As the festive season approaches, each year more and more of us plan a Christmas or a New Year’s getaway to lift us through the post-Christmas blues. Malta is now incredibly connected to a vast array of destinations, and tickets in January are a steal. For the Maltese, the question is no longer how- but where? Krakow is one place that offers itself up as the perfect festive escape.
Situated in the south of Poland, and somewhat lesser-known and more affordable than the capital Warsaw, the seventh century UNESCO world heritage city of Krakow is steeped in castles and rich Renaissance history. If it is an ethereal winter snow globe scene you are after, be sure to put Krakow at the top of your bucket list.
For almost 500 years, Krakow served as the ‘’Crown of the Kingdom of Poland’’ and legend has it that the city was founded on the popular story of the defeat of a dragon. Today Krakow still holds a magical enchanting feel. The old town in the centre is home to one of Europe’s largest market squares, and nestled around the edges is a labyrinth of cobbled streets and locals selling handmade wares, quaint wine bars and coffee shops. The famous skyline features staggered church spires competing in beauty.
St Mary’s Basilica is unique in style due to its brick façade and towers of differing heights. The church is perched elegantly on the edge of the snow-framed market square. At the heart of the square lies the Cloth Hall (Sukiennice) that once saw the footsteps of beauty icon Helena Rubenstein and medieval mathematic genius Copernicus. What was once the focal point for international trade in the city, is now one of Krakow’s most iconic landmarks still filled with busy booths.
Closer to the river Wisla one can find Wawel Castle. The impressive fairytale castle has seen generations of royals rise through the ranks – today the castle is separated into five chambers displaying Krakow’s political and cultural past (and for those with a sweet tooth they even have their own master chocolatier hidden in the courtyard!). The former royal capital isn’t just for history buffs; the ambience of the Planty gardens and flickering of the night time glow offers a unique sense of calm, unlike many major European cities.
Across the city, the harrowing story of Krakow’s Jewish population is remembered at various locations, from renovated Oscar Schindler’s Factory which houses an interactive museum, to the Galicia Jewish Museum and the second Jewish Museum housed in the 15th century Old Synagogue. Other Krakow must-sees include evening recitals at the Chopin gallery or the fascinating Museum of Pharmacy, with its 22,000-piece collection of old laboratory equipment and pharmaceutical instruments. The two biggest excursions close to Krakow are the Wieliczka Salt Mine – famous for its cavernous pits and echoing chambers and the nearby infamous Auchwitz concentration camp.
WHERE TO SHOP
As with most top European cities, Krakow is home to all the top international brands, including many that are unavailable in Malta such as H&M and SEPHORA. The majority of these can be found in the mall Galleria Krakowska next to the central train station. For more bespoke pieces and original keepsakes, meander around the boutiques of the Old Town towards the river. It is in this vicinity you can find the charming Produkty Benedyktyńskie Sklep (Benedictine products). Showcasing a variety of natural wares from the Benedictine monks, including sumptuous jams, syrups, honey and teas.
WHAT TO EAT
For gastronomical lovers, Polish cuisine doesn’t disappoint. Polish dishes are hearty and real winter warmers. Littered around the city one can find many pierogi bars, which serve small dumplings stuffed with meat (akin to Maltese ravjul). This also makes for a very inexpensive dinner. Other menu highlights include Zurek, a delicious ham and egg soup served in a bread bowl. Cabbage, potatoes and pickles also play a big part in the polish menu. Don’t be surprised if at the end of the meal you are given a local vodka shot with your bill, which is customary in the city.
If you are looking to meet your daily calorie allowance in one go, be sure to book a table at Pod Wawelum, near the castle. The restaurant has staff in traditional dress, serving huge litre steins of foamy beer and enormous plates. Aside of the traditional plates and restaurants, there is a whole host of international foods mirroring the fast pace of change in the city.
Krakow certainly isn’t short of a bar or two (over 200 in total) and with a vibrant mix of students, locals and tourists there’s something for everyone. Besides of the historic old town, the up and coming neighbourhood of Kazimerz is rapidly ascertaining itself as the ‘’place to be’’. The Jewish quarter is drawing in the arty crowds away from the obvious tourist spots. If it is an abundance of bars and nightclubs you are after, some of the best destinations to spend your Zloty can be found around Plac Nowy.
There are currently two direct flights a week to Krakow, with Ryanair. From the airport one quick train journey takes you in to the heart of the city.
© 2017 – VIDA Magazine – Dayna Clarke