The 1,000-year-old former capital of Poland, Krakow is the only large urban area in the nation that escaped World War II without serious damage. (The retreating Nazis wired the city so they could blow it up with dynamite, but the Polish resistance cut the wires.) Coupled with Krakow's physical beauty is its standing as the country's cultural center, making it a truly must-see destination.
You can take a fast train between Warsaw and Krakow—it makes the 155 mi/250 km journey in a little more than two hours. If time permits, drive there from Warsaw; though the journey can take as few as four hours, allow the better part of a day so you can stop and soak in the beautiful farmland, rivers and towns along the way.
In the center of Krakow is the largest medieval square in all of Europe, Old Market Square. It's lined with historic buildings, and in the center of the square are two important structures: the 13th-century Cloth Hall, as well as a 19th-century Polish paintings gallery, and the Town Hall Tower, which you can climb.
Stroll along nearby Kanonicza Street, one of Poland's loveliest thoroughfares. There are dozens of other interesting old buildings; plan a couple of hours just to wander the cobblestoned streets, poking your head in stores and taking a break in a local coffeehouse.
Nightlife in Krakow focuses on two areas: Main Market Square is dominated by clubs, though there are plenty of comfortable pubs to be found too; while Kazimierz is home to countless cozy bars with an inclination toward craft beer and a relaxed atmosphere.
Enjoy eating real Polish ham, sausages (kielbasa), bigos
(hunter's stew), kalaches
(fruit pastries), sauerkraut, pierogies (dumplings filled with meat, mushrooms, cheese or fruit), stuffed cabbage, potato pancakes and great desserts (try kisiel
and gingerbread). Duck is also a common (and delicious) ingredient in Polish cooking.
Also be sure to try zapiekanka, a baguette covered in mushrooms and cheese along with a slew of other toppings including garlic sauce, fried onions, ham and chicken.
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