Q. We are taking our son (aged six) to Krakow for February half term to visit his grandparents. This will be his first visit to Poland and our first with a child in tow. Can you recommend a few places for us to visit that will also be enjoyable for a young child? We will be there for just under a week and would like to show him the city and, perhaps, places further afield too.
G Parry, via e-mail
A. Krakow, one of Poland's oldest and most culturally important cities, lies in a valley at the foot of the Tatra Mountains. With temperatures hovering around freezing in mid-February, it is often snow-clad, which should delight most young children, though not perhaps their parents. That said, the cultural and historical capital of Poland has a lot more than snow to offer a child, from medieval strongholds to Renaissance buildings and even salt-mine caverns.
Krakow is also extremely easy to reach, thanks to the range of no-frills airlines serving the city: Ryanair (0871 246 0000; www.ryanair.com), easyJet (0905 821 0905; www.easyjet.com), SkyEurope (0905 722 2747; www.skyeurope.com), Jet2 (0871 226 1737; www.jet2.com) and Centralwings (00 48 22 558 00 45; www.centralwings.com) all offer good deals.
If you aren't staying with family, there is an increasing variety of accommodation in Krakow. At the top of the scale is the Hotel Copernicus (00 48 12 424 3400; www.relaischateaux.com/copernicus), a venerable old townhouse conversion where doubles cost zl810 (£140) per night in February, including an extra bed for your son and breakfast. Another luxury option is the fin de siècle Grand (00 48 12 421 72 55; www.grand.pl). The hotel can provide child care and offers rooms starting at €160 (£107) for the three of you, including breakfast. More economical is the Hotel Rezydent (00 48 12 429 5410; www.rthotels.com.pl), in a listed building at the heart of the old town. Rooms for three start at €86 (£57), including breakfast.
Start your explorations at the largest medieval market square in Europe. Although the horse-drawn carriages that congregate here have become somewhat of a cliché, a ride on one is nevertheless a fun and picturesque way to see Krakow on a crisp, winter day, tucked beneath a blanket. The usual fare is around zl100 (£17) for half an hour, but you can save with some robust haggling.
Looming over the Old Town on Wawel Hill on the bank of the river Vistula is the 11th-century Wawel Royal Castle (00 48 12 422 51 55; www.cyfronet.pl/waweln), and Wawel Cathedral. Head down to the cathedral's crypts for an eerie history lesson - this is where most of the Polish kings are buried. The last of them was August II, laid to rest in 1733. You'll also find the tomb of the medieval Saint Stanislaus, who had been reputedly assassinated under King Boleslaus II's orders whilst celebrating Mass. The grounds of the castle and cathedral open daily from 6am-5pm, but refer to the website for individual opening hours and admission for each of the sights.
The historic Jewish district Kazimierz, south of the castle, is a good location for an afternoon stroll - stop off in one of the many cafés for a restorative hot chocolate or strong coffee. This Bohemian quarter is undergoing a programme of restoration, but the labyrinthine streets provide plenty of opportunity for soaking up its atmosphere and are a refuge from the busier Old Town.
There's also plenty to explore outside the city - in particular I suggest a trip to Wieliczka Salt Mine. Mazurkas Travel (00 48 12 428 20 10; www.mazurkas.com.pl) offers guided group tours with English-speaking guides for €35 (£23) per person. Guides pick you up from your hotel for the 10km drive out of town. Wieliczka (00 48 12 278 73 02; www.kopalnia.pl) is the only shaft in the world that has been in constant operation since the Middle Ages; it recently celebrated its 1,000th birthday.
History aside, taking your child underground to see the fantastic stalagmites and vast underground chambers will make an exciting trip. Should you decide to visit independently, guided tours in English start every hour and cost zl60 (£10) for adults and zl50 (£8.50) for children, admission included. The restaurant offers a reasonable menu, somewhat distant from traditional miners' fare. In winter, the mine is open 8am-5pm daily.
Further afield, in the heart of the Polish Tatra range is the mountain resort of Zakopane. The mountains are inhabited by a wide variety of wildlife - bears regularly plunder rubbish bins on more remote sections of the trails. The Tatras are also home to one of Poland's most colourful and vibrant traditional communities, the Highlanders; many of the shepherds still wear traditional wool clothes with resplendent ornaments. Seek out a bite of smoked Oscypek sheep's milk cheese. Point Travel (00 48 12 421 84 33; www.point.travel.pl) organises tailor-made tours from Krakow, with an English-speaking guide which will set you back zl970 (£166) for two adults, your son travelling free. Zakopane is particularly attractive during winter, but can be busy during weekends and school holidays, so try to book a tour in the middle of the week. The tour price includes tickets for the cable car to Kasprowy peak. It does not quite make it to 2,000m but the drama of the surrounding peaks gives the observatory deck an unexpected edge-of-the-world feeling.
Skiing gear can be rented virtually anywhere; if you make your next visit in summer, you can explore the mountains by foot - there are marked paths for hikers - stopping at one of the numerous cafés in town to refuel.
Send your family travel queries to The Independent Parent, Travel Desk, 'The Independent', 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.orgReuse content