It was unseasonably warm for October when I travelled to Krakow for a long weekend of exploration, merriment and culture, and the sun was clearly shining on me with my choice of destination too. I fell totally in love with Krakow from the moment I arrived in the city. Beautiful architecture, wonderful people and amazing history combined with a modern, vibrant city nightlife made for a truly amazing few days.
I had heard many things about Krakow from various sources prior to travel, all with glowing reports but from vastly different standpoints. The "culture vultures" told of everything the city had to offer, recommending the most important places to visit in my short time there. The more hedonistic amongst my friends had tips for bars and nightclubs I simply had to see, so it was with great excitement I arrived myself, hopefully striking some semblance of balance between the two.
Those who had been to sample the history and culture spoke in nostalgic terms about the tales and stories of this famous old town, and there is a vast history stretching back to the middle ages. Despite the heritage of Krakow, it remains remarkably compact, and the city can be seen comfortably on foot, from the central Old Market Square which is a hive of seemingly endless activity, to the historic Jew Quarter, which houses the Schindler Factory amongst other things. Despite the glorious weather and this compact nature, I opted to see the city with a guided Segway tour from a tour guide found just off the square and via Google. This was not due to a pre-disposition to laziness (which I candidly admit to!) but more for the adventurous nature and sheer joy of whizzing around anywhere on a Segway. If you have never used one, many cities in Europe offer guided tours on them and they really do add an edge to proceedings. Certainly I would highly recommend the tour of Krakow, which was interesting and fun in equal measure. My guide, Adam, was a history teacher and had a frankly encyclopedic knowledge of the city in which he lived. Some stories were fascinating, such as why the bugle sound that can be heard four times a day from the clock tower is abruptly cut out before it finishes. This was to commemorate the moment the bugle player was shot in the neck with an arrow by invaded Mongol forces part way through his warning trumpeting. Without such insight from Adam I would never have questioned it, yet every time I heard it for the remainder of my stay it raised a smile.
Filled with culture I stepped out into the night ready to see the other side of Krakow, the scene I had heard so much about. The place is literally teeming with bars, from the more tourist-centric bars surrounding the square, with beautiful views of the clock tower and cloth hall, lit up majestically in the night sky, to the more underground, hip bars of the Jewish Quarter and everywhere in between. In each I was greeted by friendly staff and charming local, eager to help me improve my embarrassing attempts at Polish. I always try to speak a few phrases wherever I go yet Polish was a real struggle, much to the amusement of many I spoke to.
The bar scene is literally too vast and eclectic to give any detail on. Winding restaurant stairs lead to backstreet, basement bars. Dark, un-welcoming alleys lead to impossibly addictive, cascading nightclubs. The disparity between the medieval, cultural city and the modern, yet unfeasibly cool side of its personality is what really struck me about Krakow, and in my visit I barely touched the sides. It has something to offer everyone, and I can see why its popularity has soared. I had some of the most amazing nights out there and still feel like there was so much more I had missed and so desperately wanted to see. While spending days wandering through its historic, winding streets was such an enriching, relaxing experience I would happily repeat it ad infinitum. It strikes a balance between culture and cool that most cities can never reach, with perhaps Berlin the only comparison I can think of, but even that didn't hold the unidentified magic Krakow held for me.
I will definitely be coming back to this truly impressive city as I left part of my heart there, if I'm honest, it can stay there, so I can keep coming back to look for it...