executive summary by darmansjah
Poland’s royal capital for 500 years, Krakow is a treasure trove of Gothic and Renaissance architecture. But this is no museum city – user our guide to find what’s hidden along its snowy streets, from a communist-era poster gallery to a cosy cake and coffee shop.
Getting there; with Lufthansa (Lufthansa.com), fly into Frankfurt before connecting to Krakow’s Joh Paul II International airport.
Getting around; Krakow’s one-way system baffles even native Poles, so car hire is inadvisable. The centre is small enough to walk around, but here’s also an efficient network of buses and trams. Buy tickets (all US$0.80) from the kiosks dotted around town.
Further reading; Lonely planet’s Krakow encounter (US$12.99) is perfect for short breaks David Lodge’s novel Deaf Sentence has a poignant description of a visit to Auschwitz.
‘No invader has ever conquered the heart of Poland.” James A Michener, novelist
There’s plenty of old world glamour to be found at Hotel SASKI, which occupies a grand old mansion just off Rynek Glowny (from US$100; hotelsaski.com.pl)
Situated just inside the city walls opposite St Florian’s Gate, Hotel POLSKI offers comfortable, eclectically furnished rooms. There’s a small café on the ground floor and staff are helpful (from US$120; podorlem.com.pl).
Elegant Hotel STARY is a renovated, 15th-century merchant’s house, including three luxury suites featuring original frescoes. Try the restaurant’s winter menu, featuring local forest fruits (from US$260; hotelstary.com).
Except for St Mary’s Basilica and Wawel Cathedral, Krakow’s historic churches can all be visited for free. The catacombs of ST CASIMIR’S CHURCH contain 1,000 mummified bodies dating back to 1667 (ul Reformacka 4).
Visit the historic CLOTH HALL at Rynek Glowny, also home to The Gallery of 19th Century Polish Art (Rynek Glowny 1).
Explore in one of the many HORSE-DRAWN CARRIAGES, which line up at the northern end of Rynek Glowny and on ul Grodzka (US$58 per half hour).
With Jewish dishes such as czulent (bean casserole with beef and vegetables), DAWNO TEMU NA KAZIMIERZU is a blast from the past, with sewing machines on the tables and old shop sings (mains from US$6; ul Szeroka 17).
Atmospheric MIOD MALINA is a Krakow institution. Located in a 14th-century building, the décor is rustic and charming and there’s a wood-burning stove. Try the bold and tangy borscht – beetroot soup (mains from US$6; miodmalina.pl).
Named after a medieval merchant who hosted a grand feast for royals in 1364, WIERZYNEK RESTAURANT exudes historic opulence, but offers a modern Polish menu (mains from US$19; wierzynek.com.pl).
Browse for bargains at PLAC NOWY’s Saturday morning street market. For a restorative lunch try a zapiekanka, a Polish open sandwich (US$2.50).
Visit CUKIERNIA CICHOWSKI for cakes and chocs so pretty you’ll be reluctant to scoff them (ul Starowislna 21).
Pick up communist-era souvenirs at GALERIA PLAKATU, where you’ll find the very best of Polish poster art (from US$6; galeriaplakatu.com).