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My Krakow Top Ten Things to Do
Carey Fruzza (carey)
To complement your guidebook.
I've selected my top ten favorite things to do and see based on my explorations in Krakow over the past three years. This list is not a suggested itinerary, just my personal favorites. Use this list to complement your regular, more comprehensive guidebook. When out-of-towners ask me for recommendations, this is what I tell them.
The Sukiennice (Cloth Hall)
1. My all-time favorite church is in Krakow. It's the Franciscan Church on Ulica Franiszkanska off Ulica Grodzka on the way to the castle. The interior ripples with gorgeous murals featuring elaborate, geometric and natural designs. Both the murals and the art nouveau stained glass windows are the work of Stansilaw Wyspianski. Don't miss the church cloisters if you like Gothic architecture and fragments of 15th century frescoes. Facing the altar, turn right and go through the big wooden door at the end of the transept.
When you are standing outside of the Franciscan Church in the little park, look across the street and find a window with flags hanging. You may also see other Polish tourists taking photos of the building. This is where Pope Jan Pawel II (Pope John Paul II) stayed whenever he visited Krakow.
2. There is excellent ice cream in the rynek (town square) under the Wentzl Hotel. They have new flavors everyday, even Czarne Porzeczki (black currant), if you're lucky. Ask for two scoops or "dwie galki" (pronounced dvee-eh gauw-key) and point to your two favorite flavors. Mmm!
3. The Collegium Maius courtyard is part of the Jegellonian University. The courtyard is a lovely retreat from the sometimes crowded cobblestone streets. Have a seat and if you are there at the right time (ask for hours in the gift shop), you're in for a treat! Trumpets sound and then high above, Polish kings ceremoniously parade out of a large cuckoo clock. It's a bit corny and of course, a very special (free) Polish experience.
4. My favorite warm-weather past time in Krakow is taking a stroll through the Planty around the old town. "Strolling" must be one of the favorite activities in Poland, and the Planty (at one time the town moat) is a fine place to do it. It's got manicured lawns, flowers, benches, leafy trees, local families and young lovers - all the necessities for a good public garden. Pick a bench and relax.
5. Kazimierz has a quiet, I want to say "haunting" feel to it. (This is the old Jewish district.) We took some beautiful photos here. Don't miss the Remu'h Synagogue and Cemetery. This cemetery is known as one of the best preserved Renaissance Jewish cemeteries in Europe (closed on weekends.) You can also find nightly klezmer concerts in some restaurants and clubs, especially in the summer.
6. The Wyspianski Museum is interesting if you're in the mood for museums. It's small and sweet and tells the story of Stanislaw Wyspianski (well-loved painter, poet, designer). It's on Ulica Kanonicza on the way to the castle.
7. At the castle, don't miss the Dragon's Cave. This is the famed cave where once lived a menacing dragon. It was eating people and sheep left and right. Finally, a townsperson had the idea of wrapping a big bag of salt (from the Wieliczka salt mines, no doubt) in sheepskin. When the dragon ate the bag of salt, he became so thirsty that he raced to the Wistula River and lapped up so much water that he exploded! You can visit the actual cave where this dragon once lived. You'll have to use your imagination as you walk down the narrow spiral staircase and into the depths of Wawel Hill, but it's one of those Polish pilgrimage sights that must be experienced. Do it last (after other castle sights) because it will spit you out at the bottom of the hill next to the river and outside the castle grounds.
8. Maybe after a morning at the Castle you might be in the mood for some Polish peasant food at Chlopskie Jadlo. It's about a ten-minute walk from the Dragon's Cave on Ulica Sw. Agnieszki. The prices have gone up since we were there three years ago, but it's still worth it for the Polish peasant hut atmosphere and the bucket of smalec (lard) that comes with fresh bread before your meal. Along with all the favorite old-time dishes like golabki and bigos, you can also order a combination of four small cups of distinctive Polish soups to try. These are fun to share.
9. Check the tourist information office or get the Gazeta Wyborcza on Fridays to find out about concerts and other things going on around the city at night. We went to an outdoor opera in the Barbikan for $10 and it was an incredible night. In general, music festivals during the summer are extremely accessible in terms of prices and tickets. Usually, you can show up at a concert 15 to 30 minutes early and buy a ticket for between $5 and $15.
10. Shop at the Sukiennice (Cloth Hall) in the middle of the rynek. Here you will find about 50 different booths offering hand-made chess sets, boxes and wooden dishes; religious icons; Polish pottery; embroidered linens; string bikinis crocheted in traditional patterns (quite controversial actually); and more amber jewelry than you've ever seen in one place. The shoppers can get pushy when it's crowded, so try to go there first thing in the morning.
If you'd prefer a less congested shopping experience, try the store with the same name, Sukiennice, on Ulica Bracka. You'll find similar products at only slightly higher prices. This is also a good place to find Polish paper-cut art.
Inside the Sukiennice (Cloth Hall)
If you have time, go to Wieliczka, the salt mine outside of the city. It's easy to get to by car, but there are also day tours or buses that leave from Krakow. Inside the salt mine, you'll find a whole cathedral made out of salt, a theater and a tennis court! Check your guidebook. If you feel like you've spent enough time in Krakow (is there ever enough time?), check out the salt mine. The English tour is hokey but it's something different to do.
www.krakow.pl: Magiczny Krakow, general tourist information including recommended tours, events calendar
Feasting on the Layer Cake of Krakow, Poland: Detailed travel notes for Krakow by Andrzej Zwaniecki, November 2005
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