I arrived in Kraków in early December (2018) wrapped up warm against the bitterly cold chill ready to soak up a bit of the Christmas atmosphere to kick off the festive period. Krakow didn’t disappoint.
The small old city in southern Poland holds a certain charm, I think it’s the mix of a medieval yet modern feel to it that holds an attraction. Krakow was the official capital of Poland until 1956 and is deemed one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. The old town itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Krakow is known for its arts and academics and this brings a young vibe to the city, hence there is no shortage of bars and clubs.
I stayed in a small hotel on Grodzka in the old town, an ideal location within 5 minutes of the market square in one direction and Wawel Castle in the other. The market square, Rynek Główny is the main attraction. Adorned with architecturally attractive buildings and surrounded by countless restaurants; the square is a hive of activity. During December the square hosts the Christmas market. It is truly stunning by night. Horse drawn carriages reminding me of Cindrella line up around the square under a huge Christmas tree, ready to take tourists on an expensive tour of the city. Despite the price they don’t stop, it seems that tourists can’t turn down the thought of a romantic tour of the city under moon and twinkling Christmas lights. Despite each market stall selling very similar souvenirs you can still spend hours here wandering in and out of the many stalls looking at a hundred varieties of Christmas baubles, wooden crafts and furry hats amongst other things. If you get peckish you can entertain your tastebuds on a variety of street food and mulled wine. Although if you’re like me the cold will have penetrated through your thick winter layers and you’ll be looking for a warmer location to dine.
There are countless restaurants to choose from, and you can dine on most cuisines; but definitely try Polish, I was pleasantly surprised. From the soups, to the dumplings and various pork dishes there was plenty of tasty dishes to try. The weekends got very busy so I do recommend booking a restaurant so you are not disappointed. After dinner, Krakow has a lively nightlife with many bars to choose from including jazz bars and piano bars, so you can definitely unwind or liven it up after a day of exploring, which ever takes your fancy.
Krakow is an easy city to explore by foot due to its relatively small size. By day you’ll want to go back to the square and see The Cloth Hall and St. Mary’s Basilica, look out for the trumpet player who plays Hejnał Mariacki out all four of the towers of the Basilica on the hour, I wasn’t expecting it and it was quite a delight. The Cloth Hall is situated in the middle of the square and to its left is free of Christmas stalls giving a feel to just how large this space is. I imagine in summer all the restaurants spilling out into the square so customers could enjoy the sun. North of here you can pass by the old city walls, some which still stand and see the Barbican, the late 15th century fortified gateway. South of the square, take a wander in out of narrow streets until you arrive at the foot of Wawel castle. The castle stands proud and tall overlooking the city on Wawel Hill with the Vistula River curving around one side of it.
Wawel castle has been very well renovated. The main attraction here though is Wawel Cathedral with its stunning architecture. You can spend a good amount of time here in around the surroundings admiring it all. Beneath the castle you’ll find the Dragon, arrive for the hour mark and you’ll see it breathe fire. It’s a little corny but it does draw the crowds and it’ll put a smile on your face. The views of the castle from the other side of the Vistula river are the best so be sure to take a short walk across one of the bridges and you won’t be disappointed.
The district of Kazimierz once home to one of the most important Jewish communities in the world is now a fairly hip area to be in. Enjoy an aimless wander around here and just enjoy being in the moment. On the other side of the river you’ll find Schindler’s Factory, now a popular part of the tourist trail.
Krakow really is postcard beautiful with the stunning architecture, clean streets and many gothic churches. As I wondered back from Kazimierz on my final evening in Krakow as the sun was starting to drop I realised I was going to be treated to a rare city sunset. I made way for Wawel castle just in time to see a stunning skyline and suddenly Krakow became even more charming.