All in a Day: Visiting Kraków

Poland’s cultural capital is a blend of history, college-town liveliness and fairy-tale charm. Here are some must-dos when visiting Kraków.

Goral band in Krakow’s Main Market Square

Photo: Oliver Bolch / Anzenberger

Here are five things to do when you visit Poland and Kraków

Kraków City Tour

Dive into Kraków’s past with a walk through its beautifully preserved Old Town, one of UNESCO’s first World Heritage sites. Following the Holocaust and the Communist era, many neighborhoods have made a comeback. Head over to the lively, bohemian Kazimierz district, a historic Jewish community, then ascend Wawel Hill to the grounds of its imposing royal castle built atop the mythical home of the Wawel Dragon, memorialized with a statue that really breathes fire.

Go to Church

Start your exploration of the city’s vital and colorful Catholic heritage at the baroque Church of St. Anne. See the famous Altarpiece of Veit Stoss at St. Mary’s Basilica, then visit St. Adalbert, the city’s oldest church. Learn about Kraków’s Christmas traditions at the gorgeous Church of St. Francis of Assisi, and see the window from where hometown hero Pope John Paul II would give speeches at the Bishop’s Palace.

See the Square

Kraków’s Main Market Square (Rynek Główny) was the largest of its kind in medieval Europe, and it’s still one of the most dazzling. When visiting Kraków, check out the historic Cloth Hall and its many craft and jewelry shops, and then head below the surface to Rynek Underground, which exhibits a holographic reconstruction of the medieval market.

Explore the Somber Past

Take time to reflect on one of history’s darkest chapters with a day trip to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum to honor the memory of the 1.5 million Jews and others who lost their lives here during the Holocaust. Give yourself plenty of time for reflection on this pilgrimage.

Cafe Culture

It fell into disrepair during the Communist era, but the Kazimierz neighborhood has been reborn as a center of modern Jewish and Polish hipster culture—which means it’s overflowing with fantastic eateries and vibrant intellectual life. While visiting Kraków, grab some pierogis at Kuchnia u Doroty, then relax with a beer at Alchemia or a flavored vodka at Singer.

Originally published in the Spring 2016 issue of AAA Traveler.

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