Krakow, Poland: one of my favorite cities and latest vacation destinations. Call me a hopeless romantic, but I fell in love with Krakow at first sight. The country’s hub for academic, cultural, and artistic life, it’s hard not to have a special fondness for this place. Need a little convincing? Here are 5 reasons to love Krakow:
5 Reasons to Love Krakow
1. The Food
Krakow is worth the extra vacation pounds–seriously. Restaurants range from historical underground cellars serving up upscale, polished versions of classic dishes like wild boar and beet soup, to casual hole-in-the-wall joints dishing out zapiekanki (traditional Polish pizza sandwiches) by the dozens. Still hungry? Food fairs are constantly sprouting up in Krakow’s main market squares. In the winter enjoy hot spiced wine, smoked cheese sinfully topped with bacon and plums, and (of course) sausages straight off the grill. In the summer, savor all of the above plus chocolate-dipped fruit, homemade jams with freshly baked bread, crisp pickles, and smoked fish. You may even stumble upon the annual pierogi festival where local eateries compete for best stuffing and flavor. Duck liver and peach pierogies, anyone?
Favorite Restaurants: Pod Aniołami, Polski Smaki, and Morskie Oko.
2. The Sights
One of the oldest cities in Poland, Krakow has seen things. So, naturally, there are a lot of sights to see. The historic significance of this city is immense, and the monuments are plentiful. Some must-sees in the center of town include the Main Square, Cloth Hall, Wawel Castle, St. Mary’s Basilica, and the Kościuszko Mound. A simple tourist map will reveal a host of other landmarks within walking distance from your hotel. Marvels outside of Krakow include the gorgeous Wieliczka Salt Mine, the Tatra Mountains and the charming town of Zakopane, as well as the moving Auschwitz and Birkenau memorials.
3. The Shopping
Krakow caters to a lot of tourists. Luckily, however, tourism goes hand in hand with shopping. Where are the best spots to blow through some cash? Once a lively center for international trade in the 15th century, the Cloth Hall (Sukiennice) is now an equally vibrant shopping destination for every souvenir under the sun. Craft fairs and artisan markets offer one-of-a-kind goods like toys, artwork, jewelry, clothing, furs, and pottery. Plus, there are plenty of modern fashion boutiques filled with trendy European labels that haven’t yet made their way overseas. Did I mention the exchange rate works exceptionally well in our favor?
Must Buys: amber jewelry, handmade lace and linens, traditional folk-print scarves.
4. The Culture
Did you know that Krakow dates back to the 7th century? A great deal of culture can accumulate in 1,400 years or so. Once named the European Capital of Culture by the European Union, Krakow boasts enough museums, national art galleries, performing art centers, and opera houses to satiate hungry creative appetites. Whether seeing one of Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpieces or catching a late-night Chopin concert, you can indulge in a wealth of cultural delights and intellectual pleasures all in the heart of Krakow.
Must Sees: Juliusz Slowacki Theatre, Wawel Castle and the Czartoryski Museum, the Rynek Underground Museum.
5. The Night Life
Bars? Check. Clubs? Check. Ice cold vodka shots for a dollar? Check. There’s a reason Krakow has become a hot spot for stag parties. A vibrant night-life scene plus relatively cheap drinks usually adds up to a considerable amount of fun. Wet your whistle at a shot bar, underground pub, or cool cafe and then dance the night away in a classic “discotheque” or a secret tango hall. For a more subdued night on the town, take a midnight horse-drawn carriage ride, stroll around the city’s beautifully illuminated streets and gardens, or catch a traditional folk show with dinner.
In love yet? As always, happy travels.