Kraków is a relatively small city and therefore easily discovered, allowing minimal use of maps and public transit. There are four main areas of interest to the first-time visitor.
The Old Town
The Old Town is one of the largest (and most concentrated) collections of historical buildings anywhere in the world. Occupying the very center of the city, this district is separated from the rest of the city by a belt of parkland. This green area (now popular with cyclists and walkers) was once where the defensive walls and a moat were located.
Traditionally this was where the best and most fancy shops were located, where the finest restaurants could be found and where the most desirable hotels were situated. These days, with the advent of shopping malls and entertainment centers well outside the center and with modern, well-equipped hotels also some distance away, this traditional dominance is being somewhat challenged.
However, the ever-increasing number of tourists means that the restaurants are flourishing, the hotels are full and the shops very much cater to tourists. The locals too love nothing more than a pleasant Saturday stroll through the Old Town.
The Kazimierz District
Brought to the world's attention by the movie "Schindler's List," the traditional Jewish area is coming back to life after years of neglect.
Kazimierz was named after Casimir the Great who gave the town its charter in 1335. In that era and for centuries afterwards— it functioned as a separate town. It had a separate administration and was also physically separated from Kraków by an arm of the Wisla river. A bridge was built in 1802 and finally the section of the river was completely filled in, forming what is now Ulica Dietla.
Within the boundaries of Kazimierz is an area called Stradom. This was also originally independent but was incorporated into Kazimierz way back in 1415. There are many fine churches and historical buildings here.
The Jewish area of Kazimierz is the site of a handful of synagogues and other important monuments, such as the cemetery. Over the past few years many new cafes, restaurants and hotels have been opening up.
This area is made up of the sections of Kraków that lie outside the Old Town Walls. One of its districts is Zwierzyniec, which used to be the royal hunting grounds and now contains the popular 48 hectare Blonia Meadow. There are many other fine ancient buildings to be found here, including wooden churches. The district is known for its festivals and strong sense of tradition.
Bronowice is a green and leafy suburb that was once a separate town. It is known throughout Poland as the location of the famous "Wesele" (Wedding), a popular Polish play. Other districts of note are Kleparz (north of the city), Wesola, Podgorze and Nowa Huta.
In 1949, the new Communist rulers of Poland decided that the country needed to be industrialized. Kraków, as a seat of intellectual power with a long history of rebellion and dissent, was seen as a distinct threat. A huge industrial and workers residential complex was built just outside the city.
A massive metallurgical plant was constructed which immediately began spewing a toxic blend of dirt and pollutants. The monuments, churches, buildings and streets of Kraków were soon affected and began to decay. Today, much has been done to alleviate this problem and the air is getting cleaner.
While Nowa Huta is the city's newest district, it is also the most densely populated. It is well-known for its sprawling size and typical Socialist architecture. However, it does have several redeeming features: it is more open and spacious than the city's other districts, it is close to several forests and parks and it contains two picturesque artificial lakes. Some of the architecture here is also noteworthy.
Each district offers a different perspective on the past and together they make up what is one of the most historic and beautiful cities in the world.
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