One step through Florian Gate — a 14th-century fortified tower leading to the largest medieval square in Europe — and you understand the attraction of Krakow.
Unlike its Polish neighbor to the north, Warsaw — flattened by the Germans in World War II and rebuilt by Stalin — Krakow and its wealth of history remains intact. Included on the first list of UNESCO World Heritage sites, the city has always attracted a steady stream of visitors. These days, there seems to be an increasing number of Western Europeans in the mix.
At most hotels, the room rate includes a complimentary breakfast buffet. The recently opened andel’s Hotel Cracow, where double rooms start at $219, is next to the Krakow Train Station and Galleria Mall and only a five-minute walk to the Florian Gate.
Morning is a good time to take a short bus ride to the Wieliczka Salt Mines. For centuries, salt was regarded as a major natural asset in the Kingdom of Poland. Sign up for an English-speaking tour of the underground chapels and ballrooms, all sculpted out of salt.
Later, return to the Main Square to shop for tapestries, amber jewelry and handicrafts at the indoor Cloth Market. A short walk from the Main Square, Nostalgia (Karmelicka St. 10) serves classic country Polish fare like pierogies and borscht.
After lunch, climb Wawel Hill to tour the Renaissance-style castle, cathedral and colonnaded courtyard. Then take a short taxi ride to the former Jewish quarter of Kazimierz to visit four 17th-century synagogues. Nearby, the factory of Oskar Schindler, the man responsible for saving more than a thousand lives during the Nazi occupation, has recently been converted into a museum.
Kazimierz relives its colorful past by offering a slew of Jewish-style eateries, complete with Klezmer music, and bars that helped gentrify this once-lost neighborhood. The sounds of fiddlers greet you as you enter the restaurant Klezmer-Hois, located on cobblestoned Szeroka Street. Dine on potato pancakes topped with applesauce, herring doused in onions and thick cream, a tender cut of beef brisket and crispy duck. Then stroll three blocks to Alchemia, a bar that ranks high on the local list of favorites. Lighting on the stone walls illuminates contemporary art works, yet it’s the sofas that will gain your attention, the ideal place to relax after a full day of seeing the sights.
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