This City is Home to the Largest Remaining Medieval Plaza in Europe
The only city whose entire Old Town is a UNESCO site.
After an overnighter from Poznan, I reached Krakow in mid-morning. I slept well and plan on taking the overnight train again to save precious time and money.
I did some quick research about the city at my hostel and headed for the main square. I always find a city more interesting when I know a little about its attractions.
Here’s a little more information about Krakow. . .
Krakow is the second-largest city in Poland and one of the country’s oldest; dating back to the 7th Century. It’s Poland’s hub for education, culture, and artistic life. Over time and through tourism, it has also become one of the most important cities to the Polish economy.
Officially, the city only has 760,000 residents within Krakow’s city lines. However, there are 8 million people living within 60 miles of Krakow’s Main Square. The square itself is the largest medieval market square in Europe.
In 2000, Krakow was named the European Capital of Culture.
First impression. . .
The first place I headed was the Main Square — Old Town. Right away, I noticed the insane amount of tourists. The square was overcrowded and it lacked character because everything was gimmicky.
The atmosphere was loud and felt very commercialized. The busy scene was kind of the theme for the day which bummed me out a little. Krakow is a beautiful city, still.
As I walked through the outdoor marketplace, Cloth Hall — the centerpiece of Old Town — I noticed only women working the stalls. I noticed the same thing in Sofia, Bulgaria.
Being that it was my first taste of Eastern Europe, I wondered if low-income jobs for women were the norm. Regardless, it was definitely noticeable in Krakow. It didn’t sit well with me.
One thing Cloth Hall is good for is people watching. Of all the interesting things going on around Main Square, this seemed like the only thing to do.
There were street performers like I’ve never seen. It requires at least some of your time no matter how crunched-for-time your trip is.
I hopped around from attraction to attraction trying to avoid the crowds. Soon, though, I found out it’s an impossible mission.
I kept wondering why the city was deserving of Europe’s cultural capital? Where was the authenticity?
I went to St. Mary’s Basilica, Bugle Tower, and Cloth Hall all in the main square. One of the best parts of Krakow is being able to see all the attractions while maintaining your budget. Krakow is very good about keeping its attractions reasonably priced. (I know, I just complained about its authenticity and now I was rushing around like a real tourist.)
I took a rest at the hostel and returned for my time slot to climb Bugle Tower. It’s so crowded you need to reserve a time to go to the top.
The view of the square was nice, but again, far too crowded. They let too many people climb the tower at once. You get very little time in front of a decent view. Then, your time is done and you have to return downstairs.
You can pay a negligible admission fee to climb the History Museum Tower, too. But this view is even worse and not worth the time. Both were let downs.
Still, it is so inexpensive to do each, it is almost impossible to regret them.
Wawel Royal Castle
I wandered my way around the city in the evening. I was trying to find something unique and more alternative in Krakow.
Unknowingly, I ended up at another one of its most popular attractions, the Wawel Royal Castle. I have to admit, even if it was touristy, it was a must-see. My favorite thing about the city.
I spent most of the evening there until the sun went down. It was a nice way to end an evening/ day of sight-seeing.
- Bagel snack — $0.40 (everywhere in Krakow & could substitute a meal)
- St. Mary’s Basilica Entry — $1.30
- Average hostel price — $7/night includes free breakfast
- History Museum — $2.20
- Bugle Tower Entry — $3.80
- Zapiekanka (Polish pizza) — $1.80
- Average lunch in a restaurant — $4–6
Pro Tip:No need for public transport in Krakow.
Other attractions, bars, and restaurants. . .
- Wieliczka Salt Mine
- Auschwitz Camp — infamous concentration camp during WWII era (opt for the shortened tour, if taking a tour)
- Galicia Jewish Museum
- Tatras Mountains — beautiful mountainous region 2 hours from Krakow
- Zakopane — popular day trip, 2-hour drive from Krakow
- Dong-A — Vietnamese restaurant
- Pijalnia — the bar is always busy, three of them in Krakow, open 24/7
- Cybermachina — arcade/video game bar
I was only in Krakow for 24 hours, but I felt I needed to come back during the low-season so that I could enjoy it how I wanted to. After a few weeks of backpacking big cities, I was ready to escape into the Tatras Mountains.
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