Rolling on to Krakow...
Time has been kind to Krakow. Poland’s former capital has an impressive and authentic Old Town, a captivating mix of gothic, renaissance and baroque styles.
It is a city for strolling around historic streets, stopping at cafes and restaurants for delicious local dishes such as borscht and dumplings, and stepping inside Catholic churches and private homes turned into museums. Whilst redolent of its culture-rich past, its university means the prevailing atmosphere is that of a vivacious, young scene. Key sights include:
- Krakow’s beautifully-preserved medieval central squares take visitors back in time and retain their authentic character as centuries-old meeting points. Continue the convivial tradition at a café in the 14th century Cloth Hall.
- Opposite is St Mary’s Church: every hour, on the hour, a trumpeter plays the plaintive hejnal tune from an open window high on its tower (magical late at night, echoing through empty streets). Within its nave is the amazing Veit Stoss altarpiece, whose wings are opened by a nun with great ceremony every day.
- Leonardo da Vinci’s spine-tingling Lady with an Ermine at the atmospheric old Czartoryski Museum – a grand city mansion that rambles over several floors.
- The art nouveau Franciscan church, with its lovely stained glass windows of flowers such as irises and marsh marigolds. Businessmen with briefcases gather for confession before heading off to work.
- Collegium Maius, where Copernicus and Pope John Paul II studied, is a sequence of ancient rooms. The eclectic displays include astronomical instruments, Chopin’s piano (still played), early inventions such as a type of telephone – all in a dark, magical atmosphere. A door marked 6-9-39 recalls when Hitler invited the university’s professors to ‘a lecture’, then took them to be killed.
- Wawel Cathedral, part of the impressive castle complex where the kings of Poland were crowned and buried over a span of more than 500 years. One could happily spend an entire day here, wallowing in history and art.
- Stroll around and eat out in the charming Kazimierz Jewish district.
- Just outside Krakow are the incredible historic salt mines, where everything, including giant chandeliers, is carved from salt.