As it prepares for Euro 2012, Fiona Trowbridge discovers the Polish city’s often overlooked fleamarkets, legends and bohemian hideouts – without spending a zloty
Look out for the ‘dragon bones’ that hang over the doorway of Wawel Cathedral, said to belong to the legendary Smok Wawelski, a virgin-and-lamb-eating dragon that terrorised Kraków in the 12th century.
Stand inside the head and peer out of the eye of a giant, bronze Igor Mitoraj sculpture in Rynek Glówny, Europe’s largest medieval market square. Famous for his large sculptures, Mitoraj gifted Eros Bound to the city after an exhibition here in 2003.
Head for the heart of Kazimierz, the Jewish quarter. In Plac Nowy you’ll find stalls in the original rotunda selling local produce. On Saturdays the market expands with antiques and junk; on Sundays, second-hand clothes. But you need to get there early – it starts at 5.30am.
A 4km park, the Planty, thrives where the old city walls once stood. Segmented by tree-lined avenues and different styles (think Art Nouveau and Romantic), it encircles the Old Town and prevents you getting lost when exploring the confusing cobbled streets within.
From the top window of the taller tower of St Mary’s Basilica, a bugler plays a melody every hour on the hour. The melody finishes abruptly, to commemorate a 13th-century bugler who was shot in the throat by an invading Tatar archer while sounding a warning to the city.
Visit the bijou St Andrew’s Church, the only place of worship to withstand the Mongol invasion of Kraków in 1241. Although largely rebuilt in the 17th century, the original entrance portal and windows still remain. From outside you can see the original level of the main market square, which lay several metres lower than today.
High on a limestone mound overlooking the Old Town, you can stroll around Wawel Castle’s grounds and admire the renaissance inner courtyard with its frescos and dragon-head gutters. Just ensure you’re not beneath a dragon head when it starts to rain!
For a bit of Bohemian relaxation, head to Jama Michalika, a café where student artwork from the turn of the 20th century adorns the walls. The café was once a popular meeting place for young Poles and artists who reputedly paid their bills with their work. www.jamamichalika.pl
Jagiellonian University Museum, the oldest university building in Poland, is free on Tuesday afternoons. It’s home to ancient collections, including the first globe to mention the existence of America. In the courtyard is a large clock, and every two hours (from 9am) a procession of historic figurines processes round the face.
Take a walk along the riverside at the base of Wawel Castle and relax with the locals on the grass. Look out for the dragon sculpture at the entrance to the cave beside the western slope and wait a few minutes to witness it breathing fire.
A visit to the classy Amadeus Restaurant in the centre of town will set you back a few zloty. It serves international and Polish dishes in artistic Baroque surroundings, and the vibe is largely cosy and relaxed – though you may feel uncomfortable in your walking boots. www.restauracja-amadeus.pl
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