Krakow is known for its turbulent history as one of the oldest cities in Poland. Its museums, housed in former castles and decadent Renaissance palaces, are filled with royal treasures and Holocaust reminders. But Krakow lives as much in the present as it does in the past, with a thriving contemporary arts scene, weekend markets and a lively nightlife.
The city is more than 750 years old; for five centuries it was Poland’s capital. Successive generations of monarchs constructed castles and cathedrals and instilled a regal air that’s still evident today.
Getting around is easy thanks to a reliable network of trams and buses. Many of the major attractions are located within the compact and easily walkable Old Town (Stare Miasto) district. Visit the decorative St. Mary’s Basilica, which houses one of the most spectacular altarpieces in Europe. Take a walk around the Planty gardens that lie where the old town walls once stood. The old town gate, the Barbikan, is one of the most impressive sights in the park.
Towering above the city is Wawel Castle. This castle has protected Krakow from invaders since the 16th century, and today houses stately rooms, displays of opulent jewels and collections of armor. While here visit the monumental Wawel Cathedral and the Dragon’s Den, a limestone cave where legend says a dragon once lived.
Krakow’s history is intertwined with its Jewish community. Learn about this history at Oskar Schindler’s Factory, which found fame as the subject of the Steven Spielberg movie, Schindler’s List. The former factory has been turned into a comprehensive museum with haunting displays about the Holocaust. Head to the Galicia Jewish Museum, where photographs tell the story of what it means to be Jewish in modern-day Krakow.
In summer Krakow’s city parks come to life with open-air concerts and festivals. Picnic in Jordan Park or take a cruise on the Vistula River that cuts through the city. In winter, see Krakow covered in a layer of snow, giving the buildings of the Old Town a romantic air.