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Last updated : Nov 2009
 
Cracow Travel Guide
Cracow Travel Guide and Cracow Travel Information - TravelPuppy.com
City Overview

Cracow, long heralded as ‘The New Prague’, is now well established as a major tourist destination. At the height of summer, Poland’s fourth largest city hordes with tour groups, all manner of tourist tack and countless pavement cafés that seem to occupy every cobble of the main square. Out of season, late at night or even in the first slivers of the morning light, it is clear why so many people flock to visit. This delightful city, situated in the southeast of the country, between the Jura uplands and the Tatra Mountains, on the banks of the Wisla (Vistula) River, has one of the best-preserved medieval city centres in Europe. Dozens of churches cover almost every architectural period and are surrounded by abbeys and monasteries– walking through the Old Town streets is like drifting back through the musty pages of a historical novel.

The city has largely been left in one piece since the Tartar raids of the 13th century, which accounts for the unspoilt Old Townnow a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Laid out in 1257, the Rynek Glowny (Main Market Square) is one of the biggest medieval market squares in Europe – as well as a remarkable set piece fronted by elegant façades. It is dominated by the 16th century Sukiennice (Cloth Hall), which continues to perform its role as a trading centre with lively market stalls and pavement cafés in and around the building. The surrounding lanes of the Stare Miasto (the Old Town) are ringed by the Planty, a leafy, linear park that follows the line of the Old Town walls. The huge hulk of Wawel Hill, to the south, is home to Wawel Castle, the seat of Polish kings from the 11th century to the early 17th century. It was here, in 1000 AD, that the bishopric of Cracow was established and the Cathedral remains the spiritual home of Poland.

One area that has seen disturbing times is the Kazimierz district. For centuries it was a centre of Jewish culture, until the Nazis killed most of its residents and deported many of the survivors to the wartime ghetto of Podgorze and thence to nearby Auschwitz. Kazimierz had largely fallen into decline since World War II, but the area is undergoing something of a renaissance in response to the new interest brought about by the film Schindler’s List. The Jewish culture of the area is being revitalized, with lively art galleries, kosher restaurants and regular cultural events, such as Klezmer concerts. In fact, Cracow’s cultural attractions in general are manifest, with almost a quarter of Poland’s museum holdings housed here and the city’s cultural scene is without equal in Poland – the city was justifiably named as one of the nine European Cities of Culture in the year 2000.

The city’s cultural heritage is mirrored in its intellectual achievements – the Jagiellonian University is one of the oldest in Poland. The student population of the city numbers over 100,000 and it fires a dynamic nightlife scene that burns brightly in the atmospheric cellar bars away from the tourists above. Cracow has extremely contrasting seasons with cold, snowy winters and ‘fresh’ springs and autumns. Visitors should be careful of the locals’ use of the word ‘fresh’ – an optimistic reference to patently cold weather. The labyrinthine cellars of the Old Town are a perfect place to escape the winter chill. However, come summer, the quintessential Cracow experience is relaxing in a pavement café on the main square enjoying one of the long and mild nights.

The amount of tourists to Cracow has increased considerably in recent years, partly due to the introduction of easier visa regulations, and also because of the media coverage the city received in the international press in the months leading to Poland assession to the EU in May 2004. The death of Pope John Paul II (born Karola Wojtyly) in April 2005 is likely to bring even more pilgrims to the city where he lived for many years and which he served as archbishop and then cardinal before leaving for Rome to start his Pontificate in October 1978.