After shooting photography in Kiev, Poltava and Lviv, I took a train to Kraków, Poland. I’d never heard anyone not recommend it, so I was looking forward to spending some time in this medieval city. It was also my first time in Poland and I was ready to explore everything Kraków had to offer as soon as I stepped off the overnight train.
So here are my first impressions of Kraków, from my personal Street Photography perspective…
7 First Impressions of Kraków, Poland
(From a Street Photography Perspective)
1. The Main Square is Huge
In many European towns, there’s at least one main square where everyone goes to. Nowhere is that any more true than in Kraków. The thing that really stands out about Krakow’s main square is how big it is, though. It’s actually the largest medieval town square in all of Europe.
Surrounded by historic churches, buildings and cafes, the 40,000 square meters are filled with food stands, stages, merchants, street performers, horse & carriage rides, people and more. There’s also Cloth Hall, the world’s first shopping mall, in the middle of the square where merchants still sell goods.
Everything gravitates towards this square so it’s always the most active place in the city. It’s also a good starting and ending spot for your shooting for the day.
2. Old Town is One of the Best
Many European cities have an Old Town, but Kraków definitely has one of the best. The medieval architecture is especially fascinating and it’s big enough that you can spend all day walking around it.
The Old Town is bordered by Planty Park and has the Main Square at its center. For many people, the Old Town is their Krakow experience. It’s that big a part of the city. You’ll find plenty of locals mixed in with the tourists throughout the Old Town too.
As far as Old Towns go, I can’t imagine one being a bigger part of the city as Krakow’s. For photography, this should be your main area to explore for the most photo opportunities and activity.
3. Easy to Find Your Way Around
Kraków is one of the easiest places to quickly know your way around. Everything is centered around the Old Town, with the Main Square in the middle. Then encircling the Old Town is Planty Park, which used to be where its medieval walls stood as protection.
Since the walls were taken down, it’s been converted into a green belt like park that completely circles the Old Town. What this means is all you have to do is find this green belt and you’ll basically know how to get to where you need. See the green belt, go inside it, walk towards the center, and you should easily find the Main Square or most places you want to go.
I didn’t use any form of transportation my whole time in Kraków because it just wasn’t needed. The train station is located right by the Old Town, so from there it was only walking the rest of my days in the city.
4. Polish Food
Food is a big deal in Kraków and the Polish are proud of their cuisine. Restaurants, cafes, and food stalls fill the Old Town and Jewish District.
Pierogi is the most famous dish, which you can find served almost anywhere. Pierogi is basically Poland’s version of dumplings, but they are very, very good. Another local food that stands out is Zapiekanka, which is like a giant pizza baguette. It’s more of a quick street food so you see it eaten all over, but the massive size makes it stand out even more.
Capturing Poland’s food culture could definitely be something to mix into your Street Photography.
5. Jewish History is a Huge Part of the City
Just south of the Old Town is the district of Kazimierz, which is commonly referred to as the Jewish district. Before it was systematically destroyed during World War II, it was the center of Jewish life in Kraków for over 500 years.
Maybe nowhere in Europe has Jewish history been preserved more than here. With its number of synagogues and Jewish cemeteries, there’s a feeling of pre-war Jewish culture that you can’t feel elsewhere.
Because of this, it has become the biggest tourist draw after the old town. This has attracted cafes and bars lining the streets, while also attracting jewish museums and festivals, including the popular Jewish Culture Festival.
Having such a preserved jewish district and medieval old town right next to each other gives plenty of opportunities for some unique Street Photography atmosphere.
6. Riverfront is Long and Not Too Touristy
The Vistula River, Poland’s longest, runs through Kraków just outside of the Old Town and Jewish District. Other than the part near Wawel Castle, it doesn’t have a touristy feeling, either. It’s far enough from the center of the Old Town, that you have more locals than tourists enjoying it, but close enough that you can walk to it.
The riverfront is long and wide and goes along both sides. It’s lined with a sidewalk, grass, parks, and a few boat restaurants. The riverfront is a good place to capture a different vibe than the more touristy areas.
Unfortunately, it got cold crazy quick while I was in Kraków. The first day I was wearing shorts and a few days later I was wearing a scarf. That first day, though, Krakow’s riverfront was packed with people enjoying the sun.
I would definitely recommend walking down this riverfront for some completely different photo opportunities from the Old Town.
7. Tourists and Youth
Kraków is not a huge city and most of it is centered around the old town so it feels more touristy than most cities. As far as Eastern Europe goes, I’d say only Prague has more of a touristic feeling.
It also feels very young because of the college life there and the attraction of it’s nightlife for young travelers. Kraków actually has one of the highest concentration of bars in the world.
So if you spend most of your time around the Old Town and Jewish district like 99.9% of visitors, then you will notice plenty of tourists and young people. I’m not a big fan of places that are too touristy when it comes to Street Photography, but Kraków handles it better than most. It still seems authentic and has a mixture of locals hanging out in the same areas as the tourists.
I ended up spending a few days shooting Street Photography in Kraków so I’ll be putting up more posts on the city, including some of the better photos I captured while there and a Street Photography Guide. Kraków has a lot to offer, for photography and everything else too. It’s a unique city with a great vibe and scene so I can only recommend making a visit when you can.
If any of you have been to Kraków or Poland before, tell me about your experience and impressions of the city and country in the comments below! And stay tuned for more on Kraków, including some of the best Street Photography shots I captured while there.