Krakow harmoniously blends past and present and thus should be an essential part of any visit to Poland. So, if you are traveling through or around Poland, you need to add Krakow to your must-see list. Krakow has a large market square, many historical sites and an abundance of great restaurants. Hence Krakow is full of history as it was the former capital and dates back to the seventh century. We feel it is one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. Not surprisingly, Krakow has always been an important educational and cultural center. So it is no surprise that the Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A Brief History of Krakow
Krakow is the second largest and one of the oldest cities in Poland. Consequently, Krakow began as a stone-age settlement and grew into an important European city.
Another key point is that Krakow was invaded by the Nazis at the start of WWII. At this point, the Germans occupied Poland. Thus, they forced the Jewish population of Krakow into an overcrowded walled zone known as the Krakow Ghetto. All the while, Krakow became the most important administrative city of the Third Reich. Dreadfully, the Jewish people were ultimately sent to German concentration camps such as the nearby Auschwitz.
Krakow was liberated from the Germans by the Soviets in 1945. Poland was under Soviet rule until 1989. UNESCO designated all of Krakow a World Heritage Site in 1978. Fortunately, Krakow was one of the few Eastern European cities that avoided bombing during WWII. So, much of the architecture you will see and many of the streets of Krakow are pre-WWII.
48 Hours in Krakow
We are always keeping an eye out for exciting travel destinations. At last, this summer we had the opportunity to visit Krakow, Poland. Krakow, a city brimming with history, that exceeded our expectations! We created this excellent guide to help you make the best of 48 hours in Krakow, so here it goes.
But before I jump into the Itinerary, I have to say that if you are a foodie, Krakow will be your heaven on earth. There are 25 Michelin guide book restaurants, and too many to count other great restaurants, in Krakow. Keith and I love to visit the number one trip advisor restaurant in a city as well as Michelin guide book restaurants. Almost all of the guide book restaurants are usually less pricey than the Michelin starred restaurants and easier for travelers to get a reservation. If you’re not familiar with Michelin, for more than a century, the French tire company Michelin has published a series of guide books. Most notably is the annually published Michelin Red Guide, which is the oldest European hotel and restaurant reference guide in the world.
The Contemporary Golden Tulip Krakow Kazimierz
Our First stop in Krakow was to check into the Golden Tulip Hotel in the Kazimierz district. The Golden Tulip Krakow Kazimierz is in the heart of Krakow, just 15 minutes from the main market square. Even more, the hotel housed in a sleek modern building is only a couple of years old. We found this contemporary hotel comfortable and the staff friendly. And, they have an amazing breakfast spread sure to please travelers from around the world. The hotel also has a bar which we look for in choosing a hotel because it gives us an alternative, cozy place to hang out should we have some free time before ending our day.
Our First Dinner in Krakow
After freshening up, Keith and I set out to walk to dinner. We wanted to savor the sights and smells of the evening streets. Consequently, as we walked the streets, we took in the lovely architecture of the three-story buildings with their glowing amber windows.
The first night in Krakow we ate at the Miodova Restaurant. It is a Michelin Red Guide Book restaurant. Miodova blends tradition and modern in the center of the Kazimierz district. The inspiration for Miodova came from a cookbook written in 1897. So, they offer classic Polish dishes turned into works of art. They blend influences from Jewish, Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Balkan to provide the home-cooked flavors and turn every meal into an extraordinary culinary adventure. Most importantly, all of their dishes use locally sourced foods.
After we selected wine and as Keith and I looked over the menu, our server Mateusz, brought us bread and three different oils to try. The oils were rape seed, milk thistle, and white flax. All three were delicious. Even though Miodova is a Michelin Guide Book restaurant, it is not pretentious. The tables set with a candle and delicate flowers made the setting comfortable and laid back. Thus, we chose to eat in the dining room, but they also offer outside seating.
The wine we decided to try was an Israeli wine by Golden Heights Winery; a Mount Hermon Red. It was wonderful. For our meal, we started with a typical Polish potato pancake. For the main course, pan-fried Halibut and pear salad. The food and service were outstanding. Above all, we were not disappointed in our first meal in Krakow.
Tour Kazimierz and Wawel Castle
On your first full day, we recommend doing a private guided tour of Krakow. Krakow is so full of history and, a guide will make that history come to life for you. We recommend visiting the Kazimierz area and Wawel Castle to start.
