Nestled just to the northwest of the beautiful Carpathian Mountains, Kakow (or Cracow) is not only an important Polish hub for cultural and historical exploration: it is home base for those seeking out some of the country's most intense outdoor adventures as well. Between hiking the snow-capped peaks of the Tatras, cliff jumping the limestone walls of Zakrzowek Lake, climbing along the rocky outcrops at Ojcow National Park and paddling the mountain-framed currents of the Dunajec River, visitors here may find themselves hard pressed to free up enough time for a thorough examination of this vibrant and colorful urban center. But explore it you must, if you want to experience robust Polish history and culture at its finest and, sometimes, at its most tragic.
For 500 years this was the medieval capital of the country, and archeological evidence indicates the region housed human inhabitants some 20,000 years ago. Not bad for a second city, eh? Some of Krakow's greatest architecture can be found in scenic Rynek Square, like the beautiful St. Mary’s Basilica and the Town Hall Tower, or in the inescapable visit to magnificent Wawel Castle (which somehow managed to survive WWII largely intact). But remnants of the past aren't all Krakow has to offer. The narrow streets of Old Town are home to innumerable tourists packed into rocking basement bars and bustling Polish restaurants, while the resurgent Kazimierz district satisfies the city’s more bohemian crowds.
But among these testaments to cultures old and new, Krakow also gives rise to a sometimes overwhelming sense of remembrance and reflection, ever present in sobering edifices such as the Oscar Schindler factory and the Auschwitz memorial (located just to the west of the city). Here, perhaps like nowhere else on Earth, one has the opportunity to come face to face with atrocities of immeasurable proportion, and our shared responsibility to learn and grow from the past. With such extremes at your disposal, you'll definitely want to give yourself plenty of time to explore; somehow we doubt that will bother you. So come to Poland's other capital city prepared for a little taste of everything and you'll likely experience adventure, history, culture and modernity like nowhere else in this amazing country.