A centre for culture and science for centuries, Krakow is a romantic, old town that has managed to preserve its old-fashioned beauty and charm through its medieval and renaissance buildings. Steeped in myths and history, this metropolitan gem, surrounded by the lush landscapes of Southern Poland, is a time capsule from a golden era of kings, legends and fairy tales.
Founded around the legend of a dragon defeated, the city has stood along the Vistula River for thousands of years. The history of the city lurks around every corner and in the UNESCO Heritage-listed Stare Miasto (Old Town), you will find streets that appear to have remained untouched by the slow erosion of time. The magnificent Wawel Royal Castle and adjoining cathedral, as well as St Mary’s Basilica, tower over the city’s skyline and every day, on every hour, a short, melodious bugle call rings out from the top of the basilica. A tradition that has been carried out by the same family for generations, it brings a charming soundtrack to the cobbled streets and parasol-covered cafés below. Visit the Historical Museum of Krakow in the centre of the Stare Miasto, before heading underground on a guided tour through the medieval tunnels that run beneath Europe’s largest market square.
Next, stroll through the charming streets of the Old Jewish District of Kazimierz, before visiting one of the local cafés, restaurants or old-fashioned milk bars for traditional Polish food like pierogis (potato-dumplings) and golabki (filled cabbage rolls). Alternatively, head to the up-and-coming area of Podgorze for a visit to the Starmach Gallery or the Drukarnia Jazz Club.
Further out of the city you’ll find the truly marvellous Wieliczka Salt Mine. Founded in the 13th century, it was in continuous use until 2007. The underground network that stretches over 287km houses unique statues as well as four chapels that have been carved out by the miners.
If you want to explore a darker side of the area’s historical past, then you can visit the Oscar Schindler Museum in the Zablocie-area and see how the factory owner managed to spare the lives of thousands of Jewish workers from the Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War. From Krakow you can also go on a day-trip to Auschwitz –one of the largest of these camps. The camp now serves as a stark reminder of the horrors of the holocaust and stands as a memorial to European history and the cruelty of war.
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