Krakow is one of the oldest cities in Poland. During World War II, Krakow became the capital of the German General Government and because of that, it was spared from much destruction during the war. Krakow has traditionally been one of the leading centers of Polish academic and cultural life with one of the oldest universities, Jagiellonian University, in the world. In 1978, the entire old town of Krakow was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Krakow’s main square, known as Rynek Glowny in Polish, is the largest of medieval European cities. The rectangular square is surrounded by old townhouses and churches. In the center of the square is the Cloth Hall which dates back to the Renaissance times and is the main market in the Old town. On one side of the square is the Town Hall Tower and on the other side is the Gothic towers of St. Mary’s Basilica. There are plenty of outdoor restaurants on the square for you to sit and watch the world go by. I stayed at the Wentzl Hotel with a room facing the main square. This is the only hotel fortunate enough to be on the ancient square.
Explore the old town on foot and soak in the medieval atmosphere. Take a walk along Kanonicza Street with its Renaissance houses which is part of the Royal Road leading from the main city gate to the Royal Castle on Wawel Hill.
At the end of the Royal Road is Wawel Castle up on Wawel Hill. For centuries it was the residence of the Kings of Poland. The castle has been built and rebuilt and modified over the years resulting in different architectural styles. One of Leonardo da Vinci’s six paintings, Lady with an Ermine, is displayed at the museum here.
Other than exploring the old town of Krakow, we also walked to the old Jewish quarter of Kazimierz outside the city walls of the old town. For many centuries, Kazimierz was a place of coexistence of the Christian and Jewish cultures. During WWII, many Jewish inhabitants were forcibly relocated to the ghetto in Podgorze. Today, the neighbourhood is gaining popularity again with cafes and nightlife becoming Krakow’s equivalent of Soho.