Krakow was the Capital of Poland until the end of the 16th century. During its 500-year reign, Krakow accumulated some of the most eclectic, romantic, and strikingly beautiful architecture in Europe. It is still, unquestionably, the Polish capital of culture, as confirmed by its recent designation as a European City of Culture.
Look carefully at those buildings in the square. Thanks to a surprise appearance by the Red Army at the end of World War II, Krakow escaped the Reich's planned destruction. An examination of the doorways and arches will reveal their 800 year-old history.
There always seems to be something else to explore. There are over 40 churches in the city center alone, ancient fortifications, and the Wawel Castle, often described as the personification of Poland.
Krakow possesses a laid-back old-world mentality. Most people begin their visit in the "rynek". As the largest city square in Europe, the rynek is always filled with activity. Poles and visitors alike wander the shady cafes, visit the 13th century market place, buy flowers, watch the street performers, and simply stroll around.
Dozens of Museums await discovery in one of the largest University cities in Europe.
Hundreds of cafes and restaurants open early and serve late, so no one needs to worry about feeling hungry.
Krakow bustles with commerce. Every shop overflows with products and offers a shopper's paradise. During summer months the rynek becomes an open market place for antiques and collectibles.
While Krakow alone could consume an entire vacation, it also serves as a perfect base for many day trips and excursions. North of Krakow is Skala National Park, a terrific place to take in the natural beauty of the area. To the south, is the mountain city of Zakopane, a prime destination for skiing in the winter, and a busy place for hiking in the summer. An hour away lies the city of Czestohowa, the location of the Black Madonna and destination of countless pilgrimages from around the world.
Many visitors, however, become enamored of Krakow's romantic streets and atmosphere and prefer to extend their stay right there. Slow and easy: that's the Cracovian way.
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