Alternative Guide to Krakow
When traveling in Eastern Europe, Poland is almost certainly going to be on your checklist of countries to visit. But when looking at where to go I recommend looking past simply visiting the Polish capital of Warsaw and instead or as well visit a city of rich historical and cultural importance, Krakow.
Now, it is fairly likely that you have heard of Krakow for it’s typical tourist attractions such as the Old Market area and Wawel castle, but scratch the surface and there is more to the city than just the tourist areas. This guide takes a look at these areas and getting the most out of them.
Built post WWII and funded by soviet union as an alternative to the more ‘cultural’ personality, Nowa Huta is one of only two entirely pre planned socialist realist cities ever built. That said, in modern times Nowa Huta is now certainly more cultured and ready to impress anyone who visits.
With everything based closed to the central square, one of the top venues and fitting attractions for the area that I visited when exploring was the Museum of Poland under the Communist Regime that gives a fascinating glimpse into life during the communist regime. I would also highly recommend visiting the Nowa Huta Cultural Centre that is full of interesting and edgy exhibitions.
Combining culture with architecture
Another hidden gem of Krakow city is the Centre for Documentation of the Art of Tadeusz Kantor CRICOTEKA, this fascinating building has just a small admission fee and shows off some of the best modern architecture to be had in Krakow. The building was created as a result of a competition ran in 2009 and doubles as a museum as well as an outdoor meeting place and theatre.
Another top attraction that is lesser known in Krakow is the Manggha Museum of Japanese Art and Technology, not only does this museum give a fascinating look into Japanese culture but it also highlights the cultural relations between Poland and Japan.
Once again we see another stunning architectural building here, meaning you can kill two birds with one stone when it giving both cultural and architectural points of interest. With multiple exhibitions at any one time this great for all ages, but I have to admit I am guilty of enjoying the kids exhibitions more than those for grown ups.
Get your timing right for festival fun
Getting over to Krakow at the right time can really make a difference to what you get to see and do in the city. There is a great range of festivals happening throughout the year and some of these really are worth a visit.
The first and probably most awesome festival I got to visit when in Krakow was the Life Festival. This festival provides a great time and with top headliners from recognisable acts as well being a great platform to explore and discover new talent.
Another top festival that is worth getting involved is the Jewish Cultural Festival that gives a fascinating insight and celebration of Jewish culture and history. This festival lets you delve into a culture that you may not necessarily get to experience otherwise and learn about the Jewish way of life including a deep look at their popular food and music.
Jewish history, the good and the bad
Probably the most famous, fascinating and emotionally complex set of events to be noted from World War II is the story of businessman Oskar Schindler and how he helped save Jewish lives from extermination by having them work in his factory. One of the top but lesser known attractions at Krakow is the Krakow under Nazi Occupation exhibition at Schindler’s Factory. This exhibition shows first hand the horror and practicalities faced in the area in the Second World War and must not be missed.
And once you have learnt about the most famous event in recent Jewish history you can go ahead and take in the sites and experience the culture of the Jewish population by visiting Kazimierz, a district south of old town that had been the centre of Jewish life in Krakow for over 500 years. Take a stroll around and you will be able to take in and understand the Jewish way of living pre-war, with many of the old synagogues and Jewish cemeteries still being there today.
Some sites of Jewish history are less well trodden and serve as a haunting reminder of Nazi rule. The first and probably most creepy site to visit is that of the Liban Quarry. This site was both used as for concentration camp scenes in the Schindler’s List movie as well as being an actual Jewish labour site during the war. In stark contrast this quarry is now overgrown and has become the home of a beautiful natural habitat. Another key piece of Jewish history which is a must visit when in Krakow is to the Ghetto Wall Fragment, a solid reminder of the Nazi regime over the Jewish community.
No muckin’, food truckin’
One of the biggest trends in street food across Europe today is the food truck culture. Meals on wheels now means top quality grub at an affordable price, and in Krakow it doesn’t get much better than the Judah Square Food Truck Park. With everything to choose from burgers to sushi you are spoilt for choice and won’t have to spend too much of your cash to enjoy it.
Some other fantastic and great value for money places off the beaten track that are well worth a visit includes Glonojad vegetarian restaurant, Bar Targowy for cheap eats and of course a Milk Bar for traditional Polish food at affordable prices such as Milkbar Tomasza.
As we can see there is more to Krakow that meets the eye, rich in culture as well as brilliant choices for food. It is probably one of the best areas in the world to understand Jewish culture and how it has integrated into other societies. All in all, Krakow is well worth a visit.
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