Steeped in history, a visit to Krakow is a must.
The ancient royal capital and intellectual epicenter of Poland, Krakow ranks with Prague and Vienna as one of the architectural gems of central Europe. Chock-full of history and Old Town charm & totally undamaged by World War II (in fact it has been listed by UNESCO as one of the world’s 12 most important historic sites), Krakow is a beautiful city, ideal for a short break.
Krakow sits on the banks of the Vistula River and is a feast of medieval towers, cathedrals and castles; a warren of beautiful cobbled streets; a maze of the pretty, the intricate and the ancient.
Its significance for Poles goes well beyond the aesthetic, for this was the country’s ancient royal capital, and the Catholic Church has often looked to Krakow for guidance – Pope John Paul II was Archbishop of Krakow until his election in 1978.
Equally important are Krakow’s Jewish roots: until WW II this was one of the great Jewish centres in Europe, a past whose fabric remains clear in the old ghetto area of Kazimierz, and whose culmination is starkly enshrined at the death camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau, some 70km west of Krakow.
Kazmirez is the old Jewish quarter of the city. It is fast becoming the trendy part of town and all nightlife starts in the New Square – there are about 6 or 8 bars around the New Square and you go in, get your booze and hang out on the benches in the New Square.
Don't expect first class service in Krakow's restaurants and bars - the city still has a long way to go in that respect! Things have improved a lot however in the last few years, and with an ever-increasing amount of tourists in the city tipping is also becoming customary. Ten percent on any meal should mean you're welcomed back next time!
If there’s one city that could break the myth that Eastern Europeans don’t know how to have fun, then Krakow’s the one to do it. As a University Town there is an abundance of youth and youthful activity; and remember that the Old Town district has more bars per square metre than anywhere else in the world, so don't expect to get very far on a pub crawl.
Whether you're simply spoiling yourself or trying to track down that perfect present, it’s always difficult to know where to begin when you're in an unfamiliar city. Here are some ideas to get you started: Krakow is changing all the time and individual stores with real character are opening up week in week out so it shouldn't be a problem to find what you're after (or a nice surprise that you weren't expecting!).
Of course if you prefer the shopping mall experience then Galeria Kazimierz and Krakowska are essential ports of call.
Balice Airport is 15 km west of Krakow and is served by a regular bus service which takes about 35 minutes.
Alternatively you can get a taxi which can take you directly to your hotel.