My love affair with city breaks started many moons ago. I discovered I could combine a holiday with an educational and stimulating break, cafe culture, and if I was lucky, even a little retail therapy. My husband, known as Mister Grumpy, does not enjoy traditional poolside or beach holidays. He needs to be active and city breaks provide that.
Having now been to over 50 cities I can say we have finally found a city break that ticks every one of our boxes and is perfect in every way – Krakow. This city steeped in history, has jaw-dropping architecture, a fairy-tale castle that overlooks a river where you can relax on hot days, a thriving nightlife and cafe society, is clean, not swamped by tourists (yet) and is relatively cheap.
Krakow in Poland is without doubt ideal for those who are a little older and do not necessarily wish to be on their feet all day. The city can be divided into three distinct areas: the old town, the district of Kasimierz – once home to one of the most important Jewish communities in the world – and Podgorze, known as the former site of the Jewish Ghetto and Schindler’s Factory.
You can easily spend a day in each area but should you wish to travel further afield, popular day trips include a visit to Auschwitz or to the salt mines.
Take a tour in an electric car (they were invented in Poland) for approximately 450 Zloty per trip. The cars take up to seven people so the price is shared, or take a private tour (negotiate the best price before you set off) and you will be able to take in all the areas without getting blisters.
Feel fit? Try the Krakow Bike Tour, a four-hour spin on wheels around town (cost 80 Zloty) that departs daily at 1pm or try the two-hour Krakow by night tours (49 Zloty) departing at 7pm. These tours run from May to September.
Should you prefer an educational tour and are happy to walk, join the free guided tours that stroll around the city mornings and evenings. Volunteers keen to practise their English escort groups to all the main sites and provide excellent knowledge.
For those who wish to go-it-alone, the Old Town is easy to navigate and is not too big – another plus. It is surrounded by Planty Park (A former moat that surrounded the city) and remnants of the city’s medieval walls so should you stray too far and find yourselves walking in leafy gardens, you will know you have reached the limits of the area. The park is ideal when it is warm too. Sit on one of the many benches and soak up the atmosphere, or plod slowly around the perimeter of the town.
There are many must-sees in this city. Obviously, Wawel Castle should be top of your list but there are so many stunning buildings and churches – there are at least forty churches in the Old Town alone – you will need to book again to see everything. My grumpy other half hates crowds so the castle was a no for us, however a trip to the river to sit on one of the river boats and enjoy a cold beer at the end of a busy day was a definite.
My favourite street in Krakow is Ulica Kanonicza, a cobbled lane of 14th-century townhouses leading to the Wawel Castle. There’s the Kawiarnia Literacka (Literary Cafe) at No 1, an old-school subterranean cafe and a former haunt of writers during communist times. At No 11, you’ll find Bona: Books and Coffee, with a selection of Polish books translated into English and just after the Copernicus Hotel (worth dropping in to admire their courtyard breakfast area and underground spa pool) is the house where Pope John Paul II lived when he was Archbishop of Krakow (1951-67).
Krakow boasts the largest medieval square in Europe, Rynek Głowny, where you cannot only people-watch at any of a number of cafes and restaurants but also take one of the numerous horse-drawn carriages that trot about the streets. Don’t expect a guided tour, this is more for the experience of travelling in an exquisite carriage, glass of champagne in hand and absorbing the charm (for indeed it oozes charm) of the place.
St Mary’s Basilica Tower is open for visitors on selected days from May until August. Climb the 239 steps to 51 metres above Rynek Głowny and look down at the hustle and bustle below. If you time your visit to reach the top on the hour you will be able witness the Hejnał bugle call from up close.
Krakow managed to avoid destruction during World War Two and has invested much money in recent years so buildings are clean, well maintained and exude elegance from a by-gone era. It is a city that is ideal for photographers. My other half who is not into “postcard shots” normally complains that he cannot take decent photographs in cities due to crowded streets or cramped alleyways. That is simply not the case here. In fact, he took so many I am still filing them.
We loved the city for a variety of reasons – its charm, beauty, the friendly people, the food, eclectic shops and the fact that everywhere was very reasonably priced – a rarity in a city break.
My bargain-loving husband also loved it for its food. Krakow is a ciasto-miasto, a cake city. Cupcake Corner (Ulica Bracka) has daily variations of coffee and cupcakes, from carrot to liquorice. The Michalscy Cukiernia cake shops are probably best value and you can find them all over the city, serving up Polish delicacies of szarlotka apple cake and sernik cheesecake. Coffee houses – kawiarnia in Polish – are to the residents of Krakow what pubs are to Londoners. It suited us grumpies who are now unable to drink more than a glass of beer a day. Our cake and coffee came to approximately three UK pounds; several balls of ice cream in a glass, cheaper than a ninety-nine cone from an ice cream van back home. Look out for the Krakow pretzel (obwarzanek krakowski) sellers too—the pretzels are ridiculously cheap and very tasty.
Grumpy rating: 10/10
It is a rare trip where Mr Grumpy will smile and he smiled a lot on this trip.
Mister Grumpy says: “It is charming, it’s safe although you obviously should practise common sense precautions while travelling. It’s peaceful (apart from some of the main tourist attractions), you can hang out in the park on day three when you are hot and tired and your wife wants to visit the shoe shops, it has tasty food (especially the cake and ice cream), much to keep you entertained and very good beer.”
I say: Stunning city. I was beside myself with glee most of the time. Will keep any grumpy guts entertained.
Unusual things to do: Krakow Balloon, Most Gunwaldzki, A 10 minute flight in the tethered balloon to a height of 186m, rewards you with great panoramic views of Krakow and far beyond. 9am – 8pm. Cost 38 Zloty.
Best quote from the trip:
Me: “Oh look, there’s a fire-breathing dragon by the castle.”
Mr Grumpy: “Surely not. What’s your mother doing here?”
For further information ask your travel agent or visit Krakow in Your Pocket