Krakow Poland: Top Places To Visit in this Sophisticated City

July 7, 2018

This article was written for Annabel & Grace, which is now part of Rest Less.

If you read my post last Saturday, My life changing visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial, you will know that Husband (OH) and I have been staying in Krakow. This is a beautiful city – the people may have suffered terribly under the Nazis during WWII but the buildings did not. This was because Hitler recognised its beauty and historical value and wanted to preserve it for his use later. That did not happen however Poland’s war still did not end in with the defeat of Germany in 1945 as they then suffered a further 45 years of Russian Communist rule until they were finally free on 24th August 1989.

Interior of St. Mary's Basilica / Krakow Poland

St. Mary’s Basilica

Krakow is Poland’s second largest city and former capital. It is known for its well-preserved medieval core and Jewish quarter. Its old town – ringed by Planty Park and remnants of the city’s medieval walls – is centred on the stately, expansive Rynek Glówny (market square). This plaza is the site of the Cloth Hall, a Renaissance-era trading outpost, and St. Mary’s Basilica, a 14th-century Gothic church. However the showpiece is Wawel Castle which has undergone major restoration. The castle, being one of the largest in Poland, represents nearly all European architectural styles of medieval, renaissance and baroque periods. The Wawel Royal Castle and the Wawel Hill constitute the most historically and culturally significant site in the country. In 1978 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of the Historic Centre of Krakow. It was also the year that Karol Wojtyła, archbishop of Krakow, was elevated to the papacy as Pope John Paul II — the first Slavic pope ever, and the first non-Italian pope in 455 years.

Take a walking tour with a guide, as we did, because around every corner there is a story and yet more beautiful buildings. The city is kept very clean and the Polish people are keen to show off this city as they are understandably very proud of it.

Exterior of Café Camelot / Krakow

Café Camelot

The food in Krakow is delicious and I used the app FourSquare to uncover some recommended restaurants that I may not have found otherwise. The best café is café Camelot. It does not only offer a charming interior and rich history; its thirteenth-century cellars contain a small theatre and there are frequent concerts and recitals. An upstairs gallery covers two floors, and presents events such as photographic exhibits, talks and various artistic happenings. A colourful history saturates the café’s candlelight, rickety tables and lacy white tablecloths. In the early 20th century the location housed a brothel, longingly remembered by Cracovian artists. When the establishment fell into ruin, Camelot’s old walls and interiors became a film set; the 1960’s cult film ‘Awantura o Basie’ was made here. The spirit of moral unrest settled in as a permanent guest. It still seduces visitors today. On offer, apart from the most famous szarlotka, or apple pie, in the city, is a rich array of the café’s own homemade baked goods, dishes and drinks, including mead, liqueurs and mulled wines, thick hot chocolate, and pasta in cream sauce.

Interior of Café Cheder in the Jewish quarter Krakow

Café Cheder in the Jewish quarter

Talking Cafés you must visit the Jewish quarter which is experiencing a huge revival. It is full of cafés, restaurants and meeting places and our favourite in this district was the Cheder café which now serves as a Jewish cultural centre and café. A large open space with wooden furnishings, Cheder hosts lectures, film screenings, concerts and other events promoting Judaism; however its most impressive resource is the in-house library of Jewish-related books, many of which are in English. Whatever your relationship with Israel, this quiet, wifi-enabled cafe is undeniably one of the best places to work or study in town, with a delicious cup of Israeli coffee served in a traditional finjan to guide you. We met fascinating people in this café whilst sharing a table and we debated the history of Krakow and particularly the very positive increase in Jews returning to Krakow and making it their home. Prince Charles recently helped to fund a Jewish Community Centre and came back to officially open it. It now has 700 registered members and has opened the first Jewish pre-school in Krakow since pre-war. Before the German-Soviet invasion of 1939, there were 60,000–80,000 Polish Jews, a race that had had lived there since the 13th century. After the war the Jews had either been killed in one of the German concentration camps (over 60,000) or had escaped. Those few that remained changed their names as it was not a conducive environment to be Jewish.

Gate entrance to Oskar Schindler's factory Krakow

Oskar Schindler’s factory

Visit Oskar Schindler’s factory which gives a brilliantly laid out history of the occupation of Krakow. It is uplifting that one man saved so many, 1200 Jews by all accounts, and daily risked his own life in doing so. This museum presents Kraków’s history in an almost tangible way, enabling visitors to get a personal experience of the past, and to feel the dramatic emotions shared by the city’s wartime residents.

Interior of Pod Aniolami Krakow

Pod Anolamia

Finally on a lighter note a couple of restaurants that I would recommend. For dinner you must try and go to Pod Aniolami (under the angels) which has been a restaurant since 1863 and owned by the same family. It is just off the main market square at the top of ‘The Royal Mile’ or Grodzka 35. Watch the video on their opening page – 4 minutes of mouth watering visuals set to a background of modern Jazz music which Krakow is so well known for. The food is authentic, beautifully presented and the setting is totally unique.

Gardens of Trattoria La Campana Krakow

Gardens of Trattoria La Campana

For lunch on a sunny day there is nothing better than the gardens of Trattoria La Campana – another gastronomique delight but this time with an Italian influence.

Krakow today is a happier place. Go for the memories, painful, yet necessary, and for the chance to wander through a city that merits a better history than it has endured.

For The Hotel Guru’s recommendation of places to stay in Krakow click HERE.

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