Things to Do in Krakow
Communist repression came to Poland in 1945 after the end of World War II and lasted until the collapse of the Iron Curtain in 1989. During this time, the suburb of Nowa Huta was constructed six miles (10 kilometers) east of Krakow’s center.
Nowa Huta could not be more different from fairytale Krakow. Built as a piece of Communist propaganda to “house the people” in a garden city, it sprang up at an alarming speed during the late 1940s. At its peak, the area housed 100,000 residents among its wide boulevards, public parks and regimented apartment blocks all designed in the architectural style of the day, Socialist Realism. As with many idealistic plans, the Soviet dream town was never completed, and Nowa Huta became a hotbed of political rebellion during the Solidarity strikes of the early 1980s.
The Stained Glass Museum in Krakow, Poland combines an art museum with an old stained glass workshop from 1902. The process of creating stained glass has not changed in centuries, and visitors can learn about this process and see how the stained glass is made. The workshop has been preserved with its original furnishings and equipment, so visitors are able to see the different rooms, which each have their own piece of the production process. This workshop is where many of Poland's greatest stained glass artists have produced their art. You might get lucky and see a master at work during your visit.
In the exhibition space, the museum has on display examples of both historical and contemporary stained glass pieces. Some are from the most renowned artists of the Polish Art Nouveau period. The museum's guides have interesting stories to tell about many of the pieces on display.
More Things to Do in Krakow
The Auschwitz concentration camp was established in April 1940 in the prewar Polish army barracks on the outskirts of Oświęcim. Originally intended for Polish political prisoners, the camp was 'repurposed ' as a dedicated center for the genocide of the Jews of Europe. For this purpose, the much larger camp at Birkenau (Brzezinka), also referred to as Auschwitz II, was built 2km west of the original site in 1941 and 1942, and another in Monowitz, several kilometers to the west. It is now estimated that this death factory eliminated some 1.6 million people of 27 nationalities, including 1.1 million Jews, 150,000 Poles and 23,000 Roma.
Auschwitz was only partially destroyed by the fleeing Nazis, and many of the original brick buildings stand to this day as a bleak testament to the camp's history. Some 13 of the 30 surviving prison blocks now house museum exhibitions, either general or dedicated to victims from particular countries or races that lost citizens at Auschwitz.
Just outside Kraków, some 9 miles (14km) southeast of the city centre, Wieliczka is famous for its ultra-deep Salt Mine, which has been in continuous operation for 700 years. It's an eerie world of pits and chambers and everything has been carved by hand from salt blocks. The Wieliczka Salt Mine was included on UNESCO's World Heritage List in 1978. The mine is renowned for the preservative qualities of its micro climate, as well as for its health-giving properties. An underground sanatorium has been established at a depth of 440 feet (135m), where chronic allergic diseases are treated by overnight stays.
Mt Gubalowka is a mountain above the town of Zakopane in southern Poland. It is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the region, offering amazing views of the Tatras Mountains and a variety of outdoor activities throughout the year. The best way to reach the top is by the funicular that will take you up from Zakopane in just three and a half minutes. First opened in 1938, it was rebuilt in 2001 and now carries up to 2,000 passengers per hour.
Mt Gubalowka has a popular ski resort with about three kilometers of ski runs open from early December to early April. In addition to the funicular, skiers can take a two-person chair lift, T-Bar or rope tow up the mountain. When the ski season ends, a summer toboggan run opens, as do biking and walking trails. There is also a restaurant serving traditional meals, cold beer and hot tea year-round on an outdoor terrace.
Originally opened in 1895 by Jan Michalik, this cave (also known as Jama Michalik) is one of the most famous cafes in Poland. Referred to as a cave because of the lack of windows, it has looked very much the same for the last hundred years and is one of Krakow’s best examples of art nouveau décor. The eclectic interior is a result of Michalik’s policy prior to World War I to accept payment in kind from his customers, many of whom were artists who chose to pay with their art work. The café is also known as the birthplace of the Young Poland artistic movement and the Zielony Balonik (Green Balloon) cabaret, which became a model for other literary cabarets throughout Poland.
For decades a popular haunt of Polish artists, politicians and professors from the nearby Jagiellion University, Michalik’s Cave continues to be frequented by popular writers, artists and academics today. It is also quite popular with tourists, many of whom come in groups for dinner and a folklore show.
Sitting in the foothills of the rugged Carpathian Mountains southwest of Krakow, the town of Kalwaria Zebrzydowska grew up to accommodate pilgrims who flocked to the red-roofed and copper-domed complex of religious buildings that still dominates life there to this day. Built in the 17th century, the ornate Baroque Sanctuary of Kalwaria Zebrzydowska provided Catholics with a substitute Chapel of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem, which at that time was under Turkish rule and firmly off limits to Christians; it incorporates the Franciscan Bernardini Monastery alongside 42 chapels and churches all beautifully sited on pathways among woodland and symbolizing the Stations of the Cross at Calvary.
