Each time I visit Krakow, I am blown away by its incredible beauty, vivid culture, delicious food and thriving nightlife. Whether you're learning about its storied history or experiencing the living, breathing present, I'm always left wanting more. This city has emerged from a devastating past into the 21st century as a thriving, young student town. As one of the few places still left in Europe that is untouched by English-speaking tourists, Starbucks chains and menus in 10 languages, I'd say Krakow is a destination worth checking out. Leave your inhibitions at home and dive in as you explore some of my favorite Polish haunts!
1. Milk Bars - A leftover remnant from the Communist era, these spots are guaranteed to have authentic, hearty food that won't break the bank. Milkbar Tomasza is a great place for a hot breakfast -- or stick to your ribs dinner that is easy on the budget-- and just off the Main Market Square! For a more rustic experience, check out Bar Grodzki on the Royal Mile, or Grodzka Street, heading to the Castle. Sharpen your elbows and proactively point to what you want, as the locals here are regulars on a mission to leave with a full stomach!
2. Polish Papal Cream Cake - Even if you don't have a sweet tooth, you'll love this light, airy pastry with your cup of joe. Pope John Paul II raved about Krakow's version of this dessert, and often times had it shipped from the city to his residence in Rome. As a ciasto miasto, or city of cakes, almost any bakery will have a delicious version of their own for you to try, but one of the finest places to indulge your sweet tooth is Jama Michalika in the Old Town. This Art Nouveau spot used to be home to the city's poets and writers, but now is a bohemian cafe where you can sample delicious Polish sweets.
3. Main Square - While it might seem obvious, Krakow's Main Market Square is one of my favorite destinations in town, and what I believe is the most romantic square in all of Europe. Day or night, this is the center of town and buzzing with Polish culture. Take a stroll through on your way out at night, and take in the medieval history apparent in the buildings, St. Mary's Church and the Cloth Hall especially. If you have an extra hour, venture under the square to one of the most dazzling, multi-media filled museums you'll ever see highlighting the medieval archeology of the town.
4. Planty Park - The old moat around the medieval city is now an enjoyable 1.9 mile stroll encircling town, just outside the old city walls. Take a few good laps around to kick off the day, or walk from top to bottom, ending at Pad Wawalem for an incredible feast. Although the service is a bit gruff, this hot spot is always buzzing with locals sharing authentic brews and enormous portions of food with friends. Check out their kebab to share with a group -- it's definitely a spectacle!
5. 4zl/8zl - While this might just sound like a number or another shop on the block for you, inside you'll find a room buzzing with young Polish students, travelers and young adults looking for a good time. These spots serve €1 drinks and €2 snacks which creates an incredible atmosphere to kick off the night. Some of the most interesting conversations are to be had here over a glass of hot wine in the winter or honey flavored Polish vodka in the summer.