Kraków, Poland: Steeped in History and Oozing with Cultural Richness
Kraków, also spelled Cracow, is without a doubt one of the most picturesque cities in all of Europe. There’s something truly special about Kraków, Poland. It is the country’s second largest city and has laid witness to more of its history than any other.
Kraków: Poland’s Ancient and Cultural Capital
Kraków, Poland is the country’s main tourist destination and is known principally for its cultural richness and truly awe-inspiring historic architecture. Located in the southern Lesser Poland region and situated along both banks of the majestic Wisla (Vistula) River, the country’s longest and largest river, Kraków represents one of Poland’s oldest cities and dates all the way back to the 7th century.
The city was first incorporated into the Kingdom of Poland in 992. Later on, Kraków served as the capital city of the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland from 1038 to 1569 and for the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth from 1569 to 1795.
Kraków, Poland was used as the central headquarters of the National Socialist German Worker’s Party General Government throughout World War II. Dissimilar to the vast majority of other Polish cities, Kraków – somehow by the grace of God – arrived at the end World War II completely intact.
Traditionally regarded as the cultural capital of Poland, and with its seven universities and nearly 20 institutions of higher learning, Kraków represents the principal center of Polish academic, scientific, cultural and artistic life. It’s also one of Poland’s most noteworthy economic hubs.
Nowhere else in the country will you have the pleasure of experiencing such vast collections of art and an overabundance of historic monuments and architectural feats.
Kraków, Poland’s Historic City Center overflows with shops, cafes, and pubs. Its Main Market Square has been described as a “medieval feast for the senses.”
While visiting Kraków, Poland, it might behoove you to consider refraining from spending your hard earned cash at establishments around Main Market Square. Generally, the lot of them are overpriced tourist traps with unbecoming clubs guarded by skinhead bouncers who are eager to pick fights with drunken tourists.
Restaurants and Cafes
Malopolska Garden of Art and Pauza in Garden
As you make your way outside of the iconic Main Market Square, you should seriously consider stopping by the Małopolska Garden of Art. Despite only recently opening its doors for business, the establishment has already gained significant notoriety within Kraków, Poland’s burgeoning cultural scene.
Malopolska Garden of Art represents one of Kraków, Poland's newest architectural beauties and has a space that contains a library, art gallery and movie theater. Malopolska Garden of Art regularly collaborates with many of Kraków, Poland’s premier film festivals including the Kraków Film Festival. Their movie theater never fails to supply its attendees with an appealing repertoire of independent films.
Attached to and down the stairs from Malopolska Garden of Art is Pauza in Garden. It’s a solid choice for an extended coffee or tea break, and most days of the week, if you fancy, you should be able to sit in on a lecture or discussion where various topics ranging from politics, cultural and technology are mulled over.
Bunkier Sztuki Gallery of Modern Art
Kraków, Poland’s Bunkier Sztuki Gallery of Modern Art is truly in a class of its own. Its history dates all the way back to the 1950s. At any time day or night at Bunkier Sztuki Gallery of Modern Art, you can be sure to find Kraków, Poland’s numerous artists, intellectuals, and creative types conversing about the latest cultural and political happenings.
Bunkier Sztuki Gallery of Modern Art provides an eclectic mix of atmosphere, cuisine, drinks, locals, and travelers. Try anything from a delectable coffee, an unpasteurized draught beer, one of their many salads, burgers, artisan cakes – all at reasonable prices. If you really wish to take in Kraków, Poland’s culture, try one of their famous “Kraków Pretzels.”
An indoor/outdoor section of Bunkier Sztuki Gallery of Modern Art is enclosed with transparent plastic walls which can be lowered during the cold winter months and opened up during Kraków, Poland’s warmer summer months. It also boasts a garden in the middle, which is open all year round.
Bunkier Sztuki Gallery of Modern Art frequently hosts film screenings and other cultural events as well.
Anyone with half a brain is aware that few good things, if any, came of communism. However, milk bars are without a doubt an exception to the rule. Bar Mleczny literally translates to “milk bar” in English. Milk bars serve meals similarly to the way cafeterias work in the U.S. Meals at milk bars are subsidized by the Polish government and thus are cheap and easily available to lower-working class individuals and families.
The very first milk bar – Mleczarnia Nadświdrzańska – was established in Warsaw, Poland in 1896. Milk bars typically have dairy-based menus, although some serve diverse, non-dairy, traditional Polish dishes as well. After Poland regained its independence following the end of World War I, milk bars popped up across the country. They offered Polish people cheap but nourishing food. As a result, they gained even greater prominence during the 1930s Great Depression.
