Last month we visited Kraków, Poland and to our excitement the weather was stunning. The sun shone and the temps rose to near 20°C (70°). I am sure that Kraków has numerous sights to see from castles and museums to markets and churches; however, our time was spent completely outdoors. Fortunately, Kraków is the perfect Polish city from which to idly wander.
We spent our first day in this old city, which was mostly spared during WWII so retains much of its originial architecture, wandering the Market Square. It is an expansive open space surrounded by restaurants, beer gardens and shops, and anchored by St. Mary’s church from which a trumpet call marks the hour. It’s a beautiful piece, abruptly cut short after a few notes in honor of the trumpeter who sound the alarm in 1241 as the Mongol troops approached. The legend says he was shot in the throat and did not complete the anthem, and so it remains – unfinished.
The square dates back to the 13th century and is one of the largest medieval squares in Europe. Running through the center of the square is Cloth Hall. Cloth Hall saw its hey-day in the 15th century, when Kraków was the capital of Poland, and the Hall was the center for international trade. Merchants met here to trade everything from spices to textiles. Today it retains its architectural charm and entrepreneurial spirit; although now it hosts shops from which tourists can find Polish souvenirs a plenty!
Market Square is a bustling place day and night and you can easily lose track of time wandering the square and stopping at any of the many outdoor cafes to watch the world go by – which is exactly what we did. We sat at a table on the square, our first al fresco dining of the season, and lounged for hours. (The trumpeter played at least three times during our extended meal!) Feeling like we should probably wander more of the area lest we never see the rest of Kraków, we set out to explore the surrounding brick-lined streets.
It was by far the busiest city (in terms of tourist traffic) we have been on our trip yet – a combination of it being one of Poland’s top tourist attractions and we’re now moving into tourist season. Still it was a delight to stroll with crowds, people watch and do some shopping!
Despite the geographically small area of Old Town, it is easy to wander its corridors for hours. The sights, sounds and aromas are a thrill to the senses. Even the kids relished in the architecture, outdoor cafes and pedestrian friendly pathways. And of course once we felt we had sufficiently wandered, we returned to the square for more! It just has a draw and can endlessly captivate.
As you probably can gather, we could have easily spent our entire stay sunning in the square, but we knew there was much more to see. Our apartment was situated on the edge of the Kazimierz District, where the Christian and Jewish cultures peacefully coexisted until the Jewish community was forced to the ghetto across the river in 1941. Today the area retains much of its original charm and is once again home to Kraków’s small, but growing Jewish community. It is a lively neighborhood brimming with local culture – nightclubs, cafes, restaurants, parks and music.
This was by far our favorite neighborhood to eat. We found everything from Jewish and Middle Eastern cuisine to sushi, Italian and of course, traditional Polish. Although little tourist buggies abound, we chose to walk the neighborhood which eventually led us to the Vistula River.
Dinner boats lined the Vistula near Kazimierz, which winds around back toward Old Town and to Wawel Hill and the Wawel Castle. Here we camped along the banks at dusk to watch the runners, bikers, roller bladers and other loungers. It was heavily traversed, but largely quiet and peaceful. The perfect rest before dinner back in the Old Town. I would love to know what these two were chatting about…
And speaking of Wawel Castle…
Wawel is a 14th century castle first built for Casimir III the Great. It’s a massive structure, which has seen numerous expansions throughout the centuries. It sits high on Wawel Hill overlooking the Vistula and is a now a national museum.
Having spent all of our time out of doors walking and eating, we didn’t take a tour of the grounds or museum on this trip. However, we have two more journeys to Kraków planned before we leave (One of which we’ll make with a few special visitors from home! Yay!!). So perhaps we’ll see the inside of this beautiful gothic castle yet. If it’s anything like the grounds, it will be impressive!
Kraków is a beautiful and lively city and the perfect place to celebrate the 100th day of our adventure last month. If we each picked one word to describe Kraków they would be: lively, celebratory, historic and young. It was full of energy, boistorous and happy people and brimming with culture. No surprise it made our top ten power ranking!
Next up a city that is vastly different than Kraków, but has a strong place in our hearts for its own character and inspiring history.