Long weekend in Krakow
Falstaff has gathered together all the most interesting things that can be found in the city that was the old capital of Poland.
City of kings and unique architecture, the best place for creative youth, the capital of bars, restaurants and nightlife, one of the main tourist destinations for the Poles themselves: all of this is Krakow. Falstaff gives you the guide on how to spend a perfect (and very eventful) weekend there.
Friday: classic Krakow, Main Market Square, Sukiennicy and WawelKrakow, which for a long time was the capital of Poland, is rightly considered one of the most impressive cities in the country and Warsaw's main rival for the title of ‘must-visit’ destination. It manages to combine a rich, centuries-old history, the status of an informal youth capital, and a pillar of gastronomic culture. Getting to know such a city should start with its most beloved and significant part, so without further ado, we head straight to the heart of Krakow. If we set a course for the Market Square (Rynek Główny), no matter which side we move from, we will definitely pass through Planty Krakowskie – one of the most interesting parks in all of Poland.
‘Planty’ is a representative of a fairly rare format of a circular park: it completely surrounds the Old Town and, at the same time, serves as its border. In the 19th century, Planty literally replaced the destroyed defensive structures under the walls of the Old Town and between 1822 and the 1830s, instead of restoring towers for cannons or digging ditches, it was decided to create a huge park. In place of the fortifications, trees were planted: linden, ash, maple and poplar varieties, as well as neat lawns and flower beds. A little later, stalls with traders appeared and now the total length of the park is 4km, covering an area of 21 hectares; on its territory, you can find a huge number of places of interest: monuments, sculptures, a military cemetery, a chapel – to name just a few.
We recommend going for a walk around the entire park in a full circle, and then diving into the streets of the Old Town and heading towards the market square. After all, not far from Rynek Główny is a whole cluster of buildings and monuments that are important parts of Krakow's history.
Kościół Mariacki is arguably the most postcard-worthy building in all of Krakow. Built in 1221, it is still one of the most important (and most beautiful) churches in Poland. You can check this out yourselves with admission costing from five to 10 zlotys. Another standard place of interest is the Sukiennicy, which has served as a trading place since 1257. In 2023, nothing has changed: you can still buy souvenirs and various tourist trinkets here. Looking for an observation point? No problem, just climb to the top of the Town Hall Tower. However, its advantages are not limited to just the viewing terrace with the WieżaRatuszowa also a museum, theatre and a coffee house.
A somewhat unexpected attraction in the Old Town is the sculpture Eros Bendato. To the surprise of the author and the city authorities, the huge bronze head of Eros with blindfolded eyes (not quite a subtle allusion to the fact that love is blind) has become a really popular draw for tourists.
The next stop is Wawel, an impressive hill on which the Royal Castle and the Cathedral of Saints Stanislaus and Wenceslaus are located. It is one of the main symbols of Poland and a place where secular and spiritual life in Poland has been concentrated for centuries. It is here that the coronations of Polish kings took place, and also here where the rituals of their burials were carried out; the Senate convened here, and balls and theatrical performances were held. Practically all the buildings in Wawel are of different ages, and if desired, it is possible to study local history just by analysing the architectural styles of the buildings. Or you can take a small break and go explore the local cuisine.
Where to eat and drinkTo make a quick pit-stop in the middle of the day, we recommend stopping by a specialty coffee shop. If you want to simply order a flat white or filter coffee, head to Body Espresso Bar (Dolnych Młynów 3/1). If you plan to combine coffee with a small but elegant snack, we recommend visiting Fornir (Długa 12) – here, in addition to everything else, they serve excellent late breakfasts and sandwiches, which can be enjoyed on one of the cosiest terraces in the city.
If you think that there are only boring tourist restaurants in the Old Town area, we are here to disappoint you. In the heart of Krakow, you can find several hidden gems: you just need to know where to look. Our recommendations for Friday dinner are: Albertina (ul. Dominikańska 3), with its imaginative cuisine focused on seafood and local game, and an excellent selection of wines by the glass from a huge 32-bottle enomatic (in addition to à la carte, there is a great tasting menu for 390 zlotys). Another excellent option is the Pod Różą restaurant (ul. Floriańska 14), which is located in a 300-year-old building. Here, in addition to a unique vibe, there is a perfect blend of classic interior and a modern approach to cuisine: starting with beef carpaccio in coffee dressing and ending with a modern version of Polish żurek soup with scorched potatoes. (There is also a tasting menu – 350 zlotys, wine pairing – 250 zlotys).
