Krakow: Castles, Culture & Kluski Slaskie
This was my second visit to Krakow, Poland, my first being in March 2008 when the harsh Polish winter was slowly melting into a brighter, crisp spring, my most recent visit being December which was even more enchanting than my first visit. Krakow certainly lived up to all my expectations from the moment my plane flew into Krakow Airport soaring over the solemn, silent landscape. Vast, frosted forests lay below our plane, while a rosy glow, gradually deepened and suffused the white hill tops, flushing the tips and with an alpenglow. It felt like I was flying into a bewitched Narnia.
If you’re a Culture Vulture, don’t miss…
The Jewish Quarter (Kazimierz)
This is the real heart of the town and I steeped in culture and enriched with a unique, quirky atmosphere. I would highly recommend going on one of the Walking Tours around the Jewish Quarter, or if you’re on a tight schedule, grab a glass of hot mulled wine from one of the many vendors and talk a stroll around the quaint and bohemian Jewish Quarter.
Wawel Castle & Wawel Cathedral
If you’re into your Gothic Castles and European architecture you will have a field day at Wawel Castle. Most places in Krakow are relatively cheap, so a guided tour of different exhibitions was reasonably priced but I would also check online as they often have free admission at certain times of the year during the quieter months, so it’s well worth checking! Once more, if you are pushed for time or on a budget, walking around the grounds of the Castle along the river front is worth it. I’d especially recommend that if you’ve had an evening on the local vodka, a walk along the river or through the courtyards of Wawel Castle to take in the views of the beautiful Castle and Cathedral is just the ticket to blow the cobwebs away.
Castle and Cathedral grounds
Castle and Cathedral grounds
Planty Park is gorgeously quaint green belt, perfect for a cycle or a walk. If you’re a bit of a romantic like me, this is an idyllic walk. The park is perfectly situated as it runs around the Old Town and includes remnants of the city’s medieval walls which add so much charm. Although I only saw the park in the bareness of winter, it was still a beautiful walk with benches to perch on and watch the world go by and monuments baring the pride of the city’s rich and intriguing heritage.
If (like me) shopping and a strong caffeine kick is your bag, you need to go to…
I love the Old Town. A few of my friends who have also visited Krakow have opted for the underdog the Jewish Quarter as their favourite part of the city, but for me I just feel head over heels with the Old Town with its eclectic mix of old and new. They have a Zara Flagship store in the centre, so naturally I was like a moth to the flame and enjoyed some retail therapy in beautifully unfamiliar surroundings. The Old Town is front and centre on the expansive Market Square known as the Rynek Glówny (don’t ask me to pronounce that!) and is also the site of Cloth Hall, a Renaissance-era trading outlet, and St. Mary’s Basilica, a very impressive 14th-century Gothic church. Visiting the Old Town over the festive period made both St. Mary’s Basilica and the Market Square even more charismatic as the Market Square was filled corner to corner with an array of soulful Christmas Market stalls selling every trinket and treasure imaginable from glittering Christmas baubles, toys and sweets to locally crafted metal work by craftsmen, artisan and blacksmiths. I absolutely love traditional Christmases and as you will probably learn if you do decide to go on one of the city’s walking tours the Christmas Market in the Market Square has been a local and much adored tradition since the 18th Century.
Christmas Market Highlights
I’ve got the biggest sweet tooth, so I really can’t recommend this more. Nothing says Christmas like homemade traditional gingerbread with pretty coloured frosting, especially whilst walking around a Christmas Market with the stunning backdrop of the St. Mary’s Basilica.
The Mulled Wine
I must have drunk a gallon of the stuff over the course of our 3 night stay and it was delicious, although, err of the side of caution, it was a lot more alcoholic than I first anticipated! That, coupled with the fact that I am unfortunately quite clumsy meant that wearing white jeans resulted in becoming drenching in mulled wine! So, my tip for you is to avoid white jeans while getting merry on the mulled wine.
Mary’s Basilica Trumpet Call
Whilst we were sauntering through the Market stalls, up to our eyeballs in Crepes oozing with Nutella (also an absolute must try) we hear the enchanting Trumpet call, which is one of Krakow’s most beloved traditions. It is played every hour on the hour and the lovely melody played to be heard by shoppers and market goers throughout the historical district. For me, this added so much to the already bustling and merry atmosphere and it made the experience all the more memorable.
If you fancy yourself a foodie, you’re in for a real treat….
Krakow is teeming with restaurants with mouth-watering menus and vendors. Unfortunately I was only in Krakow for a short four days so I didn’t get to try every dish I might have wanted to (although I gave it a good go!) but I would definitely recommend trying some local cuisine as it is so unique and truly delectable.
Placki Ziemniaczane – Potato Pancakes with slow cooked veal
I found it interesting trying to pronounce this! Essentially, they are Potato pancakes and for any fellow carb lovers out there, you won’t be disappointed. The good thing about these pancakes is like a traditional pancake they can be eaten sweet or savoury, I’ve heard they are delicious tropped sour cream, sugar, and lemon. However, I tried them topped with slow cooked veal in a red wine and rosemary sauce and I couldn’t have asked for anything better on a chilly winters evening. There was live traditional music in the restaurant and the food was cooked in a large open clay oven which really made the rustic, traditional ambiance come alive.
Kluski Slaskie – Potato Dumplings with slow cooked beef in red wine
These are my all-time favourite thing. Another carb lover’s dream, they are Silesian potato dumplings that are similar to Italian Gnocchi. I made mine with slow cooked beef in red wine sauce – with a side of pickled gherkin (surprisingly complimented the meal!) You can probably see a pattern emerging here, so yes, the Polish red wine certainly had me at cześć; especially as it was very reasonably priced for such great quality.
If you’re an old fashioned romantic…
I can guarantee you will be swept away by Krakow’s charm. One last detail that was the icing on the fairy tale cake was the white horse drawn carriages that circle the illuminated Market Square. The pearly white carriages pull up in front of the St. Mary’s Basilica and you could take a ride around the square which although very novel, as a Disney princess at heart, made an idyllic setting for a romantic break.