Krakow is a beautiful old rustic city which feels much smaller than it is. It is very compact with everything in a short walking distance. Almost everything is within a stone’s throw of its large and impressive main square. The city is also home to the Kazimierz Jewish Quarter, the grand Wawel Castle and not far from the horror of Auschwitz.
Krakow is centred on Rynek Glowny (Grand Square) which at 10 acres is Europe’s largest Medieval Square. It contains the massive 13th century Church Of The Virgin Mary which can be seen from most parts of the city. Every hour someone plays a trumpet from the top of the tower. This is to commemorate the watchman who sounded his trumpet to warn the city of an invasion. The song stops abruptly to commemorate the fact he was killed by an arrow midway through. If you want shopping then the Cloth Hall is for you. Its 16th century building that has been, and still is today a market. It is arguably the oldest shopping centre in the world, having held traders under its roof for 700 years.
Krakow has a great nightlife with many bars and clubs. There is also a good pub crawl, Krawl Through Krakow that I would recommend. It takes you around the city and one of my friends had a job on it. His job was to go drinking for free with people, six days a week. He somehow survived a month of this but that’s a story for another time. The best thing about the nightlife is that it is so cheap. Drink is not more than 2 Euros and we found a good bar doing beer and shots for one euro. I hate vodka back home in Ireland but the Polish stuff is really nice. A big thing over there is that the vodka is usually flavoured. There are a wide variety of good flavours (Hazelnut is my favourite, it tastes like nutella). Be warned they taste so nice you forget you’re doing shots and can get very drunk very quickly (and also very cheaply).
I would also recommend the Communist tour of Nowa Huta. This was supposed to be a perfect Communist city built around the steelworks. Walking around it, it still feels like the 70s or 80s. We were led to the typical Communist apartment blocks and the tour guide pointed out that they were arranged in a square. This was so everyone could see what everyone else was doing. In Communist Poland, there was no privacy. There was supposed to be a shop in the middle of this square but the entrance arch was too low. This was because the designers were more concerned with keeping out American tanks than letting in food trucks. We passed the main area of the city where the best apartments where. This is where the party functionaries lived and worked. It was pointed out that the roof had blocks built for snipers to hide behind if the buildings had to be defended from people trying to overthrow the government. Communist priorities. We were given a good history of life under Communism like how religion was suppressed and how little the shops sold. The tour ended in a restaurant that has not changed since Communist times where we all had a shot of vodka. This is considered almost mandatory because in Communist times, if someone refused to drink with you they were considered a government spy.
There is also a good Jewish Tour around the Kazimierz. The tour takes you passed many now empty synagogues telling the history of the Jews up to their imprisonment in the ghetto and their clearance from there. There is a square filled with chairs pointing towards Auschwitz symbolising all that was left in the ghetto after all the Jews had been removed and the direction in which they were sent. Auschwitz is only an hour away (I describe my trip there here). There are many references to the movie Schindler’s List so it helps if you have seen it. Although I didn’t get to see his factory, my cousin told me it’s fantastic covering not just the history of the factory but also the history of the Nazis in general.
Also nearby is the Wieliczka Salt Mine. It is an underground salt mine in which miners sculpted many statues and caverns. While certain parts are very impressive and worth seeing, it was not as good as I had expected and I doubted whether it was worth its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Krakow is a beautiful, cheap city that I’d love to live in, with a fascinating history and is well worth a visit.