Clip-clopping along cobbled streets, lined with Easter-egg coloured buildings, snuggled in a horse-drawn carriage next to my husband, was not how I pictured my visit to Kracow, Poland. But then again, many things about this beautiful little city surprised me – mostly, why I had never considered visiting Krakow before.
When Andrew and I were first invited to our friends’ wedding in Poland, we jumped at the chance. Not only could we celebrate the marriage of a lovely international couple (Polish and Belgian) but we could also check another country off our list. We’ve both been itching to venture into Eastern Europe and now we had a chance to visit with expert advice from a local.
With the wedding celebrations planned for Saturday, we decided to make the most of our trip and spend some time sight-seeing in Krakow. We arrived Wednesday afternoon and settled in for three days of exploring.Our base of operations in Krakow was the lovely, and very well situated, Globetroter Guesthouse. The rooms were a good size with good bathrooms (always a plus). The staff was incredibly helpful and friendly and the price was very reasonable given the location. Best of all, we were within stumbling distance of Krakow’s historic market square.
Krakow (or Cracow in English) is the second largest city in Poland and its historic centre was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978. The centre is circled by a green-belt, called Planty Park, where the former city walls stood. This lovely park was filled with people walking dogs, pushing strollers and enjoying the last of the lovely autumn weather, the entire time we were there.
Krakow’s Market Square
I’ll be the first to admit, my knowledge of all things Eastern European is pretty limited, although I’m very fortunate to have a couple of friends from the region. I had no idea what to expect from Poland in general and Krakow specifically. When we first strolled into the main square I was pleasantly surprised.
The square is dominated by the Sukiennice, the former Cloth Hall or Draper’s Hall. During the Renaissance, Krakow was Poland’s capital and traders came from around the country to sell their wares in this stunning building. Now it’s a Mecca for tourists looking to buy affordable amber jewellery and other souvenirs.
The market square, or Rynek Główny in Polish, is also home to the stunning St. Mary’s Basilica on one end and the town hall tower on the other. The rest of the square is surrounded by colourful cafes and shop fronts which seem to be bustling at all hours of the day.
After our initial stroll around Krakow, it was time to find some supper. On the recommendation of the Unexpected Traveller, we headed to Miod Malina and were not disappointed. We began with what would be a marathon of pierogi sampling over the long weekend. Those at Miod Malina are still high on my favourites list. From there, Andrew moved on to pork knuckle (one of his all-time favourites) and I had a delicious duck leg in cranberry sauce.
If you spend any time walking by churches in Krakow, and it’s hard not to, you can’t help but notice signs for chamber music concerts. We decided to take in a Chopin and Mozart concert in St. Peter and St. Paul’s church, put on by the Krakow Chamber Orchestra of St. Maurice. The concert was lovely and we thought it was a great way to bring people and money into the many beautiful churches in old Krakow.
The Wawel Castle
The next morning we were up early to spend the day at one of Krakow’s most famous sights, The Wawel. The Wawel is a castle complex overlooking the Vistula River in Krakow’s historic centre. It contains the Royal Castle, armoury, treasury and a cathedral.
The ticketing system for the Wawel is a bit complex, as there are different tickets for each building and no combination tickets are available. Tickets for areas like the Royal Apartments are limited so it’s best to arrive early. Andrew and I decided to see the armoury, treasury, archaeology exhibit and the dragon’s den. I also wanted to have a peak inside the cathedral, which is free unless you want to see the museum section.
We visited the treasury and armoury first. Andrew enjoyed looking at all of the various weapons but I was a bit let down by the treasury side of things. While I was hoping for jewellery, what I got was fancier weapons. It wasn’t really my thing.
The archaeology exhibit however was very interesting. As happened in many cities in Europe, one building was built on the remains of an earlier one. Currently, they are painstakingly uncovering pieces of the old Wawel and you can wander through some of these remains, in this exhibit.
Although we didn’t go inside the apartments, the architecture of the Royal Castle was lovely. The cathedral was also magnificent and filled with ornately carved tombs of Krakow’s royalty.
Our final stop was the intriguingly titled Dragon’s Den. It is a series of caves under the Wawel, where a dragon of Polish legends is said to have lived. It is best to visit the Dragon’s Den at the end of your tour, as the caves exit outside the Wawel complex. There you will see the Wawel Dragon, or at least his statue.
After our visit to the Wawel, it was time for a snack. We decided to extend our exploration into the world of the pierogi and stopped at Zapiecek Polish Pierogi. Andrew sampled from the mixed platter while I enjoyed the ‘Russian Style’ which, I am informed by the Polish bride, have nothing to do with Russia at all. The place was packed and the perogies were cheap and filling.
We wandered our way back to the market square and enjoyed the sun and a drink, while sitting at a cafe. As we sat and watched the horse-drawn carriages come and go, we thought it would be a nice way to round out the evening. That’s how I found myself in a bright red carriage, holding up traffic and not caring a bit, as we trotted through town. Touristy – definitely. A lovely way to wrap up a day in Krakow – absolutely.
After our ride, we wanted to relax over a long, delicious evening meal, so we asked our hosts at the Globetroter for a recommendation. They suggested the Restaurant Nostalgia, located just outside the old centre. It was a fabulous choice. The only problem was, after our starters (pierogies and stuffed mushrooms) we were already full! The main courses were too delicious to pass up though – steak with a heavenly blue cheese sauce and potato dumplings for me and honey roasted spare-ribs for Andrew. The was no room for desert but we did enjoy some lovely wine with our meal. What a fantastic way to finish off a week-end break in Krakow.
I’ll leave you with a video of the best accordion player I have ever heard. Sorry you can’t really see him as it was late at night but just have a listen.
Stay tuned to read about our trip to the incredible Wieliczka Salt Mine, which was unlike anything I could have imagined and to read all about what happens at a Polish (and Belgian) wedding in the mountains.
Love castles, palaces, and ruins like in this article? Us too! Don’t miss the full listing of Castles we’ve visited in Europe and beyond.