Bars and Nightclubs
Alchemia is one of Kraków, Poland’s most legendary establishments. You wouldn’t be wrong to think time has stopped when setting foot in this neat bar. Shabby-chic furniture, nostalgia-filled ornaments, wax stained wooden tables, and bizarre cryptic photographs give this bar a one of a kind, esoterically mystical ethos.
Head here if you’re looking for imaginative alcoholic chemistry. Alchemia’s staff is both friendly and skillful – and is known for their creativity in mixing up riskily alluring cocktails.
Prozak 2.0 should be characterized as a modern reincarnation of one of the oldest underground establishments in Kraków, Poland. Prozak 2.0 has occupied one of the top spots in Kraków, Poland’s clubbing scene for more than a decade now.
If for you clubbing is “about the music,” head over to Prozak 2.0 as soon as possible for a sensory experience of a lifetime. If you’re into thumping bass music, you will feel right at home here. Prozak 2.0 is more than 600 square meters, with three dance floors inside of a medieval basement, all playing the very best electronic music from a top-tier Funktion-One sound system.
Prozak 2.0 is something of a continuous maze of underground rooms on two separate levels with a total of four bars. The venue brings crowds that are fun, hip, and good looking 20-somethings who are friendly to foreigners. Moreover, Prozak 2.0 regularly hosts Europe’s top producers and DJs who often end up playing sets that last until sunrise.
One of the most prolific music venues in Kraków, Poland is Szpitalna 1. If you want to hear some progressive house or drum ‘n’ bass music, head here. Szpitalna 1 is only a hop, skip and a jump away from Kraków, Poland’s Main Market Square.
Szpitalna 1 is well known for playing host to famous producers and DJs from Poland and throughout Europe, who will guarantee sets with top-notch music. Inside of the venue, there’s ample space to dance as well as a relatively large area for sitting. Its bar serves a typical assortment of Polish vodka, beer, and cocktails.
If you want to experience a proper dose of Polish culture, visiting Klub Spolem should be at the top of your list. There is no shortage of excellent underground party establishments in Kraków, Poland. That said, Klub Spolem will more than likely provide you with the most fun.
Located in Old Town Kraków, only a few minutes’ walk from Main Market Square, the communist-inspired cellar pub Klub Spolem has both an eclectic mix of well-priced drinks as well as a neat and lively atmosphere. The establishment is covered with fixtures influenced by Poland’s historic links to communism.
Like many of the underground pubs in Kraków, Poland, Klub Spolem is a multi-roomed space with a dance floor and unconventional seating arrangements for resting your tired legs. Inside the venue, there’s actually a van from the communist era which acts as a DJ booth where popular Polish, American and European rock hits from the 60s through the 80s are played.
Klub Spolem is reflective of the way in which the Polish people prefer to relax and enjoy themselves – with lots of smiles, dancing, and drinking.
Culture and Architecture
Wawel Royal Castle
Many consider Wawel Royal Castle to be the spiritual heart of the Polish nation. During the 16th century, Wawel Castle served as the cultural and political nucleus of Poland. Wawel Royal Castle and Wawel Hill represent the most historically and culturally significant sites in all of Poland. In fact, in 1978, they were both declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites as part of the Historic Center of Kraków.
Wawel Royal Castle remains a potent symbol of Polish national identity. The opulent Gothic castle that you see today has an architectural style from the medieval, renaissance and baroque periods. For hundreds of years, Wawel Royal Castle has served as the place residence for the various kings of Poland.
Today, Wawel Royal Castle is one of the country’s premier art museums. It is comprised of five curatorial sections: Lost Wawel, State Rooms, Royal Private Apartments, Crown Treasury and Armoury, and the Exhibition of Oriental Art, which include collections of Italian Renaissance paintings, sculptures, prints, textiles and other pieces
St. Mary’s Basilica
St. Mary’s Basilica, also known as Church of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven, is an imposing brick Gothic church alongside Kraków, Poland’s Main Market Square. St. Mary’s Basilica was constructed in the 14th century and can easily be spotted by its two towers that overlook the square.
Each hour of every day, a trumpet signal – called “Hejnal Mariacki” – is played from the very top of the taller of the two towers. The song abruptly breaks off midway through to celebrate the renowned 13th-century trumpeter who was shot and killed while sounding the alarm just prior to a Mongol attack on the city.
The interior of the St. Mary’s Basilica is absolutely stunning. The church is illuminated by brilliantly elegant stained-glass windows that date back to the late 14th century.
Contained within St. Mary’s Basilica is Poland’s largest and most prized piece of medieval art – the pentaptych, an altarpiece crafted by Veit Stoss. The piece reportedly took a decade for Veit Stoss to complete. Standing at 42 feet tall and 36 meters wide, it’s the largest Gothic altarpiece in the entire world.