If you followed the Vistula River from Warsaw through Poland, you would come to Krakow (or Cracow in English). Four hundred years ago, it was the capital of Poland. Political power may have moved to Warsaw all those centuries ago, but we agree with the guidebooks that say Krakow can easily be called the jewel of the country today.
This is one city that was not flattened in World War II, so much of what you see is original. It’s a big city, but the Old Town (Stare Miasto), which is what most tourists want to see, is small and easy to navigate. And it is mercifully compact and flat… except for Wawel Hill.
You’ll spend a lot of time in the Main Market Square. It’s probably the first place you will wander into. It was the biggest square in medieval Europe, and it seems to be where everyone hangs out today… we certainly did.
The square is filled with flower stalls and outdoor cafes and horse drawn carriages. It’s surrounded by beautiful buildings that house antique stores, boutiques and restaurants. St. Mary’s Church overlooks the main square from one corner. There are two other churches on the square, and a tower which is all that is left of City Hall.
Right in the center of the square is the Cloth Hall, a building that was a market hall in one form or another from the 14th century. Today it houses dozens of souvenir stands selling amber jewelry, pottery, and Polish costumes. The upper floor has been part of the National Museum, but it was closed for refurbishment when we were there.
Wander down Grodska street, and you’ll pass several more churches and end up at Wawel Hill. This is where you’ll find the Castle and Cathedral of the same name. You can wander around the grounds and see the outside of the Castle and the Cathedral for free.
There are a variety of tickets to purchase to see the inside of the Castle. You can buy the tickets at a booth at the top of the ramp up the hill or at the tourist office inside. There is a complex system for buying the tickets. They are timed entries and limited in numbers. The good news is, to get a good overview of the castle, probably the only ticket you’ll need is one for the Royal State Rooms.
You can walk in to see the interior Wawel Cathedral for free, but to see the crypts and get into the bell tower, buy a ticket across from the entrance. It’s a national mausoleum and hold the crypts of the country’s most important rulers and historical figures. The ticket also lets you climb the bell tower to see the giant bell, the Zygmunt. So buy the ticket, you’ll probably want more than a glimpse of the interior.
There are churches and museums galore… take your choice. The Czartoryski Museum is a nice little museum. Leonardo da Vinci’s “Lady With An Ermine” called us there. Another place you might want to see is the Collegium Maius… this is the College where the astronomer Copernicus was a student. Talk about history, eh?
Feel free to take your choice of all the great restaurants. The food and drink is so reasonable that you don’t have to worry about finding something you can afford. You can eat at the outdoor cafes day and night when the weather is good.
Inside the restaurants, you may find yourself walking down into vaulted cellars beneath the street… makes for fun and romantic dining… and with all the great sites to see in Krakow, you need to eat and drink to keep up your strength.