Poland’s old regal capital is awash with historic charms, undercut by a youthful edge that makes it an artsy escape brimming with culture. Discover royal heritage and old town beauty, in grand squares filled with cafes and bars. Head to trendy districts like Kazimierz for a dose of understated cool, and unpick the unique history of this grand city. Complement your city escape with an outdoor adventure under the Tatra Mountains, where winding mountain trails and alpine-style towns provide a scenic alternative to your urban getaway.
Kraków’s beating heart is the old town market square. It’s Europe’s largest medieval market square, dominated by the 16th-century Cloth Hall at its centre. At its fringes, cafes and bars fill the ground floors of the baroque townhouses, spilling murmuring chatter out onto the streets and setting the atmosphere for this gorgeous Krakówian centrepiece. Spy the remaining tower of the old town hall, over 500 years old and slightly crooked. In the corner of the square, you’ll see the impressive St. Mary’s Basilica, where panoramic views can be seen from the top of one of the towers. Head into the old Cloth Hall for trinkets, or head below to see a remarkable exhibition of the old, subterranean market streets found here during rebuilding works.
Wawel Royal Castle
Taking the old Grodzka street from the market square, past all manner of shops and restaurants, leads you to the vast walls and towers of Wawel Royal Castle. This was the political centre of Poland during the 16th century, built in the Italian style after successive raids and struggles all but demolished the much earlier castle. There are all manner of stately rooms, armouries and treasuries to explore, though the sweetest moments are simply walking the grounds of the castle. Views over the Vistula, surrounded by grandiose buildings, and whispers of the famed Wawel dragon complete the picture.
It’s a story that barely needs retelling, but here is the site that German industrialist Oskar Schindler saved the lives of Jewish workers in his factory during the Holocaust. The museum explores this story, but goes further still; interactive exhibits lay out the entire story of Nazi occupation in the city. This museum is quite popular; be sure to book ahead.
Galicia Jewish Museum
This incredible museum in the old Jewish quarter of Kazimierz serves to remember the victims of the Holocaust and the memories of Polish Galicia, once home to a thriving and historic Jewish community. Aside from a moving permanent exhibition and host of temporary exhibits, the museum also offers walking tours of Kazimierz, stopping to explore the remaining evidence of the once-thriving community here. The museum’s Traces of a Memory photography exhibit is one of the most remarkable projects to explore the death of (and arguably the ambivalence to) Jewish culture in Poland and is, frankly, unmissable.
Ruin bars in Kazimierz
Outside of the old town walls is Kazimierz, the historic Jewish quarter that is now a buzzing bohemian destination. Notable are the clutch of rather cool divey bars that dot the lanes around the main market square; the vibe is rustic and relaxed, dimly lit and unpretentiously cool. Go for coffee, go for a short, any time of day. Na Zdrowie!
Wieliczka Salt Mine
Just outside of the city is one of Poland’s most intriguing spectacles, a labyrinthine network of tunnels first dug in the 13th century. The salt mine is one of the world’s oldest continually operating mines, though now you’ll just find a stream of oggling visitors. And what makes the mines so special? Well, the subterranean spaces are cavernous, some filled with shimmering pools of water, others carved into chapels and lined with salt statues. Walkways are suspended over these remarkable underground lakes, and the trails wind through salty stalactites and mined rooms. The highlight is St Kinga’s Chapel, a vast space carved into a chapel and devoted to the patron saint of miners. It was miners themselves who carved the amazing statues, reliefs and more that fill the space. Not one to be missed.
Outside the city: Zakopane
With the Tatra Mountains looming in the background, Zakopane is the gateway to outdoor adventures. In the winter, the place is a veritable playground for mountain pursuits. Ski lodges and winding pistes are the order of the day, with apres ski fixed in wood cabins that know how to throw a party. But Zakopane isn’t seasonal – the summers here are equally breathtaking, with the snow giving way to lush green trails that wind over mountains and lakes. Old and iconic wooden villas dot the valley around Zakopane, many of which can be let out for the holidays. At just two hours from Kraków, it makes for the perfect outdoor escape to complement your city break.
In partnership with the Polish Tourism Organisation