This 1,000-year-old former capital is practically everybody’s favorite Polish city: Poland’s most charming city has certainly been fortunate, emerging unscathed from World War II and the only major Polish city that wasn’t reduced to rubble. Coupled with Krakow’s physical beauty is its standing as the country’s cultural center, making it a truly must-see destination.
The ancient seat of kings comes steeped in legend and myth, and Krakow’s postcard-worthy Old Town is home to Europe’s largest market square and even a fairy-tale castle overlooking the river. The district of Kazimierz – once home to one of the most important Jewish communities in the world – is also enjoying a renaissance.
A Feast for the Senses
- Sights—Eclectic mix of architectural styles at Wawel Castle; intriguing Gothic altars at St. Mary’s Church; colorful fabrics at Cloth Hall; one of the original stone gateways to the city at Florian Gate.
- Tastes—Classic and refined cuisine at Illuminati; excellent Polish fare at Pod Baranem; aromatic and hearty food at Szara Kazimierz.
- Sounds—Soaring arias at the Krakow Chamber Opera; jazz festivals and live music at Piwinca Pod Baranami; cutting-edge tunes and live performers at Lodz Kaliska.
- Activities—Take a cruise down the Vistula River and enjoy a great overview of some of the city’s most inspiring sights; ride in a horse-drawn carriage near the Church of St. Andrew; stroll around Kazimierz and then on to the Schindler Factory for a retrospective of the city’s Jewish history.
Best side trip from Krakow
Perhaps not the best side trip from Krakow, but certainly the most powerful. Harrowing as it may be, a visit to Auschwitz is almost reason enough to visit Krakow. The entire complex, just over an hour drive from Krakow, has been preserved as a museum to honor the estimated 1.1 million people who died in the Holocaust at Auschwitz alone. The complex is divided into two key areas: Auschwitz I, the barracks that housed the prisoners, now present haunting exhibits that paint a clear picture of life during World War II; and Auschwitz II (Birkenau), the extermination camp with its infamous “showers”. It is essential to visit both parts of the camp in order to acquire a proper sense of the place that has become the symbol of the Holocaust and Nazi crimes against Jews, Romas, Poles and other groups. Visitors should behave with the appropriate solemnity and respect. Dress should be appropriate for a place of this nature.
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