Kraków is the historical capital of the Kings who once resided in Wawel Castle. Today the castle houses one quarter of the country’s museums and is a cultural and entertainment centre. Kraków’s Wawel Hill is a fascinating testimony to human inhabitancy in this part of Eastern Europe that once generated evidence as far back as the Middle Palaeolithic era. Today, the hill is crowned with Wawel Castle and Cathedral, which are two of Poland’s most iconic landmarks. Each of these comprises elements of the Gothic and the Renaissance, with gold-gilded roofs and vaulted court rooms.
The Old Town of Kraków is a great place to walk around and see many monumental attractions including Copernicus’ one time study home, the Collegium Maius, the exquisite Palace of Art and the striking 14th Century St. Mary’s Church. Situated in the heart of all of this is the expansive market square, the largest of its kind in all of Europe. Vistula Boulevards is a winding course along the Vistula River that twists its way through the heart of the city. In the summertime there are markets, beer bars and boat cafés. This green space in the city offers the perfect area to take a stroll, cycle or enjoy the essence of the city.
St. Florian's Gate is one of the best known Polish Gothic Towers and also a major focal point in Kraków's Old Town. Built around the 14th Century as a rectangular Gothic Tower of "wild stone", it was part of the city fortifications against the Turkish attack. The Barbican is the only remaining gatehouse of medieval fortifications that once encircled the whole city. Its redbrick bulwarks and formidable turrets once helped fend off the Mongol hordes during the 13th Century. Today it entertains occasional theatre productions and other art shows.
The historic Jewish Quarter of Kazimierz is within walking distance of the Old Town. It was once an autonomous city, however today it is totally incorporated into the fabric of Kraków, yet still retains a unique culture and ambiance all its own with its Synagogues, galleries, crumbling tenement blocks, quirky shops and trendy bars. Szeroka Street has many Synagogues including the 16th Century Old Synagogue, while the nearby Remuh Cemetery has a wall built of tombstones broken during WWII. A visit to the Galicia Jewish Museum also celebrates the local Jewish culture.
The Oskar Schindler's Enamel Factory is a former metal item factory in Kraków. It now houses two museums including the Museum of Contemporary Art in Kraków, which sits in a curious post-industrial setting on the former site of the factory and it also is a branch of the Historical Museum of the City of Kraków, situated at ul. There are, of course, rooms dedicated to telling the story of Oskar Schindler too, and the factory itself once stood right next door.
Approximately an hour from the city you will find the memorial and museum of Auschwitz-Birkenau, this is an emotional, moving and sobering place to visit and is one of the most visited attractions while in Kraków. It offers an informative and sensitive insight into the horrors of the Holocaust and the destruction brought on by the Nazis towards the Jews and minorities of the continent.
For hundreds of years, the miners of the Wieliczka tunnels fuelled Krakow’s growth, pulling tonnes of valuable rock salt from the earth below the city. Today, the Wieliczka Salt Mines continues in the form of carved artistry in its subterranean passages. The breathtaking sensation of St. Kinga’s Chapel is an underground Cathedral made totally of salt.
The Museum of Stained Glass Museum is a testimony to the magnificent processes behind creating stained glass, examining everything from conception to assembly under the gaze of qualified craftsmen and apprentices. It is both a museum and a workshop for contemporary artists, where you can hear the stories of the most significant Polish stained glass masterpieces while watching contemporary artists working in the medium.
Before leaving Krakow don’t forget to enjoy some quality café time as the city is said to have the highest number of bars and cafés per square metre in the world. If you wish for something a little stronger why not try a local brew or visit a Wódka Café Bar. With over 100 flavoured options and incredible combinations, from sweetened to herb infused, coloured, spiced and straight, this one elevates your taste buds to a new stratosphere. For some of the finest drinking spots, be sure to head down to Kazimierz area.
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