Evelyn spent a weekend in Krakow to offer us culture buffs some of the city’s quirkiest hotspots. Spoiler alert, these include scaling 1000ft underground to meet dwarves, as well as tales of a rather brutish dragon…
Krakow, admittedly, is somewhat overshadowed as a first choice mini-break destination by its neighbouring European cities, and is perhaps more famous for its close proximity to Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau than its seductive nightlife and culture. Winner of European Capital of Culture in 2000 and host of World Youth Day in 2016, however, make Krakow much more than a memorial site, as I discovered last month.
An intoxicating mix of traditional heritage sites and contemporary coffee-houses come edgy wine bars turn nightfall make it a hit with modern flaneurs; and everywhere from the cobbled streets extending towards enchanting Wawel Castle, overlooking Old Town and beyond, is worth exploring. Capital of Lesser Poland, home to Europe’s second oldest university, keeper of Wawel Dragon and built on aristocratic soil: Krakow glitters on any traveller’s bucket list.
Christmas Markets on the main square dazzle visitors with hearty dishes during winter months
Traditional Polish grub abounds in Krakow, but you’ll need to look further afield to strike gold. Tourist-driven food stalls on Market Square fail to deliver on taste compared with the city’s ex-Socialist milk bars serving home-cooked stews for less than £3 a dish, but don’t hold it against them. During November through January the square turns into a Christmas Market, offering a fantastic backdrop for scarf and hat-clad romantic evenings – and mulled wine is a bargain at £1.20. Take touristy snaps amongst sellers in Polish dress, admire the arts and crafts or simply soak up the festivities before sampling homemade Pierogi (a type of savoury dumpling) at Bar Gornik. For world cuisine, you’ll spot Italian-Polish, Indian to American-style restaurants off the main square, but for something extra special head to Manzana. If you enjoy freshly made nachos followed by sizzling chicken fajitas, this place offers the best Mexican dishes you’ll find outside the Americas, promise.
Whether you feel comfortable in five, four or three star hotels, Krakow has it covered. I stayed at Hotel Petrus on the outskirts of Krakow in a package including breakfast, which didn’t disappoint – thanks again to the waitress for her recommendation of Weitliczka salt mine, but more on that later. Elsewhere, hostels can be found smack bang in the city centre, Flamingo Hostel being one which cropped up in conversation with fellow travellers for its cheery service and cheap prices for gap year folk.
Massolit Books houses some of Poland’s best works of Jewish studies and canonised works
Temperatures drop below zero come winter so finding a place to chill, or rather, warm up, is seriously important. I recommend getting acquainted with Charlotte, a French-inspired eatery decked out in Scandinavian design (think low hanging industrial lights, open pipe work, walnut benches), as well as Krakow’s best-loved secret, Massolit Books. The latter, a maze of English-language bookshelves specialising in Polish literature, Jewish studies and Humanities is a favourite bibliophile hideaway: alcoves are covered with paperbacks, antique chandeliers give off an atmospheric hue and the sweet aroma of baked goods from the adjacent café can’t help but seduce. Fancy something a bit more upbeat? Swap coffee for cocktails at U Muniaka, a legendary jazz den hidden inside a 14th century cellar, a stone’s throw from St. Mary’s Cathedral.
Jagiellonian University, one of Europe’s first universities, is on the map for any culture loving travel buff
Wieliczka salt mine is hands-down Krakow’s quirkiest attraction: an underground metropolis of spiralling tunnels, salt lakes and chapels that attract over one million visitors each year – and it’s even listed on UNESCO’s World Cultural and Natural Heritage List. During my trip, I snapped up a two-hour English-speaking tour in a group of around twenty, journeying over one thousand feet below ground. You visit three levels, crossing passageways deep-set with statues before arriving at Chapel of St Kinga, a grandiose-style church ornamented with hanging chandeliers and walls displaying various religious scenes, which are, of course, made from hand-carved transparent salt crystals. And the best bit? It’s got to be speeding up a miner’s lift at one-metre per second to the reach the surface!
Elsewhere, you can visit the Collegium Maius, commonly known as Jagiellonian University, one of the world’s earliest universities and a testament to both European architecture and Polish intelligentsia. Home to mathematician and astrologer Copernicus, it holds many priceless artefacts including an original 15th century globe and various astronomic equipment, as well as the famous Gothic courtyard (worthy of an Instagram shot, I can assure you) when you need time to relax.
So there you have it! Isn’t it time you explored the beautiful city yourself? Simply check our great travel deals here.
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