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With just a day to experience the millennia of history, the rich Jewish heritage, the awesome medieval relics, and – of course – the pumping nightlife of Krakow, things might just be a little tight. Let this itinerary be your guide…
It’s up early and straight into the heart of the UNESCO-listed Old Town of Krakow for breakfast. Here, you can kill two birds with one stone by stopping by Milkbar Tomasza, which offers hearty plates of full English fry-ups (a rarity in this city) in the classic ambience of a Communist-style eatery. It may be a rebooted, modern version of the classic Polish milk bar, but the low prices and the casual vibes still hearken back to the days of yesteryear.
Świętego Tomasza 24, Kraków, Poland, +48 12 422 17 06
It’s just a short stroll from your milk bar breakfast joint to the Market Square of Krakow. This huge, sprawling medieval plaza (the largest of its kind in all of Europe, no less) plays host to some of the most striking architectural monuments in town. In the middle of it all stands the 15th-century Cloth Hall, awash with souvenir sellers and craft stalls. Then there’s the grand statue of Adam Mickiewicz – a revered Polish bard – and the remains of the old Town Hall, now just a tower that’s peppered with beautiful Gothic adornments.
Although you’ll see it as soon as you enter the Market Square, the great redbrick church of St Mary’s Basilica is worth setting aside 30 minutes to visit on its own. Wonder up at the great Gothic spires (where legends of fratricide are said to have unfolded) before going inside. That’s where you’ll find the majestic stained-glass art, the star-spotted ceilings and the colossal altarpiece by Viet Stoss.
plac Mariacki 5, Kraków, Poland, +48 12 422 05 21
Make sure you’re out on the Market Square cobbles for the turn of the hour, which is when the famous trumpeter of Krakow alights in the windows of St Mary’s Basilica and plays the classic Hejnał Mariacki – a national ditty that’s said to date back all the way to the days of the Mongol invasions.
No trip to Krakow could possibly be complete without a jaunt around the iconic UNESCO World Heritage Site that is the Old Town area. And there’s arguably no better way to see that than on Krakow’s acclaimed Free Walking Tour. Thankfully, the crowd coalesces for this right outside St Mary’s Church, all before heading off on an odyssey of kings, queens, Mongol invasions, Hungarian alliances, Swedish wars and more, as you weave and wind through the picture-perfect district.
While a single day in Krakow might not leave enough time to delve into the Wawel Castle itself and explore the court rooms and old Renaissance arcades there, there’s certainly time to wonder up at the majestic building from the exterior. For that, a prime spot is the hearty Slavic beer hall of Pod Wawelem. With a meat-heavy menu of kebabs and Galician treats, it’s packed with diners around lunchtime. If you can, bag a table outside, where the Wawel Hill rises atop its sinewy ridges just across the road.
Świętej Gertrudy 26-29, Kraków, Poland, +48 12 421 23 36
After a long lunch looking up at the Krakow castle, it’s time to delve into the other historic area of the centre: Kazimierz. This was once the Jewish Quarter of the city, which thrived on its own throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Check out the enthralling Old Synagogue and the haunting Jewish Cemetery, or wander the cobbled lanes that shoot out from the flea markets of plac Nowy. There’s loads to see and do.
The perfect way to end your wanders through the historic area of Kazimierz is to settle for a beer in this bohemian café-cum-bar. It’s nestled right in the heart of the district and boasts a cosy interior that’s packed with flickering candles and dusty antiques (perfect for escaping the snows of winter). However, it’s the beer garden across the way that’s the real draw – it faces up to an alleyway that was used in the filming of Spielberg’s epic Schindler’s List.
Beera Meiselsa 20, 30-001 Kraków, Poland, +48 12 421 85 32
Head right through the heart of Kazimierz district going southwards until you reach the winding courses of the Vistula River. Cross the arched love bridge (one of those ubiquitous cultural appropriations à la Paris) and join the walking routes that line the river on the far banks. These are peppered with picnickers and dog walkers in summer, and dusted in beautiful layers of snow by winter.
You simply can’t miss Forum Przestrzenie as you stroll the banks of the Vistula River. It’s housed in the hulking concrete shell of an old Communist hotel, but now offers a cool post-industrial bar that serves great cocktails, craft beer and awesome coffees. You might have to fight for one of the outdoor seating spots on the gravel, but it’s worth it – think views down the water to the Wawel Castle on the hill!
Marii Konopnickiej 28, Kraków, Poland, +48 515 424 724
Allowing plenty of time for you to hop trams or stroll back to the Old Town area (or even make a stop off in the hotel to freshen up), your next destination is the acclaimed Polish tavern of Koko. Low-key and uber-cheap, this basement eatery serves bubbling broth and plates of hearty pierogi dumplings – perfect for lining the stomach for what comes next!
Gołębia 8, Kraków, Poland, +48 12 430 21 35
If it’s nightlife that floats your boat, then you’ve come to the right place. Krakow’s Old Town is hailed as one of the party meccas of central-eastern Europe. It’s got smoky jazz bars and karaoke joints, places sloshing with vodka shots and all-night beer bars that go until sunup. Let the folk at the Krawl Through Krakow guide you through it – they’ve been doing it for a decade, after all!