The Royal Capital City of Krakow
The ancient capital of Poland from 1038 to 1596, Krakow, was our second stop in the country. The settlement of Krakow started in the stone ages and over the centuries Cracovians have created a city rich with culture and history.
Krakow Old Town
Krakow’s Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is surrounded by a medieval wall complete with ornate defensive towers. The Old Town is a great place to walk around, shop for souvenirs, and grab a meal or a cup of coffee. Unlike Warsaw, the city was not heavily damaged during WWII and most of the structures survived the war.
Saint Florian’s gate.
In the center of Old Town there is a large market with vendors selling amber and other souvenirs. Just outside is this large sculpture by a Polish artist called “Eros Bendato,” but colloquially known as “The Head.”
One of many beautiful churches in the city, the Church of Saint Andrew was built in the 11th century and has served both as a place of worship and a defensive refuge from raiding Mongols.
Rynek Underground Museum
Underneath the main square, the Rynek Underground Museum offers a fascinating look at medieval Krakow. Here we saw some of the ancient cobbled streets and learned about what life was like for the early residents.
The museum does a good job at integrating the ancient remains with modern technology including touch screens that provide explanations of the artifacts.
The kids tried their hand at being blacksmiths.
The kids really enjoyed this museum and we highly recommend it. The museum is capacity controlled and tickets need to be purchased in advance at the Cloth Hall.
Though it is adjacent to the Krakow Old Town, Kazimerz is an independent city. Kazimerz was historically a center of Jewish culture and there are many synagogues and Jewish shops and restaurants. Today the neighborhood is quite trendy and there are many great cafes to choose from.
Some of the Jewish restaurants in Kazimerz.
The pedestrian bridge across the Vistula river is adorned with sculptures of acrobats balancing on high wires.
Wawel Castle is the historic home of Poland’s kings. Today the castle is home to several exhibitions that are ticketed separately. We bought tickets to see the state rooms where we saw tapestries, paintings and furniture.
Before venturing inside we enjoyed obwarzanki, a traditional Polish bread similar to a bagel. Obwarzanki vendors can be found all over town although the prices get higher the closer one gets to the center of the city.
Photos weren’t allowed inside the castle so the kids posed in the castle garden instead. 🙂
The kids were understandably not too excited by the artwork inside the castle so we decided to do something a bit more exciting and went looking for a dragon in the “Dragon’s Den,” a cave underneath the castle hill.
After a short walk through the cave we emerged near the Vistula river and found the Wawel Dragon. Every few minutes the dragon “breathes” real fire.
Wieliczka Salt Mine
Just a few kilometers from Krakow, the Wieliczka Salt Mine is one of the oldest salt mines in the world and is a must visit when in the city. Mining here started in the 1200s and at one point the mine constituted about a third of the economy of the kingdom.
Our tour guide invited us to lick the walls of the mine, which the kids were excited to do.
The miners created a whole city underground, including several cathedrals complete with salt crystal chandeliers.
We had a great time exploring Krakow and found it to be a great family destination. After visiting the modern capital of Warsaw it was interesting to see the contrasts in the ancient capital of Krakow.
In our next update we continue on our European road trip into Hungary!