GUEST POST OVERVIEW: Although some of my family came from Poland a few hundred years ago, I still have not managed to go there. After reading this new post by my friend David, I want to go more than ever!


A street in Poland - Photo by by Filip Knežić
A street in Poland – Photo by by Filip Knežić

Photography by Filip Knežić

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Krakow, Poland

Krakow was Poland’s capital for over six centuries, as well as the country’s largest city. Wawel Castle was the official seat for Polish rulers until their courts relocated to Warsaw in 1609, but even after that Krakow has been regarded as Poland’s spiritual heart and its rulers continued to be crowned and interred in Wawel Cathedral.

Jagiellonian University in Krakow is one of the oldest in Europe and the city is positively stuffed with reminders of its glorious past and illustrious rulers. One of the major draws of Krakow today is that during World War II it did not suffer the systematic devastation that was the lot of the rest of Poland under Nazi rule. As a result you  can still enjoy its lovely medieval alleyways and soaring gothic monuments in all their unspoilt glory.

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Driving in Poland

For those visitors taking advantage of the cheap car hire available in Poland, there’s a 30 mph speed limit in central Krakow and lots of speed cameras, although the roads themselves are in pretty good condition. It’s best to leave the car just outside the central area, where there are access restrictions, and explore the Old Quarter on foot. Make sure you park in one of the many designated areas and pick up a ticket before you leave the car.

Wawel Hill

The magnificent citadel that dominates Wawel Hill at the heart of Krakow was built in 1083 as a seat of political power. Later, in the 16th century, the brooding gothic fortress was converted into a statelier Renaissance palace with a cathedral attached, along with additional chapels and works of art that make it a wonder to experience today. The gilded dome of the gorgeous Zygmunt Chapel is especially attractive when it catches the rays of the setting sun.


Wawel Hill - Photo by Tomek Broszkiewicz
Wawel Hill – Photo by Tomek Broszkiewicz

Photo by Tomek Broszkiewicz

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Royal Castle

The main reason for visiting the Royal Castle on Wawel Hill is to see the sumptuously furnished and decorated Royal Apartments. These include priceless Italian paintings and furniture, Flemish tapestries and giant friezes around the walls. The collection of royal regalia and jewels in the ground floor treasury includes the centuries-old coronation sword worn by the Polish kings.

There’s also an interesting ‘Orient in the Wawel’ collection that features many of the Turkish banners and tents that were grabbed by Christian defending troops after the long but unsuccessful siege of Vienna in 1683. It’s a reminder of the days when Christian Europe lived in constant fear of an Ottoman invasion and relied on kingdoms like Poland and Serbia in the east to protect their frontiers.

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Dragon’s Lair

Beneath ancient Wawel Hill there’s an intricate series of caves that have inevitably become associated with the legend of a dragon. It can be accessed by spiral steps in the summer and there’s a suitably impressive bronze statue of a fire-breathing dragon guarding the entrance.

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Old Quarter

The Old Quarter is at modern Krakow’s heart and its layout has survived pretty much intact since the 13th century. Most of the streets are free of traffic so visitors can enjoy the major historic attractions here at their leisure. These include the medieval market square and merchants’ Cloth Hall, the Old Synagogue, which dates from the 15th century and the royal art collection housed in the Czartoryski Museum.


Krakow's Old Quarter - Photo by Stan Baranski
Krakow’s Old Quarter – Photo by Stan Baranski

Photograph by Stan Baranski

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For those so inclined, a visit to the small town of Oswiecim, located about 35 miles out of Krakow, can be a salutary one. It translates into German as Auschwitz and needs little introduction. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. The contrast between Nazi industrialised barbarism and Krakow’s medieval charm and humanity could not be starker or more shocking. To get to Auschwitz, take the E462 out of Krakow and join Route 933

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About the Author: David Elliott is a freelance writer who loves to travel, especially in Europe and Turkey. He’s spent most of his adult life in a state of restless excitement but recently decided to settle in North London. He gets away whenever he can to immerse himself in foreign cultures and lap up the history of great cities.