JOIN US IN AN INTERVIEW WITH MARGARITA SMIRNOVA FROM KRAKOW, POLAND!
Margo is a lifestyle blogger living in Krakow. She was awe-struck with the beauty and incredible atmosphere of Krakow so much so that it inspired her to start a blog about it. She created her own online guidebook to Krakow to meet the needs of those who are looking for an adventure off the beaten path.
Located in Central Europe, the country of Poland is bordered by Belarus, Germany, Czech Republic, Russia, Ukraine, Slovakia and Lithuania. In the 10th century when Poland adopted catholicism, Poznan became one of the major settlements then. A decade later the city of Krakow came in limelight and remained as the capital of Poland for five centuries.
Krakow is now the second largest city and the cultural capital of Poland. Situated on the Vistula river, this city is steeped in history and has an intriguing heritage of medieval castles and Jewish quarters.
Krakow is a young and dynamic city with 28 institutions of higher education specially Akademia Krakowska which is visited by thousands of tourists a day. The Main Market Square of Krakow was established in the 13th Century and is the largest medieval commercial square in whole of Europe.
When is the best time to visit Kraków?
Krakow is a very attractive city in every season.
But I would recommend summers more than any other season when the weather is really nice and sunny, the atmosphere is lively and it feels like a non-stop holiday especially when you are on the Main Market Square.
However if you want to enjoy the Christmas atmosphere and feeling of being in a fairytale, come to Krakow in December.
Which is the most convenient and favoured transport of Kraków?
The most convenient transport are trams/buses. Krakow’s public transport system is very well-developed and you can easily get practically everywhere. I recommend to use a mobile app or website “Jakdojade”. It helps you to get from point A to point B in Krakow.
Also you can rent a bicycle and it could be very convenient as Krakow is a small city.
Krakow’s Airport is served by two regular bus lines: 208 and 252 and one night line: 902. Please note that the ticket must be validated when getting on the bus. Read all about public transport in Krakow with a Krakow card here.
But of course, you can order a taxi as we usually do. It doesn’t cost much because the airport is not located far from the city center. It should take you around 35 minutes by car.
What are the top three must visit places in Kraków?
Wawel Castle : On the left bank of the Vistula River there is the Wawel Hill, its height is 228 meters. Here is located the famous architectural complex, which includes the Royal Castle and the Cathedral of St. Stanislaus and Wenceslas. On the Wawel hill is a place called Wawel Chakra which is said to be one of a few select places of immense power on Earth just like the chakra point in human body. Krakow Wawel is one of the symbols of Poland, it served for centuries for the residence of the Polish kings and named one of the seven wonders of Poland. It also has the second-heaviest Polish bell cast in 1520 and weighing about 13 tonnes.
Kazimierz : Kazimierz is a special district, completely different from others. It is a former Jewish quarter of Krakow, one of the historically important areas of the city. Kazimierz is full of synagogues and other buildings of Jewish architecture: ancient Jewish cemeteries and schools, the center of Jewish culture, the Old synagogue, the Bne Emuna synagogue and much more. Now, on the streets of Kazimierz there are a lot of various shops, pubs, restaurants and antique shops. Every year, the Festival of Jewish Culture also takes place in this area.
Main Market Square : Kraków’s central square it is the largest medieval square in Europe! And of course , it’s incredibly beautiful! It is a favorite place for both tourists and locals, because here you can feel the spirit of medieval Poland. It is replete with historical buildings: the Cloth hall, The Town Hall Tower, the Underground Museum, St. Mary’s Church which undoubtedly is the pearl of this square.
What are the best day trips for nature, culture and history from Kraków?
Ojcowski Park : Ojcowski Park is a national park in the south of Poland. It is very big, beautiful, picturesque and inspiring! It attracts many tourists for its cultural monuments, diverse flora and fauna, caves and rocks.Located about 16 km north of Krakow.
The park is famous for its rocks and stone pillars of natural origin from Jurassic limestone.
There are 220 caves on the territory of the Ojcow National Park.On the territory of the park there are also two castles – Peskova Skala, which is well preserved to this day and the Ojcow Castle, from which only one ruined remains to this day.
Auschwitz : Auschwitz is a small town located 70 kilometers west of Krakow, where in 1940 a complex of German concentration camps was created. Auschwitz is the largest Nazi concentration and extermination camp, where more than 1.5 million prisoners were tortured in German occupied Poland during World War II. Auschwitz – included in the UNESCO World Heritage List – kept intact, as a reminder of the crime against humanity committed here.
Wieliczka Salt Mines : 10 kilometers from Kraków, there is the small town of Wieliczka, with one of the most impressive salt mines, which is more than 700 years old. You can visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site and learn about the development of salt mining methods and technologies.
You will see real works of art – sculptures carved from salt. That płace is richly decorated with chandeliers, carvings and monuments of saints. In the mine formed a special, medical microclimate. Therefore, at a depth of 135 meters, a sanatorium is equipped.
What is the most celebrated holiday of the year in Kraków?
Easter is one of the most important holidays in Poland. The Poles take the Easter festival more seriously than Christmas.
Krakowians spend Easter with their families, visiting neighbours and friends. The whole Holy Week is filled with traditions and special events. Festivities start on Palm Sunday when palm branches get blessed.
As this annual tradition begins, Krakow Main Square turns into a colorful Easter fair for 12 days! It starts prior to Easter Sunday, lasts throughout Holy Week, and ends on Easter Monday night.
What is the most loved local food of Kraków? Is it a vegetarian friendly city?
