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Krakow, Poland: Eastern European Destinations
Last summer I spent a month working on an archaeological dig in Poland. When it was over, my husband met me in Krakow, and we spent a week touring the country to celebrate our one year anniversary. Krakow is a vibrant city with a spectacular old town filled with great places to eat and drink and beautiful Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture. The Wawel Castle overlooks Old Town and is filled with breathtaking gardens and old watch towers you can climb to the top for panoramic views of the whole city. While the city is a population tourist destination, it is more so for other European travelers than Americans. Most service workers in high tourist traffic areas will speak English but don't count on it. A few Polish phrases won't hurt!!
Useful Polish Phrases
hello/ good day
I don't understand
History of Krakow
- Evidence of settlement is found in Krakow as early as the Stone Age. In 965, written records refer to the city of Krakow as a commercial center and it was soon a thriving trade area.
- By 1364 the city was quite prominent due in part to the university which is the second oldest university in central Europe.
- The Golden Age of Poland took place during the 15th and 16th centuries, during which many works of Renaissance architecture and art were designed.
- During the later part of the 16th century, the king died childless and the throne passed to foreign-based rulers which in conjunction to a Swedish invasion and an outbreak of bubonic plague led to a rapid decline of the city.
- After being tousled around by several rulers throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, Krakow and the surrounding area were eventually annexed by Austria.
- The 19th century brought a certain amount of political autonomy to Poland, and Krakow became known as the Polish Athens.
- In 1918 Austrian rule officially ended in Poland. In 1939, the city was invaded by Nazi Germany. Jews and Poles were sent to concentration camps, the most famous of which is Auschwitz. The Soviet Army entered the city in 1945 ending German occupation.
Poland was annexed by what country during the 18th century?
Krakow has a beautiful old town that was not damaged during World War II like many other cities such as Warsaw. Buildings are bright colored and intricately designed.
- The square is home to a vibrant market with vendor selling everything from trinkets to fresh bread.
- Streets are lined with shops selling chinaware, jewelry and souvenirs.
- Eating establishments with foods from multiple cultures can be found in abundance along with street vendors selling kabobs and perogies.
Old Town, Krakow, Poland
Courtyard at Dizzy Daisy
Where to Stay- Dizzy Daisy Hostel
- Dizzy Daisy is a hostel chain.
- The downtown location in Krakow is only blocks from the square.
- The staff were friendly and helpful. Rooms were comfortable and clean.
- We had a room with its own private bathroom that was around $25.
Hostel World Booking
Watchtower at Wawel
What to Do- Wawel Castle
Touring the Wawel Castle and surrounding grounds is one of the highlights of visiting Krakow. Throughout my time in Europe visiting castles was one of my favorite things to do because of their association with medieval times. Wawel is like something out of fairy tale
- Built in the early 11th century, the Wawel Castle is one of the highlights of the old city.
- During the 16th century, the royal family hired Renaissance artists to refurbish the Gothic palace.
- Afterwards the palace was neglected and pillaged until the Austrian army was ordered to leave by their government in 1905.
- Restoration began and the building was used by the Polish Parliament until it was declared a national museum after World War II.
- The website provides information about special discounts certain days of the week.
- Climbing one the watchtowers is only a few dollars, and you get a nice overview of the city from the top.
Visitor Information for Wawel Castle
More Castles- Pieskowa Skala
About 18 miles north of Krakow, you can visit another castle that is not quite as crowded as Wawel. It's a little trickier to get there. My husband and I splurged and got a cab. We lucked out and happened to find an English speaking local man who shared knowledge about the area and even took us to some other interesting places outside of Krakow.
- Built in 14th century.
- Tours available.
- Closed Mondays!! We made the mistake of not knowing that. We still got to look around the outside which was beautiful.
Visitor Information for Pieskowa Castle
Viator Travel Booking
- Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum Half-Day Trip from Krakow - Krakow | Viator
Day Trips in Krakow: Check out 835 reviews and photos of Viator's Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum Half-Day Trip from Krakow
Historical Sites- Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum
While sobering, the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum is must see historical site when visiting Krakow. Multiple companies provide full and half days tours that depart from Krakow. It is best to visit the site with a tour group. During most hours of the days you are not allowed to visit the site if you are not part of a group. The guides at the memorial are knowledgeable and reverent regarding the subject matter.
- My husband and I used Viator to book our trip.
- Cost was around $50 per person for a half day.
- This included a tour of both the Auschwitz and Birkenau sites.
Birkenau Prison Camp
Auschwitz Prison Camp
Visitor Information for Auschwitz-Birkenau
- Auschwitz-Birkenau - Home Page - Museum
Official site of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and State Museum
Wawel Castle Grounds
- Old Town Architecture
- Wawel Castle
- Fire Dancers in the Square
- Perogies From a Street Vendor
What to Wear- Climate
- The weather in Krakow is pleasant with highs averaging in the 70s during the summer and staying above freezing during the winter.
- Most of the rain falls during the summer months so bring rain gear when you visit.
- Krakow is close to the Tatra Mountains which causes blowing wind.
Building in Old Town
Fire Dancers in Krakow Old Town Square
What Else to Do- Nightlife
Krakow is beautiful at night. My husband and I went to the Vistula River which flows right along the base of the Wawel Castle to watch the sunset. It's a great spot to simultaneously see the modern side of the city alongside the old.
- Make sure to stop by a local pub for some Polish beer or vodka.
- The city square provides fantastic night entertainment in the form of fire dancers, break dancers, and other local entertainers.
While it might not be Paris or Madrid, Krakow is a European city definitely worth adding to your travel destination list. Aside from great entertainment, historical sites, and castles, the food and beer are fantastic and affordable. People are friendly and the weather is nice. There are also a number of interesting sites to see within driving distance of the city. All in all it is a wonderful city to visit!!
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