january 25, 2018

A Girl's Guide to Krakow

The cozy city of Krakow was just the right dose of winter spirit I needed during the holiday season. Having visited two weeks before Christmas, Krakow’s merriment was on full display, complete with a festive market, mulled wine flowing in every restaurant, and cheery decorations bedecking the traditional Old Town. Krakow is a city rich in so many aspects: satiating foods, preserved history, and an eclectic modernity. But what really drew me in, was my heritage. My grandma fled Poland in the early 1940s to escape the wrath of the Nazis. I’ve always been fascinated by the events of World War II and its role in my ancestry.  So, Poland itself has been near the top of my “travel” list for quite some time. And Krakow did not disappoint! From its troubled past, blooms hope, prosperity, and pierogies for all. I now want to see other regions of Poland, possibly in the warmer months. But, until then, here are some things I enjoyed in Krakow:

sEE // Do

  • Enjoy the architecture and seasonal offerings in the Old Town Square, locally known as Rynek Główny. This open area is enclosed by warmly painted buildings with unique character. It also contains the Bazylika Mariacka (St. Mary’s Basilica) and the Old Cloth Hall, a former trading post, and current architectural wonder and touristic shopping center. Additionally this area displays many seasonal activities and festivals year round. I enjoyed a fantastic, traditional Christmas market visiting in early December.

 

  • Wawel Castle, dating back to the 11th century, offers grand architecture and lovely views of the Vistula River below. It also houses several museums.

  • Church of Saints Peter and Paul has a stunning interior and exterior. It is incredibly decorated with religious artwork and other motifs. It can be spotted by the statues of Jesuit Saints guarding the exterior.

  • Walk through the historical Jewish Quarter, locally known as Kazimierz. This was my favorite area of Krakow as it houses many local gems, such as cute boutiques, authentic restaurants, and fancy cocktail bars. The architecture is interesting and grungy. There are still remnants of its namesake residents with several synagogues and decorative Stars of David on the facades of many buildings.

 

  • Planty Park is a U-shaped green space, framing the historic Old Town of Krakow. It’s a lovely walk on a sunny day.

  • Auschwitz-Birkenau is every bit as heartbreaking  as it is necessary to visit while in the area. I’m unable to put into words the effect it has on your state-of-mind. The air is different here. But to remember such atrocities is not only a sign of respect to the millions of victims of the Holocaust, it also serves as barrier for the human collective conscience to allow such systematic murder to plague our planet once more.

 

  • The Galicia Jewish Museum offers fascinating photographic evidence of Polish-Jewish life throughout history (including pre-World Wars and more recent evolutions). They also have a cozy cafe and extensive book and souvenir shop.

 

  • For an inspiring and humanitarian image of World War II era Krakow, do not miss Schindler’s Factory. This museum is the sight where Oskar Schindler was able to save thousands of Jews from Nazi persecution by employing them in his metalwares factory.

Eat // Drink

  • Enoteka Pergamin is a lovely restaurant and wine bar perfect for exploring Poland’s many delicacies. While they have a full dinner menu, I suggest trying a handful of Polish wines alongside a cheese and charcuterie plate comprised of local products.

  • Pod Aniolami serves traditional Polish cuisine in an underground cave decorated with culturally significant design motifs. The experience is more upscale by local standards, but super affordable for quality. They’re known for their beech-smoked trout, but their pierogies are also award winners and totally bomb.

 

  • Farina is known for their incredibly fresh fish. The plates were imaginative and flavourful. If this restaurant was located in Paris, you’d pay 2-3x the cost per dish.

 

  • Scandale Royale is super cozy and has an extensive cocktail list. The food is decent and comes in large portions.

 

  • The Leaky Cauldron: a cute underground cafe in Old Town for all the Harry Potter Fans out there.

 

  • Sababa is the coolest cocktail bar in town. Ingredients are incredibly imaginative. The interiors are dark with many reflective surfaces, perfectly suiting late night shenanigans.

 

  • Bar Trójkąt offers a high quality and organic vodka tasting. It’s also incredibly reasonably priced. The servers are passionate about the spirits and friendly to patrons.

 

  • Bagelmama is the carb lover’s haven, serving dozens of bagel varieties, schmears, and topping options.

 

  • Good Lood serves up incredibly delicious, all-natural ice cream. The red wine flavor is not to be missed.

Shop // Splurge​​

  • Bona is a bookshop, art gallery, and cafe all in one! It’s incredibly cozy; the perfect place to warm up on a cold winter’s day in Krakow.

 

  • Galleria LueLue sells beautiful and unique works of graphic design, such as posters, post cards, and canvas totes, many of which are created by Polish artists.

 

  • Marka Concept Store has all the cute housewares and interior decorating items that make me wish I had a real home to populate with shit I don’t need. But seriously, you will find unique items, such as ceramics, linens, chairs, stationary, etc.

 

  • Jeju Beauty Store is a lovely shop selling a mashup of increasingly popular Korean Beauty treatments and locally made body care products and potions.

 

  • Regionalne Alkohole is your go-to for stocking up on all the boozy delights Poland has to offer.

Getting There // gETTING aROUND

 

I flew into Krakow International Airport, as I scored a killer flight deal from Ryan Air. From there you can take the train (45 minutes) or an Uber/cab (20 minutes) into the town center. The city itself is very much geared towards pedestrians. In fact, it appears as though they limit the amount of cars even able to enter the Old Town, as I noticed Uber will only pick up or drop off from just outside this region. I also noticed some buses and trams, however if you are staying within the Old Town or Kazimierz, you should be fine on foot.