The second largest city in Poland lives on the banks of the Vistula River and was for many years the capital of the country. Although for many it remains the most important artistic and cultural center. It is also an important Erasmus city.
Fortunately, this city didn’t have the same fortune as Warsaw and its historic center remain one of the most beautiful in Europe, thanks to Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance constructions. Its historic city center is also a World Heritage Site since 1978.
One thing that first captures the eye of the foreigners who arrive from far away is how European cities are pedestrian oriented. This is the case in almost all Central European countries and the same can be very much said for Krakow. It is a very comfortable city to have a long walk both during day and night, with hardly any traffic and many pedestrian streets that thrive from party spirit.
Krakow as the city who has more pubs and bars per square meter than any other city in the world proves to be the best party spot in EU for unforgetable Krakow stag do nights. So many people who arrive instantly go downtown for a bustling party downtown and adventure through the magnificent city center. That historical city center in is surrounded by a quiet garden that puts the area under the shade in summer or makes it frozen during the snow season. In the nearby area the most emblematic symbol of Krakow arises; the gothic St. Mary’s Basilica that shines in the immense market square.
In this church, every hour the trumpet is played from two of the windows of the tower. Professional musicians do it, hired for this special duty. The other building that will instantly catch your eye is the Castle and the cathedral on the Wawel hill. It is a place full of history, surrounded by gardens and the former residence of the Polish monarchy.
In fact, Krakow is full of memories, streets, and buildings that evoke ancient times in which the city was the capital of a powerful monarchy. Contrary to what it might seem, it is not a city saturated by tourists. There are many but you will never hear a noisy horde of tourists anywhere. If you arrive for the first time then It’s mandatory to get lost in its streets! That way you will surprisingly discover many secret gems that this historical place hides so well. Visit the university where Copernicus studied and take a long walk while observing the details of the old buildings from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.
Like many other countries in this part of Europe, Poland also has a recent and tragic history. Just a few kilometers away there are one of the largest Nazi concentration camps, Auschwitz and Birkenau. The visit, although hard to stomach is also mandatory.
The Germans wanted to erase any Polish mark and tried to change the names of all the streets, in addition to sending to concentration camps almost all the Jews of the city. As you might have already heard, some of them were saved by Oskar Schindler, the famous businessman from the legendary film Schindler’s List. His factory is in Krakow and you can visit it if you find this fascinating like thousands of visitors. When the Soviets arrived they occupied the city and, in spite of the local opposition, Poland happened to be governed under a communist government for 40 years.
Krakow is also the city of John Paul II, who for many Poles was one of the architects of their fight for national identity. During the Soviet rule, Karol Wojtyła was an archbishop of the city with many followers. His appointment as pope rekindled the hope of the Poles for regaining their autonomy. They say that each time he visited the city as Pope, he went out to the balcony of his room to make talk to the residents below him.
On his first visit to the city, the Vatican had to negotiate certain limits with the Soviet Government as his arrival was perceived as of huge importance to Polish people. Close to Krakow, there is also the old Wieliczka salt mine, now a tourist center with restaurant, rooms for celebrations, hotels, spas, and visits within the mine. Tickets can be contracted online or in person, although this must be done in advance.
When it’s time to eat in Krakow, I recommend you get as far away as possible from the center or at least from the Market Square, where there are some good restaurants but they are all very expensive. You will find traditional Polish food everywhere and many places with Italian food hide around every corner. There are also supermarkets wherever you go in case you prefer to prepare something to snack or eat while visiting the city.
Anyone seeking the opportunity to party in the somewhat different and pretty much-unexplored city is welcome to try its luck with Krakow. Not only that, Poland is increasingly becoming one of the best spots in Eastern Europe for those parties that simply never end in one day, and best of all the paycheck at the end will make you wish to come again as soon as possible. It’s highly advisable to visit this magnificent historical place as soon as possible before it becomes overrun by hordes of tourists.
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