with dozens of restaurants lining the perimeter, as well as churches, museums and galleries. Have a drink and watch the people and horse drawn carriages, but don't eat there, or take one of those rides. I have better ideas!
2. Wawel Castle
Krakow's Royal Castle standing on Wawel Hill greets you when you arrive. It can be seen from many points around town and is a nice spot to visit. Wawel Hill has been home to Polish political power and unrest for centuries. Now there stands a palace and Cathedral that represents Krakow's checkered past with many different architectural styles smashed together. You can tour the Cathedral, as well as the Castle with its beautiful art, tapestries and unique apartments. Make sure to look up as the molding is beautiful, and one room has a jaw dropping 30 human heads carved into the ceiling.
3. Krakow's Vistula River
The Vistula River runs through Krakow, and is the longest river in Poland. It's also good news for runners and bikers as it's a great path to use to get some exercise without having to play in traffic. It's also helpful when navigating the compact city as it's always helpful to have a water reference when getting your bearings. You'll find people hanging out along the water at night, having a drink and just relaxing. We even saw fireworks go off randomly one night. There are large boats where you can eat on the water, but again, I have better ideas for you.
4. Kazimierz District, Jewish Quarter
Krakow's Jewish Quarter, Kazimierz, was once home to displaced Polish Jews as well as European refugees. In March of 1941, the local Jews were sent south to a newly created ghetto. Much of the area was destroyed after the war, and only in the last 10-20 years has Krakow's Jewish Quarter become a hip new area to go out with galleries, bars and restaurants.
Many people visit Krakow, in order to visit Auschwitz. A quarter of those who died in the Holocaust died at Auschwitz and neighboring Birkenau. You can tour both, though much of the original structures were destroyed after the war so as not to leave evidence of the atrocities that occurred there. It's a somber walk through the areas, but if you've been through the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C., you'll be prepared for a visit. Entry is free, but guided tours are recommended.
6. Schindler's Factory
Schindler's Factory, once the former home of the enamel factory that saved the lives of over 1,000 Jews employed there, is now a museum dedicated to Krakow's wartime history during Nazi occupation. The museum covers the events happening in Krakow from 1939 - 1945. The interactive exhibits are informative and educational.
7. Wieliczka Salt Mines
Wieliczka is about 20 minutes from Krakow and worth a visit if you have time. Wieliczka is home to a truly awesome salt mine over 700 years old and now on the UNESCO World Heritage list. The mines go down to a depth of nearly 1,100 feet, and while it's no longer a working salt mine, you can tour some of the areas. Certain floors are blocked to visitors, but we were able to explore tunnel upon tunnel of this enormous place. It's estimated that there are 100 miles worth of tunnels. Some rooms had salt sculptures, chandeliers and intricate carvings. They also host events and concerts there. It's pretty spectacular.
8. Planty Park
Krakow used to be encircled by a moat, and today that moat has been transformed into a beautiful green park. Benches and bushy trees line the perimeter and offer a great spot to rest while touring Krakow or even take in a picnic.
Krakow is nearly 95% Catholic and those Catholics sure built a lot of churches. They would build one for every occasion and they were on every corner. There came a point where they had to tear down half of them to make room for other things. You can still find plenty on most streets and you'll wonder where they even put all the others that are no longer standing.
You know I'm not going to talk about a city without telling about the food, but that deserves its own post. Coming soon!