So, as promised, here are my Krakow Top 5s, beginning with Attractions. Look out for further Top 5s, including Restaurants, and Excursions. All should be done by the end of this month, in good time for those of you visiting Krakow for Euro 2012!
1. Rynek/Grodska Street/Sukiennice/Mariacki – I start with a bit of a cheat, covering 4 items in one, but that’s because they’re all in one spot. They are the main market square (Rynek) and surrounds – the very heart of Krakow. Catch the Rynek as often as you can as events are always taking place there. Stroll down Grodska street and check out the objets d’art. Surprisingly tasteful trinkets are for sale inside the cloth hall (Sukiennice), but also along its sides. Visit Mariacki at a time when they display the stunning carved wooden altar, and for sport, try to take pictures of it without paying an earnest usher a few zloty for the privilege (having already paid to get in!).
2. Wawel – visit the royal castle from the days when Krakow was Poland’s capital. Tour the royal apartments, keeping an eye on the spectacular ceilings. Don’t miss the Cathedral crypt where the Polish Kings are buried. Take the steps (and kids) down from the castle mount, through caves, to a metal dragon that breathes fire every few seconds.
3. Kazimierz – tour the atmospheric old Jewish quarter, visiting some of the half dozen or so synagogues. Remuh is the most famous, with a large cemetery, and a wall made up of gravestones ransacked by the Nazis. Tempel synagogue was recently renovated and is very beautiful. Lunch on chicken soup and chopped liver in one of the many Jewish-themed restaurants, and dine whilst listening to Jewish Klezmer music, which can be at once lively and poignant.
4. Collegium Maius – tour this stunning Krakow University college, taking in where Copernicus studied, and some of the earliest astronomical instruments. If you’re lucky you’ll catch the cute figurines in the quad that chime the hour.
5. Sukiennice Museum – it’s been a while since I visited this museum, but I’ll never forget the sweeping panoramas by Matejko, which help define Poland. In the end it’s personal choice, but I’d recommend this museum, on the first floor of the cloth hall, in preference to the new attraction under it which uncovers the city’s archaeology, but I thought left a little to the imagination.
Wildcard: Plaszow concentration camp. Off the beaten track; wander out of Kazimierz to what remains of the concentration camp into which the Jews of Krakow were crammed during WWII. You can still see a small section of the ghetto wall, the house from where camp commander Amon Goethe shot at Jews, and one remaining gravestone of an immortalised Chaim Abrahamer.