Kraków at a glance
For a bewitching combination of medieval charm and cutting-edge culture.
Kazimierz, which was the Jewish district before it was destroyed by the Germans in World War Two, is home to many of the city’s best new cafes, shops and galleries.
You probably didn’t know
According to local folklore, the city was founded by the ruler Krakus on top of a cave inhabited by a dragon.
Suggested reading and viewing
To read: A Long Long Time Ago and Essentially True (Brigid Pasulka, 2009) skillfully connects wartime Kraków with the resurgent city of the 1990s to tell the story of several generations of a local family. To watch: Schindler's List was set and mostly filmed in Kraków in 1993.
- Population: 761,900
- Annual visitor numbers: 7.25 million (2013)
- January mean temperature: -3°C
- August mean temperature: 18°C
Things to do in Kraków
A smart contemporary version of the kind of cafeteria that was ubiquitous in Soviet times, Milkbar Tomasza delivers classic Polish food at low prices. The menu is wide-ranging but it’s best to stick to the classics: chicken cutlets, goulash, and potato pancakes with sour cream.
A cheap and cheerful alternative can be found at Przystanek Pierogarnia the top pick in town for pierogis, which are Polish freshly-made sweet and savoury dumplings.
An excellent mid-range option is Restauracja Starka, where a homely ambience is ably matched by hearty, generously portioned Polish food. The baked camembert with cranberries is wonderfully indulgent.
The best coffee in Kraków – and probably in all of Poland – can be found in a warehouse in the distinctly unglamourous neighbourhood of Podgórze. Coffee Cargo with its industrial-chic interior to help it blend into the area, takes its coffee deeply seriously, and it’s extremely good.
Unlikely though it may sound, herring bars are all the rage in Kraków. These late-night hangouts offer several types of herring fish (mustard, dill, sour cream, beetroot etc), local beers, numerous varieties of vodka – and that’s about it. The best of the fast-growing bunch is Ambasada Sledzia, the Herring Embassy.
Grodzka 42 and Harris Piano Jazz Bar
Spend a Saturday night in Kraków and it’s hard to believe this city had a reputation for being quiet and conservative not so long ago. There’s usually hard rock and metal booming out of bars such as Grodzka 42 or jazz drifting out from the Harris Piano Jazz Bar.
Movida Cocktail Bar
The sign above the door at Movida Cocktail Bar says ‘the best cocktails in town,’ and for once you can trust the advertising. The mixologists at this glitzy venue concoct perfect martinis and margaritas.
Beer-lovers mustn’t miss Omerta, a Mafia-themed bar with a huge range of Polish and foreign beers in its fridges, plus around 25 brews on tap.
Unsound Festival and Opera Krakówska
October’s Unsound festival is a mecca for fans of electronic music. For something a little more traditional and, well, conservative, Opera Krakówska boasts one of the finest post-war opera houses in Europe.
Singer is a tiny, buzzy bar full of sewing machines (Singer brand, obviously) – the granny-chic approach to interiors makes this one of the most atmospheric meeting places in town.
Galeria Plakatu stocks thousands of Polish film posters and receives pilgrims from all round the world. Polish posters have a reputation in cinema circles for being the best in the business, and you can pick up all the classics here.
For further Polish items of exceptional quality, try Szambelan where you’ll find homemade vodkas in more flavours than you would have thought could possibly exist (seriously, chocolate vodka?).
Apart from its futuristic design there’s nothing particularly exciting about Galeria Krakowska, though as an enormous shopping mall right next to the main train station containing almost every brand thinkable, it might just come in handy.
MOCAK and the National Museum
There are several excellent museums in Kraków. MOCAK offers the best in Polish contemporary art, with regularly changing exhibitions supplementing an impressive permanent collection, while the National Museum offers a refreshingly progressive approach to displaying Polish history.
Events to look out for:
- Kraków Live Festival (August)
- Coke Live Festival (August)
- Unsound Festival (October)
- Kraków Film Festival (April-May)
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