One of the most beloved Polish traditional dishes for both of tourists and locals is dumplings with various fillings. My favorite dumplings are with potatoes and I can recommend everyone to try this when in Kraków. Poles love their pieorgis (dumplings) and you can find them almost everywhere in Krakow. Try the different variations – baked, boiled and fried and decide which one you like yourself. If you are a food lover then time your visit to Krakow with the city’s Pierogi Festival which is held every year in August.
Also you can try Pączki (Polish doughnuts) – delicious Polish dessert. The difference between a regular doughnut and Paczki is that it’s made of a very rich, sweet yeast dough. They are deep fried and traditionally filled with rose jam but it also could be with different fillings. Yummy!
Krakow is a vegetarian friendly city and the number of restaurants that offer vegetarian or vegan food increases significantly.
Where to head for shopping in Kraków?
Krakow is hardly a paradise for shopaholics, but we have several shopping centers. The most popular are located in the center: Galeria Krakowska and Galeria Kazimierz. You can buy there popular mass-market brands like Zara, H&M, Calzedonia, Guess etc. as well as some polish brands like Ryłko, Gino Rossi, Badura etc.
The Saturday flea market is held in Plac Nowy (Kazimierz District) and the Sunday flea market takes place in the Hala Targowa (Market Hall) on Grzegórzecka Street.
The Plac Nowy market is a slaughterhouse turned into a market. It runs everyday from morning 9 to evening 6. However, on the Saturday’s it turns into a flea market.
The Sunday Flea Market is popular as the biggest and best flea market in whole of Krakow. It is located just a ten minutes walk from the main square. It is a food and junk market on other days while a flea market on Sunday.
Which is the local craft or souvenir of Kraków?
There are several souvenirs you won’t find elsewhere and it’s perfect to bring it home from Kraków:
A Wawel Dragon. This is the symbol of the city and you can find it almost everywhere in Kraków.
Hand-painted ceramics, reflecting regional patterns can be found in the Jewish district on Joseph street.
Wood carvings. Poland is full of natural forests hence wood carvings can be found all over the place for affordable prices. You can buy different wooden sculptures, boxes, chess sets.
Kraków tasty souvenirs: beautifully packaged honey, homemade local liqueurs, teas, coffees, confectionary, and of course, chocolate.
For buying these souvenirs you can also proceed to Cloth Hall which sells Polish handmade goods. Although Cloth Hall is a great place to find souvenirs under one roof, do remember that prices there can be on the higher side.
Which are the best streets of Kraków worthy of taking a stroll on?
Ulica Szeroka is the heart of Jewish Kazimierz, it’s very charming and looks like a square. It is home to synagogues and several restaurants serving Jewish delicacies. Since its quite a wide street, there are many cultural events and festivals which are held here.
Floriańska Street is the most famous street of Kraków old town and leads straight to the heart of the city – the Main Market Square.
The picturesque Kanonicza Street is one of the oldest streets in Kraków with the Wawel Royal Castle as the backdrop. It is a little street steeped in history. Like most other streets, Kanonicza also connects to the Main Market Square in Krakow.
The Pijarska Street running along the city walls, is one of the few suburban streets preserved in Kraków. Its name, coined at the end of the nineteenth century, is associated with the monastery and baroque church of Piarists at the mouth of St. John.
Grodzka Street is one of the city’s oldest streets. The street is part of the Royal Route, used by Polish kings to reach the Wawel Castle.
Can you suggest a place from where one can get the best view of Kraków?
You can climb to the top of the Town Hall Tower (Wieża Ratuszowa) and admire the panorama of Krakow and the surrounding area from there. The Town Hall is located on the main market square and is the city’s own version of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. . The climb there is quite steep, but free.
Also the tower of St. Mary’s Church is the most popular observation deck of Krakow. From the perfect view of Krakow you are separated by 409 steps and 82 meters.
Would you suggest any shows in Kraków to drama, music or art lovers? Where can one spot street art in your city?
For Theatre lovers I would recommend to go to the Juliusz Słowacki Theatre (Teatr im Słowackiego) It focuses on Polish classics and large-scale productions. Shows are often performed with English subtitles.
For Jazz music lovers I recommend to go to the jazz concerts to Harris Piano Jazz Bar, Piec Art Acoustic Jazz Club, U Muniaka.
As for street art, the Jewish history in Poland is complicated and the Kazimierz area mainly focuses on it. One of my favorite is Kazimierz Historical Mural (ul. Józefa 17), featuring five portraits of Polish historical figures: Emperor Józef Hapsburg II, Helena Rubinstein, Karol Knaus, Esterka and King Kazimierz the Great.
How hard is it to travel in Kraków without knowing the local language?
It is easy, public transport signs are in Polish and English. Most people under the age of 40 speak English so communication is not a problem at all. In restaurants and cafes staff too speak English.
Would you recommend any local apps for food, transport or hidden gems in Kraków?
Food : You can try food delivery apps like Pyszne.pl
Transport : JakdoJade for public transport in Krakow, Uber and iTaxi for cabs.
Hidden Gems : To time your visit to Krakow during local festivals and cultural events, refer to Krakow’s Bureau of Festivals for more information.
Since many people want to see more than just the standard selection of tourist attractions Margo has collected all of her favorite spots including those that are considered Krakow’s best-kept secrets and put them in her blog Krakow City Guide for anyone planning a trip to Krakow.
Do you want to give any suggestion/tip to tourists coming to Kraków?
When you are planning a trip, it’s always a good idea to get some advice from the locals who know the city in and out. Krakow is a perfect city for a weekend getaway! You’re welcome anytime!