Krakow is a fantastic city filled with wonderful food, architecture and history. If you have a few days in Krakow and somehow manage to get bored, please clobber yourself in the head to reset your brain cells. An added bonus of Krakow is that prices are generally cheaper than Prague and Budapest. With that, here are 5 must things to do in Krakow.
1) Sit out for a meal in the main market square – Krakow has one of the best squares in Europe for eating out on a balmy evening. There simply aren’t a lot of places in the world where you can chow down on a delicious main for as little as 25 zloty ($8 US) with a view of Cinderella style horse and carriages parked right in front of you. Watch menus closely but there are good deals to be found. I found a fantastic table right near the fairy tale carriages at a restaurant called Virtuoso. A tip is to ask for the Polish menu of the restaurant next door which is cheaper and features local dishes, rather than pizzas and pastas. The service is slow but the food is good and the ambiance is fantastic.
2) Drinks and a stroll through Kazimierz– The old Jewish quarter boasts great restaurants and perhaps the greatest quantity of hip little pubs I’ve ever seen jammed so close together. I enjoyed a couple beers at a funky decored pub called Propaganda. Right next door is a Che Guevara pub and a few pubs down is a place called Ak-47. You get the drift. The area is tourist friendly but is surprisingly not overrun with out of towners like the Stare Maistro district. Kazimierz mostly caters to a hip local crowd and I highly recommend drinks in most places there over almost any pub in the Old Town. The area also houses many memorials and places of interest pertaining to the Holocaust that are well worth checking out.
3) Wander the Old Town and visit St. Mary’s Cathedral– Just don’t do this late at night! Once restaurants in the main square start closing down it’s best to make your way out of this area. Also around Florianska Gate, there might be just as many dodgy people as during the day, but they stand out a whole lot more when there are less tourists and honest locals walking among them. The architectural highlight of the Old Town would be St. Mary’s Cathedral in the main square. It doesn’t matter how many cathedrals you’ve seen in Europe, you will not be jaded by the stunning beauty of this place! It’s well worth the small admission, or cheekily sneak in during mass like I did.
4) Explore Wawel Royal Castle (Zamek Krolewski) – This grand medieval castle rests along the Vistula River and is jam packed with things to do. If it’s a nice day join the locals by lounging in the grass along the river near the foot of the castle. Climb up and explore inside the courtyard which includes a fantastic cathedral and several great exhibitions including an armory and palace tour. The castle offers stunning views of the Old Town and Vistula River at no cost (there is a cost for the exhibitions, but not the church).
5) Eat at a Bar Mleczny (Milk Bar)– A great way to sample tasty local food for very cheap. Established during communist days for laborers to eat lunch cheaply, these have remained and are still subsidized by the government. Albeit because of government cuts and fast food chains, their numbers are dwindling. The typical bar mleczny is a pretty nondescript cafeteria with a blackboard menu listing tasty Polish dishes for between 5-12 zloty ($1.25-$3.80 US) per plate. They can be a little difficult to navigate due to lack of English by staff so try your luck pointing at something tasty looking or bring a translator. Another option is to eat at the appropriately named Milk Bar Tomasza, which is more tourist friendly. The menu is in English, the staff speak English, the décor is more trendy café style and the prices are only slightly more expensive to their traditional counterparts. I enjoyed a huge plate of delicious fried mushroom pierogis for 13 zloty ($4 US). They practically had to wheel me out of the place.
Tourism in Krakow is beginning to flourish and maybe one day soon people will be talking about “the next Krakow” along with “the next Prague.”