When it comes to Polish cities, many have a lot in common — mainly that a lot of the most historical ones were destroyed by the Germans during WWII, and have since been rebuilt. Warsaw, Gdansk, Wroclaw, Poznan… they all suffered quite a bit during the war.
But not Krakow.
This interesting city in southern Poland was spared by the Nazis because it served as the capital of Occupied Poland during the war — therefore more or less preserving it and its history. Today, Krakow is one of the most-visited places in Poland.
Krakow is known for its picturesque historical center (the Old Town, the Kazimierz neighborhood, and Wawel Castle) that was recognized as a whole by UNESCO in 1978 as a World Heritage Site. You probably know this about Krakow, however — there's a reason that millions of people flock to see its pretty historical buildings each year, after all.
But here are some cool things about Krakow that you might NOT know:
- Krakow served as the capital of Poland for more than 500 years, from 1038 to 1596 (and then again during the Nazi occupation).
- Pope John Paul II spent most of his pre-papal life in Krakow (back then he was known as Karol Wojtyła).
- Krakow is home to Jagiellonian University (the University of Krakow), which was founded by King Casimir the Great in 1364 — making it the second-oldest university in Europe.
While I didn't quite fall in love with Krakow the way I did with Warsaw (what is it with me feeling kind of “meh” about gorgeous historical cities??), there's no denying that it is a great destination.
Here are some of my favorite photos from Krakow that I think capture the character of the city quite well:
So what is there to do in Krakow, you ask? Well here are a few ideas:
- Explore Wawel Castle — and definitely don't skip going inside the Cathedral. There are also some really amazing tapestries in the State Rooms.
- Visit the Jewish Cemetery and have a wander around the Kazimierz neighborhood (known as the Old Jewish Quarter) — it's grittier than the perfectly-manicured historic Old Town.
- Visit St. Mary's Basilica in the Main Market Square. Around noon each day they have a special ceremony to open the massive gothic altar piece. The inside of the church is also just stunning.
- Also be sure to check out the “Cloth Hall” in the Market Square — today it's filled mostly with souvenir vendors, but there is also a really fascinating underground museum about the history of Krakow here.
Just remember that there's more to the city than the Market Square!
Is Krakow a place YOU want to visit?
*Thanks to Krakow Tourism, who helped me out with a guide for an afternoon in Krakow. I learned so much about the city's history this way!