Located in the south of Poland, Krakow is the country’s former royal capital and spiritual heart, a centre for science, learning and religion. Unlike Warsaw, Krakow emerged from WWII largely unscathed – it was the HQ of the German governor – and its Old Town is studded with Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance buildings.
The main market square (Rynek Glowny) is one of the finest medieval squares in Europe. Among the sights are St. Mary’s Basilica, with its 40ft-high wood-carved polyptych, opened at noon each day; the Cloth Hall; and, of course, Wawel Hill.
Wawel Hill is home to the cathedral where many Polish monarchs are buried, the castle, the Big Ben-sized Zygmunt Bell, and, legend has it, resident dragon, whose den can be visited.
While Krakow may have escaped Warsaw’s bombings, the war exacted a heavy toll. Auschwitz camp in Oswiecim is about an hour’s drive from Krakow and can be visited; it’s a sobering sight. Meanwhile, in the city, Kazimierz, the Old Jewish district, has been revived as a Bohemian quarter.
Flights to Krakow land at John Paul II International, named after Karol Wojtyla, who was archbishop of the city before he was elected pope.
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Krakow has four distinct seasons. Spring is bright and mild, and May temperatures are in the mid-teens (Celsius). Summer is warm with occasional heat waves and the most rainfall. June through August temperatures are typically in the 20s. Autumn days start out foggy but warm up in the afternoon – the foliage is beautiful at this time. Winter brings lots of snow and temperatures usually below freezing.
If you want to take a taxi from the airport after your flight to Krakow lands, save some money by phoning and reserving a cab ahead of time. If you forget, you can still catch one at the arrivals gate. Public transport is cheap and efficient. Trams and buses go all the way to the outskirts of city without draining your wallet. Don’t forget to validate your ticket by punching it at the orange validation boxes. Plain-clothed metro officials are known to charge hefty fines for un-validated tickets.