Exploring Krakow – Our Top Recommendations

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I am so impressed with Krakow and its beauty. With a population of around 785,000 it is the cultural capital of Poland. Not destroyed like Warsaw in WWII, it is a great spot to visit and see its beautiful architecture dating back for centuries. From gorgeous old architecture, stunning churches, impressive squares, stylish cafes and restaurants, it is well-worth the visit. Many of the buildings are lit at night which makes it a beautiful city to explore, even after dark.

Spend time just walking around Old Town and the Market Square popping into churches or having a coffee in a wonderful cafe. Don’t miss the Florianska Gate at the end of Florianska Street, dating back to 1307.

You fill find coffee shops, candy and chocolate shops, bakeries with traditional specialties, and shops featuring Polish ceramics.

Make sure to visit the Wawel Royal Castle. Buy a ticket to see the beautiful Cathedral and then at the visitor’s center buy a ticket to visit the Castle. I suggest seeing the State Rooms on the second floor. The final rooms have the most gorgeous painted ceilings, paintings and amazing painted leather wall covering that is well-worth the visit alone. Check to see if there are any special exhibitions. I was able to see Leonardo da Vinci’s wonderful Lady with an Ermine, on loan from The Czartoryski Museum in Krakow which was under renovation.

St. Mary’s Basilica is an amazing church on Market Square. Don’t miss the incredible interior and painted ceilings and walls from 1355; the church has been expanded and added to over many centuries.

The Jewish Ghetto: The former Jewish Ghetto was established by the Nazis in March 1941, as a Jewish housing district. Approximately 3,000 local residents were moved out and 16,000 Jewish people were moved in in their place. Their property and possessions were confiscated and they could only bring in what they could carry. There was much overcrowding. Later 6,000 more were moved in. They remained until 1942 when the Final Solution sent most to their deaths in Auschwitz with many killed in the streets by the German troops. You can visit the following:

Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory, 4 Lipowa Street: This is an amazing museum, part of the Muzeum Historyczne Miasta Krakowa, about Krakow under Nazi Occupation from 1939 to 1945 and the history of how Schindler saved many Jewish lives made famous in the movie Schindler’s List.

There is an excellent permanent exhibition titled Krakow Under Nazi Occupation 1939 to 1945. Here through excellent displays, photographs, sound and more, you can learn about how the occupation began, the gradual elimination of Jewish residents from the life of the city, the establishment of the Krakow Ghetto and the extermination of 60,000 Krakow Jews.  As seen in the famous movie, you can also see Schindler’s office and learn how his factory saved many lives.

Nearby to the museum is the Pharmacy Under the Eagle/Apteka Pod Orken at Bohaterow Getta 18. In 1909 Jozef Panklewicz established this local pharmacy that became a center of the Jewish Ghetto in 1941. The owner was the only non-Jew in the ghetto and helped to save the lives of the residents. He was a contact point where food and medications were brought into the Ghetto. He allowed the residents to meet and exchange information, helped deliver money and illegal correspondence and helped store, for safekeeping, family mementos and valuable Torah scrolls. The museum is now a branch of the Historical Museum of the City of Krakow.

Across the river is Kazimierz, the former Jewish neighborhood, a good place to visit and see the markets, squares and old synagogues. There are many restaurants and cafes as well.

MOCAK/Museum of Contemporary Art: At 4 Lipowa St., this is a contemporary art museum not far from Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory.

Princes Czartoryski Museum: At Jana 19, this is one of the best museums in Krakow but is currently closed for renovation.

I really enjoyed spending time at the Museum of the Archdiocese of Krakow relating to Karola Wojtyly, the former Archbishop of Krakow, who became Pope John Paul II. I had seen him twice, once in Chicago and once in Rome, so it was so interesting to see photos, his robes and vestments, his apartments and even his skis and ski jackets. Kanonicza 19-21. Across from the Museum is the Shrine of Saint John Paul II at Kanonicza St. 18, that is worth a visit as well.

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