Scenes from Krakow, Poland a new city in my Top 5 Places to Visit

Krakow, Poland was never on my radar, until about four months ago. I had plenty of preconceptions about a trip to Poland. Gray, third world poverty, monotone buildings and dress, horrible food and an Eastern European culture still trying to shed its Soviet era past. That is so far from the reality of Krakow that I feel rather foolish for not being aware of one of the most happening places in Europe until last week. I am in love with Krakow after discovering this European gem of a vacation destination.

Krakow Grand Square

Krakow Rynek Glowny, Grand Square – Central Market Square

Krakow’s Rynek Glowny is a 10-acre central square of the city. This Grand Square is the largest for any medieval city in Europe. The central square market stalls have been around since the 13th century. Krakow was made the capital of Poland nearly 1,000 years ago and remained Poland’s cultural capital, even after Warsaw claimed capital city status several centuries ago.

Wawel Castle

Wawel Castle, Krakow.

Krakow doorway

Interesting architecture is found all around Krakow and also a bit of grime, yet there is a prevailing safe feeling in the locational grittiness.

Krakow gritty

Kelley got nervous walking around Podgórze area of Krakow across the Vistula River from Old Town and Kazimierz via a pedestrian footbridge. Seeing a homeless man on the street with what appeared to be a gangrenous leg kind of turned her off to the neighborhood. I did not feel threatened there. The area simply had a lot of construction work going on. And as far as street beggars around Krakow, to tell the truth, I counted far more street beggars in Stockholm, Sweden than I saw walking around for six days in Krakow, Poland.

Podgorze pedestrian bridge

Thousand of locks are attached to the Podgorze pedestrian bridge fences.

Krakow River Vistula

Separate bicycle lanes bridge across Vistula River.


Podgorze, Krakow.

In Stockholm we walked around the Gamla Stan old town on a ghost tour with colorful and entertaining stories of the city’s history. Podgorze truly has ghosts. If you have seen Schindler’s List, then you have seen a re-enactment of the Krakow Ghetto events of WW II. Podgorze is the area where a portion of Krakow was walled off by the Nazis during WWII to create the Krakow Jewish Ghetto and 17,000 residents were confined to an area that previously held 3,000. The hip neighborhood of Kazimierz on the other side of the river from Podgorze was historically the Jewish area since the late 15th century and is today the center of low key nightlife.

Krakow ghetto wall photo

Krakow Ghetto Wall, photo from Schindler’s Enamelworks Factory Museum, Podgorze, Krakow. Only two small portions of the wall remain in Podgorze and I did not reach either of those spaces.

Podgorze memorial

Plac Bohaterow Getta square, ‘Ghetto Heroes Square’ is a Podgorze memorial commemorating the Jewish ghetto and the Krakow Jews.

Jagiellonian University in Old Town Krakow near Wawel Castle is the oldest university in Poland (1364) and second oldest in Central Europe behind Prague (1348).

Jagiellonian University

Nikolaus Copernicus (1473-1543), formulator of heliocentric theory (sun as center of universe), was a student at University of Krakow – Jagiellonian University.

Krakow had an astounding 10 million visitors in 2015 with 2.62 million international visitors. That is respectable tourism data considering London has 17.4 million, Paris 15.0 million, and New York 12.2 million. Rome at 8.8m, Prague 6.3m and Amsterdam 5.7m are probably on more tourists’ radar, but Krakow is hands down the least expensive of these cities for a vacation.

Krakow World Youth Days

St. Mary’s Basilica (Bazylika Mariacki) on Rynek Glowny main market square, Krakow. Young person carrying large Jesus flag during Catholic World Youth Days July 2016.

Krakow horse carriage

Horse Carriage tourist transportation through Old Town Krakow.

Krakow tiny car

Local transportation for locals. We were struck by the petite people we saw around the city, yet there is also the volleyball player contingent. This looked like a petite person’s kind of car.

Krakow address

So many of the little alterations in Krakow caught my attention and provided a contrast to my regular American-centric life and USA places.

Krakow alkohol

24-Hour Alkohole shops are a common sighting in Krakow’s tourist areas.

Krakow is green in the city center with Planty Park. The park encircles Stare Miasto (Old Town) Krakow in the place where the city medieval walls once stood.

Planty Park

When satiated with museums and parks and sightseeing activities, Kazimierz, the historic Jewish quarter prior to WWII, is a trendy place for nightlife with bars, restaurants, boutique shops and art.

Kazimierz bars   Kazimierz street art

Kazimierz close  Kazimierz-stairs

Krakow gets extremely high tourist ratings with over 95% international tourists stating they would recommend the city to a friend and over 80% stating they plan to return.

I concur and I am about 80% certain I will return to Krakow sometime in the next two years. I loved this place.

About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined BoardingArea.com in 2008.

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  1. That’s the St. Mary’s basilica in your photo. The town hall tower is on the other side of the cloth hall.

  2. Thanks for the correction. I will fix that once I have the chance. Normally I would wait and write up descriptions while verifying I correctly identify places.

    Woke up in Stavanger, Norway with Kraków on my mind. I might go back in September.

    I have to route myself from London or Stavanger to Salzburg, Austria on a 12-day trip.

  3. Krakow is a really great, impressive and walkable city. When I visited with my 4 y.o. in April we also took a day trip to the Wieliczka salt mine which was well worth checking out.

  4. @ Michael W

    Krakow is lovely and the Wieliczka salt mine was a fascinating visit even for a well traveled adult. A true highlight of my journeys.

  5. Hey Ric, great article as usual, really makes me looking forward to my upcoming stay in two weeks. Do you happen to publish another article about Krakow focusing on restaurants and food? Best wishes from Vienna

  6. So glad you liked Krakow. As mentioned in previous comments to your Krakow posts, we visited in June 2005 and even then we did not find “…. Gray, third world poverty, monotone buildings and dress, horrible food and an Eastern European culture still trying to shed its Soviet era past.” I will admit that Warsaw fit a bit more of that description, but only in some areas. We found the people to be lovely, outgoing and helpful. One day we hung out at a cafe on the Rynek Glowny, lingering over a long lunch (very cheap back in 2005), and watched groups of school children in colorful costumes come to perform on a stage. Apparently this was an end of the school year activity.

    Interesting to see the Memorial to the Jews of the Ghetto. That installation did not open until after our trip. We found wandering through the Ghetto most intriguing – the synagogues, the Remuh Cemetery, the museum in the Under the Eagle Pharmacy (Schindler’s factory museum was not yet conceived and finding the factory entrance meant wandering down a dirt path). At the time we did not feel unsafe or see any unsettling persons. Sorry Kelley felt uncomfortable, but it is interesting to read your reports and see how she is expanding her travel horizons.

    Your posts remind me of how much we enjoyed Krakow and Poland in general. After that trip, I wanted to see more of the country. Guess I should start thinking about planning a return trip.

    I have heard (from a young Polish worker on a cruise ship back in 2004 who encouraged our trip to Poland in the first place) that Poznan – her home town – and Wroclaw are also delightful cities. You might want to check these out if you are planning a return trip. You could make a loop from Krakow to Wroclaw-Poznan-Warsaw.

  7. Thanks Bobo for the correct identification about the building not being Town Hall Tower.. Wife found Pope TV coverage from Krakow June 28 here in California and it seemed like a sign to attend to my editing task and correctly identify St. Mary’s Basilica.

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