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Welcome to Krakow

Krakow

City Breaks to Krakow

This beautiful little city, ancient capital of Poland, is one of Europe’s newly popular city break destinations. Its atmospheric cobbled streets and old town market square teem with impeccably preserved medieval buildings. Visit during December to soak up the ambiance of the Christmas market. 

 


Information & Facts

Activities
Things to do
 
Cheap weekend breaks to Krakow from Ireland are ideal for wandering around Wawel Hill, and the 14th century Gothic castle - the former residence of Polish kings. Cloth Hall in the Market Square has been a centre of trading since the Middle Ages. Today it contains stalls selling crafts made from wood and amber, as well as other souvenirs. Well known as a centre of culture, city breaks to Krakow from Dublin offer a chance to enjoy the wealth of musical events including open-air classical performances in summer. At night the entertainment continues, with concerts, operas, cellar bars and jazz clubs. Outside Krakow, and easily reached by public transport, lie the 700 year old salt mines, with underground galleries, lakes and salt statues. If you have time visit the Tatra national park, a mountainous area of great beauty, a couple of hour’s journey from Krakow. Last minute city breaks & short breaks deals to Krakow are available from Abbey Travel. 
 
 
 
Climate

Krakow has a temperate climate, influenced by the weather systems that build over the Atlantic. The weather in Krakow in summer is comfortably warm with occasional heat waves when dry continental air comes in from the east. An old Polish poem says that in Krakow 'days are longest in June, hottest in July and most beautiful in August'. Autumn in Krakow brings dry, warm days starting with morning mist, and rich golden colouration of the foliage. Winter is fairly severe when the city is blanketed in snow and temperatures at or below freezing. Spring is the best season in Krakow, when bright, mild days are accompanied by the fragrance of flower blossoms.

Language

The national language is Polish. English is widely understood in tourist areas.

Money

The official currency is Zloty (PLN), divided into 100 groszy. Poland is essentially a 'cash country', and it is difficult to negotiate credit cards and travellers cheques in the cities, and well nigh impossible in rural areas. American Express, Diners Club, Visa and MasterCard are, however, accepted in places frequented by tourists. ATMs are also beginning to proliferate in Polish cities, where the sign 'Bankomat' indicates them. Money (preferably US$ or Euros) can be exchanged in the cities and larger towns at banks, hotels or bureaux called 'kantors', which offer the best rates. Banks are open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm and some are open on Saturday till 1pm.

The Auschwitz concentration camp is actually made up of three camps - Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II-Birkenau and Auschwitz III. Together the complex forms the largest cemetery in the world, preserved as a sombre memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, and commemorating the hundreds of thousands of people exterminated there by the Nazis during the Second World War. The Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum was established in 1947 and visitors have access to both camps and can wander freely around the structures, ruins and gas chambers, and visit the exhibits displayed in the surviving prison blocks at Auschwitz I. The hushed atmosphere is one of shock and revulsion from the moment visitors enter the barbed-wire compound through the iron gate, ironically inscribed with the words 'Arbeit Macht Frei' (Work Makes Free). The buildings contain displays of photographs and horrific piles of personal articles of the victims, including battered suitcases, and thousands of spectacles, hair and shoes collected from the bodies. The experience is vivid and disturbing, though also deeply humanising. There are general exhibitions dedicated to the Jews and their history, as well as an interesting documentary film screened in the museum's cinema. Birkenau sees far fewer tourists as it has less visitor facilities and much of the camp was destroyed by the retreating Nazis, but it is here that the sheer scale of the tragedy can be experienced, with a viewing platform to give some perspective over the vast fenced-in area stretching as far as the eye can see. Birkenau was the principal camp where the extermination of millions took place, a chillingly efficient set-up with rows of barracks and four colossal gas chambers and ovens. Purpose-built railway tracks lead through the huge gateway, terminating in the camp, by means of which victims were transported from the ghettos to the camp in crowded box-like carts, often being led straight into the gas chambers upon arrival. A trip to the Auschwitz Memorial Museum is a must for any visitor to Poland who wishes to experience some kind of sobering communion with one of the greatest atrocities in the history of the world.

While most tourists to Poland stick to the cities, and content themselves on the wonderful cultural sights that can be experienced in the Old Town areas of Warsaw and Krakow, a trip into the Polish countryside - and particularly, the southern Bieszczady Mountains - is a very worthwhile exercise. A land of snow-capped peaks, tall pine trees, vast green meadows and a rich array of native flora and fauna, the Bieszczady area is not only gorgeous, but offers plenty of well-maintained hiking trails, many of them wending their way through the UNESCO East Carpathian Biosphere Reserve. Yet, despite this natural bounty, the real reason to head to the Polish countryside is the humanity you will encounter there: the internet is awash with tourist tales of being invited to share trout barbecues with friendly local families, of stumbling across eccentric villages and towns, and of snapping photograph after photograph of rural houses that look lifted straight out of Grimm's Fairy Tales.