Saturday: Jewish quarter Kazimierz and many, many restaurantsWe warn you right away: today you will get to know a completely different Krakow, absolutely unlike the one you saw yesterday on the streets of the Old Town. This is because we will spend practically the entire day in the area of Kazimierz, a stunningly imaginative Jewish quarter, in which seemingly incompatible things manage to coexist.
If you go back in time a little, it turns out that until 1800, Kazimierz was a separate city – and a rather ancient one, founded in 1335 by King Casimir the Great (hence the name). And at the beginning of the 19th century, when this part of Poland passed to Austria-Hungary, Kazimierz was merged with Krakow and became a district.
Now, old buildings and graffiti, cobblestone pavements and neon signs, synagogues and hipster cafes coexist without any problems. Vintage shops, flea markets, craft beer bars, signature restaurants, a fully-fledged market with food trucks, and of course, a huge number of signs in Hebrew can be found here – this is just a small part of what awaits you in Kazimierz. It seems like you can study it endlessly.
Of course, much of what happens here revolves around religion and tradition. Perhaps the two most picturesque churches in the Jewish quarter are the Church of the Body of Christ (Kosciol Bozego Ciala) and the Church of St. Catherine and St. Margaret (Kościółśw. św. Katarzyny I Małgorzaty), which were built during the reign of King Kazimierz. You can easily spend several hours exploring the local synagogues, of which there are seven, (but if you don't have much time, we recommend visiting the Old and the New synagogues, as well as Remuh synagogue).
Must-see places include walks along Szeroka Street (where antique signs of Jewish shops are preserved) and Józefa Street (with elaborate graffiti and ivy growth), after which you can comfortably move on to exploring local restaurants and bars.
Where to eat and drinkPerhaps the best illustration of the entire atmosphere of Kazimierz is a place called Hevre (Beera Meiselsa 18): a coffee shop, restaurant, creative space, and music club all in one, created on the site of a Jewish prayer house. Ancient frescoes, peeling plaster, crystal chandeliers, luxurious wooden parquet floors and vintage furniture create the feeling that you've stumbled upon a synagogue where beer is served and decent cocktails are mixed. The food is unobtrusive but lovely, and alcohol is strictly mandatory for ordering.
Of course, there couldn’0t be a shortage of small but cosy establishments: the perfect hummus shop Hummus Amamamusi (Beera Meiselsa 4), as well as the unobtrusive bistro Zazie (ul. Józefa 34), and the bright and uncompromising Karakter (Brzozowa 17).
However, the main star of the Kazimierz district (and the entire gastronomic scene in Krakow) is Bottiglieria 1881 (Bocheńska 5), the only restaurant in the city with a Michelin star. It is an excellent and uncompromising fine dining experience based on products from the Małopolska Province, with precise and vibrant ingredient combinations. The local cuisine is sophisticated and elegant, taking inspiration from Scandinavian minimalism and the trends of modern Parisian neo-bistros. There are two types of tasting menus available: introduction (450 zlotys, wine pairing – 310-490 zlotys) and full experience (490 zlotys, wine pairing – 350-590 zlotys). Like Kazimierz itself, Bottiglieria 1881 is a must-visit for any food connoisseur who finds himself in Krakow.
Sunday: Schindler's Factory, modern art, and unconventional neighborhoodsWhen talking about Krakow, it seems impossible not to mention the name of Oskar Schindler – the man who single-handedly saved over a thousand Jews during the Holocaust and the main character of Steven Spielberg's film Schindler’s List.
The famous enamelware factory, which was managed by Oskar (by the way, it was called ‘Rekord’), is located at Lipowa 4. It was from here that Schindler, having spent all his money counterfeiting documents for Jewish workers, transported people, who were due to be sent to Auschwitz, to his factory in the town of Brünnlitz instead. In total, Oskar saved about 1200 people (800 men, 300 women, and 100 children) who later became known as ‘Schindler’s Jews’.Now there are two museums on the factory grounds: The Schindler’s Museum (which tells the story of Oskar Schindler, his factory, life in the Krakow Ghetto, and the fate of Jews who worked here), as well as the Museum of Contemporary Art MOCAK. Not far from the factory is another significant Krakow venue – Heroes of the Ghetto Square (Plac Bohaterów Getta), where sculptures in the form of bronze chairs are installed. It is a symbol of awaiting death, as it was from this square during World War II that Jews were sent to death camps, including Auschwitz.
A great idea for a Sunday would be to visit one of Krakow's non-touristy neighborhoods – for example, take a walk through Stare Podgórze to the cosy green district of Salwator, which has its own unique vibe and resembles a suburb with villas, country houses, and cobblestone sidewalks. It is right here, in local establishments, where we will stop for a food today.