Kraków, The European Capital of Culture 2000, is a city of a multitude of activities. Thus, if you would like to get to know some more of its charms, here’s a short subjective list of recommendations.
If you would like to see Kraków from above, we suggest these options:
- Wieża Mariacka (St. Mary’s Basilica Tower/Bugle Tower) in Rynek Główny (the Main Square). The Towers is famous for the Hejnał Mariacki (St. Mary's Trumpet Call) which is played every full hour, in each of the four cardinal directions, by a trumpeter on the highest tower of the Saint Mary's Basilica. The noon call is traditionally broadcasted via Polish radio. The Tower is open Tuesday-Saturday, from 10:00 to 17:30, with entries 5 and 30 minutes after a full hour (a visit is max. 25 minutes). Tickets are 20 PLN and can be bought at the door. Please note that there are nearly 300 steps to get to the top.
- Balon Widokowy (The Balloon) at the Wisła (Vistula River) bank. If you don’t feel like climbing up a tower, this option is for you. Moreover, whereas the Bugle Tower is 80 m high, the Balloon will take you to up as high as 150 m. Thus, although it’s farther from the City Centre, the view is greater (you may even see the Tatra Mountains in the south if the visibility is good). The Balloon is filled with helium and it is attached to the ground by a rope, so it operates like a lift. Tickets are 99 PLN (you can buy them on the spot and also online). The Balloon may take up to 30 persons per ride, and it is hard not to notice it in the Kraków sky wherever in the City you may be). Flights are subject to weather conditions.
There are numerous pubs, bars and restaurants in Kraków. Many of them are concentrated in Stare Miasto (the Old Town) and in Kazimierz (Old Jewish Quarter). Whereas the Main Square is a bit more posh (and expensive), Kazimierz is more messy but more laid-back and student-friendly. Although the shortest route from Rynek Główny to Kazimierz is via Starowiślna Street, we suggest a longer, but also a more scenic route via the Wisła (Vistula River) Boulevards (if you get tired on the way, you may consider having a drink on one of several barges moored at the river bank).
A short walk in the city will offer a wide choice of pubs in all sorts of styles, but here’s just a handful of places we particularly like:
- Piwnica Pod Baranami (‘The Three Rams Cellar’) in Rynek Główny (Main Square) has both a beer garden in the Square and a quaint cellar where you can take a nice break from the crowds and summer heat.
- Mleczarnia (‘Creamery’) in Kazimierz at Meiselsa 20 with its lively beer garden under chestnut trees across the street. The pub used to be a Jewish creamery before WW2.
- Eszeweria (‘Echeveria’) in Kazimierz at Józefa 9 has a wonderful green beer garden in a yard enclosed between old buildings. The famous disadvantage is a single toilet inside...
- Alchemia (‘Alchemy’) in Kazimierz at Estery 5 is one of the oldest pubs in Kazimierz and refers to the mysterious medieval history of this district.
- Absynth (‘Absinth’) in Kazimierz at Miodowa 28 serves interesting drinks, including a range of legendary Absinth spirits served in a traditional way (using an Absinth spoon, sugar cubes and flame).
While you are at Kazimierz, you should try one of Kraków’s most popular street food, zapiekanki (a foot-long piece of tasty bread with various toppings baked in an oven). There are many places that sell zapiekanki, but our favourite is “NaMaxa Minibar” in Okrąglak (old ritual Jewish slaughterhouse) in the centre of Plac Nowy. Chives on top are mandatory! 😉
It is good sometimes to take a different perspective on things. Boat cruises along the Vistula (Wisła) River offer such a different look at the Royal City. There are a number of companies offering short and long boat trips (some of them will take you to the medieval Benedictine Abbey in Tyniec built in the 11th century). Here are ten best offers according to Tripadvisor.com.
Walking around the city may be tiring, especially on a hot summer day. That is why there are many companies that offer city sightseeing with audio guides in small electric cars (so called Melex cars). It is hard to get through the Main Square not to be asked if you want a ride, so there should be no problem finding one if you would like to try it.