Situated in the heart of Kazimierz, the Jewish Quarter of Krakow, the Galicia Jewish Museum houses a permanent photographic exhibition, "Traces of Memory". The exhibition documents the history of the Jewish people in the villages and towns of Poland. This poignant museum also hosts a range of special events, lectures and Jewish music concerts and has a well-stocked bookshop. The Galicia Jewish Museum is often overlooked as a tourist attraction in Krakow, but is a worthwhile sight for people from all walks of life. Budget at least three hours to fully absorb the experience.

Once a separate town and now an inner suburb of Krakow, the Kazimierz quarter was the centre of Jewish religion, culture and learning, and the home of the city's large Jewish population before the war. Badly damaged during the Nazi occupation, with most of the residents either killed or deported to the nearby Holocaust death camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau, today it has been rebuilt so visitors can admire the restored historical architecture and experience daily Jewish life. Its renewed interest was brought about by Spielberg's film Schindler's Listthat was set in Kazimierz, and the Jewish culture of the area is being livened up by art galleries, kosher restaurants and specific cultural events. The Old Synagogue is part of the Historical Museum of the City of Krakow, and houses a permanent exhibition, 'Tradition and Culture of Polish Jews', where the collection of physical memories from the Kazimierz Jewish community is kept.

Dating from 1257, the Central Market Square was one of the largest squares in Medieval Europe, and remains the social heart of Krakow today. Surrounded by historic buildings, museums and magnificent churches, the impressive expanse of flagstones is a hub of commercial and social activity. Flower sellers, ice-cream vendors, musicians, pigeons, students and groups of tourists fill the square. Occupying the centre of the square is the splendid medieval Cloth Hall, a covered arcade with a soaring vaulted interior where merchants once sold their wares; today, it is filled with lively market stalls. The upstairs art gallery houses a collection of 19th Century Polish paintings and sculptures. Along the outside walls of the building are elegant terrace cafes. Most famous of these is Noworolski, which was the centre of Krakow social life before the war, with Lenin a notorious regular. The cafe has now regained its reputation as the prime cake and coffee venue in the city. The most striking church on the square is St Mary's, an impressive twin-spire Gothic structure. Every hour a mournful bugle sounds from the tallest church spire in memory of the lone watchman whose trumpeted warning of an invasion was cut off mid-note by a Turkish arrow in the throat. Within is the famous carved wooden altar, a majestic piece of Gothic art.

A visit to the Piwnica pod Baranami ('Cellar Under the Rams') - a Parisian-style cabaret house located in Krakow's Old Town district - is the shortest route tourists can take to experiencing the culture of the city, and to gaining an appreciation of its most strongly-held values and ideals. The Piwnica pod Baranami was created by Piotr Skrzynecki in 1956, in a suitably bohemian underground cellar, and soon became a haven for local artists and intellectuals; a place for them to meet, exchange ideas, and indulge in one of Poland's favourite cultural pastimes, the political cabaret. The cabaret's reputation grew throughout the latter half of the 20th Century, and soon became a symbol for the eccentricity (and indeed, the stifled talent) of the local artists of the area. The Piwnica pod Baranami still functions as a cabaret house to this day: performances are on Saturdays at 9pm and remain extremely popular, so book your ticket early. This is a highly recommended tourist activity in Poland, and a great place to begin an unforgettable Saturday night out on the town in Krakow.

Overlooking the city is Wawel, a hill topped with the fascinating architectural complex that includes Wawel Castle and beside it, the gothic Wawel Cathedral. It was here that the Polish kings of the 14th to the 17th Centuries were crowned and buried, and it lies at the heart of Polish history. The Renaissance-style Royal Castle is now a museum, and the historic interior houses an astonishing collection of treasures from the Polish monarchy, including tapestries, period furniture and paintings. Visitors can see the Royal Private Apartments, Crown Treasury, Armoury, and the State Rooms. The Royal Cathedral was the coronation and burial site of all of Poland's monarchs, many of whom are interred in the Royal Tombs. Of the many royal chapels, the golden-domed Renaissance Chapel of King Sigismund is the finest. The bell tower can be climbed for views over the city and to see the enormous 11-tonne bell housed within.

The Salt Mine at Wieliczka is a unique underground complex that has been in continuous use since its construction in the Middle Ages, and is now a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Monument. The series of labyrinthine tunnels, chambers, galleries and underground lakes are spread over nine levels and reach a depth of more than 1,000ft (304m), but visitors are restricted to a tour of three levels. Following winding passageways, hand-hewn between the 17th and 19th centuries, visitors are guided to magnificently carved chapels, past salt sculptures created by previous mine workers and through huge crystalline caverns. Among the chambers is the oldest creation in the mine, the 17th-century solid salt Chapel of St Anthony. The highlight of the tour is the Blessed Kinga Chapel, dedicated to the patron saint of Polish mine workers. Everything in this huge ornate chapel is carved from salt, including the altar and chandeliers, and the walls are covered in beautiful sculptured pictures. A dark, clanking lift whisks visitors back to the surface at the end of the guided tour. The world's first subterranean therapeutic sanatorium is situated 656ft (200m) below the surface, and makes use of the saline air for the treatment of asthma. There is also a Salt-Works Museum that documents the history of the mine and the local geological formation, with primitive mining tools and machines on display.

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