Kazimierz is the traditional Jewish Quarter of Krakow. Up until the early 19th century, Kazimierz was an independent, royal city of the Polish Kingdom. For centuries this was the place of Jewish and Polish coexistence. So, there are Christian churches, like the Skałka built in the 14th century, in the Polish part of Kazimierz, and several synagogues outside of the Jewish part.
Wawel Castle built in the 1300s consists of several buildings situated around an Italian-styled main courtyard. Wawel is one of the largest castles in Poland and represents nearly all European architectural styles including medieval, renaissance and baroque. Not surprising, Wawel Castle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today the castle is a principal art museum but, for centuries it was the home to the kings of Poland.
The mishmash of buildings makes Wawel Castle the perfect place for an architecture buff, but if you are a museum lover, this is your spot too. Wawel Castle hosts a museum with a great selection of Italian Renaissance paintings, tapestry, armor. Also, the castle has the biggest collection of Ottoman tents in Europe.
Another main attraction of Wawel Castle is Wawel Cathedral. Most notably, Wawel Cathedral was the coronation site of Polish Monarchs. Wawel is a gothic cathedral. But the gothic style is the third edifice on this site. The first was built and destroyed in the 11th century; the second one, constructed in the 12th century, was destroyed by a fire in 1305. The construction of the current cathedral began in the 14th century. Wawel is considered the most important collection of buildings in Poland.
Rynel Glowny or the Main Market Square
The Main Market Square is the world’s largest medieval market square. Thus, it’s a must-see area of any trip to Kraków. Located in the center of the Old Town, the Main Market Square is alive and bustling with people shopping, dining or simply passing through to someplace else.
The Main Market Square surrounded by stunning pastel yellow, and peach buildings, including the 13th-century Gothic Town Hall Tower, is magnificent. On one side of the square, are the unsymmetrical towers of St. Mary’s Basilica. If shopping is your thing, then check for souvenirs while perusing the stalls at Cloth Hall. The Main Market square has lovely restaurants and coffee bars with many having outside dining areas. So, you may want to grab a drink, and simply people watch.
Created as the center of Krakow’s commerce, the Main Square is so much more today. There are lots of great restaurants, pubs, and shops in addition to historic places. Ultimately, the Main Market Square and its surrounding areas are a great place to walk. But, If you want to extend the ambiance of Krakow, you can also take a ride in a horse-drawn carriage.
Town Hall Tower
The Town Hall Tower is a gorgeously designed architectural structure and is the only remaining part of the city’s original Town Hall. The tower is known for its slight lean, and you can walk through the inside. Once in the Town Hall, you will find a museum that displays traditional Polish clothing and exhibits that explain the history of the city and tower. Also, you can look out at the square below through one of the tower’s many windows.
Pod Nosem another Michelin Restaurant
By this time you will be ready to eat, and we recommend lunch at Pod Nosem Restaurant. Pod Nosem is a Michelin guide restaurant. Additionally, the medieval-style restaurant was lovely and full of hung tapestries. The stunningly set dining tables had white linens and white gladiolas. The ambiance is classy but not stuffy. They serve classic Polish dishes with modern updates. We had lunch on the al fresco patio with our private guide.
Shortly after we sat down, our server Michal, brought us this whole grain, nutty bread with olive oil. The bread was amazing! Michal also brought us Pod Nosem’s version of prosciutto called Mangalica. The Mangalica was amazing too! We chose a bottle of Guner Veltliner by Weingut Frank from Austria to pair with lunch. Pod Nosem is on Krakow’s oldest street close to Wawel Castle. And our server explained that the name of the restaurant translates to under the nose because it is under the nose of Wawel Castle.
For my starter, I chose the Sorrel soup while Keith chose the pierogis. Additionally, for our main courses, Keith chose the Sander, a white fish with black lentils and vegetables and I had the freshest mixed salad. Lastly, for dessert, we shared the fruit tart between the three of us.
More than just a Restaurant
Above the restaurant are three richly furnished suites built into the early 15th-century mansion for guest stays. To illustrate, some of the features of the suites include original frescos and historic timber ceilings. Additionally, the top floor suite boasts a jacuzzi and balcony with incredible panoramic views of Wawel Castle. The icing on the cake of this amazing place to stay in Krakow is that it includes breakfast. Hence had we knew about these suites at the Pod Nosem, we would have planned on an extra night and treated ourselves.
