Krakow is Poland’s second largest city, and home to the first “Historic Old Town” to ever be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Packed with beautiful streets and buildings dating back to medieval times (most of which avoided any major damage in WWII), it has long been the country’s top tourist draw card. Needless to say, I was thrilled to stop in for a visit.
But as it turned out, Peder had already spent more than a week there on a trip several years prior. So to give us both a fair chance to maximize our time experiencing someplace new, we agreed to allocate no more than a half-day in the city; just enough for a quick run-through before catching our 1:20pm flight to Oslo.
“Besides,” he assured me, “Krakow’s historic center is actually quite small. A half day should be more than enough to get a sense of what it’s got to offer, at least from a touristic standpoint.”
He was absolutely right.
Our train from Lviv arrived at 5:15am. Because I barely managed 2 hours of sleep, I was in a total daze; it was probably the most tired I’d felt this entire trip. But with just a few hours until we’d have to check in at the airport, there was no time for a nap – we crammed our bags in a coin locker, grabbed a quick breakfast at a 24-hour supermarket, and made our way into the city.
Upon reaching Market Square, the focal point of Old Town Krakow, my first impression was that it felt remarkably similar to Braşov and Sibiu, two medieval Romanian towns we’d visited just a month or so earlier. The most noticeable differences were that Krakow is far more touristy, and it’s absolutely flawlessly maintained. The ornate facades, cobbled roads, tiled roofs, looming cathedrals, and bronze statues all look as perfect as if they’d been built only yesterday.
It’s not at all difficult to see why this place would’ve been first to make it on the UNESCO World Heritage list. It really is beautiful.
We started our brief tour by blowing straight through Old Town and heading for Wawel Hill, site of Wawel Castle and Wawel Cathedral, both of which are enduring symbols of Poland. Despite the years that had passed since Peder’s last visit to Krakow his memory of the city and fantastic sense of direction were still spot-on, so even without the Lonely Planet he managed to direct us right where we needed to go.
And because it wasn’t even 7am, it felt like we had the city all to ourselves. Except for the occasional jogger or drunkard 😆
Unfortunately this also meant that it was too early to go inside the castle or any museums…but I figured that having the whole grounds to ourselves (which Peder said are usually overrun with tourists) more than made up for it. And when the gates to the inner courtyard did open, we were the very first people through. We even caught a morning service in the cathedral, an unexpected little bonus to kick off our day.
We then worked our way casually back through Old Town, making sure to pass as many of the must-see churches and cathedrals as we could handle.
…Until I finally succumbed to my exhaustion.
When Peder suggested we pop into a small local bakery, I took a seat and was asleep before he finished his first cookie. Suddenly I felt too tired even to walk. It was sheer exhaustion. So after one quick stop in a shopping mall (for some last-minute low-tax purchases before heading home to Norway), we agreed that we’d probably be best served by getting to the airport early and catching an hour or so of shuteye. After all, we had a very big week ahead of us.
It certainly wasn’t my usual thorough walking tour, but at least I had the chance for a quick taste of what Krakow is all about. Next time I think I’d schedule about 3 days in the city: one to explore every nook and cranny of Old Town & Wawel Hill, one to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau, and one to trek through the Wieliczka Salt Mine 15km out of town.
Maybe next summer 🙂