Sitting on the Warta River in southern Poland, Czestochowa is home to the 14th-century Jasna Gora Monastery, which attracts thousands of pilgrims from all over the world each year. The monastery is home to the Black Madonna painting, a shrine to the Virgin Mary that is credited with many miracles, including saving the monastery from an invasion by the Swedes in the 17th century.
In addition to the monastery, Czestochowa boasts numerous museums, including the Czestochowa Regional Museum and the Museum of Iron Ore Mining. The regional museum consists of several parts: the Town Hall, the Halina Poswiatowska Museum, the Gallery of 19th and 20th-Century Painting and the Archaeological Reserve of Lusatian Culture. The latter is a 2,500-year-old burial ground that also features displays about the Lusatian culture from the Bronze and early Iron Age.
The Dunajec River runs through the Pieniny Mountains from the northern part of Slovakia into southern Poland, forming part of the border between the two countries. The Dunajec River Gorge is one of the most scenic areas of the river and is currently on a list of tentative UNESCO World Heritage sites. Located within the Pieniny National Park, the gorge features layers of limestone and dolomite rock, with cliffs rising 300 meters above the river and is understandably one of the most popular tourist attractions in the region.
One of the best ways to experience the gorge is undoubtedly by water, traveling along the river from the village of Sromowce Nizne to the town of Szczawnica by wooden canoe, traditional wooden raft or modern pontoon. The trip covers about 11 miles (18 km) and takes about two to three hours. In addition to rafting, there are hiking trails on either side of the gorge, as well as two castles worth visiting: Niedzica Castle and Czorsztyn Castle.
Jasna Góra Monastery is one of the largest Catholic pilgrimage sites in the world. Located in Częstochowa, Poland, the monastery is home to the famous Black Madonna of Częstochowa, or the Our Lady of Częstochowa, a four-foot-high Gothic painting displaying the Virgin Mary. Legend has it that Luke the Evangelist completed the iconic painting, and it is further purported that the painting was done on a tabletop built by Jesus himself and that it was discovered by St Helen, mother of Emperor Constantine.
On average, 14,000 people visit the monastery each day to see the Black Madonna, a painting credited with several miracles, including the saving of the monastery during a 17th-century Swedish invasion. It is believed that the original painting was a Byzantine icon dating back to sometime between the 6th and 9th centuries. During a 15th-century restoration, it was painted anew, as the restorers were not able to apply tempera colors over the wax paint.
One of only three castles in Poland that remain completely intact, the Renaissance Pieskowa Skała is on the Eagles’ Nest Trail, a scenic route that wends past medieval castles and watchtowers built as defense strongholds between Częstochowa and Krakow in Malopolska.
Located in Ojców National Park and surrounded by beautiful formal knot gardens, the castle is one of the best examples of Renaissance architecture in Poland. Although it was a defensive fortification of Casimir the Great in the 14th century, the castle acquired its present beautiful façade two hundred years later, when the two-story, balconied loggia, the onion-topped clock tower, a chapel and an arcaded courtyard were added. Nevertheless, from the rear, the castle still resembles the medieval fortress of its beginnings, standing proudly on its rocky outcrop with austere walls overlooking the Prądnik River Valley.
Niedzica Castle was built between 1320 and 1326 by the Hungarian Kokos of Brezovica. Sitting on a hill upstream from the mouth of the Dunajec River, it is also sometimes called the Dunajec Castle. Long a border post with Hungary, the castle is considered to be one of the most picturesque in Poland. It has changed hands and undergone renovations numerous times over the centuries, but has been a museum since 1963.
While much of the castle is in ruins, the dungeons and some rooms in the upper and middle castle have survived, as has a painting of the crucifixion that once hung in the chapel. The castle museum displays artifacts, remnants of the old interior, historical documents, prints and engravings of the castle’s exterior and antique clocks, pistols and rifles. Two terraces provide visitors with scenic views of the river and nearby lake.
Ogrodzieniec Castle was originally built in the Gothic style in the 14th century, and ownership has since passed through several families. The structure was replaced by a Renaissance-style castle in the mid-16th century but was then damaged by Swedish troops on several occasions and was eventually abandoned as a residence in 1810. The castle’s ownership was eventually nationalized after World War II, and it was fully restored and opened to visitors in 1973.
Located on Castle Mountain, the highest hill in the Krakow-Czestochowa Upland, Ogrodzieniec offers amazing views of the surrounding area. It is a stop on the Trail of the Eagle’s Nests, a marked trail between Krakow and Czestochowa connecting 25 medieval castles, and has been used as a set for several movies and television shows. Locals claim that the castle is haunted by a large black dog that is said to be the spirit of former owner, the Castellan of Krakow, Stanislaw Warszycki.
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