Ok, you've touched down, dumped your bags in your comfortable hotel and you're all set to go. So here are Cracow's top must-sees for your stay:
All roads in the Old Town lead to the 14th century market square. One of Europe's grandest and largest open spaces it's 200m by 200m and hosts nearly all the city's major festivals, parades and jamborees, including the Christmas and Easter markets where you can pick up all kinds of trinkets and treats.
Cloth Hall, St Mary's Church and the Town Hall Tower
These are the Rynek's three big draws. Its centrepiece is the Cloth Hall (currently closed for renovation), lending a sense of balance to the square so it never feels too big and next to it, guarded by lions, is the Town Hall Tower. Rising majestically over the northeastern corner of the square is St. Mary's Church with its two towers of differing heights. Listen out for the hejnal (medieval bugle call warning) every hour, which stops mid-note as legend dictates a watchman was felled with an arrow while playing.
You could spend a day here exploring the complex of castle, cathedral, museums and underground lairs that make up Wawel Hill. Once the coronation spot for kings and queens, it's the city's number one tourist destination. The castle features royal and state apartments and an armoury, the cathedral with its mixture of Gothic and Renaissance styles houses the tombs of Poland's royal dynasties. A dragon's den, a cave beneath the castle, will keep the kids on tenderhooks with tales of vaporised maidens, and a fire-breathing replica greets you at the exit on the banks of the Wisla, or Vistula River.
Not to be missed
Most of the city's attractions are concentrated in and around the Stare Miasto (the Old Town) and it's fun to get lost exploring the myriad nooks and alleyways. Sooner or later you'll resurface in the Rynek. The city is Poland's oldest seat of learning and a visit to the the Jagellonian University Collegium Maius, is like taking a journey to Hogwarts, where you can view rare scientific and astrological treasures, including the oldest globe in the world. On Jana street is one of Cracow's many museums, Czartoryski Museum, an intriguing little place housing armour, porcelain, Greek vases and Roman statues. Its main attraction is Leonardo di Vinci's 'Woman with an Ermine'.
From the Rynek to Wawel you skirt down Grodzka taking you past the Baroque Church of Saints Peter and Paul. The Twelve apostles are enthroned on their pedestals to keep a beady eye on you. Swing around to encounter a finger–wagging atop a 10-metre high column in Plac Magdaleny. You can cross through the square and turn left down Kanonicza, one of the city's most atmospheric, cobbled streets.
Once you've weaved your way around Wawel Hill, you can head down Stradomska for the nighttime nucleus that is Kazimierz. The one time Jewish area of the city, it's rich in synagogues and galleries to explore and is dripping with stylish bars, cafes and restaurants, especially around Plac Nowy and Plac Szeroka. On the other side of the Vistula is the district of Podgorze, closely rivalling Kazimierz's status of prime nighttime neighbourhood.
Krakow's got plenty of green spaces to escape to dotted around. Weaving its way around the Stare Miasto is the planty - a green belt - where the ancient citadel walls once stood. It's a great spot for a stroll, cycle or skate and where you can catch the odd photo exhibition and muse over busts of worthy Poles. Crowning the boutique-lined Florianska Street is the historic Barbican with its moat and drawbridge, the last fragment of the city's defences. Medieval reenactments of warring Tarter and Polish knights take place here in the summer.
Parks are great places to spend time in Cracow. Just west of the Stare Miasto, but easily walkable, is Park Blonia (pronounced Bwo-nya) a vast wedge of green space perfect for watching locals kite-flying and practicing their tai-chi. Adjoining it is picturesque Park Jordana, with a kiddy playground, skate park and statue-lined avenue.
See you in Krakow.
Get the most out of Krakow
Book a tour today!
To really crack Krakow you can book a tour, either a tailor-made one just for you and your friends or a group one. A tour will take the strain out of getting to some of the further-out sights like the so-called worker's city of Nowa Huta, Weliczka Salt Mines and Auschwitz, and city-guided trips are run by knowledgeable locals who can fill you in with all those quirky little anecdotes.