Cracow is Poland’s second-largest city and the country’s main tourist destination. Cracow, the former capital of Poland, is one of the largest and oldest cities in this country. As the former national capital with a long history, the city remains the spiritual heart of Poland.
The name of Cracow is traditionally derived from Krakus, the legendary founder of Cracow and the ruler of the Polish tribe of Lechitians. At present Cracow is the capital city of the Malopolskie – province in southern Poland. The City is traditionally a leading center of Polish cultural and artistic life. Cracow was recognized as a major educational and cultural center during the Second Polish Republic and throughout the 20th century.
In 1978, the historic center of Cracow, the Old Town complex, was added to UNESCO’s list of world heritage. That same year Karol Wojtyla, Archbishop of Cracow, was elected in the Vatican as the first Slavic Pope and the first non-Italian pope in 455 years, becoming Pope John Paul II. The city’s growing service sector is the center of the local economy, but varied industries and production still provide substantial proportions of jobs and wealth.
It was from here that the Jagiellonian one of the greatest dynasties in Europe were ruling the country. Also, one of the first universities in Europe, the Cracow Academy that later renamed the Jagiellonian University was established here. There are 11 universities here, including the oldest university in Poland. Cracow also has 50 museums and public art galleries, 11 theaters, and a philharmonic.
Cracow has always been a meeting place for many cultures. Throughout the ages, people of many different countries and religions have enriched the spirit and substance of the city, and have left their mark in Cracow´s stones, its libraries, and even its menus. Just outside the Old Town can be found the former Jewish quarter Kazimierz, its subtle synagogues reflecting the tragedy of the recent past. Cracow is rendered with attractions and diversions of a more modern variety, with hundreds of restaurants, bars, and music clubs tucked away down its cellars and narrow alleyways. Cracow provides many attractions for tourists. The splendor of the region, old monuments, museums, theaters, restaurants and clubs, all of these facilities, make the memorable time spend in Cracow.
Wawel Castle in Cracow’s centerpiece and a must-see, but most tourists will find themselves attracted to the Old Town, with its soaring Gothic churches and massive Rynek Główny the Main Market Square, the largest in the country.
Officially, the citizenry of the city of Cracow is put at some 760,000 but it determined thousands of actual residents who don’t bother to register as such, illegal immigrants, and about 100,000 students. At the same time the population of the whole metropolitan area, the Cracow proper together with its outer suburban areas and satellite towns; totals some 1.5 million people. And the headcount within the 100-km radius approaches nine million.
The city’s residents are solidly Polish; nevertheless several thousand foreigners live more or less permanently here. In Poland, the denizens of Cracow enjoy a reputation of meticulous and frugal folk, a bit reserved but life-loving.
As in many countries, the Polish people are very grateful of guests who make an effort to speak their language, with the use of basic words such witaj (hello), dziekuje (thank you) and prosze (please) likely to be rewarded with a smile, while also often ensuring faster and friendlier service in shops and offices.
When meeting or greeting Polish people in Cracow, it is customary to do so with a simple handshake rather than by kissing or hugging; these more physical forms of greeting are strictly reserved for close family and friends. Also, when addressing people in Cracow, it is essential to use the word Pan (Mr) or Pani (Mrs) followed by the family name to avoid embarrassment.
As the Polish people are typically very hospitable, it is important to avoid causing offense if you are invited into their home. If you see a line of shoes outside the front door, you should always remove yours before entering. Equally, it is important for men to be polite towards women, with simple acts such as opening a door, enough to ensure a good impression.
Any place and any time by merrymaking is good for talking business in Cracow. When eating out business is a reliable topic before, during and after the meal. Flowers are very popular with Poles who give them on many occasions, especially birthday and name-day celebrations, weddings, and visits to polish homes.
Cracow is one of the oldest cities in Poland – it dates back to the seventh century. As the legend goes, Cracow was founded by Prince Krakus, above the cave inhabited by a dragon and settled here after defeating the dragon. Krakus poisoned the dragon and set the residents free. Thus, the name of the city comes from the name of this legendary ruler.
By the end of the tenth century, the old town became a leading economic center. The earliest settlement was established on Wawel Hill, where the Royal Wawel Castle was built. In 1038 the castle and the Cracow itself became the seat of the Polish government. In the thirteenth century, the city was almost entirely destroyed during the Mongol invasions, but then successfully rebuilt.
