Once the capital of Poland and currently the cultural hub of the country, Kraków is the perfect destination for a weekend’s (or even a week’s) getaway. Why? Well, let’s see…
For starters, the city is beautiful; featuring, amongst others, a 13th-century castle, narrow cobblestone streets (major beauty points for any place) and a grand medieval market square (which is the largest square in Europe) in the heart of the Old Town.
Second, there’s loads to do; from sightseeing to learning more about Poland’s historic past to drinking and dancing your way through its many, many bars, pubs and clubs.
And to top it all off, your visit there won’t cost a fortune; although prices are on the rise during the past years, Kraków is still cheaper than other popular European destinations.
So, have I convinced you to visit Kraków? Good!
Here’s how you spend your weekend there:
• FRIDAY evening
– Accommodation, Dinner & Drinks:
Whereas most travel bloggers recommend a room in the heart of the Old Town, my suggestion is to stay in Kazimierz, Kraków’s Jewish Quarter. Don’t get me wrong; the Old Town offers some top-notch hostels, hotels and apartments, but, in my mind, nothing beats the cool, bohemian and quirky vibe of Kazimierz’s accommodations, culinary scene, café selection and overall entertainment.
For a bit of luxury check into the Metropolitan Boutique Hotel [4*] or in the modern and colourful INX Design Hotel [4*] (for both hotels: ~£125/night for a double room, breakfast included). More affordable options include the Apartment Augustiańska, Kazimierz Secret Place (~£40/night for a 2-guest 1-bedroom apartment) and a range of hostels such as The Secret Garden hostel and apartments.
You don’t have to go far for dinner at Kolanko no.6, serving, amongst others, some of the best Polish style crepes in town. Follow your meal with a night out in one of Kraków’s swish, artistic, wacky and fun bars, which are springing up by the dozen. One of my favourites is the Absynth Cafe & Bar in Kazimierz; a retro spot with 1920s decorations and antique furnishings that serves cocktails, Polish vodka and, of course, a range of absinthe flavours. Continuing with the “getting
tipsy drunk in a vintage looking bar” theme of the Jewish district, Singer is another top pick and was named after the Singer sewing factory that used to reside there. Alcohol is served on sewing-machine tables (how cool is that?!) surrounded by antiques and tassel curtains. Be prepared to bust a move when music starts.
• SATURDAY morning
– Brunch & Old Town centre:
Before taking up a day of sightseeing you need to fuel up. Go for the eggs Benedict at Alchemia Od Kuchni, the fried eggs with avocado and roasted carrot hummus at Wesola café or for the omelette at Café Camelot.
Regardless of the location of your accommodation, I would recommend to start sightseeing from the centre of the Old Town and gradually walk your way out. The very heart of the Old Town is home to a 200m2 market square (Rynek Główny), a UNESCO World Heritage medieval square space that dates back to the 13th century and features a number of beautiful historic buildings. Examples include the central Cloth Hall (Sukiennice), which is a Renaissance building and former market centre of international trade, the impressive Town Hall Tower (Wieża ratuszowa) and the monumental gothic towers of St. Mary’s Basilica (Kościół Mariacki) whose interior also deserves a visit.
Continuing, you can enjoy a walk in the grid-like layout of the charming Old Town. Do stop at the Jagiellonian University, one of Europe’s oldest universities and Nicolaus Copernicus’ (Polish genius who placed the Sun, rather than the Earth, in the centre of the universe) Alma Mater. It is also worth visiting some of Kraków’s beautiful churches scattered throughout the city, such as the Saints Peter and Paul church, St. Andrew’s church and the church of St. Joseph.
• SATURDAY lunchtime & afternoon
– Castle, Kazimierz & Cake:
Grab a bite at Pod Aniolami, an Old Town restaurant serving a selection of meats grilled over beech hardwood fire, and make your way to Wawel Royal Castle on top of the Wawel Hill (according to legend, Kraków was founded by Kind Krakus who killed a dragon residing on the foot of Wawel Hill). There you can visit the beautiful Wawel Cathedral (reach the top of the tower to see the huge Sigismund Bell that can be heard from 30km away), the castle’s Renaissance courtyard, the Royal Private Apartments, the Crown Treasury and more. Do take the time to enjoy a leisurely walk through the colourful gardens and the views over the Vistula River.
In the afternoon head toward Kazimierz for coffee (or tea if you are a coffee-hater like me) and cake in one of its many cafés. My absolute fave is Mleczarnia, a charming place that serves great cheesecake (and more) in a nostalgic atmosphere composed by a vast selection of sepia photographs, a faded red tapestry and intricate lace tablecloths. Finish off sightseeing by exploring the historic Jewish district, which was founded in 1335 by King Casimir III the Great. In addition to its fun character, the area is a place of reflection and respect to the Jewish inhabitants who were forcibly relocated out of Kazimierz and lost their lives during World War II. Pay a visit to the Galicia Jewish Museum to see an excellent photo exhibition documenting the remnants of Jewish culture and commemorating the victims of the Holocaust in Poland. Not to be missed are the famed Old Synagogue (oldest synagogue building still standing in Poland), the beautiful Temple Synagogue and Corpus Christi Basilica.
• SATURDAY evening
– Polish cuisine, Cocktails & Jazz:
Feast on authentic Polish cuisine at the excellent Sasiedzi Restaurant and grab a drink (and hit the dance floor) at the nearby hipstery Sababa cocktail club. Fan of jazz? Then head to the Old Town’s Piec Club Acoustic Jazz Club, which is not only considered one of the best jazz clubs in Poland, but also has a whisky bar with the longest bar counter in Kraków. You are welcome and bottoms up.
• SUNDAY morning
– Day Trip:
Enjoy a morning walk at Planty Park, which encircles the Old Town where the Medieval Walls used to stand, and head over to Kraków’s train station for an excursion outside of the city. One of the most popular options for a day trip is a visit to the Auschwitz Birkenau Memorial and Museum, the largest of the concentration camps during World War II and the only death camp in the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. Train journey to Oswiecim city lasts 1h40′ and costs approximately £3 one way, and the memorial/museum is a further 30′ walk or 10′ bus ride from Oswiecim train station.
Alternatively, you can visit the equally popular Wieliczka salt mine, one of the world’s oldest salt mines in operation until 2007 and an impressive attraction that includes four chapels, salt-crystal chandeliers and numerous statues carved entirely out of rock salt! The salt mine, often referred to as the Underground Salt Cathedral of Poland, was placed in the original UNESCO World Heritage list in 1978. Train journey to it lasts 20-30′ (ticket costs less than £1 one way) and the mine is located 10′ on foot from the Wieliczka train station (Wieliczka Rynek).
Do look out for organised tours to these destinations, some of which offer pick-up and drop-off at your accommodation as well as a local tour guide.
• SUNDAY afternoon
Return to the city and have a last stroll in the Old Town. Take pictures of the Kraków Barbican, a medieval fortress once connected to the city walls and a masterpiece of medieval military engineering, and go through St. Florian Gate, one of the city’s most famous Polish Gothic towers. Before heading back home, enjoy another quick cup of coffee in a café and take in the last few moments in
one of Poland’s most beautiful cities city.
Can’t wait to go back for another weekend!
[photos by my ♥, George Kan]
| More “How to spend a weekend in...” posts here (Ibiza-Spain) here (Dublin-Ireland), here (Copenhagen-Denmark) and here (Oban-Scotland).
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