Strolls in the rynek (main square)
Welcome to my favorite city…ever. Having lived in Kraków for a few years while in medical school, it literally feels like a second home. Plus, my family is from Poland (like my entire family…for hundreds of years…my cousin did a genealogy chart dating back to the 1600s), with the majority of my fam still living there. Some relatives live in Krakow, and most are within a couple hours of Krakow, so this area truly feels like my home in the motherland. This was my first time here with the boy (and his first time in Europe!), so I wanted to show him ALL my favorite little nooks of The Krak. Can we take a moment to appreciate that I walked through the main square – called Rynek Głowny (the largest midieval square in Europe) – on my way to anatomy lectures every morning? Sometimes you take it for granted when you’re in the thick of it…but I always tried to step back and truly appreciate all the dope old stuff around me. Without further ado, here’s the guide you’re going to want to use when exploring Stare Miasto (Old Town). Stay tuned for a guide on the royal castle (Krakow was the capital of Poland before Warsaw), and the Jewish Quarter (Każimierz), too.
New ride, who dis?
A little background on Kraków…it was the capital of Poland from 1039 until 1596, so it has a ton of beautiful old architecture from essentially every century in the last 1000 years. Having been the capital, and then having survived World War II without any bombings, there’s so much history that’s remained conserved all around you. There’s also been a ton of renewal work done in the last thirty years since the fall of communism, so everything is simply beautiful. The main square, as I mentioned, is one of the largest in Europe, and has been there since the city was founded. Today, there’s horse drawn carriages here (no vehicle traffic anymore), which you can ride in (for a good price – everything is reasonably priced in Poland FYI). Taking a carriage to dinner is a pretty epic thing to do once in your life haha – highly recommend. Apart from that, everything in the historic center is walking distance: so perfect for exploring!
Tribeca Coffee for breakfast
Starting your day off with a good breakfast is key, as you’re going to be stomping around the cobblestone streets all day. Having lived here, I have the food sitch on lock. There’s a couple breakfast spots that are total keepers. One (Charlotte Bistro), is getting it’s own post because it is GOALS, and the other Tribeca Coffee is what’s in the photo above. It was one of my fave study spots. Apart from delicious coffee and smoothies, they have so many good sandwiches and paninis. The chicken and avocado panini is my fave. Just a five minute walk from the main square, at the corner of another little square (Plać Szczepański), this spot is great for both eating and getting work done (fast internet – tried and true). Alright, now that you’ve got your calories in for the AM, it’s time to carry on.
Arches of the Sukiennice (Cloth Hall)
The main square is a good place to start your explorations. There’s a few things worth checking out here. One being the large building in the center called Sukiennice (Cloth Hall in English). This is a market hall that dates back to medieval times (current building is from 1555). Today, it’s geared towards tourists with tons of souvenir booths inside. From Polish amber to blown glass Christmas ornaments, they have it all. Another cool part of the square is the tower which is all that remains of the old town hall. You can get a ticket to go to the top for a good view of the city. Also, there’s a tiny little church that’s kind of plunked down randomly in the square…this is because it dates back to before the square was even established! Old stuff, gotta love it.
St. Mary’s Basilica (Bazylika Mariacka)
The most prominent thing you see when in the square is the huge gothic facade of St. Mary’s Basilica (built in the 1300s). Kraków is a city full of churches, from every era of architecture, but this one is my fave. Many calls up to the big guy to help me pass a test where had here (I once went in right before it closed for the evening and didn’t realize it…I was almost locked in for night – cool, but a little creepy among the old tombs haha). The gothic interior, full of dark colors and gold is SO EPIC though. Definitely worth checking it out inside. You can also head up one of the towers for a view of the city. Another fun fact is that a trumpet player plays a tune (called Hejnał) from the top of the tower every hour – 24 hours a day (they must rotate a few trumpeters haha). He plays part of it, then abruptly stops. This is to remember when Poland was invaded by Turks many centuries ago and a soldier was sounding the alarm to take arms from the church tower, but was shot in the neck mid-way through and was cut off! True story or legend? Who cares, it’s such a cool tradition!
It’s always patio season
After checking out the historic epicness, it’s time to do what is done best in the main square: patio session the hell out of it. The square is lined with restaurants and bars, all with patios, so you have your pick of the litter. Beers are usually served with a little raspberry syrup for girls, and it. is. so. GOOD. Literally had a hard time drinking beer normally when I moved back to Canada after medical school haha. It’s an extra epic patio session when it’s sunny, but even in the clouds, it’s awesome. Here we see Essex sipping a brewski, happy as a clam.
Playing with bubbles and snacking on oscypek
After a sufficient patio buzz has been acquired, it’s time to mosey on. There’s always some kind of street performer near the square, or some kind of market going on. On weekends, ladies sell flowers here, too (a tradition that spans centuries). When me and Essex were there, there was a dude blowing alllll the bubbles – literally so awesome though. Another great thing about The Krak is that there’s almost always some kind of festival going on in the smaller square right behind the main square (called Mały Rynek). If this is the case, be sure to try some grilled oscypek cheese with cranberry sauce – delicious and guaranteed to be sold at any street festival. It’s a sheep cheese from Zakopane, the mountain region of Poland. Another unique street food to grab is an obwarzankek. They look like twisted bagels with bigger holes (fun fact – bagels are originally from Poland, too – look it up). There’s little blue booths set up all over the old town selling these bread rings with assorted toppings – poppy seed is my fave. Grab one in the morning for maximal freshness.
Old city walls – a perfect place to display art
Next it’s time to walk down Floriańska Street, which takes you away from the square and right to the old city gates, which use to mark the entrance of Kraków in medieval times. There used to be a wall all around the city, but it’s now torn down in most areas. The wall that exists near the gate is now used by artists to display their art for sale. Looks so cool!
My alma mater – Jagiellonian University – founded in 1364
After leaving the gate, you’ll find yourself in a park (called Planty). This park goes around the entire historic center and is where the old city walls and moat used to be. There’s some cool little bars you’ll pass as you stroll along (Bunkier – looks like an old bunker – my fave). If you continue to walk around, you will eventually walk by Jagiellonian University, where the likes of Copernicus and me have nerded it up. Carry on and you’ll reach the Wisła river eventually, where you can see the Wawel Castle, as well as a riverside walkway. I used to run around the city park and then along the river, sometimes even through the castle grounds…because YOLO. Here you can either go to the castle, or continue the loop of the city wall. Be sure to stop at Pod Wawelem, a restaurant right near the castle, for some food and/or beer.
Cute Kraków corners <3
I could go on and on, as every corner of Kraków is rich in history, beauty, and cute restaurants. In the photo above, Cafe Camelot, is one of my favorite little bistros. Another great place to eat something Polish is at Pszystanek Pierogarnia (translated to Pierogi Station). This is a tiny little joint with minimal seating, DELICIOUS homemade pierogies, and ridiculously cheap prices. A student fave – great for a quick meal on the go. Get the sweet cheese or blueberry pierogi for dessert (trust me). Moral of the story is to explore: walk into old churches because there’s such cool architecture inside (and there’s literally at least thirty churches in the historic center), hit up a patio (or five), and walk down all the hidden alleys you see. Kraków will always have my heart. Cheers babeskillets, Tita xx