My only disappointment with our city break to Krakow is that we hadn’t visited sooner. The medieval city had been calling our names for a fair amount of time, so one grey January day I seized the wanderlust zeitgeist and booked in a load of city breaks – including Krakow. Finally! As a result, this is my (entirely subjective) Krakow what to do list.
We visited in May as the weather should be fairly settled, and it’s the beginning shoulder season (compared to July/August when a lot of schools have their summer holidays) which means that tourist season hasn’t begun yet.
We stayed just outside of the Old Town centre (literally a 7-minute walk) and explored the city by foot. Armed with a few tips from friends who grew up/holiday in Krakow almost every year, we pottered about and hit that perfect balance of relaxation and discovery.
Something that we didn’t do is visit Auschwitz – we absolutely think that the atrocities committed in these camps should be recognised, but after visiting Dachau (just outside of Munich) we felt like visiting another camp (for us) would be turning the remembrance and acknowlegement into a tacky tourism thing. We also didn’t get to the Salt Mines, something that people often pair on the same day with an Auschwitz visit. You can do both on a tour, or on your own. Krakow What to do
One of our favourite places to wander through (and we also did a walking tour) was the Krakow Old Town square. It was vibrant with life, both during the day alive with tourists, and at night where the bars lining the square lit up with music and laughter. We also explored all of the side street with boutique bars, market squares and a recommended steakhouse so good that we went twice in the same visit.
We also managed to be just in time to hear St. Mary’s Trumpet Call (the Hejnał mariacki; derived from a Hungarian expression meaning “Saint Mary’s dawn”) 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 each of 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 all of Poland and the world.
We slipped in super early to the National Museum, an imposing building in itself, especially to see Leonardo da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine. We were so early beating the tourist hoards, that at a few points Mr Kiwi and I (plus the gallery staff) were alone with this Renaissance masterpiece. (Book your tickets online directly with the Krakow National Museum for the best times.) The other galleries are well worth a wander, especially if you enjoy antiquities and the historical stories that they embody.
We wandered along the leafy streets that surround the Old Town area…
…and then up to the Krakow castle itself. What an incredibly structure. This is only the very, very tip of the complex, and I think I’ll write separately on the castle. A visit should definitely be on your ‘Krakow: What To Do’ list!
The history that Krakow has been through was intensely thought provoking, to say the least. One of the oldest cities in Poland, archaeological evidence proves that there were settlements in the Kraków area as early as the Palaeolithic period, with stone tools found on Wawel Hill dating back – way, way back – to 50,000BC. Legend attributes the city’s founding to Krakus, the mythical ruler who vanquished the Wawel Dragon.
Since then the history has been tumultuous to say the least – invasions, semi-independance, Nazi subjugation, liberation, 45-years of communism and then independence in 1989 with the election of the first post-communist president of Poland. Too much to even try and encapsulate in a blog post.
As a less intense sidenote, whilst we were Krakow, we also ate our weight in perogi and steak. Not to mention a few glasses of local beer…
Our visit was absolutely brilliant – history, delicious food, the time to relax and excellent beer. Oh, and a local dragon. What more could you want from a European city break? Krakow What To Do.
Have you visited Krakow?
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