In 1241, Cracow took an intense conquering from the Tatars, who burned it to the ground. However, within two decades, a new town center had been built; Rynek Glowny (Main Market Square) was the centerpiece in the new design, and Cracow’s magnificent Wawel Castle was situated to the south.
Economic success and a cultural growth led to a golden age in the 15th and 16th centuries, during which the prosperous nations of Poland and Lithuania merged into a single state. When the Cracow Academy, today is known as Jagiellonian University, was established as the second university in central Europe, the town became the center of science, arts, and literature. The Renaissance was also the time when most of Cracow’s architectural landmarks were created. However, this belle époque was brought to an unexpected end when Russia, Prussia, and Austria carved up Poland in the Third Partition of 1795, effectively eliminating the country from the map. Cracow became a major center for Polish culture and the spiritual capital of a country that no longer existed.
After the Polish state was partitioned in the late eighteenth century, Cracow became a part of the Austrian province. Cracow did not give up. Under the leadership of Tadeusz Kościuszko, the people of the city revolted in Cracow’s Market Square but were put down by the Prussian army. The revolt is known as the Kościuszko insurrection. Later, in 1815, the Congress of Vienna gave Cracow independence as the Free City of Cracow. Interestingly, under partitions, Cracow was the center of Polish culture and also began to become a modern metropolis.
Between the two World Wars, the city was a major Jewish center. When the Nazi forces entered Cracow in September 1939, they stated occupation. The war took a heavy toll. Most of the city’s cultural heritage was destroyed, the monuments, buildings, architectural attractions. Hundreds of professors and academics were murdered. The Jewish population was ghettoized in the Jewish ghetto in Cracow and then murdered. Historians claim Hitler liked Cracow due to its visual similarities with some German cities, which may explain why it became a regional headquarters for the Nazis. Although much of Poland was devastated during WWII, Cracow remained largely untouched.
Although Cracow was once the capital of this historical country, those boasting rights now belong to Warsaw with much to the dismay of Cracow’s inhabitants. By way of conciliation, the town has retained its status as the ‘royal capital’ and is often regarded as the creative capital of Poland.
Cracow enjoys a temperate climate with features of both western European maritime summer and more severe continental conditions of eastern European, crisp winters.
The weather in Cracow features distinct seasons, winter and summer. Spring and autumn are still apparent, but the weather at these times of the year merges between Cracow’s more obvious seasons, remaining generally much more short-lived.
The winters are extreme and the summers are wet, however, the spring and famous Polish Autumns can be somewhat more enjoyable. The weather in Cracow can be fairly unpredictable, with some summer days reaching the mid-twenties and others pouring with rain, so an umbrella is a necessity all year round when visiting Cracow.
Spring weather starts to pick up nearer to the end of March. Many tourists feel that May is the best time to visit, as not distinct to the ‘golden autumns’, the average daily sunlight is as high as it is in summer. If you prefer to escape from the crowds and visit the city when it is a little quieter, then late spring or early summer (mid-May and June) is a good time to consider, when the flowers are fresh and the climate is still warming up, with daytime temperatures averaging around 20°C / 68°F.
The summer months are Cracow’s wettest months, with July having an average rainfall amount of 110mm. The summer climate in Cracow is when the city is at its busiest and the very peak of the tourist season falls between July and August.
The late-summer/autumn climate in Cracow is also favorable and this brief season remains relatively mild, with heavy morning dew and mists, and attractive fall colors in the surrounding areas of countryside. However, by the end of October, the temperatures are beginning to drop sharply as the winter climate becomes imminent.
Poland is popular for its ‘golden autumns’ where mild weather, sunlight and drier days combine to make it the most popular time to visit. Rainfall in Cracow almost halves by September comparative at the height of summer. Temperatures stay, on average, around the early to mid-teens throughout September and October, before dropping quite dramatically in November.
Winters in Cracow are long, severed and dark. The city averages a dreary 90 minutes of sunlight per day in the height of winter, and the temperature stays at or below freezing for much of November to February.
There is snowfall typically from December through to March which sees the city covered in snow around Christmas time. December and January are the coldest months in Cracow, with daytime temperatures of 1°C/34°F often feeling colder due to strong winter winds. However, the heavy snowfalls and the nearby mountains mean that the city is well placed for skiers.
Despite the reputable harsh winter weather, many feel that if you can handle the cold, Cracow is ideal to visit in the winter, as many of its historical tourist sites are much less busy and don’t rely on sunshine and warmth to make them enjoyable. You may feel that the snowfall and cold simply heighten the medieval, Gothic and the mystical experience of the city.