Krakow & surroundings

Krakow is a city with its own identity and multicultural heritage: it is associated with the late John Paul II, while having possibly the largest and certainly the loudest Jewish music festival in Central Europe! Moreover, its huge student population also makes it vibrant all year round.

  • Old Town

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We start at Market Square, one of the biggest in Europe, a reminder of the power and wealth of medieval Kraków, the Polish capital at that time. The 13th century Cloth Hall, rebuilt in Renaissance style, houses the largest collection of Polish paintings on the first floor and colourful handicraft stalls in the ground floor arcades. Saint Mary’s Church, dating back to the year 1221, boasts the precious 15th century Witt Stwosz altar. Collegium Maius with its Gothic arcades, was once home to the Jagiellonian University, Central Europe’s second oldest university, after the University of Prague. The Czartoryski Museum collection contains the two most precious paintings in Poland: “Lady with an Ermine” by Leonardo da Vinci and “Good Samaritan” by Rembrandt.

 

  • Wawel Castle and Cathedral

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Wawel is the pride of Kraków and the heart of the nation as it is the final resting place of monarchs and wordsmiths. The Gothic Royal Castle dates back to the 10th century and was remodeled in Renaissance style in the 16th century. Its magnificent interiors contain numerous paintings as well as the Wawe l Tapestries Col-lection, commissioned in Flanders. The Gothic Royal Cathedral with its numerous crypts has elements of the original 11th century Romanesque cathedral. At the foot of the hill by the river is the cave of dragon which, according to legend, used to terrify Cracovians, until it was outwitted by a young shoemaker.

 

  • Kazimierz – Jewish historical district

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The Jewish community of Kraków started to concentrate in Kazimierz district in the 15th century, forming a unique, commercial, religious and cultural centre, where everything was different from the surrounding world: language, religion, clothing, music and cuisine. Yet Polish Kings and commons were always open to strangers and their culture; that is how Kazimierz district flourished. Nazi extermination blew this small Jewish world away. The Post–war government neglected Jewish culture and even a few years ago the district was a slum area. Now, restored and decorated with traditional Jewish emblems, it attracts visitors with its irresistible charm. Visit its many synagogues: including the Old Synagogue (the oldest in Poland, dating the 15th century) and the Remuh Synagogue founded in the 16th century with Poland’s best preserved Renaissance Jewish cemetery. Take time to enjoy coffee, kosher wine and a Paschal dish in a local restaurant. Some parts of Kazimierz will look familiar to those who e seen the film “Schindler’s List”, which was shot here, in its original The tour includes a drive past mer Nazi labour camp in Płaszów and Schindler`s Enamelworks.

 

  • Wieliczka Salt Mine

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A tour of the mine includes beautiful chapels sculpted in salt (Saint Kinga’s chapel is the most beautiful one), crystal-like grottoes and underground ponds. All this at average depth of 130 m below the ground.

 

  • Auschwitz-Birkenau

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A grim reminder of Nazi terror and the holocaust. Auschwitz, built on the outskirts of the Polish town Oświęcim – now the Museum of Martyrdom – consists of brick barracks with shocking exhibits of tons of hair, shoes, glasses and other belongings wrested from the victims, while nearby Birkenau has hectares of wooden barracks and gas chambers.

A documentary film (in English, German, French, Italian, Russian and Hebrew) made shortly after liberation of the camp is viewable on request.

 

  • Zakopane – Tatra Mountains

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A two-hour drive takes you to a completely different world. The further south you go, the more hilly the landscape becomes until you get to Zakopane, located 1000 m above sea level and surrounded by the Tatra Mountains. An ascent by funicular railway to Gubałówka hill gives a beautiful view over the Polish and Slovak Tatras. A walk along bustling Krupówki Street followed by a visit to a small church in Jaszczurówka. For keen walkers we suggest a stroll in the hills. Time for shopping – friendly street vendors will offer you local goods (lambswool sweaters, walking sticks, wooden figures) at incredibly low prices. Meal at a restaurant featuring local specialties with accompaniment of a folk band.

 

  • Czestochowa – Black Madonna Shrine

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Częstochowa is one of the most important shrines in the Christian world and is often called the Religious Capital of Poland. Millions of pilgrims, including over 100 000 foreigners, come here every year to pray at the miraculous Black Madonna Shrine. Historians date the famous painting to the 14th century. The painting is covered with precious decoration, forming royal gowns for Virgin Mary and her Child. Only her mysterious, dark face with two scars on her cheek can be seen. A trip to Jasna Góra can be combined with a drive along the “Castles, Caves and Kings Tour”.

 

  • Pieskowa Skala

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40 minutes drive through charming Prądnik River Valley in Ojców National Park, with its limestone hills and beautifully shaped rocks and caves. According to legend, Polish King Władysław the Short took shelter in on one of the caves here during his flight from Czech King Wenceslas II’s forces. Visit to the Renaissance Castle in Pieskowa Skała, regarded as the most beautiful knights’ castle in Poland. Drive back to Kraków along the Eagles’ Nests Track – a chain of 14th century strongholds (now in ruins) founded by Kazimierz the Great to protect the Silesian trade route. The season for these sights is from May till the end of September. Suggested itinerary: Ojców castle ruins – the Dark cave – Pieskowa Skała Castle – Błędowska Desert – Ogrodzieniec Castle – Łokietka Cave. Dark Cave is viewed by candlelight, while Łokietka has electric lighting.

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