It’s definitely no small feat to out-Disney Walt but Krakow does… it’s Disney – but not fake – so more wondrous – and cheaper – than the real thing 😉
There is no Cinderella though. She would not really look out of place, but if you want a princess lunch, you need the real Disney. You will be more wowed by the sites in Krakow though…
Like Rome and Paris, you can just wander and see spectacular architecture on an ordinary street. Certain sites though are required stops. You can do them in any order but they are all worth your time.
The largest is the Cloth Hall. It is located on the Old Town Square and was one of the first shopping
malls. Apparently they got their start in the Renaissance 😉 In those days it was stone instead of glass and narrow staircases instead of escalators but the general concept hasn’t changed. These days it’s full of tourist souvenirs. Dragons are very big in eastern Europe and Krakow has one, which you can take home in a variety of fabrics and sizes. One of the most colourful creations is the szopka – a Krakow version of the nativity scene that features colourful representations of actual Krakow buildings in addition to the manger. The most classy, discrete souvenir is amber. The Cloth Hall is a great location to check out different designs at competitive prices. I ended up with earrings in three different shades.
It’s not clear the true impact of religion on global progress (or decline) but there is no question it has resulted in a lot of spectacular architecture. The Catholic Church would be totally at home running a Super PAC but at least it funneled most of the funds into an ostentatious display of wealth that could be enjoyed by the masses instead of cringe-worthy campaign ads.
You can visit any of the churches no matter how you feel about the Pope. You may just need to pay a few zloty. The most magnificent is St Mary’s Basilica. It is just off the square near the Cloth Hall. It just looks like a church from the outside. Not unimpressive but it is not until you get inside that you appreciate it is not just any church. You have to pay an extra five zloty to take photos but it’s totally worth it – except, of course, that it is full of ornate stained glass, over-the-top ornamentation, intricate wood carvings… it is impossible to do it justice in a cheezy tourist photo. It is better to put your camera away for a few minutes and just take in the workmanship and the grandeur. The altar is one of the grandest I have seen – and I have seen a lot of churches 🙂
Krakow is full of churches and you should seek out some of the less famous ones. One of the most
impressive is St Francis’ Basilica. It is off the tourist path so you can enjoy it without crowds. What is impressive are the spectacular art deco stained glass windows.
Krakow is full of delights like that. You can score a pair of shoes that will make your friends envious. There is an opera house modelled on Paris. There are horse-drawn carriages where the horses are perhaps better attired than the patrons. You might encounter a spontaneous polka being played. There are various venues where you can enjoy classical music in a historic setting. Cinderella would feel right at home 🙂
I never even managed to get through all the experiences I was hoping for. Kazimierz was the Jewish quarter until World War II and houses Shindler’s famous factory. Apparently it has re-emerged as a cool, bohemian quarter, the kind of neighborhood I gravitate to in cities. I also wanted to check out Nowa Huta, a model Soviet city from the Cold War era. Of course, the other thing to do in Poland is try vodka. I’m not really a fan but it’s always fun to try and experience the local culture. I did do some vodka tasting on Florianska Street but it was a tourist scam. Find a bar – or if you have a long layover in Warsaw airport like I did – try some high end vodka there.
I was driven back to the airport by the same driver who brought me to the hotel. He had also given me recommendations. I confessed that I had not realized how much there was to do in Krakow and my visit had been far too short – but that did provide the perfect excuse for a second trip. Perhaps this time I could even leave the airport in Warsaw. I hear good things 😉