Photography credits: Tommy Rhyan
Hooves on cobblestone, echos of accordions, and waves of laughter greet you as you arrive in Old Town: It is Rynek Główny, the Main Square in Kraków, Poland. It is the center of the city, the place to be. It is also the largest medieval square in Europe.
When you arrive on-site at this 13th-century town square, you find the Sukiennice Market standing its ground in the center and St. Mary’s Basilica looming over in all its grace. The long hallway of the market is filled with shoppers buying colorful music boxes, handmade chess sets, and amber jewelry. Out the window of St. Mary’s comes a trumpet player, sending out a song to the crowd each hour.
And of course, just a walk away, you can stroll along the Vistula River and through the majestic Wawel Castle. (Visit the famous Dragon of Wawel Hill, who breathes fire, and dare to go down into the Dragon’s Den…)
On the corners, you’ll find vendors for obwarzanek, a traditional baked treat that dates back to the Middle Ages and has been granted a Protected Geographical Indication in Kraków. Part of this protection means that obwarzanek can only be made in and around the city. We had the special privilege to visit the Muzeum Obwarzanka to learn how to make these Polish staples ourselves. The smells in the kitchen that evening were divine!
As it gets late into the night, if you stay in the square, you’ll see which musicians are pulling in groups to listen and dance, or you can head down south to the nightlife of Kazimierz: This historic Jewish quarter is a premier spot for art and culture. Be sure to spot the murals adorning the walls as you wander down these streets!
One of the most popular attractions in the town of Wieliczka, is the Wieliczka Salt Mine, a UNESCO World Heritage site that is 9 levels deep into the Earth. St. Kinga’s Chapel is perhaps the most well-known and breathtaking. Notable salt sculptures include a bas-relief of the Last Supper, a statue of Pope John Paul II, and the central altar. Mass is continuously held in this chamber today.
When in Poland, you must try…Polish wine! Winnica Srebrna Góra is a vineyard that sits at the foot of the Camaldolese Monastery. If you take a stroll through the winding rows, you will breathe in the air of the rolling hills, and maybe catch a whiff of the sour grapes ripening for winemaking.
To finish off our time in Kraków, we were able to learn how to cook a traditional pork dish, “maczanka po krakowsku”—but with a modern twist—under the expertise of Chef Tomasz Tracz, who is well-versed in Michelin Star dining. The views of Saint Mary’s Basilica at the top of Hotel Stary, where we cooked and enjoyed this delicious meal, as well as the hotel’s other fine dining options, was the perfect way to end our time in the city, before heading south to the region of Zakopane…
Read the next article in this series: “Into the Polish Highlands – The Beauty of Zakopane.”
We would like to provide our sincere thanks to both LOT Airlines, for the safe and smooth flight to and from Poland, and to the Polish Tourism Organization, for their guidance, accommodation, and warm hospitality!
Coming in 2022: You can watch the accompanying Poland episode of “Family Travel with Colleen Kelly” on PBS, the PBS Anywhere app, YouTube, and Amazon Prime.
A WLS AM 890 Chicago radio podcast about Kraków can be found at https://www.wlsam.com/round-trip-with-colleen-kelly/.