Our guest blogger Elle Croft from A Bird in the Hand Travel explains why she thinks you should visit Kraków, one of the oldest and most picturesque cities in Poland…
Although Eastern Europe once seemed remote, secretive, and a little bit edgy, it now finds itself planted firmly on the tourist map, with visitors flocking to some of the region’s most popular cities. Destinations such as Prague, Budapest, and Dubrovnik are becoming almost as familiar to European explorers as the traditional hotspots of Paris, Berlin or Barcelona. But Eastern Europe is a vast expanse of the continent, and there are many treasures that are yet to join the ranks of their better-known counterparts. If you’re searching for a destination that’s vibrant, fascinating, easy to navigate and just a little bit unusual, look no further than the Polish city of Kraków. Here are the top 10 best places to visit in Kraków for travel snobs…
Drink coffee from a wardrobe
Why sit on a regular seat when you can enjoy a beverage from the comfort of a wardrobe? In Café Szafé, wardrobes have been brightly painted and turned into comfortable seats – or perhaps nooks would be a more appropriate description – complete with plush curtains or even doors. The cafe, which serves hot and cold drinks, prides itself on its steady stream of literary clients including writers, poets and cartoonists. Come here for a cosy escape from the cold and a generous portion of inspiration.
Explore the biggest square in Europe
The main square in Kraków is Europe’s biggest medieval town square, although it’s so much more than just an impressive statistic. Right in the centre of this huge paved square is a Renaissance-style building called Cloth Hall, which is filled with market stalls selling local clothing and jewellery, and towering above the entire square is St. Mary’s Basilica. This gothic church that dates back to the 13th century is spectacular inside and out, and worth the small fee to step inside and admire the ornate floor-to-ceiling décor.
Sip different flavours of vodka at any Krakow bar
Poland has been producing high-quality vodka since the middle ages, so it’s no surprise that you’ll find the liquor in abundance in Kraków. From the commonly consumed cherry vodka, Wiśniówka, to deliciously sweet Krupnik, a honey vodka that’s often served hot with spices and lemon and plenty of other variations in between, you’re bound to leave the city with a new favourite flavour.
Go for Gluten free gluttony
Gluten-free travellers will be pleased to hear that there is a restaurant with a complete gluten-free menu – including pierogi – in Kraków. Pod Baranem can often be found near the top of ‘best places to eat in Kraków’ lists as its menu is traditional, hearty, delicious and reasonably priced. Gluten and non-gluten eaters alike will love the food, the exceptional service and the warm, cozy atmosphere at Pod Baranem.
Learn about important history
It’s hard to imagine that just an hour away from the city of Kraków, historical atrocities took place in UNESCO World Heritage-listed Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps. One of the largest camps in Europe, it’s now a museum that’s well worth a visit. Take one of many half-day tours from the city and be prepared for a harrowing day that will leave you educated and incredibly sad. Still, it’s an important slice of history that needs to be seen to be believed.
Pro tip: there are few places to buy food at the museum (and often very long lines) so it’s best to bring some snacks or a packed lunch with you.
Shopping might not be the first thing you think of when you picture Kraków, but you may be surprised by what you will find. As well as modern shopping malls with lots of high street brands to choose from, there is an abundance of leather shoe shops to browse. The quality is high and the price is low; far lower than you’ll find in many other countries. If you’re not looking for shoes, head to the Jewish quarter to peruse the quaint market square (plac Nowy). Rummage through antiques, indulge in freshly baked sweet treats or admire the cute and quirky handmade crafts and come home from Kraków with a souvenir that’s well and truly unique.
Dine on Polish breakfast at a cosy cafe
The traditional Polish breakfast is undoubtedly worth its own place on this list. Find a cosy cafe, like Europejska on the edge of the main square, and settle in for one of the heartiest breakfasts you’ll ever try. Starting with buttery scrambled eggs, you’ll soon move on to a basket full of different breads smeared with butter whipped into delicate shapes and finally, a huge selection of smoky meats and cheeses. It’s the perfect fuel for a day of exploration in this incredible city.
See a cathedral made of salt
Another great day trip from Kraków is a visit to Wieliczka, a salt mine that was in operation from the 13th century through to the late 1990s. You may question what’s so interesting about a salt mine, but you’ll stop wondering that as soon as you see the cathedral carved entirely out of rock salt by the miners themselves. As well as a cathedral, there is an underground lake, three chapels, statues and even a chandelier – all carved from salt.
Walk around Krakow on foot
One of the best things about Kraków is the fact that it’s so easy to get around. There’s nothing like strolling around a new city and taking it all in rather than jumping on and off transport all day. The UNESCO World Heritage Listed Old Town of Kraków is just 2km in circumference so it’s fairly compact, and almost everything else, even in the newer parts of the city, are a relatively short stroll away. It’s an ideal destination for a weekend break because it’s all so close, but it’s the kind of place that leaves you wanting more – a weekend certainly won’t feel like long enough to get to know the cracking city of Kraków.
Eat pierogi at any traditional restaurant
If you’re keen to sample some local flavours, make sure you try pierogi, a type of dumpling that can be served as a starter, a main or even a dessert. These dumplings are made of a simple dough which is then filled with a sweet or savoury mixture before being closed in a calzone-like shape and boiled. Savoury pierogi are usually served with crispy fried onions on top, and sometimes with sour cream to dip them in. If you’re in the city for any length of time you’ll have a chance to try these delicious treats as they’re served in almost every cafe and restaurant around Kraków.
All words by Elle Croft from A Bird in the Hand Travel