The Old Synagogue
After lunch, we visited the Old Synagogue built in the fifteenth century. It is the oldest synagogue in all of Poland. The synagogue no longer holds service but instead, is a historical museum that is home to many Jewish artifacts. In the same fashion, the synagogue features stunning arched ceilings. You can walk through the former prayer rooms and halls. The Main Hall is where you’ll find unique artifacts that you can view including an antique scroll that has the Torah printed on it. The South Hall is where you can learn more about the life of the Jewish people and the dietary restrictions they have as well as the traditions of their culture.
Unfortunately, Because this synagogue held such great importance to Eastern European Jews, it was ruined and pilfered during the German occupation from 1939 to 1945. After the war ended, the synagogue sat vacant for over a decade. Then, in the late 1950s, it was restored to become a historical museum to preserve the history and culture of the Jewish people who lived in Krakow.
The Iconic Stairs of the Schindler’s List Film
We highly recommend visiting the small courtyard used for filming Schindler’s List. In 1993, when Stephen Spielberg was making his movie, he needed an authentic Jewish quarter for the scenes depicting the Jewish ghetto of Podgorze in Krakow. He chose the Kazimierz district of Krakow given that this area had not changed since the 1940s. The actual Podgorze area was already partially rebuilt with modern buildings, so it was not usable for the movie.
Our photos show the balconies in the courtyard from where the suitcases were thrown down. So you remember, this occurred in the scene of the movie in which the Nazis emptied the Podgorze Ghetto. According to our tour guide, a courtyard such as this was typical of those in Jewish quarters of Polish cities.
In addition, there is also a photo that shows the stairway used in the scene in which Mrs. Dresner hides from the Jewish police who were helping the Germans to round up the Jews.
Jagiellonian University to See the Clock
Kraków’s Jagiellonian University is one of the oldest universities in the world. Accordingly, it is also rated as Poland’s best institute of higher learning, many students vie to attend the university.
We came to the university to see the courtyard clock. From this clock, wooden historical figures appear and parade past to music from the mid-16th century every two hours between 9 am and 5 pm. The building’s courtyard also has a gift shop and cafe, and a lovely Professors’ Garden just next door.
Szara Ges on Kraków’s Market Square
For dinner, we recommend Szara Ges restaurant. Located in the Main Market Square this restaurant is simply stunning and not your typical tourist restaurant. Hence, we arrived early enough to take in the views of the lovely square as we enjoyed watching from our window table all of the people coming and going. Szara Ges, which means Grey Goose in English is also a Michelin guide book restaurant. The restaurant has carved out a unique niche, offering innovative modern dishes from traditional Polish cuisine, with an emphasis on poultry. Additionally, the monochromatic decorated interior framed in lovely cream gothic arches enhances the experience.
We started our dinner with a bottle of Malleolus Tempranillo from Spain. To that end, the wine was smooth and full bodied just the way we like.
On this occasion, for dessert, we had the restaurant’s signature Szara Gez or Grey Goose dessert. It’s a goose egg-shaped dessert nestled in a nest of cocoa shredded wheat. The desert set in cotton candy is a work of art. The egg made of white chocolate and the yolk a thick, sweet, mango puree is like a high-end truffle.Subsequently, this dessert is a must-try when here.
Krakow Known for Defeating a Dragon!
Krakow is a history and food lovers dream. It is a not to be missed destination. And, if legends are correct, Krakow is famous for defeating a dragon. You see, during King Krakus reign, a dragon took up residence under the castle. The dragon was always hungry and demanded food from the people. If they did not give him food, he ate them. So, a poor shoemaker came up with a trick. He took a sheep’s skin and filled it with hay and sulfur. The dragon ate the sheep. The sulfur made it so thirsty that it ran to the Vistula river. It drank, and drank, and drank until it exploded! Maybe these fairytale dreams give Krakow’s lovely streets and squares their mystical atmosphere.
Krakow with its cobbled streets lined with horse-pulled carriages, magnificent squares surrounded by pastel buildings and churches make it a magical city to visit. Oh, did I mention it has a huge, fanciful castle? In addition, your taste buds will also get a work out as the dining option are world class. Keith and I are thrilled we decided to add Krakow to our Eastern European trip. Although we only stayed for 48 hours, you could easily do a week here.
Krakow Poland is a great city for foodies. It has 25 restaurants in the Michelin Guide book.
For a close by adventure, check out Vienna Austria.