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The city of Krakow, unlike many Polish cities, escaped much of the ravages of the Second World War. It lies in south-eastern Poland on the Vistula River and although it lost its capital city status towards the end of the sixteenth century, it is considered to be Poland's cultural capital. Its medieval heart has largely survived its turbulent history and this is one of the city's main attractions. Being a university town it has a youthful vibrancy which is especially noticeable in the evenings.
Those with a love of history and an interest in medieval architecture will not be disappointed in Krakow. The city possesses the largest medieval square in Europe, the Rynek Glowny, with many fascinating buildings both in and around it.
Many people travel to Krakow in order to visit the Auschwitz Concentration Camp which is fifty kilometres west of the town.
A Krakov holiday appeals to couples of all ages. It is also popular with groups of young men and women celebrating their last days as single people.
A Krakow holiday or city break can be taken at any time of year although the most popular time is during the summer months. The climate is temperate with cold winters and fairly hot summers. June, July and August are the warmest months when the temperature can reach the low thirties. The Christmas Market held in the square of the old town is a popular December attraction.
Krakow is a charming city with its extremely well-preserved medieval heart. The huge square, with the Cloth Hall (Sukiennice) in its centre, is surrounded by fourteenth century town houses many of which have been restored and renovated. In the corner of the square is the Church of St. Mary with its twin spires. The church, built on the foundations of a former church destroyed by the Tartars in the thirteenth century, has a magnificent nave. The church must be visited for the beauty of the stained glass windows and the paintings of the altarpiece.
There are many concerts held in the square throughout the year and at Christmas and Easter the square hosts a traditional market.
The narrow cobbled streets welcome visitors with their array of small shops, bars and cafes.
Wawel Castle lies between the old town and the Jewish Quarter. It is a large structure housing several museums. Ticket numbers are strictly controlled so it is best to arrive early if you want to secure admission. The Czartoryski Museum receives many visitors because of the Leonardo Da Vinci painting of the Lady on Ermine.
The Jewish Quarter has been transformed in recent years following its decline after the expulsion of the Jews during the war and is now a popular, more peaceful alternative for evening entertainment.
Many visitors to Krakow make a pilgrimage to Auschwitz, just thirty miles from the city. Perhaps best left to the last day of your holiday, it is a harrowing experience but one that should not be shirked.
Those with children will find the Aquapark, built in 2000, provides an enjoyable family outing. With three pools, a white water river, counter-currents and numerous slides and flumes, it provides fun and excitement for all ages.
Young singles groups enjoy paintballing in a former military area just thirty minutes from Krakow.
Krakow, as one would expect of a university town, has a vibrant nightlife. There are numerous bars, clubs and restaurants providing entertainment to suit all tastes. The old town is very busy in the evening and, with its great choice of venues, it is the favourite haunt of the young. The Jewish quarter, Kazimierz, is another popular, but quieter, spot with its cafes and bars.
Krakow has many small gift and craft shops so loved by tourists. The Cloth Hall in the middle of the main square provides the opportunity for buying holiday souvenirs. Here you will find, among others, jewellery, artwork, lace, embroidery, wood carvings, glass and ceramics. Of course Krakow also has modern shopping malls with well known western names for those who wish for a little more variety.
Krakow has a wide variety of restaurants serving traditional as well as international fare. Traditional food includes hearty soups with meat and dumplings. Typical ingredients in Polish cuisine include sausages, sauerkraut, beetroot, sour cream and herbs and spices.
There is something a little odd in Poland when it comes to paying the bill. If you thank the waiter when he collects the money, he assumes that you do not require any change. This could be a costly mistake. It is best to smile and say nothing until you have your change and only then show your gratitude.