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.
Kraków is famous for hundreds of bar and restaurants located all around the city. This boom has been brought about by increased tourism and the presence of a huge academic community. Students discover the small, unique side-street cafes soon after they open. These cafes are later discovered by the tourists, especially during the summer months. The city offers great variety of expensive restaurants as well as inexpensive restaurants, such as milk bars where you can eat typical polish dishes.
Polish traditional cuisine is very tasty and consists of traditional Slavic flavor but also has influences from Italy and France. Polish traditional food features many soups made with beetroots like Barszcz Czerwony, or mushrooms or broth. The most famous soup is Zurek or Kapusniak. Another popular cuisine is the Pierogi dumplings which has different fillings, such as Bigos (combination of cabbage, mushrooms and various meat) or Golabki (lightly boiled cabbage leaves which are wrapped in a parcel and chopped rice and meat).
Kraków has a wealth of traditional Polish restaurants, ranging from the ornate and sophisticated to the quaint and affordable. For those seeking more formal and elegant Polish cuisine, there are two famous places to visit. Wierzynek has been around for more than 600 years and continues to be popular, offering fine dining on the Old Town Square as well as Hawelka which is also located in the Square and has a long history.
Less formal, but still stylish are places such as Wesele , Miód Malina , Marmolada and Pod Aniolami . They all offer well-made Polish food in a relaxed atmosphere. One of the most endearingly popular places is Chlopskie Jadlo , where diners sit on rustic wooden benches and eat dishes prepared according to centuries-old traditions. They are so popular they also have two other restaurants in town. Babcia Malina offers similar fare in a building resembling an old Polish farmhouse.
Besides typical polish restaurants there is a great variety of international cuisine. You can find French cuisine at Cyrano de Bergerac or La Fontaine . Italian dishes are located at Leonardo , da Petro, Aqua e Vino and Amarone . International cuisine can be found at Ancora . Mexican fare is offered at Taco Mexicano . Paese offers Corsican cuisine. Hungarian dishes can be found at Balaton . Japanese restaurants include Zen, Musso Sushi and Sakana Sushi Bar . For Vegetarians the best place is Chimera which has a great salad bar or head to Vega or Greenway .
Old Town also offers a great variety of bars and cafes. The most famous cafes include Europejska Cafe , Sukiennice Cafe and Noworolski Cafe . Another famous cafe is the Cafe Camelot which is impressive with an amazing atmosphere and a long list of drinks and teas. Other wonderful cafes include Dym , Pozegnanie z Afryka , Bunkier , Woogie Boggie, Loza or Cafe Botanica . There are also a lot of great bars, such as the Piano Rouge and Stalowe Magnolie which have amazing ambiance and offer live music every evening. Budda Bar is a lovely hidden garden in the middle of the city. Baroque is a luxury bar and has a unique decor inside with a beautiful garden. Scandale Royal and Paparazzi are also fantastic bars.
Kraków has seen a range of restaurants specializing in international cuisine open up in the past several years. With the revival of Kazimierz (the traditional Jewish quarter), a host of Jewish restaurants are now open for business. Ariel is one of the most popular and it is both charming and authentic. Alef is also an extremely atmospheric place to dine. Na Kazimierzu offers kosher food, while Klezmer Hois presents not only delicious food but also evenings of live Klezmer music.
Apart from Jewish Restaurants you can find few once which offer other cuisine like Szara Kazimierz , Rubinstein, Aurum or Nova. Head to Sushi Bar for Japanese. Bombaj Tandoori has Indian dishes, while Shanti Restaurant offers contemporary Far East cuisine.
This district is also famous for lots of cafes and bars, including Nic Nowego , Momenty, Singer , Tajemniczy Ogród , Alchemia , Mleczarnia, Scandale, Aurum and more.
There is no shortage of places to go out to eat in Krakow, so pick whatever takes your fancy. Smacznego!