Museums & Art Galleries
Similarly to pubs and bars, we have a multitude of museums and art galleries in Kraków. A quick online search will provide you with a more comprehensive list, so below are a few we think are among the most interesting:
- Muzeum Książąt Czartoryskich (Princes Czartoryski Museum) at Św. Jana 19. The most valuable collection in Poland, and one of the most valuable ones in Europe. In 26 exhibition halls, you can see the ‘Lady with an Ermine’ by Leonardo da Vinci or the ‘Landscape with the Good Samaritan’ by Rembrandt van Rijn, as well as many other masterpieces of not only painting, but also sculpture, crafts, military, applied arts. Tickets are 35 PLN; audio guide is 10 PLN.
- Muzeum Farmacji (Museum of Pharmacy) at Floriańska 25. Collections are on display throughout all premises of a 14th century building, taking up all Gothic cellars, then spread out through the rooms on all three floors, and ending up right at the attic. Those comprise a variety of pharmacy furnishing in different styles (Baroque, Empire, Biedermeier), pharmaceutical vessels from different eras, including a vast collection of majolica from various European manufactures, old medicinal ingredients of vegetable, mineral and animal origin, old pharmacy utensils (mortars, presses, filters, pill-making machines, dragee-making drums, herb slicers and grinders), old prints (e.g. Greek-Latin edition of the complete works of Hippocrates, medieval and early modern pharmacy textbooks, official and unofficial listings of medications, herbal books, handwritten manuals). A small but charming museum. Part of the Jagiellonian University. Tickets are 15 PLN; audio guide is 7 PLN.
- Galeria Sztuki Polskiej XIX Wieku (Gallery of 19th-Century Polish Art) in Sukiennice (The Colth Hall) Rynek Główny (Main Square). The Sukiennice (Cloth Hall) is a large market hall erected in the 13th century in the middle of the Market Square, extended in the 14th century in the Gothic style and remodelled in the mid-16th century after Renaissance fashion. The Gallery of 19th-Century Polish Art is a continuation of the Gallery of the Art of Old Poland from the 12th to the 18th Century, situated in Pałac Biskupa Erazma Ciołka (the Bishop Erazm Ciołek Palace) at Kanonicza 17. The display exhibited in the Sukiennice is chronologically followed by works presented in the Gallery of 20th-Century Polish Art in Gmach Główny Muzeum Narodowego w Krakowie (the Main Building of the National Museum in Kraków) at 3 Maja 1 Avenue. Tickets are 28 PLN; audio guide is 7 PLN.
- Zamek Królewski na Wawelu (Wawel Royal Castle). There are quite a few permanent exhibitions showing the lives of Polish kings and national treasures (Poland was a kingdom until 1795): Crown Treasury & Armoury, State Rooms, Royal Private Apartments, The Lost Wawel, Wawel Recovered, Royal Gardens, Courtyards & the Church of Saint Gereon, and Dragon's Den, as well as some temporary exhibitions. We suggest booking guided tours to get the most out of your visit. Tickets are 5–100 PLN depending on the exhibition.
- Fabryka Emalia Oskara Schindlera (Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory) at Lipowa 4 in the Podgórze (Foothills) District. The museum takes you on an emotional journey to the anxious pre-WW2 Kraków, throughout the horrors of the war and the post-WW2 Soviet occupation of Poland to the current times. The journey ends with hope. The Factory was made famous by the widely acclaimed Oscar-winning (7 awards) “Schindler’s List” by Steven Spielberg, who shot the movie in Kraków in spring 1993. We suggest booking a guided tour. Tickets are 28 PLN.
- Muzeum Sztuki Współczesnej w Krakowie (MOCAK) (Museum of Contemporary Art. In Kraków) at Lipowa 4 in the Podgórze (Foothills) District. MOCAK’s concentrates on presenting the art of the last two decades in the context of the post-war avant-garde and conceptual art as well as clarifying the rationale of creating art by highlighting its cognitive and ethical value and its relationship with everyday reality. Tickets are 20 PLN.