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Holiday Guides for Eastern Europe - Poland

Krakow Holiday

Poland's cultural capital offers unrivalled culture, history, art and nightlife – all within a largely pedestrianised city centre that dates back to the 13th century.

Krakow, the cultural capital of Poland, has in recent years developed into a major destination in Central Europe – offering a great nightlife and over two million registered art works.

The city was one of the few in Poland that survived World War II without any major damage to its historic centre and castle.

Entering the Main Square, or Rynek Glowny, which was designed in the 13th century along with the surrounding streets, in the centre is the Cloth Hall, or Sukiennice.

The Sukiennice is still a market – but today it offers traditional Polish goods such as amber jewellery, carved chess and even swords. The first floor of the building is now a national museum with some works of major importance to Poland.

Krakow's old town is surrounded by the Planty – a park that replaced the city's walls after they were demolished.

Only one section of the wall remains around the Florian gate. This section of the wall is home to an open-air art fair, where local artists show off their works and try to sell a few pieces. Within the walls and surrounding buildings, visitors can find the Czartoryski Museum – founded in 1796 by Princess Izabela Czartoryska and still run by the same family with the aim of preserving Polish culture.

The highlight of the museum is without doubt Da Vinci's lady with an Ermine – painted in 1496.

It is also worth noting that on Sundays many galleries and museums offer free entry.

Above the city and the River Vistula stands the city's royal castle Wawel, offering great views of the city. Even after the capital was moved to Warsaw, coronations still took place in the castle and it is of great importance to Poles.

Within the Wawel, museums show the royal collections, apartments and the archaeology of the hill. It is also possible to head into the dragon's den below the castle – although its inhabitant was slain by Price Krak – the supposed founder of the city.

Being a university town Krakow has a fantastic nightlife and an unrivalled selection of pubs and clubs, besides the culture on offer.

Visitors do not have to travel far to take in the bars as they are focused in two areas – around the Main Square and in the Jewish district Kazimierz.

Around the square in summer the bars put out tables with Krakowians and visitors alike taking advantage of the views of the square and the Sukiennice.

When the Christmas market comes, locals still head to the main Square, but instead of cool beer, mulled wine is served.

In the evening, the medieval cellars that are beneath the city open up to offer pubs and bars of all sorts. Places to look out for include Club RE, just off the Main Square, which has a series of rooms and a reputation for cutting edge music and big-name bands, and Harris Jazz Bar – where a young audience regularly come out to see the house band whose members are old enough to be their grandparents but still brimming with energy.

During the day and into the night the bar that forms part of Bunkier Sztuki – Krakow's modern art museum – is a cool hangout, in both senses of the word, by the Planty.

In Kazimierz, the bars are focused around Szeroka, Miodowa and Estery streets. The bars in the old Jewish area tend to quirkier, for example Singer (where all the tables are old Singer sewing machines), Propaganda (where old Communist iconography decks the walls) and Club Lubu Dubu (designed to look like a 1980s communist flat with music to match).

Despite all that is on offer from its historic past to exciting future, Krakow still manages to keep a small town atmosphere that leads visitors to return time and again.