Krakow City Profile
While Warsaw may be the political capital of Poland, Krakow is definitely the cultural center of the country. Nearly 1.2 million people live in Krakow and its outlying city limits. Architecturally – with its enormous old town square, numerous churches, meandering cobbled streets, ancient city wall, palaces, and houses – the Renaissance, Romanesque, Gothic, and Baroque periods stand side by side. Krakow is legendary as a mystical city – once a center of magic and astrology – where Faustus began his studies. Unlike Warsaw, Krakow had the advantage of not being decimated during the Second World War.
For a lesser-known place, Krakow’s teeming social life resembles Prague’s, albeit on a slightly smaller scale. As in Warsaw, a major Polish university keeps the city feeling young and energetic. After dark, just off the old town square, the sounds of rock, jazz, and classical music can be heard filtering out of the nightclubs and restaurants. During the day, in the middle of the square, a public market attracts tourists and makes good money for the locals. Tourism brings a certain vitality to Krakow’s economy, that most travelers and expats will appreciate. (An absolute must-see in Krakow is Leonardo da Vinci’s “Lady with Ermine” at the Muzeum Czartoryskich – on a sidestreet off of the Rynek Glowny. There are those who find this piece way cooler than the Mona Lisa, with no crowds or bullet-proof glass to deal with.)
For the expatriate, Krakow’s location in southern Poland has both advantages and disadvantages. The country’s southern stretch is notoriously polluted, and yet at arm’s reach of some of its more beautiful terrain. The Tatra mountains, with their ski areas and hiking trails, lie just an hour and a half or so to the south. Slovakia and the Czech Republic are a short train ride away. And the town formerly known as Auschwitz lies just a half-hour bus ride away from Krakow. The museum that commemorates the grim atrocities committed there still attracts thousands of visitors every year.
If Prague, Budapest, and Warsaw sound too settled with Western familiarities for your liking, Krakow is perhaps one of the more desirable places to live and work in Eastern Europe. And if, for whatever reason, you end up going elsewhere, make sure to plan a visit to this splendid city.